“Keys: Hope or Despair?”
September 25, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-19 Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
We’ve all read about the roaring twenties, the stock market crash, and the Great Depression that followed. But what we often forget is that, while a great many Americans suffered, there were several people who made enormous sums of money because of the stock market crash. I have heard stories that while the Rockefellers were rich before the crash, they became very rich afterward because they had already begun to withdraw money from the stock markets before the crash, and then used that money to buy up real estate at 20 cents on the dollar during the depression.
Likewise, Joe Kennedy, Sr., patriarch of the Kennedy family that we often read about, made a lot of money speculating on stocks in the 1920’s, along with a healthy portion of insider trading and market manipulation. Joe Kennedy knew when to get out of the stock market, and got out before the crash. He then took his money and invested it in real estate, liquor, and movie studios, all of which made huge profits and built his family fortune to lofty heights and landed it among the highest echelons of the American rich.
But when I mention these things, I’m sure that some of you are wondering, “So, what can the Great Depression have to do with the Bible?” But as odd as it may seem, there is a scene in scripture that is eerily similar to the days before the stock markets crashed. In Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15, the prophet Jeremiah has warned the king of the impending invasion by the Babylonian army and the imminent defeat of Israel. But no one wants to hear bad news. Instead of doing something about it, let alone listening to God’s instructions, the king imprisons Jeremiah in the palace courtyard. But even from there, Jeremiah hears from God and, by his obedience and attitude, gives hope for the future.
32:1 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.
3 Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do? You say, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it.
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.’
8 “Then, just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’
“I knew that this was the word of the Lord; 9 so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. 11 I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy— 12 and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard.
13 “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: 14 ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. 15 For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’
Jeremiah is imprisoned in the guardhouse of the palace, but there he hears from God and is told that his cousin will soon arrive with an offer to sell him his uncle’s farm. Of course, Jeremiah has been telling everyone, and it is becoming increasingly feared, that the Babylonian army is about to capture the city. So if that is true, then what follows is likely to be profoundly unpleasant. Everyone knows how brutal the Babylonians are and they know that slavery or death is probably in their future. So why would anyone, particularly someone like Jeremiah who believes, and has been preaching, that this is going to happen, why would someone like that go to the trouble of buying property that they will likely never be able to use? And the simple answer is… hope. God has not only announced that Israel would be defeated, but that, sometime, in the future, likely in the lifetime of Jeremiah or his children, the land of Israel will once again be bought and sold. Buying one that field is both an act of faith in God and a demonstration of hope for the future. By witnessing, or even hearing about, Jeremiah’s purchase, the people of God know that even though horrible things are about to happen, Israel will once again exist as a nation, the economy will be rebuilt, and normal life will return.
It seems like a small thing, the purchase of one small field. But the attitude behind it, an attitude of obedience and hope, is enough to stand above the panic and bring hope to an entire city. Jeremiah demonstrates that our attitude makes a huge difference in our lives, but also that it makes a difference whether or not we pursue the things of God, or, like the king of Israel, pursue instead our own gratification and self-importance. And then in 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Paul takes that same message and makes it personal.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Paul says that it is often our own desires that harm us and bring us to ruin. God told the king of Israel that he was going to lose, but if he surrendered, that most everyone would be unharmed. His ego caused him to ignore God and imprison his messenger. Paul says that each of us do the same thing when we love money more than God. It is our love of money, and our pursuit of it, that causes us grief and suffering. Instead of dedicating our lives to pursuing wealth, or fame, or power, or the accumulation of belongings, or comfort, or any number of other things we are called to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Paul condemns the rich not because they are rich, but because they are arrogant and put their hope in money instead of God. Instead, the standard by which we are measured, rich and poor alike, is whether or not we do good with the things that we have been given, to be rich in doing good deeds for others, and for being generous with what we have.
For Jeremiah and for Paul, the key to contentment and true wealth can be found simply by having the right attitude. Chasing after money, or power, or fame and putting those things, or anything, ahead of our pursuit of God, takes us down a path of grief, pain, suffering, and despair. But pursuing the things of God, righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness take us down an entirely different path toward faith, contentment, and hope.
Life is all about choices, but each choice opens another door down a path.
Which path will you choose?
Will you put God first?
Or something else?
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