[K:NWTS 7/3 (Dec 1992) 25-38]
Every Sunday we come together, and we are filled with concern. At first we thought that when the war was over–as it seemed–and the Germans and Japan defeated, that we had arrived at a safe spot. But it turned out that we have not left the difficulties behind ourselves at all. Every week the question is pressed upon us more and more: what will become of our desperate world? Incidentally, besides the recent developments, life is still affected by difficulties which we could hardly have imagined. In other words, we are still in the midst of the year of calamities. The year of disaster is not over yet. We may also simply think of the imminent threat within Eastern Europe and the tension with Russia.
Now we can do two things. We can say the year of destruction is still there and this is very serious indeed. Therefore we groan and moan, which makes us sink even deeper in the swamp. Or we can say the year of destruction is there, but we are children of the promise and so we will place the year of calamity in the light of the year of jubilee which is coming. Only in this way will we be pulled out of this swamp with the cords of God's love, our Father in Christ Jesus, our Lord. For that is truly Christianity. In this time of Advent, we must place all the years of destruction in the light of the year of jubilee of Christ Jesus, which was and is and is to come, in order that we might be children of the promise.
Therefore, I wish to call your attention to this by speaking on the subject: The prophet Jeremiah places the year of destruction in the light of the year of Jubilee.
We will look at four points:
(1) he places the poverty of the year of destruction in light of the richness of the year of Jubilee; (2) he places the hopelessness of the year of destruction in light of the prospects of the year of Jubilee; (3) he places the contract of the year of destruction in light of the covenant of the year of Jubilee; (4) he places the document of the year of destruction in light of the Gospel of the year of Jubilee
Our text tells us that the prophet Jeremiah lived in a terrible time. It was a year of war and calamity for both Jeremiah and the entire people.
From northern Asia, armies had come from a powerful king who sought to conquer all of Asia. He had besieged and conquered city after city, people after people, and now his next object was to get even with that small inferior people in Judea and their capitol Jerusalem. Already the armies had come near. Heavily weaponed troops had marched by. The fields had been set on fire, the harvest destroyed, and now the city of Jerusalem was under siege.
To be sure, there had been a pause. The king was suddenly occupied with other serious matters at home, but when that was settled he had returned. He laid siege to the city once again and then dealt the final blow. Soon the people will be submerged in trouble. In other words, it meant a year of disaster for the church of the Lord, the temple, the palace, and the entire state and nation. But it was also a year of disaster for the family of Jeremiah the prophet.
To begin with, Jeremiah himself was imprisoned in Jerusalem in the penitentiary house, which was part of the palace. The prophet had been captured on the accusation of treason. This was and is quite an offense, one which could mean death in time of war. The prophet had made this announcement to the king and the people: we will lose this war, as far as the flesh is concerned. The Lord himself had declared emphatically that the war would end in a defeat for the church of the Lord. True, a shoot would arise out of the exile, out of the cut down trunk of David. This would be Christ Jesus. However, since that shoot could only come out of a cut down trunk, that trunk had to first be cut down. This could not take place in any other way. And therefore the prophet had to tell the king, this war will be lost. Our only hope is to look to Christ, the shoot, the sprout. But, when the king, soldiers and people heard that, it was said–that man breaks the morale of the soldiers. Such a prophecy of misfortune only brings fear and anxiety. And in the same way which the English radio tried to keep up the people's courage and America told us to take courage and trust, so it was here. So in the days of Jeremiah they said, you must keep the people happy in wartime, otherwise all is hopeless, and the cause is already lost. That's why they said that the prophet was a traitor. And such a person must be punished with imprisonment. The king did not dare to act otherwise because he was a weak man.
Added to this sadness, another sorrow came over the family of Jeremiah. In days past he had been a man of great wealth and this family was of high standing and owned property as an inheritance in Anathoth. This was a village near Jerusalem about as far away from Jerusalem as Maassluis or perhaps even Schiedam is from Rotterdam.
In that village there was a piece of land owned by the family. It is exactly that property in Anathoth that suffered much from the war. As I said before, the king came from the north! If one wants to come from the north to Jerusalem, he passes through Anathoth. Anathoth was positioned at the frontline. A Rotterdammer knows what that means. Just as Rotterdam was destroyed in May 1940, so Anathoth was destroyed in the days of Jeremiah. It was done so thoroughly that the prophet Isaiah exclaims, "Oh, poor Anathoth!" Poor Rotterdam! we used to say, and so they did in those days, Oh, poor Anathoth! As the soldiers marched through, houses were burned, fields destroyed, children kidnapped, men murdered and women defiled. Jeremiah's family was left totally destitute. The farmers could not harvest or sow seeds and the land was left unworked. And as a proof that Jeremiah's family was bankrupt, we read about a day (announced by God Himself) when a family visit takes place in the cell of the captured prophet.
