Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar.XXXII.
(1) In the tenth year of Zedekiah . . .—We are carried over a period of six years from the prophecy of Jeremiah 28:1 to B.C. 589, when the treacherous and intriguing policy of Zedekiah had provoked Nebuchadnezzar to besiege Jerusalem in the ninth year of the king of Judah’s reign, and the king, irritated by Jeremiah’s continued predictions of defeat, had imprisoned him in the dungeon for state-prisoners attached to the palace (Nehemiah 3:25). It would appear from Jeremiah 37:15; Jeremiah 38:26, both of an earlier date than this chapter, that he had previously been confined in the house of Jonathan the scribe as a private prison, and that the king had removed him thence with a view to consulting him on the probable issue of the siege. He was not allowed to leave his prison, but friends were permitted to have access to him.
(3. 4) Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon . . .—A comparison of these verses with Jeremiah 34:2-3; Jeremiah 38:23, shows that Jeremiah never for a moment varied in his tone. To see the king of Babylon face to face, to stand before him in shame and confusion—that was to be the end of the king’s frantic resistance to the Divine purpose. The prophecy of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 12:13), and the fact that Nebuchadnezzar put out the eyes of the captive king (Jeremiah 39:7), give a special force to Jeremiah’s word. The face of the great king, in all the terror of his wrath, was to be the last object Zedekiah was to behold on earth (2Kings 25:6-7; Jeremiah 39:6; Jeremiah 52:10-11).
And he shall lead Zedekiah to Babylon, and there shall he be until I visit him, saith the LORD: though ye fight with the Chaldeans, ye shall not prosper?(5) There shall he be until I visit him . . .—The word for “visit” is ambiguous, being used elsewhere both for “punishing” and “delivering.” Its use in Jeremiah 29:10 is in favour of the latter meaning here. The prophet looks forward to a general deliverance, or at least mitigation of suffering, for the exiles in Babylon, and, though he does not in distinct terms predict that Zedekiah will share in it, seems to cherish the hope that he will not be altogether excluded. Of his fate after he arrived in Babylon we know nothing, but the absence of his name when Jehoiachin was released from his imprisonment (Jer. Iii. 31) by Evil-merodach suggests the conclusion that he was then dead.
Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it.(7) Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum . . .—The teaching of the narrative that follows lies almost on the surface, and is brought out distinctly in Jeremiah 32:44. “With all the certainty of desolation, misery, exile in the immediate future, the prophet was to give a practical proof that he was as certain of the ultimate restoration. It was worth while to buy a field even for what might seem the contingency of that remote reversion. Roman history records a parallel act of patriotic faith in the purchase of land at Rome at its full market value, at the very time when the armies of Hannibal were marching to the gate of the city (Livy, xxvi. 11). Nothing more is known of the Hanameel who is here mentioned than that he was the first cousin of the prophet (Jeremiah 32:8-9). The word “uncle” in this verse therefore applies strictly to Shallum. As the lands belonging to the priests and Levites as such could not be alienated (Leviticus 25:34), we must assume either that the land in question had come into the family by marriage and was private property, or that the law had been so far relaxed as to allow of the transfer of land within the limits of the family, and up to the date of the next year of jubilee. In such a case, as in Ruth 3:12; Ruth 4:4, the option of purchase was offered in the first instance to the next of kin (the Goël, or “redeemer,” of the family), so that it might still be kept in the line of succession (Leviticus 25:24; Leviticus 25:32). The prophet naturally lays stress on the fact that he was warned beforehand of the visit of Hanameel and of its object. The coincidence was to him what the arrival of the messenger of Cornelius was to Peter (Acts 10:19-21).
