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"Seeing Stars"

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

When Jeremiah received his prophetic call from the Lord, he was commissioned … “to pluck up and pull down … to build and to plant.”.

A watercolor painting of a person in prayer with their hands clasped near their face
[1] “Prayer” by Graham Dean

Jeremiah 32:16-25

August 7, 2022

Dr. Todd R. Wright When Jeremiah received his prophetic call from the Lord, he was commissioned … “to pluck up and pull down … to build and to plant.” Through most of the book that records his ministry, Jeremiah’s work concentrated on the plucking up and pulling down, with both words of judgment and condemnation as well as dramatic acts to snap the people out of their sinful stupor and drag them back to faith. Neither words or actions seemed to make much of a difference. So, there must have been times when Jeremiah wondered when – if ever – God would give him a message of hope; when he could get his hands dirty with some building and planting![2]


It was not a hopeful time. The chapter begins with a clear date: the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah’s reign was 587 BCE, ten years after the first Babylonian defeat of Jerusalem and the carrying off a group of God’s people into exile. Things have not improved in the past decade. Jeremiah has made enemies by denouncing king and country for sinful acts against the powerless, and shallow faith, and constantly straying off the holy path to seek the blessings of other gods. Now the army of Babylon has again besieged the Holy City and Jeremiah has been placed under house arrest, by his own king, accused of being a traitor, because he refuses to pretend that all will be well. And then Jeremiah is told to buy a field in Anathoth. It sounded like previous words from the Lord, like more plucking up and tearing down. Once he had been told to buy a loincloth and bury it, a symbol of the ruin of Judah. Then he had been told to buy a clay jug and smash it, a symbol of God smashing the city.[3] So, when he was told to buy a field, it seemed like the same old prophetic party trick. Anathoth was north of the city, directly in the path of the invading army. No one in their right mind would have bought it. Therefore, Jeremiah was ready to stage another act of performance art. But this time God had other plans. This time the “bought thing” would be a sign of hope!


A short poem by an anonymous author reads: “Two men looked through prison bars. One saw the mud; the other the stars.”[4] It is easy to see the mud. When an addict has lost their way; when a family has lost connection; when a gambler has lost it all, the landscape looks muddy. When a McDowell County miner wonders where the jobs are; when a cancer patient wonders where the miracle cure is hiding; when a mourner wonders how life can go on, the future looks gritty, grimy, grubby. It looks unproductive and unpromising. But God tells Jeremiah to buy a field; to do so publicly; and invite Judah to see the stars. Jeremiah does it because God’s order to buy the field included a promise that “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land!”


Of course, even prophets sometimes have a hard time seeing the stars. Jeremiah prays a bewildered prayer. As he looks around, words of hope feel strange in his mouth, so he falls back on saying what believes to be true: God created the heavens and earth with a word. (Jeremiah might have added the stars, too!) Nothing is too hard for God to do!!) (Repeat that with me, please!) God brought Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders. Nothing is too hard for God to do! God brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey. Nothing is too hard for God to do! Even when the people brought disaster on themselves, God did not give up on them. God gave them signs – sobering signs, frightening signs, but also this sign of hope. It was proof that God would keep the covenant; proof that God would still love them. Nothing is too hard for God to do!


Somewhere in the process of praying that prayer, Jeremiah begins to see stars. Maybe that’s what happens when you look at the world through tears. Maybe that’s what happens when hope takes root in muddy soil and sends up green shoots – a field of star flowers and fireflies! Maybe that’s what happens when you begin to believe that God can fix that which is broken beyond our ability to repair, and heal that which is terminal, and restore that which is lost. Nothing is too hard for God to do! Amen

[1] “Prayer” by Graham Dean [2] Inspired by George Ramsey’s commentary on the text in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, page 99 [3] See Jeremiah 13 and 19 [4] From Jared Alcantara’s commentary on the text in Connections, Year C. Volume 3, page 338[1]
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