It is his cousin Hanameel, a son of an uncle of Jeremiah, who comes to him. Hanameel means "God is favorably disposed to me." But it hardly looks as if God is indeed favorable to him. For the field has been destroyed, the capital is gone, and the man needs to call for help. He knocks on the prison door and asks permission to visit his cousin. After much negotiating he may finally see him. The key squeaks inside the lock and as the door opens he is pushed inside and the door closes behind him. There they stand now in a cell, two cousins, two men who used to enjoy great respect in more prosperous days. One is a prophet of God and imprisoned, the other is a member of the family of the prophet and is also destitute. There they stand now! What poverty! The poverty of destruction, the poverty of the year of war. What poverty indeed!
The situation becomes even more grim when we hear what the cousin has to say to the prophet. It boils down to this: Cousin Jeremiah would you help us? We cannot go on. The money is gone, our strength has failed, the field is dead, and unless you help us we shall have to sell our property and ourselves into slavery. What? says Jeremiah, You want my help, a prisoner? Yes, for you are the redeemer. You have the right of inheritance and redemption. The meaning of the redemption can be described as following. The Lord had made special provisions for when a family in Israel had become poor and was left without any money and was forced to sell all its belongings. When this occurs, the Lord said, Do not sell. There is still hope for the generations the Lord loves. He wants them to be preserved well. And so the following law was put into action: in the event that a family had been reduced to utter poverty, they should try to find someone in their own family with money who would be asked to intervene on their behalf. He is to pay for the poor family so that the property can stay within the family for the time being. And when the year of jubilee arrives, then all will be returned to the rightful family ownership.
Even here, beloved congregation, one can see a beam of light shining through the cell door, the light of Jesus Christ, the King of the year of Jubilee. The Sabbath law and the Sabbath glory shines brightly through everything in Israel. Every seven days a Sabbath, which points to Christ; every seven years a Sabbath year, which points to Christ; and every seven times seven years the year of jubilee, an extra year of Sabbath, also pointing to Christ who enters that rest completely. In the year of jubilee the trumpet was blown for the great celebration of peace, the feast of restitution. The poor receive the belongings back which they had been forced to sell, slaves and prisoners are set free, all that are bent down are raised up. This is a prophecy, that the time is approaching, the great Year of Jubilee when Christ Jesus as the Messiah will restore the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, make the crippled walk, let the dead live and say to the poor, here is the merry good news. Therefore, that year of jubilee confronts the imprisoned burdened prophet with the question: You, prophet of God, whose mouth is full with jubilee and thanksgiving and redemption, do you truly believe in the year of jubilee? Will that cousin of yours hear from your mouth today: prepare yourself, be enlightened, for your light is coming? You have the right of inheritance, the redemption; that is an office, being a redeemer. God insists on that office. Do you know who is the greatest redeemer in the Bible? It is a certain Boaz, a wealthy man. And when Ruth comes to him saying, Oh help us, help the family that is poverty stricken, then Boaz comes to their aid and redeems them and even takes Ruth to be his wife. And then a child comes; and later another one; and then comes a David out of Boaz and Ruth and out of this David is born still later David's son, Christ Jesus. Indeed, God insists on redemption! The great Redeemer, Christ Jesus, would never have been born (humanly speaking), if this redeemer Boaz had not fulfilled his duty as a redeemer to Ruth and Naomi.
And therefore when the prophet Jeremiah hears his cousin say, Buy it! then it is the Lord asking: Prophet, how do you preach the Word, or how do you preach today with the deed? It is not easy for the prophet to flee the poverty of the year of disaster in the light of the year of jubilee. It is not easy, for he himself is a prisoner. Besides, if he does try to flee, it only means new danger. No redeemer was burdened like the prophet Jeremiah. Boaz could do it a hundred times easier than the prophet here today. Why? Because the king who kept him imprisoned had defiled the year of jubilee. In those days the house of David was terribly deteriorated. True, the king had set the slaves free one time for a while, but alas, in wartime one makes use of forced laborers, and so the slaves were brought back to slavery. The oath to the Lord was broken with respect to the slaves. In other words, the king had defiled the year of jubilee, which guaranteed freedom to the slaves. And so, when the prophet proclaims publicly that his cousin wants to be treated according to the year of jubilee, the king can say: So, so, so . . . another rebel? Still opposition and rowing against the stream? Kill that man, he is a danger to the nation's security. And so if the captured prophet is asked: Do you wish to profess the year of jubilee and remain in this cell? I do not think that any other human being has ever been tempted as this prophet to keep up his belief in the year of jubilee. And yet it happens!
