The prophet Jeremiah was told by God to buy some property from his cousin Hanamel even though God had already promised him that the city would soon be overrun by the Chaldeans. Jeremiah responded with a remarkable statement:
Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. [Jeremiah 32:17]
Why this response? Was he troubled? This sounds like a strong declaration of faith—and it certainly was—but later in the narrative Jeremiah reached the end of his prayer with a summary of uncertainty. Though he trusted God he had no idea what God was doing!
A national disaster was unfolding. The invading Chaldean army was besieging Jerusalem even as he wrote, an army that would soon crush the city and carry survivors off to a seventy-year exile in distant lands. Jeremiah had already prophesied all this on God’s behalf. So he knew this was not a good time to buy local real estate! And he was sure—with accuracy—that his purchase would never amount to anything in his own lifetime. So he voiced his wonder at God’s strange instructions:
What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it. Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans. [32:24]
This was a question, not an affirmation. In effect Jeremiah was asking, “What on earth are you doing, God?!”
God answered by restating the prophet’s own words in the next verse:
The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?”
God went on to reaffirm his earlier warnings: “Behold, I am giving this city into the hands of the Chaldeans . . .” Why? Because Jerusalem and the nation “have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth.” Furthermore, “They have turned to me their back and not their face.”
Given this exchange between God and his prophet, here’s our own question for the day: how does God’s absolute power—the truth that nothing is “too hard” for him—relate to real world concerns? We can explore this but first let’s notice that Jeremiah was thinking about his finances and God was thinking about Judah’s sin. How did these differences unfold?
Let’s start with the point of the property purchase. Jeremiah was using his finite financial resources to buy apparently worthless property. The field was located in Anathoth, a village distant from besieged Jerusalem, so Jeremiah had no access to it. From a human point of view Hanamel was either taking Jeremiah for a ride by selling him worthless property for some cash during the inflationary run-up of food prices in the desperate city. Or he was making a deal with Jeremiah that ignored the prophet’s promise of a coming exile. Or both. So Jeremiah comes out looking like a chump and/or a false prophet. And this was God’s plan?
Next we should ask what actually happened after Jeremiah bought the property.
He almost certainly never got to the place. After Jerusalem was taken by the Chaldeans he was given freedom to go wherever he wanted but he ended up in Egypt, probably under duress, with a number of survivors who fled there for refuge. He died in Egypt. As for Hanamel we don’t know whether he survived the collapse of the city. But we can be sure that any money he got from Jeremiah would probably have been only marginally useful—and most likely confiscated—in his new circumstances as a prisoner and exile, if he even survived. The old frame of reference—of owning and enjoying land and money as a basis for personal security—was no longer in play for either him or his cousin. The catastrophe of the Chaldean invasion had changed everything.
God, on the other hand, was concerned with the catastrophe of Judah’s moral collapse. Judah was his beloved nation yet they had abandoned him in favor of an affair with foreign Gods and the perverse values they represented. By worshipping other god’s, while still parroting claims of allegiance to the LORD, some parents had sacrificed their children to Molech. Some wives were dismissing Yahweh in favor of a female “Queen of heaven”. And most people were simply living out self-concerned pragmatic values under a thin veneer of religious devotion. God was not ready to let this ugly status quo go on. So he allowed the evil Chaldean army to become agents of change—using evil to confront evil in order to bring about a new reality.
Now let’s get back to the twice referenced affirmation that nothing is too hard for God. In Jeremiah’s statement we can be sure that he was thinking about God’s call for him to buy the property. Most likely he was puzzling over the possibility that God might somehow grant him the chance to return to Anathoth, his hometown, to build a nice retirement house—despite the certainty of the coming exile. Would he be an exception? I’m guessing, of course. But I suspect he was too! His one certainty was that God is always in control and that’s what he affirmed.
For God’s part there seems to have been a double message. One was that land values would eventually climb once again—that after the exile the returning Jews would once again be buying and selling land as a valued resource. Jeremiah’s vain purchase during the siege symbolized a hopeful future, a future still under God’s ruling hand. The Chaldeans were not greater than God; instead God controlled the Chaldeans.
But God’s greater purpose was to confront the arrogance of his people. Nothing is too hard for God, not even changing hard hearts. The episode of Jeremiah’s purchase is located between two divine assertions that God’s plan was to create new hearts among his people. In 31:32 God set out the relational basis for his complaint against his people: “I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt [in Moses’ day], [yet] my covenant they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.” God loved his people too much to let them continue in the status quo of spiritual promiscuity. A new covenant was coming:
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [31:33]
Then again, after affirming his faithfulness to Jeremiah while also reminding him that the reason for the exile was the gross sin of the people, God returned to his real issue: changed hearts. Nothing is impossible for God because God is able to touch the soul at its deepest center. But the means he used was not a happy option for those who preferred their social stability over holiness. Jerusalem, as it stood, was a center of spiritual infidelity. So God summarized his plan:
Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever . . . [32:37-38]
Needless to say, even today nothing is too hard for God. But many believers and professing believers may be in Jeremiah’s place: fixated on the question of present possessions. God, on the other hand, is a lover who knows how to change hearts. How so? As in Jeremiah’s day, by not answering our prayers as we wish he would but by answering our deepest need—a heart that once again clings to him as its first and foremost delight.