Jeremiah the contrarian investor buys when world seems lost

A house in St. Elmo, at the foot of Lookout Mountain, is for sale. (Photo

By David Tulis

A wise man often is one who stands apart from the crowd, and whose actions go contrary to those of the throng when indications are right. The crowd caves and clamors about the virtue of homosexual civil unions; he’ll quietly insist on using the word marriage, without any adjective in front of it such as “heterosexual” or “traditional.” He is not dissuaded from his solitude; when happy friends see a bright light and squint, he scarcely notices. His pals in desperation liquidate in a down market; calmly, he buys.

I heard about one such man this Lord’s Day in an Old Testament reading. The prophet Jeremiah, in the 32nd chapter of his book, is given direction by God to buy a parcel of land amid a siege of his country by invaders.

Jeremiah has an advantage over regular mortals when presented an opportunity to make an investment. He has insight supernaturally given by God himself, via direct communication about the abatement of his wrath and the real estate market in Jerusalem. Joseph has a similar inerrant forecast when he interprets Pharaoh’s dream about the seven full years and the seven bleak.

It is the 10th year of the Zedekiah, the king of Judah, and the 18th year of the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. “For then the king of Babylon’s army besieged Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah’s house” (v. 2). The king had placed Jeremiah under house arrest because he had said the Israelites will “surely be delivered into the hand of the King of Babylon” and that Zedekiah will lose his throne and be dragged away in a depopulation.

When confetti flies, sell; when cannons boom, buy

God tells Jeremiah that he’s going into real estate. He directs Jeremiah, a prisoner of the king because of his anti-establishment line, to act as if confident of the future of his nation and his people. His message to Zedekiah has not been welcomed. Jeremiah has told the king that for the wickedness of the people of Israel, God will punish them with military defeat and slavery. Jeremiah tells the covenant head of a fallen people that they have violated God’s commandments. If they repent and surrender, he will protect them; they should go along quietly.

The proposal to buy land comes to him through Hanamel, the son of an uncle, Shallum, who has a field in Anathoth in the lands of the tribe of Benjamin, three miles northeast of Jerusalem. The young man tells Jeremiah that the field must go to him, “for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself” (v. 7). This invitation follows Israelite custom.

Jeremiah knows the offer “was the word of the Lord.” It’s a down market, so he pays only a little money, 17 shekels in silver (v. 9).  It should be noted that, unlike American paper currency, the money Jeremiah pays has to be weighed. Twice this fact is stated. Jeremiah bought the field, “weighed him the money even seventeen shekels in silver* and with witnesses  “weighed him the money in the balances.” Lawful money, even in our day when everything is converted into digits, is always something discerned by weight (usually silver or gold in readily identifiable coin form). A shekel is 224 grains of silver, about the size of a U.S. half dollar coin. Originally shekel referred to weight alone; later the name applied to coinage.

Jeremiah goes to great lengths to record the transaction. He rounds up witnesses in the court of the king’s prison. There are two forms of receipts, one sealed, one open. The prophet takes a keen interest in relating the administrative steps that record the land deal. Both the sealed deed and the open deed he directs to be put in “an earthen vessel” for purposes of long-term storage (v.14). He is thinking beyond the immediate crisis.

The passage is remarkable because of Jeremiah’s faith in God’s promised restoration of the Israelites to the land. To God’s covenant people of that age, the land was a sign and seal of covenant blessing. Of course, today, God’s people are worldwide, and the church and its sacraments are covenant symbols of God’s favor. Jeremiah is following advice, under God’s guiding hand, that mirrors a saying in a great banking house, the Rothschilds, to the effect that one should sell when confetti is falling in the streets (and the market is peaking), and buy when cannon booms in the distance (all are faint; the markets are tanked). This advice is contrarian.

What about us?

What does Jeremiah have to say about local economy? Before answering that question, I need to say a little more about Jeremiah. God intends to give Jerusalem to the Chaldeans, who will burn down the houses upon whose rooftops the Israelites burned incense to Baal and other alien gods (v. 29). The sins of the people anger God. From the greatest to the smallest, “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” (v. 33).

Every Lord’s Day the faithful Christian church delivers the message of Jeremiah. God’s people are sinning. They are refusing to acknowledge God’s law. Many refuse the Lord’s Supper (a meal face to face with God), or sin against their own souls by partaking of it without having repented. Judgment is coming because God imposes sanctions in history, and while people may reject Him for a season, they cannot prosper doing it. God rejects the people because their economy, as seen in their relationship with God, is not face to face, but back to face. They refuse His meal, care naught for His forgiveness.

The impersonalism of the modern corporate and industrial economy reflects the spiritual problems Jeremiah addresses. I wouldn’t say that national economy or your dealings in any part of it are sinful. And corporations aren’t necessarily evil as the concept of the corporation — the body — comes from Christianity. Indeed, I would propose that great blessing can be seen in the free operation of global economy. A good Christian is taught to believe that the increase in God’s government and peace knows no end, pursuant to Isaiah 9:7. That promise implies world domination by Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, of nations, tribes, languages, institutions, tribes, the world’s systems small and great.

Today, global economy is being recklessly led into a profound overleverage. Central banks are feeding easy credit to the people. Commoners and enterprises, like governments, face bankruptcy and disappointment. Sinfully disposed already, Americans are being misled to think short term, and to stiff the lender with the aid of inflation. We relish many sins. We reject biblical teaching. We delegate duties to the state illicitly. We yield principle for subsidy. Our political representatives are a warrior class who believe in government hegemony over all of life, and quietly we accept it.

The Christian church, in its faithful pulpits, warns about judgment. It tells about promise within judgment, and opportunity for God’s glory within it and beyond it. Jeremiah buys real estate when all hope is lost. Cannons boom, and the prophet lays down his shekels. God will redeem His people. But first they must throw open the gates to armed strangers speaking a language they don’t understand, arraying themselves in an entry procession into their capital with gleaming spear tips.

Source: Madeleine S. and J. Lane Miller, The New Harper’s Bible Dictionary (New York: Harper & Row, 1973, 1952), 853 pp

David Tulis, married and the father of four, is a member at Brainerd Hills Presbyterian Church.

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