It says it so clearly and beautifully. Then I, Jeremiah, confessed that this was the Word of the Lord. A day before it was announced the cousin is coming. He has had one day to ponder the question, Shall I do it or not? Shall I stand or fall? But as soon as he hears the key squeaking in the lock and the visitor comes in, he knows that when this man speaks it is the Word of the Lord. Right away he is determined to do it, and he places the poverty of the year of calamity in the light of the year of jubilee. In principle he has been victorious. And in this cell in which he prepares the purchasing document, the angels are singing on these two poor men's behalf: Rise, shine, for your light has come.
So we come from one joy into another in the Lord. We have come now this far, that man places hopelessness of the year of calamity in the light of the hope of the year of jubilee. That is what it says when I read, "Therefore, I bought from my uncle's son, Hanameel, the field, which is by Anathoth and I weighed him the money, 17 shekels." So, the prophet officially signs the contract and buys the property in Anathoth and pays a steep price: 17 shekels. I cannot say how much money that is. The coins' value is based upon the time in which one is living. I just want to say this: King Solomon received for a very big winery the revenue of 1000 pieces of silver. If then the prophet, who is financially broke, pays his cousin the amount of 17 shekels for the piece of land by Anathoth, then this is a fair amount. Now the question is: is paying all that money a responsible thing to do? No, when speaking according to the flesh. This is what you call throwing good money after bad. I could also say it this way: there is no logical reason for buying that piece of property for that price. After all, the property was destroyed and there was no harvest, nor were there any workers left to plough the soil . . . even the tools were gone. Who would pay such a price for that miserable piece of land? Some wise person might argue that the property is still an investment of money even if the land has lost its value. Especially in war-time it is quite something when one can safely invest his money. So, one could say, you are not being business-minded, for when the prophet buys that piece of land, this investment is totally responsible. This is because it is an investment of money in an inalienable possession. And if that is what you are saying, I would respond by saying: you are right, provided that this land was in fact purchased. But I do not think that this was the case. If one reads the Bible carefully, keeping the laws of redeeming in mind, then this one point will come into mind: the redeemer did not buy a piece of land but only the revenue of the soil. This was the law of the Lord: the entire land remains the Lord's! And the tribes that obtain it do not possess it but have it on loan. When Joshua divides the land after the conquest, one tribe receives this and the other tribe something else; one family this piece of land and the other family some other piece, but always with the stipulation, That land is not yours but remains the Lord's! You may only work it and use it for the Lord after his will and law. For this reason the land is given back to the poor families by God's own rule. The year of jubilee, in which the poor received back their little possession, was only possible based on the basic idea that the land remains the Lord's, it is not man's!
And now I want to ask you something. When the island Walcheren was flooded, perhaps many of you bought a piece of land in Walcheren thinking they will drain it again. It is a good investment. But would you have still bought the proceeds last year or even this year (let's say in February) on the basis of a contract? The proceeds of a piece of land which is under water? You say no, no, this year nothing will grow there. Exactly. Again I ask you what the prophet was doing? He paid 17 shekels of silver, which meant that he paid the price of as many harvests as there might be the coming year of jubilee. That is what the redeemer did. Everything would turn out fine.
We would say to the prophet that he is not using money wisely. There will not be any harvest this year, nor the following. The king may think, Maybe next year there will be another harvest. Yet the prophet knows that they will go into exile. In other words, Jeremiah is aware that even if he stays alive, he will never have one kernel of wheat from that field, never eat a grape, and never bite into a piece of fruit. In short, he will never earn one penny from this piece of land.
That is the hopelessness of his purchase.
But the Lord says, It is written in My Word: when I'm weak then I'm strong, when I'm poor, I'm rich. When I do things that are without prospect, then I open perspectives, perspectives upon the year of jubilee. When you might say now, No, cousin Hanameel, no way. I will not do it, or, I will pay a small price to get out of it, then you, Jeremiah, stand in the way of the year of jubilee of the Lord. You can say, It is war, that is true; I am a prisoner, that is true too. All of that you might say, but one who hinders a poor soul who is a sheep of the flock from having an outlook upon God's year of jubilee is not a prophet, but he falls from the prison of the king on earth into the prison of the King of both heaven and earth.