So Hanameel mine uncle's son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the LORD, and said unto me, Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin: for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself. Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.(8) Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth . . .—We are not told what led Hanameel to make the offer of sale. Probably, as in the Assyrian invasion (Isaiah 10:30), Anathoth was occupied and ravaged by the army of the Chaldæans, and the field seemed to its possessor little more than a damnosa hœreditas (“an inheritance of ruin”), which he was glad to get rid of at any price. Perhaps, too, looking to the part that Jeremiah had taken in urging submission to Nebuchadnezzar, it seemed prudent to transfer the ownership of the field to one whom the Chaldæans were disposed to protect, while, as Jeremiah was in prison, Hanameel might well expect to remain in occupation as his representative. The words “the right of inheritance is thine” indicate that Hanameel had no children. The description “Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin,” hardly natural in the lips of cousin speaking to cousin, is wanting in the LXX. version, and is traceable probably to the Jewish habit of writing in the text what with us would be notes in the margin.
And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle's son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver.(9) Weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver.—The Hebrew presents the singular combination, seven shekels and ten [pieces of] silver, and is followed by the LXX. and Vulg. There is no ground for thinking that there is any difference between the coins or bullion so described, and the formula was probably one of the technicalities of Jewish conveyancing. As regards the price it is not easy, in the absence of any measurement of the field, to form an estimate of its value; but, speaking roughly, as compared with the four hundred shekels paid by Abraham for the field of Ephron (Genesis 23:16), or the fifty paid by David for the threshing-floor and oxen of Araunah (2Samuel 24:24; in 1Chronicles 21:25 the price is fixed at six hundred shekels of gold), or to the thirty shekels paid for the potter’s field in Matthew 27:9, or to the market price of a slave varying from fifteen (Hosea 3:2) to thirty shekels (Zechariah 11:12), the price, under £2 sterling, would seem to have been far below its average market value, and in this respect the story falls short of the dignity of its Roman parallel (see Note on Jeremiah 32:7). Hanameel, as said above, was probably glad to part with it at any price. It is possible, however, that the smallness of the sum was owing to the fact that the sale, as above suggested, conveyed possession only for the unexpired term of a tenancy which was to end with the next year of Jubilee. On that assumption the prophet’s motive in purchasing may have been to keep it in the family instead of letting it pass to a stranger who might be unwilling to surrender it when the year of Jubilee arrived. As the prophet was unmarried he had no son to inherit it. The precise sum fixed, perhaps even the form in which the sum is stated, may have originated in Jeremiah’s wish to connect in this way the two numbers, ten and seven, which when multiplied together produced the number which he had fixed for the years of captivity, and therefore for the term of restoration. Such an elaborate artifice of symbolism would, at least, be quite in character in a prophet who adopts the acrostic form in his Lamentations and the cypher of an inverted alphabet known as the Athbash. (See Note on Jeremiah 25:26.)
And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances.(10) And I subscribed the evidence . . .—Literally, as in the margin, I wrote in the book—the last word being used for any kind of document, as for an indictment in Job 31:35, and here for a deed of conveyance. The minuteness with which the transaction is recorded is every way remarkable, partly as showing that the prophet was careful that no legal formality should be lacking to give validity to the purchase; partly, as the next verse shows, because there was a secret, unattested, unsealed (and in that sense “open”) document, which the witnesses did not subscribe, and with the contents of which they were probably not acquainted. The sealed document was one closed up as a safeguard against fraudulent alterations (comp. Isaiah 29:11). In the weighing of the money we see an indication of the old practice—probably consequent on the practice of “clipping” coined money—of dealing even with the current coin as if it were bullion, just as bankers weigh a parcel of sovereigns now before giving credit for the amount. (Comp. Genesis 23:16; Zechariah 11:12.)
So I took the evidence of the purchase, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open:(11) Both that which was sealed . . . and that which was open.—We are left to conjecture why there were two documents, and why one was sealed and the other open. Possibly, as in modern transactions, one was simply a duplicate copy of the other, the sealed document being the formal evidence of purchase kept by the buyer, and the other left with the vendor for reference. The more probable explanation, however, is that the unsealed document, which the witnesses did not subscribe or see, contained details which did not concern the witnesses, the price paid (though the mention of the witnesses before the weighing of the money militates against this view), the conditions of resumption by the vendor, possibly some reference to the period of seventy years, at the end of which, and not before, the heirs of Jeremiah might expect to enter on possession.
