Hope for the Deepest Pit
by Jack Wald | November 25th, 2001

Jeremiah 32

We come to the end, this morning, of our series of sermons on Jeremiah. I approach sermon series with fear and trepidation, I worry that we will not find enough of value to make the series interesting and helpful to us. I worry that it is the wrong place in Scripture for us to be looking at the present moment. But once again, it has been a wonderful experience and I have been blessed by Jeremiah in a way I had not anticipated. I can read Jeremiah now and have a context in which to place the things he said and did. I trust you have also been enlightened and encouraged by his example.

The series of sermons concludes this morning with an event that took place at the end of Jeremiah’s forty years as a prophet to the nations. Eleven years before the events of this chapter, Babylon had besieged Jerusalem and captured it. The city was left undisturbed but the Temple was ransacked with anything of value taken back to Babylon. In this first deportation, ten thousand of the rulers, military leaders, artisans and craftsmen were taken back to Babylon and Zedekiah was placed on the throne to replace King Jehoiachin who was among those taken to Babylon. King Zedekiah was  the third son of Josiah and uncle of Jehoiachin.

Zedekiah was placed on the throne because Nebuchadnezzar thought he would be easily controlled, but as those eleven years passed, Zedekiah began to make alliances with Egypt and this finally brought the Babylonian army once again in siege against Jerusalem. This time Judah had no army with which to defend itself. It was overwhelmingly overpowered by the Babylonian army and it was only a matter of time before the city was plundered and the inhabitants taken into exile.

It was perhaps the bleakest time in Judah’s history, a time in which people had no hope. For eleven years the people had suffered the humiliation of defeat by the Babylonians but it had been a defeat that left them with some power and autonomy. Now their defeat was to be total and complete. There had been bad times before, but never like this.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar.  2 The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.

In these last days of Judah, Jeremiah was under arrest in the palace for irritating King Zedekiah with his message of judgement. Telling Zedekiah that he would be taken to Babylon was not what Zedekiah wanted to hear and once again, Jeremiah paid the price for speaking the message God gave him.

With Jeremiah under arrest, the Babylonian army camping in Judah’s territory and building siege ramps to advance over the gates of Jerusalem, and the population of Jerusalem in a panic, we read the events of Jeremiah 32.

One of the things that amuses me about Jeremiah is that all through this book, people and prophets kept saying nothing bad was going to happen to Judah and Jeremiah would stand up and say, “Just a minute, let me tell you the terrible things that are going to happen as part of God’s judgement.” But now that the people are in a panic and have given up hope, Jeremiah stands up and says, “Just a minute, let me tell you about all the wonderful blessings God has in store for us.”

People call Jeremiah the weeping prophet because he wept for Judah. They call him the angry prophet because of his message of judgement. And I suppose we could call him the contrary prophet because he seemed always to speak up in opposition to what most people were feeling and thinking.

Jeremiah pronounced judgement after judgement after judgement but he finished his ministry with a message of hope.

Let’s look at the central event of the chapter. Jeremiah is under arrest, confined to the palace courtyard, when he receives a word from God that his cousin will come to him with an offer.
6 Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me:  7 Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’

Leviticus 25 gives some instructions about selling property to a relative to keep it in the family which is what happened here. But the situation is a little more than meets the eye. The land being offered to Jeremiah is land in the territory of Benjamin where the Babylonians are camping. So Hanamel came to sell Jeremiah land already being occupied by the Babylonians.

Picture the situation. Hanamel is sitting with his family and friends, whining and moaning about his situation. He has been forced to flee from his land and the Babylonians now occupy it. Then someone has a crazy idea. “Why not sell it to old man Jeremiah? Maybe he’ll be crazy enough to buy it from you?”

And Jeremiah is crazy enough to buy the land from Hanamel and he goes to great lengths, having the sale witnessed with all the legal niceties observed. In fact he seems to make the sale as public as possible to use it as he so often used objects, groups and events, to illustrate the message God had given him.

Jeremiah was an intelligent man and realized the folly of what he was doing. He was not without doubts and yet he was obedient to what God told him to do.
24 “See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see.  25 And though the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, you, O Sovereign LORD, say to me, ‘Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.’”
Jeremiah had doubts yet was obedient.

I want you to understand how bleak the situation was because only as we understand the bleakness of the situation, the hopelessness of the situation, can we appreciate fully the magnitude of hope that was offered.

Our call to worship illustrates this so well. Although Lamentations was written by a disciple of Jeremiah and not Jeremiah himself, the passage we read reveals a stunning contrast between despair and hope.