And so, prophet, what are you doing here? Will you buy for the full price? Yes or no?
And then something appears upon the wall of the prison cell. It is that beautiful word of the catechism, Lord's Day 23: the word "As though" and the other word "nevertheless". As though I had done it myself, thus it is reckoned unto me, what Christ did for me. "As though". And the other: even though I'm a sinner, yet I am righteous before God in Christ. "As though," the one church-word, "nevertheless" the other church-word. Those two words now begin to shine, written with God's own hand in the cell of the prophet Jeremiah in his prison. He buys the harvest of the field, as though a year of jubilee were coming; even when no year of jubilee would come, for the strange king is not interested. He says, "Get going, you bunch of slaves, come here to the concentration camp. And so when there will not be a year of jubilee in those first years, nevertheless I pay, dear cousin Hanameel, brother in Christ, until the coming year of jubilee. Here is the sum of money: 17 silver shekels." For the church, which is reformed also under the old covenant, which keeps the contract according to Christ's own laws, that church abides with the "as though" and the "nevertheless." The hopeless year of calamity is real, but, oh God, oh God, keep our eyes open for the prospect of the year of jubilee. Do not let one of these little ones fall by us.
He who sees it this way has heard the call in the cell: Be ready, be enlightened, for your light is coming. The feast of Advent in the jail; the preaching of Christ between two men that have ended up in the gutter.
And so when the prophet was called to make that purchase, there is a third miracle that appears.
The contract of the year of calamity is thus being placed in the context of the covenant of the year of jubilee. It says it here so beautifully, "I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales." All this is a contract, I repeat, a contract. Whoever closes a purchase like this one must do this in solemnity. One may try to make a deal unofficially, while alone with a friend or family member. But a prisoner can never buy something secretly. Instead, if he wants to purchase something he must ask for permission and put his request on paper, accept being checked and finally he may be permitted to buy under strict control. This is also the way it went with Jeremiah. The cousin needs to be redeemed, but that can only take place at the king's approval. And the king heard that his prisoner is very eager to redeem this property. The year of jubilee is in the man's bone and marrow. And when he hears that, the king is surprised and irritated, and so are the court officials. The king is annoyed because that prophet there is holding slaves, whom he, the king, has secretly kept. The king's blood boils. And still he is embarrassed.
Does that "traitor of his country" believe in the year of jubilee? And everyday he says, People, people, there will not be another year of jubilee. The king now sees that the prophet who predicted that there will not be a year of jubilee for 70 years now also says: and still we will ring the bells for the coming year of jubilee. When this happens, the king discovers this one thing: the so-called traitor of his country is not a betrayer of his church. He sticks to the promise. And therefore this prophet is not simply a betrayer of his country for he has understood one thing clearly: the bells of the Sabbath of God, the Sabbath-day, the Sabbath-year, the year of jubilee, the bells of the Sabbath of God will remain ringing whatever the result will be. Then the king began to grasp something of this mystery, namely, that the prophet saw the people not in the first place as a nation, but as the church, the church of Christ. During that time this church may have been in bonds by the nation, but it remained a church and was to be considered as a church. And therefore, the people of God were to receive the year of jubilee, even when everything in the nation seemed to be mocking and ridiculing it.
Then we see the prophet presenting the contract. The notary is present, the clerks, the contract and the copy, exactly as it should be. The seal is on it, a signed copy, everything is in order. But this contract of the year of disaster, about which they can laugh, since it is throwing away money, since it is not worth anything, that contract is now placed in the light of the covenant of the Lord's year of jubilee.
For the king of the North in those days, and Stalin in ours, and whichever power may come in our days, may silence the clocks of the church and the Sabbath year and the year of jubilee. That will not prevent the bells from ringing, however, for they are ringing above and it is God who pulls the ropes. The ear that hears is the ear of faith, and the eye that sees is the eye of faith, and the hand that works is the deed of faith. I can hear the bell of God's majesty ringing in heaven and no earthly power will ever be able to break the cycle of the year of jubilee of the grace and the faithfulness of the Lord. Rise, shine, for your light is appearing by the covenant of the Lord, which cannot be shaken. And so we move forward to the final point.