According to the law and custom.—Better, to wit, the agreement and the conditions. The whole transaction may be compared, as an example of ancient conveyancing, with the transfer of the field and cave of Machpelah in Genesis 23
And I gave the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah, in the sight of Hanameel mine uncle's son, and in the presence of the witnesses that subscribed the book of the purchase, before all the Jews that sat in the court of the prison.(12) Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah.—This is the first mention of a man who played a more or less prominent part in connection with Jeremiah’s later work. Nothing is known of his father or grandfather, but the fact that both are named indicates that he belonged to the nobler families of Judah; and this is confirmed, partly by the fact that his brother Seraiah (Jeremiah 51:59, where see Note) held a high position in the court of Zedekiah, partly by Josephus, who describes him as of “a very illustrious house,” and “highly educated” (Ant. x. 6, § 12). The mention of Chelcias (the Greek form for Hilkiah) among his ancestors, in the apocryphal book that bears his name (Baruch 1:1), may indicate a connection with the family of the high-priest in the reign of Josiah (2Kings 22:4-14), and we may find in this fact an explanation of his regard tor Jeremiah. In relation to the prophet, he appears in Jeremiah 36:4 as acting as his secretary, as accused of instigating Jeremiah to preach submission to the Chaldæans (Jeremiah 43:3), as sharing his sufferings and dangers (Jeremiah 36:26), and, according to Josephus (as above), as thrown into prison with him. He was probably an influential member of the Chaldæan party in the court of Judah, protesting against the policy which courted an alliance with Egypt and entered into intrigues and schemes of rebellion against the power of Babylon. The book that bears his name is probably pseudonymous, but it bears witness, in the very fact of its being ascribed to him, to the importance of the position which he occupied in the politics of the time. Here he is present as at least visiting the prophet in prison, even if he did not share his imprisonment, and Jeremiah hands over the deeds of conveyance to his custody.
Before all the Jews that sat in the court of the prison.—The incidental mention of these is interesting, as showing the freedom of access which was permitted to the prisoner. Looking to the freedom and fulness of the prayer that follows (Jeremiah 32:17-25), it is a legitimate inference that they formed, as it were, a congregation of disciples, on whom the prophet sought to impress, by the transaction of the purchase, his own sure and certain hope of the restoration of his people.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Take these evidences, this evidence of the purchase, both which is sealed, and this evidence which is open; and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days.(14) Put them in an earthen vessel . . .—We are reminded of the “earthen vessels” in which men kept their most precious treasures (2Corinthians 4:7). Such a vessel was obviously a better protection against damp or decay than one of wood, and was, as it were, the “safe” of a Jewish household. (See Note on Jeremiah 41:8.) In the “many days” we have an implied warning to the listeners that they were not to expect a speedy deliverance or restoration, however certain might be their assurance that it would come at last.
For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.(15) Houses and fields and vineyards . . .—It is a natural, though, of course, not a certain inference, that the land which Jeremiah had purchased included the three items that are thus specified.
Now when I had delivered the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed unto the LORD, saying,(16) I prayed unto the Lord.—The prophet, it is obvious, records his own prayer. Nowhere, perhaps—the prayer of Ezra (Ezra 9:5-15), of Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:16-20), of Daniel (Daniel 9:4-19), being the nearest parallels—do the writings of the Old Testament present us with so striking an example of the manner in which a devout Israelite poured out his heart to God, dwelling on the greatness of His attributes—praying for himself, interceding for his people.
Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:(17) There is nothing too hard for thee.—The thought of the omnipotence of God was here, as always, the ground of prayer. The occurrence of the self-same phrase in Genesis 18:14 shows that it had been, even from patriarchal times, one of the axioms of the faith of Israel. We note its repetition in Jeremiah 32:27.