Image after image is used to describe the depth of the pit of despair the writer found himself in. Perhaps it was this time in Judah’s life that he is talking about? If not, it certainly describes how Judah felt at this point in its history.

The writer walks in darkness rather than light
His skin and my flesh grow old and his bones are broken
He is surrounded with bitterness and hardship.
He is living in a grave with those long dead
He cannot escape and is weighed down with chains.
Even his prayers are not answered.
His teeth are broken with gravel; and he has been trampled in the dust

Image after image is used to paint a bleak, hopeless and desperate situation and then he continues:
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.

This is how deep the pit of despair is that Judah found itself in. This is the mood of the nation.

But then comes the most remarkable transition
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

This is what allowed Jeremiah to buy a piece of property being occupied by the Babylonians at the time he bought it. It was a piece of property he most likely never set foot on, never had the opportunity to benefit from. He never planted grapes and watched them grow. He never harvested a crop of olives. He never laid down on it in a moment of rest and looked up at the clouds. He never was able to enjoy owning that piece of land.

When Jeremiah bought the piece of property, his future was a very uncertain one. When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, Jeremiah was taken to Egypt where he died. And yet Jeremiah lived with hope and was able to preach a message of hope.

On what basis did Jeremiah have hope?

I want to suggest that Jeremiah had reason to hope from the past, present and future.

Past hope
After Jeremiah bought the land from Hanamel, he prayed to God and in his prayer he remembered how God had worked in the history of Israel.

20 You performed miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt and have continued them to this day, both in Israel and among all mankind, and have gained the renown that is still yours.  21 You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror.  22 You gave them this land you had sworn to give their forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.  23 They came in and took possession of it, but they did not obey you or follow your law; they did not do what you commanded them to do. So you brought all this disaster upon them.

It is true that it seems the purpose of Jeremiah in bringing up the history of what God had done for Israel was to contrast God’s loving and consistent acts with the faithlessness of Israel. But in remembering the history of God’s work for Israel, it served as a reminder that God is one who is faithful. If God was faithful in the past, why will he not be faithful in the present and future?

Present hope
Jeremiah not only had past history to give him hope, he had his personal experience to give him present hope. Jeremiah, 40 years earlier had been given his commission from God in which God had made certain promises to him.

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.
17 “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.  18 Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.  19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

God had made these promises to Jeremiah and he had kept them. Jeremiah had been whipped and beaten, put in the stocks, been publically humiliated, thrown into prison on a diet of bread and water, thrown into a cistern where he sank in mud up to his armpits. Jeremiah had faced incredible opposition and yet he had been supported through all of this by the God who had called him and promised he would enable Jeremiah to stand up to the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.

Jeremiah had hope in the present because of the demonstrated faithfulness of God in his life. And he also had hope in the present because the prophecies God had given to him had come true. Babylon had overcome Jerusalem with the sword.

Future hope
Jeremiah had hope because of the history of God working with his people, because of his own personal experiences in his present life and he had hope because of promises made to him that would be fulfilled in the future.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

Jeremiah was not given specific knowledge of God being made flesh in the person of Jesus, who would bring this new covenant, but he was given the promise of the difference the coming of Jesus would make.

Because of Jeremiah’s hope, he was able to speak wonderful words of reassurance to a people who were in a panic and in a deep pit of despair.

3 The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with loving-kindness.
4 I will build you up again
and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel.
Again you will take up your tambourines
and go out to dance with the joyful.
5 Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.

I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.

The events we read in Jeremiah are unique. We do not face an army coming to destroy us and carry us off into captivity. But we are from time to time thrown into a deep pit of despair. We are sometimes oppressed by financial considerations. We are sometimes in grief and mourning because of the loss of someone we have loved. We are sometimes in doubt because we wonder if what we are doing is having any significant effect. We sometimes despair because it seems that the forces of darkness are overcoming the forces of light.

But like Jeremiah, we too have hope based on the past, present and future.

Jeremiah had the history of Israel to consider as he looked for evidence of God’s faithfulness. We have that same glorious history and in addition to that we have an additional 2,600 years of God’s interactions with men and women. We know much that would have encouraged Jeremiah even more than he was encouraged.

Jeremiah’s future hope is now our past hope. The new covenant has been written on our hearts. The Messiah has come in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. What God promised has turned out to be true. The Gospel according to Matthew has 53 quotes and 76 allusions from the Old Testament showing how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies and expectations.

We have been given a much clearer picture of God by seeing the life of Jesus lived out among us. We have the privilege of looking back on events the saints of old longed to see.

