These are difficult days for Israel. And these are also difficult days for those of us who say we are friends of Israel.
I recently received a call from a pastor friend, who was about to lead a prayer meeting in his church for Israel. He had called me to get an update on the current situation so that he and his congregation could “pray intelligently.” (I love that expression “pray intelligently.” It implies that sometimes we pray stupidly – and you know, we often do!)
I first met this friend of mine over 20 years ago. It was even before my wife Ann and I received our call to come to Israel. And he was the first preacher I ever heard who spoke about Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones and said that the vision was about Israel’s restoration to the land and to the Lord.
Now it’s encouraging to get a call from a pastor who loves Israel. But in this telephone conversation, he questioned me about a letter that I had signed, along with about 40 other leaders in the local body, in which we called on the Church in Germany and other nations to stand up and speak out on behalf of Israel at this critical hour – at a time when anti-Semitism is again on the rise, frighteningly reminiscent of the years leading up to the Holocaust. This letter troubled my friend. He was disappointed that the body of believers in Israel was defending Israel rather than speaking prophetically to Israel by calling the nation to repentance.
Yes, Israel needs to hear a message of repentance – just as the rest of the nations need to hear a prophetic message of repentance. But I don’t think my friend appreciates the fact that there are times in which we need to speak words of comfort, and times to speak words of correction. And by the way, if you listen to the rabbis these days, they’re preaching loud and clear a message of repentance.
But there’s something else that I don’t think my friend fully appreciates. And that is the fact that there is something important called “winning the right to be heard.” Winning the right to be heard involves the process of proving yourself to be a true friend. Until someone knows that we are a friend and have his or her best interests in mind, that person won’t likely appreciate a stern rebuke.
In the same way, until we have proved in credible, tangible ways that we are true friends of Israel, how can we as the body of believers really expect Israel to listen to us?
I’m reminded of the words of Proverbs 27:6,
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend….” So, believe it or not, at certain times (and those are rare), the best thing a friend can do for us is wound us. What I mean by that is, a trusted friend tells us about a problem he discerns in our lives and challenges us to change. But it’s dangerous to do that, because we can easily wound someone and cause them more damage than good. The only wounds we are allowed to inflict are the kind of wounds a careful and caring surgeon inflicts in order ultimately to bring the hope of healing.
So we must be careful and caring in making prophetic proclamations to Israel. We must speak as a friend; otherwise, we will cripple rather than cure and we will discourage rather than bring the hope that Israel needs at this hour.
My friend’s call to us to become a prophetic voice to this nation is right. But let’s first prove that our prophetic voice is the voice of a friend, even a friend like Yeshua, who sticks closer than a brother. Let’s speak as we have won the right to be heard by becoming part and parcel of this nation – not as those who would speak from a distant ivory tower.
This is one of the reasons why the Messianic body placed a major ad in the largest-circulation Hebrew newspaper in Israel. It was a demonstration of identification and solidarity and friendship with the nation at their time of greatest need. Was this the time to focus on Israel’s flaws? I don’t think so. This is the time to comfort and win the right to be heard and show that we are not just fair-weather friends. And the more we show that we are faithful friends, the more opportunities and the right we will have to fulfill our prophetic call.
In order to know what it means to fulfill our prophetic call, I want us to learn from a true prophet of God – one of the most courageous and credible prophets in the Bible. I’d like you to turn your attention to one of the most significant occasions in the career of the prophet Jeremiah, which can be found in Jeremiah 32. And here we’re going to see that he was no ivory-tower prophet, but a prophet-friend. Faithful were the wounds of this friend – Jeremiah spoke the awful truth about his nation. But he was also a prophet who spoke hope into the doom and gloom and, as we’re going to see, put his money where his mouth is – literally.
But before we look at Jeremiah 32, let’s read a few other verses. Let’s go back to the beginning of this book, to Jeremiah 1:4-9:
“4 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’ 6 Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’ 7 But the Lord said to me: ‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. 8Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord. 8 Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.’ ”
And now let’s move on to verse 15:
”’For behold, I am calling all the families of the kingdoms of the north,’ says the Lord; ‘they shall come and each one set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around, and against all the cities of Judah.’”
And then in verse 19 the Lord tells Jeremiah:
”’They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you,’ says the Lord, ‘to deliver you.’”
Now let’s leap ahead to chapter 29:11. Here Jeremiah, a true prophet who was called to speak difficult words to Judah concerning kingdoms coming against Jerusalem, shows us the heart of the prophet and expresses the heart of the Lord:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
That’s what a prophet is supposed to achieve even when he has to bring a difficult message – “to give you a future and a hope.”
Now let’s read from Jeremiah 32, starting with verses 1-3 (by the way, this is the passage that was read as a part of the haftarah portion in the synagogue the day before I delivered this message):
“1 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 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. 3 For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, ‘Why do you prophesy and say, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it.’ ” ’ ”
Let’s continue and look at verses 6-15:
“6 And Jeremiah said,’The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 7 “Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you, saying, ‘Buy my field which is in Anathoth, for the right of redemption is yours to buy it.’ ” 8 Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Please buy my field that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is yours, and the redemption yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord. 9 So I bought the field from Hanamel, the son of my uncle who was in Anathoth, and weighed out to him the money – seventeen shekels of silver. 10 And I signed the deed and sealed it, took witnesses, and weighed the money on the scales. 11 So I took the purchase deed, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open; 12 and I gave the purchase deed to Baruch the son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my uncle’s son, and in the presence of the witnesses who signed the purchase deed, before all the Jews who sat in the court of the prison. 13 Then I charged Baruch before them, saying, 14 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Take these deeds, both this purchase deed which is sealed and this deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may last many days.’ 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.’ ” ’ ”
As you may have noted, the title of this message is “Jeremiah’s Field of Dreams.” And here we’re going to see that the prophet is not just a big talker. He not only speaks the word of the Lord; he does the word of the Lord. In obedience to the Lord’s command, Jeremiah buys a field near Jerusalem. It was ludicrous to buy property at this time and at this location. In the natural, such a purchase would appear to be a real-estate investment nightmare. But for Jeremiah, it was his field of dreams.