Thou shewest lovingkindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them: the Great, the Mighty God, the LORD of hosts, is his name,(18) Thou showest lovingkindness unto thousands . . .—The words are, in part, an echo from Exodus 20:6, yet more from the revelation of the Divine glory in Exodus 34:7. They recognise the laws of a righteous retribution, working even through the seeming injustice of that visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children which is inseparable from the continuity of family or national life, and which had been caricatured in the “sour grapes” proverb of Jeremiah 31:29. They recognise also a mercy which is wider than that retribution, and at last triumphant. In the “Mighty God” we have the reproduction of the name used by Isaiah in his great Messianic prediction (Isaiah 9:6).
Great in counsel, and mighty in work: for thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings:(19) Great in counsel . . .—So far as this is more than the continuance of the adoring ecstasy of the previous verse, it gives a fresh prominence to the law of direct, equitable, individual retribution. No law of the transmission of the inheritance of good or evil will be found, in the long-run, to clash with that.
Which hast set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, even unto this day, and in Israel, and among other men; and hast made thee a name, as at this day;(20) Even unto this day . . .—The reference to the signs and wonders in Egypt seems natural enough, but in what sense, we ask, could those wonders have been said to have been wrought “unto this day”? It is conceivable that what he had heard of the frogs, and the lice, and the boils of Egypt might seem to Jeremiah the perpetuation, in part, of the old plagues; but we get, perhaps, an adequate meaning by seeing in the words the assertion that the old signs and wonders continued in their effect and in their memory. The “name” continued, though the signs themselves had passed away.
Among other men.—Better, among men. There is no word for “other” in the Hebrew, and the words have their full force of declaring God’s universal government over mankind at large.
And hast brought forth thy people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs, and with wonders, and with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with great terror;(21-23) And hast brought forth thy people Israel . . .—The verses travel over ground so familiar as to require no comment, but the parallelism with Deuteronomy 26:8, with the other prophetic prayers above referred to, and with Psalm 136:11-12, is significant. The thoughts of all true worshippers moved more or less in the same groove, and clothed themselves in the same language, when they meditated on the past history of their people.
Behold the mounts, they are come unto the city to take it; and the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans, that fight against it, because of the sword, and of the famine, and of the pestilence: and what thou hast spoken is come to pass; and, behold, thou seest it.(24) Behold the mounts . . .—The mounts (better, mounds) are (as in Jeremiah 6:6, where see Note) the banks or towers of wood which formed the chief part of ancient siege operations. What the prophet had then predicted had now come to pass, and Jerusalem was now exposed to the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, which were its inevitable accompaniments. And it was at such a time as this, when the darkness was thickest, that a ray of hope for the future was given by the command to buy the field at Anathoth. And yet the command was so strange, and the hope so apparently against all probabilities, that the prophet ends his prayer by leaving the whole matter in the hands of Jehovah.
Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?(27) Is there any thing too hard for me?—The answer to the prayer is an echo of the prayer itself (Jeremiah 32:17). The prophet is assured that he was not wrong when he cast himself, in the full confidence of faith, on the loving omnipotence of God. The words which he had used were more than a liturgical formula to one who had that confidence.
And the Chaldeans, that fight against this city, shall come and set fire on this city, and burn it with the houses, upon whose roofs they have offered incense unto Baal, and poured out drink offerings unto other gods, to provoke me to anger.(29) Upon whose roofs they have offered incense unto Baal . . .—On the mode of worship to which the words refer, see Note on Jeremiah 19:13. Here the leading thought is that of the righteous judgment which is to fall on the very spots that had thus been turned from the worship of Jehovah to that of the false gods whom men had worshipped in His stead. The incense-smoke of their false worship had, as its end, the smoke of burning roof and timbers.