This prophet knows how to view the announcement of the year of disaster in the light of the Gospel, the Bible and of the year of jubilee. For when the letter of purchase and the copy have been written, Baruch receives an instruction. The Lord tells him to take the letter, the original letter of purchase, which has been sealed, as well as the copy, and place both of them in an earthen vessel. This is in order that they may be preserved for many days. That is something unusual. Normally, the notary locks up the documents in a safe and the testament is registered, to be read later by someone else. And so this notary will do the same. He will place the documents in an earthen vessel. That belongs to his profession. Every contract must be able to be found later. But everything which a notary normally does is being done now by the prophet himself through Baruch, his secretary. In the presence of all, Baruch is to say, My Lord, the notary, give it to me. I, Baruch, will keep the contract and the copy in an earthen vessel. We will seal it thoroughly and we will also seal off the vessel against moth and decay. For many years later, they must be able to see and read: the prophet Jeremiah, in the year of the Lord so and so, when all was in devastation, still believed in the year of jubilee. That year which did not come, and yet did come regularly (because his meaning, his secret, its content, Christ Jesus, did come) for he speaks to His church, "Behold, I come quickly, I will not be deterred." And so when the prophet lets this be done through Baruch, the announcement of the purchase becomes in the year of disaster a part of the Bible. For Baruch was not simply the prophet's clerk, but he was the Lord's servant in the writing of the Bible. Baruch wrote down Jeremiah's prophesies, and thanks to him we now have these Bible pages.
And when the king is angry with Jeremiah and says, away with that garbage, and puts the documents in the fire because it bothers him, then Baruch comes again, and rewrites the same, the Word of God. That man has been God's servant in preserving and registering the pages of Sacred Scripture. And when this man is appointed to keep the document, including the copy, then this man is really appointed to make that announcement in the pages of the sacred Gospel.
Congregation, we are able to pick the fruit of that today. Our eyes have seen that it has happened. Rise, shine, for your light has come.
Years later after the exile, a poverty stricken group of people returned to the land of promise. Among them were also family members of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was dead and buried, Baruch was gone, the king was gone, the witnesses were gone, they had all been buried. But after the exile, the people return to the holy city, they settle down in Anathoth and all the families search for their former belongings. But nothing is left. No contract, no inheritance rights, nothing! They all search for belongings but they find nothing. Jeremiah's children and grandchildren, however, say, Here is our document and there is its proof, the document with the copy, well preserved. And after many days they know this: that man, who sang psalms in the darkest nights, who in the year of calamity sang about the year of jubilee, that man took hold of the star of hope out of the strength of Christ. He taught one thing: God's clock does not stop. He also showed them that Christ Jesus is coming and everything that we own, including our land, is radiated by Him, by the light of the covenant of grace.
And just as the family of Jeremiah was strengthened and saw the promises, powerful, immovable and secure, so it is for you congregation today. I close as I began. It is a year of calamity. It is a miserable situation. The world is groaning. It is all misery, a year of calamity, indeed it is. But do not say, the calamities put their stamp on our times. I say, that is not true! The real stamp is the one of the year of jubilee. For even while we no longer have a year of jubilee as in the days of Jeremiah (because the shadows have passed by, the old covenant is fulfilled and has almost disappeared) yet we have this–we proceed towards the fulfillment. The eternal year of jubilee awaits us; the year of jubilee, which will commence in the Day of Days but will never have an end; a New Years' morning, but not an Old Years' evening. And in the eternal period of jubilation all slaves will be freed, all those in chains will be released, the blind will see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead live, the poor will be rich. And just as Jesus uses that as his proof for John the Baptist, that He truly is God's messenger, so do we. We have understood that He is alive. For every dead person who lives in sin is dead. If he is now alive by the power of regeneration, this is the proof: Christ was and is and the year of jubilee is coming until all eternity.
Indeed, we are on our way to the final, great, eternal, never-ending year of jubilee. And the word 'year' is consumed by the word 'jubilee.' That is why I demand of you, as God's messenger, that you will view all your days in that perspective, that you end your books as holy testimonies of the Gospel and thus buy out the time in these evil days knowing that the text remains profoundly true–Rise, shine, for your light has come. We are in the new covenant and the Lord's year of jubilee will not falter. He comes, He comes to judge the earth and the world in righteousness. And all the slaves that are imprisoned and underground (where cruel violence must surrender) are being led in justice. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving:
We thank Thee, heavenly Father, for Thy Word in its rich meaning. Wilt Thou lead us by Thy Holy Spirit and by Thy Word to be gracious daily in seeing and expecting the great light that has come into the world. Amen.
November 18, 1945
Rotterdam, The Netherlands