In Luke 10, after the 72 disciples returned on their mission trip, Jesus had this to say:
21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
22 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
23 Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.  24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

This is our privilege, to have these events as our history from which we can draw strength and hope. In addition to this unique history, we have the lives of the saints throughout church history: Augustine, Luther, Hudson Taylor, and many others. As we read of God’s faithfulness in their lives, we can be encouraged that God will be faithful to us as well.

Our hope has a rich past on which to draw but also a present hope. As with Jeremiah, we have our own personal experience with God. When we are overwhelmed or consumed with doubt, we can lean back in the richness of our experience with Jesus the Messiah and be renewed in our faith. We can remember how it was that we came to believe and how it was that we have been over and over renewed in our faith. Our faith lives in us giving us a living hope. As the Apostle Peter wrote:
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

And we have a future hope. Jeremiah looked to the time of the new covenant, when the law would be written on our hearts. We who are Christians have experienced that and the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts has written God’s truth on our hearts. Jeremiah’s future hope is our present experience but we too have a future hope.

Jesus who died has promised to return and take us to be with him.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.  2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jeremiah had a basis for hope and we have an even greater basis for hope. So what do we do when we are in the pit? How do we grasp onto the abundant hope that is available to us so we can climb out of the pit we are in?

Biblical faith is practical faith that focuses on reality. In order to climb out of the pit, we need to look at what is real and then we will find ourselves climbing.

What was the reality in Jeremiah’s case? Was reality that he was buying a piece of property that had little or no value because it was already being occupied by the Babylonian army? Jeremiah did not look at this present circumstance, he was able to look far beyond this present, temporary circumstance and see the more permanent reality, that God was going to redeem this land.

When we face a circumstance that seems too real, too large, too oppressive, too overwhelming, we need to pray to God to help us look at his reality.

I am not one who goes through difficult times easily. I am very good at moaning and whining and complaining about my condition. Let me give you some examples.

When Annie and I were first married, she was still in college and I worked at whatever I could find to support us. I shoveled snow in the winter. I did carpentry jobs, cleaned out an old building so it could be renovated. But we went through one three week period with 25¢ to our name. One night, after a Bible Study in our apartment, we found a five dollar bill in an egg carton in our refrigerator. We applied for government supplied food stamps and lived on those for several months that first year. That was a difficult period in our lives.

But there were even more pressing financial moments when I was in business and business was slow and I was desperate to find money to meet the bi-weekly payroll. The pressure was incredible and I remember periods when I would think about it at night before I went to sleep and be thinking about it with my first bit of consciousness in the morning.

There was one week just before the papers were signed to sell the business that was a week from hell. We had a trade show in Chicago where we were meeting with potential customers during the day and trying to promote ourselves, taking customers out to dinner in the evenings. At the same time I was involved in very tense final negotiations with the company that eventually bought us. I was on the phone with lawyers and getting overnight packages of documents to be reviewed and signed. Faxes coming in and going out.

My niece was to be married on that weekend so the family was coming into town for the wedding. This was a very tense time for me with my family. My mother had not spoken to me for six months which made family gatherings tense. On top of this my mother’s sister had died just two weeks earlier. There was to be no church service since my aunt had no faith so we had a memorial meeting when everyone sat around in a circle and talked about their memories.

I was on the phone with a lawyer just prior to this meeting and during the meeting, my mother expressed her unhappiness with me as part of the memorial for her sister. It was an ugly week.

During this week and other tense times in my life, it seemed that there was no future only the present and the present seemed unescapably eternal. The reality of the pressures around me made it difficult to see clearly what was truly real.

But as I recall it, in the midst of the pressures, I had at least a small part of me at the core of my being that held on to the reality that this too would pass and one day I would be free of all this. I knew God was present with me and that when this life ended for me, I would be with him for eternity. What enabled me to endure was holding on to a reality beyond my present circumstances.

I’ve been listening to a CD of Graham Kendrick and one of the songs that stirs me each time I hear it is Lord You’ve Been Good to Me.
Lord you’ve been good to me
All my life, all my life
Your loving kindness never fails
I will remember
All you have done
Bring from my heart
Thanksgiving songs

I listen to that song and sing with it and my heart is moved because I can remember how God was faithful. During those times of pressure in my life, it was hard to see God’s faithfulness. All I could do then was to hang on. But now with the luxury of time, I can look back and see more clearly. Lord you’ve been good to me. All my life, all my life.

When you find yourself in a pit with crushing disappointment or a bitter loss or overwhelming anxiety. Remember that the one we serve has a future for you

Do me a favor and talk this week to someone who has lived a long life. Ask about times of crisis in their lives and how God delivered them. If you are feeling overwhelmed in your life, hold on to your faith in God who will deliver you and be encouraged by the experience of others who have seen God’s faithfulness.