For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have only done evil before me from their youth: for the children of Israel have only provoked me to anger with the work of their hands, saith the LORD.(30) The children of Israel have only provoked me to anger . . .—The words “the children of Israel” are apparently taken with a different range of extension in the two clauses—(1) for the northern kingdom, as contrasted with Judah; and (2) for the collective unity of Israel before, and perhaps also after, the division of the monarchy. The latter words of the verse reproduce Deuteronomy 31:29.
For this city hath been to me as a provocation of mine anger and of my fury from the day that they built it even unto this day; that I should remove it from before my face,(31) From the day that they built it . . .—The words confirm the inference already drawn in the preceding note, that the thoughts of the prophet turn to the time when Israel was yet one people under David and Solomon. Even then, he seems to say, the city had fallen far short of the holiness which it ought to have attained. and which David sought for it (Psalms 15-24), and had only been for anger and for fury to the Lord. There is no Hebrew word answering to “provocation.” It is noticeable that the prophet, as if forgetting that Jerusalem had been a Jebusite city before David took possession (2Samuel 5:6-10), speaks as if it had been built by Israel. It is obvious, however, that it was so much enlarged and altered after this capture, that the words which so describe it may have been not only practically, but almost literally, true.
And they have turned unto me the back, and not the face: though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not hearkened to receive instruction.(33) They have turned unto me the back . . .—It will be remembered that this image was more or less a favourite one with the prophet. (See Notes on Jeremiah 2:27; Jeremiah 7:24.) The same holds good of the “rising up early.” (See Notes on Jeremiah 7:13; Jeremiah 7:25.)
But they set their abominations in the house, which is called by my name, to defile it.(34, 35) They set their abominations in my house . . .—On the sins thus referred to, see Notes on Jeremiah 7:30-31, which are here almost verbally reproduced.
And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them:(39) I will give them one heart, and one way.—The previous verse has described the restoration of Israel in the old familiar all-inclusive terms—“They shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Exodus 6:7; Deuteronomy 14:2; Hosea 2:23). Here a new feature is added. The prophet, in his vision of the future, in place of the discords of the present—some serving Jehovah, and some Baal and Molech; some urging submission to Babylon, and some intriguing with Egypt—sees a unity in faith showing itself in unity of action. The hope of Jeremiah has never yet been realised, but it has appeared as with a transfigured glory in the prayer of the Christ for His people that they “all may be one,” even as He and the Father are one (John 17:21-23), in the prayer of the Apostle, that all might be joined together “in the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13). And that prayer also waits for its fulfilment, and receives only partial and (to use Bacon’s phrase) “germinant” accomplishments. “For ever” represents the Hebrew all the days.
And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.(40) I will make an everlasting covenant . . .—The “covenant” thus promised is, it must be remembered, identical with that of Jeremiah 31:31—the “new covenant,” which shall never wax old and decay, but shall abide for ever. “My fear” is identical with “the fear of the Lord,” which is “the beginning of wisdom.” The curse of Israel had been that they had been without that fear to restrain them from evil, and that the mere dread of punishment had proved powerless to supply its place.
Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul.(41) I will plant them in this land assuredly.—Literally, in truth, as in 1Samuel 12:24, and elsewhere. By some interpreters the words have been referred to the stability of possession implied in the promise, but it is better to see in them an attestation of the faithfulness of the Promiser. In meaning, as in form, the word corresponds closely with the frequent “Amen,” “Verily, verily,” in our Lord’s teaching.
And fields shall be bought in this land, whereof ye say, It is desolate without man or beast; it is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.(43, 44) And fields shall be bought in this land . . .—The significance of the whole transaction of the purchase of the field in Anathoth is again solemnly confirmed. Men were desponding, as though the land were to belong to the Chaldæans for ever. They are told that the very region which was now covered with their encampments should once again be possessed freely by its own people. In the “mountains,” the “valleys,” and the south, or negeb district, stretching towards the country of the Philistines, we have, as before in Jeremiah 17:26, the familiar division of the land of Judah, which had been transmitted from what has well been called the Domesday Book of Israel (Joshua 15:21; Joshua 15:33; Joshua 15:48).