The days of your tiny nation are numbered. The enemy is about to take the land and every one of your countrymen they can find with it. You are ready to flee, but before you go you put your house up for sale in the hope that someone might buy it to give you additional money for your exodus out of your homeland.
I know that sounds insane, but imagine what is even crazier-- your neighbor down the street offers to buy it! And not only that, he is willing to pay market value for it before the invaders marched into friendly territory. Who would be so ignorant and reckless to do such a thing?
Prophets often resorted to symbolic acts to make a point, and Jeremiah was really good at such dramatic displays; and at the beginning of Jeremiah 31, he engages in a symbolic act that is a real doozy. John Holbert writes,
Jeremiah is about to engage in history's worst land deal. No real estate agent of any century would come within a ten-foot pole of the land transaction that Jeremiah is about to become involved in. The historical context of the deal is crucial. We are at the very end of the life of the country of Judah. Since the accession of David to the throne of Israel in 1000 B.C.E., through the division of the kingdoms, Israel and Judah, in 922 B.C.E., to the destruction of northern Israel in 722 B.C.E., Judah has existed for over 400 years. Now its doom is sealed. Nebuchadnezzar (here spelled Nebuchadrezzar), king and general of the armies of Babylon, is besieging the city of Jerusalem.B. Davey Napier states, what Jeremiah has done in contemporary terms is upon hearing the news of the launch of nuclear warheads he immediately goes to ground zero and buys the land that's been targeted. Surely if there was an act that demonstrated insanity, this is it.
Is it possible to imagine what it must have been like for the people of Judah? Their future is uncertain. History is replete with such uncertainties-- the Persian invasion of the Byzantine Empire, the encroachment by the Vandals and the Visigoths, the invasion of Jerusalem by the Crusaders, the continual bombing of London in the Second World War, the incursion of North Vietnam into South Vietnam-- and the list goes on and on.
The people of Judah faced an uncertain future, but in the midst of impending disaster, God has a promise to offer. Yes, death and exile are coming; but that is not the end of the story.
And I [Jeremiah] bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land (32:9-15).Judah has not been faithful to God, but God will remain faithful to Judah. In the midst of Jerusalem's destruction, God is still at work in the midst of God's people on their behalf; and God will continue to work on behalf of his covenant people by bringing them home once again to this very same land that will once again be bought and sold and planted and harvested, a land on which to build homes and a new Temple.
God's promises cannot be revoked. Therefore, there is always hope... even at ground zero.