Remember that when the Lord told Jeremiah to buy that field, Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army had already conquered this property, which was situated at Anathoth, Jeremiah’s hometown. So he set out to buy property that could produce zero income. But buying this field at this time was the most important thing a true friend of Judah and a true prophet of God could do. That purchase would be a powerful prophetic statement to the people of Judah that in spite of the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah, there’s hope, times are going to get better. After making sure that his deed of purchase had been sealed and delivered and put into safe hands, Jeremiah declared in verse 15 that, according to the word of the Lord, “houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.”
There are a number of parallels between the situation Jeremiah faced in his day and what we face today in Israel. And so the way in which Jeremiah functioned prophetically in his day may be considered a model of the way in which we need to function today.
One parallel is the fact that Jeremiah prophesied of a day when “families of the kingdoms” will come against Jerusalem and fight against the Jewish people (Jeremiah 1:15). Well, I think we’re seeing clear signs of a similar kind of attack that has begun and will intensify in the very near future. In Zechariah 12:2 the Lord Himself speaks of a day when He “will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem.”
So we’re living in a day not unlike the day in which Jeremiah prophesied concerning Judah and Jerusalem and the judgment to come.
There’s another parallel between Jeremiah’s day and our own. Like in the early days of Jeremiah’s time, Israel just a few years ago experienced growing prosperity and abundance; then, almost overnight, Israel faced a doom-and-gloom scenario. This time, it wasn’t the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, but suicide bombers. As a result, the economy deteriorated. Tourism suffered a major blow, as visitors feared to visit Israel, especially Jerusalem. Exports dropped, and investment in industry plummeted. I just read in a Hebrew-language newspaper that 37.5 percent of Israeli businesses are unable to keep up with paying their bills. And according to some reports, at the time of this writing, property prices tumbled in Jerusalem over the past year by about 25 percent.
If we want to be a prophetic voice to this nation at a time like this, I think we need to be more like the prophet Jeremiah, don’t you? Instead of speaking doom and gloom about Israel’s future, instead of saying the cup of milk is half empty and what’s left is sour, we need to do some prophetic actions – not just brave words, but brave actions. Frankly, I’m disappointed that even so-called friends of Israel are not coming to Israel and putting their money where their mouth is. When Israel needs friends the most, her so-called friends are too afraid to get on a plane to Israel and stay in a Jerusalem hotel. Now some of you have done that; you’ve come to stand with Israel, especially now when your message of hope can be demonstrated most powerfully.
I’m encouraged by the the International Christian Chamber of Commerce (ICCC), which will soon hold its next conference in Jerusalem. They chose to come to Israel especially now, as a prophetic act. I recently had dinner with the board of that organization, and I know that their reason for coming to Israel is not to make money, but to make friends – and to give a message of hope. Rather than using mere words, they are putting their money where their mouth is, and are even planning to invest in Israel at a time when in the natural Israel looks like the worst place to invest.
Speaking of investing, I have shared with my congregation our dream to purchase a property to serve as a ministry center. And we’ve raised some initial funds to do that. Now I haven’t been able to speak very openly about the details because of the sensitivity of such a move. But we have not lost our dream. In recent months, we have been looking at several options where we could have a ministry center large enough to accommodate also our main gatherings.
Buying a ministry center, from a financial point of view, may not be the soundest investment. Now while purchasing usually is better than renting, renting in Jerusalem is not a bad deal. And at a time like this, when Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the world and international investors are pulling out their money, one has to wonder whether real estate can fall much further. But I believe that God has called us to be a prophetic voice to this nation. And just as Jeremiah bought property at the worst of times to bring a message of hope, I believe we should do the same. He actually bought land that was virtually worthless, and we discover that Jeremiah never did get to enjoy his property personally. But his investment paid another kind of dividend. Jeremiah spoke to the nation at its darkest hour, as a man of hope who practiced what he preached.
I’ve been dealing with a property owner who’s lived in Jerusalem all his life. I’ve spoken to him about the situation in the land and he is a true pessimist. He says: “The Palestinians want to throw us into the sea. Taxes are killing my business. The finance minister needs to go.”
And here I am, saying, “We’d like to buy your property.” And he knows that we’re believers. And in fact, he knows that it’s because we’re believers in Yeshua that we think that Israel has a future and a hope. And it is our plan to buy his property – at a time when fewer and fewer people believe that the land of Israel is going to have increasing value – that is giving him hope.
Our message ought to be the message of the Lord through Jeremiah (29:11):
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” And the Lord may lead some of us to do literally what Jeremiah did: buy a field of dreams.
What is your perspective these days concerning Israel and Jerusalem? Are you hopeful or are you beginning to doubt the promises of God? Are you taking concrete steps to increase your investment in this land, whether this means investing time, investing efforts to build relationships with the people of this land, or even – as some of you are doing – investing your money in this land, in the hope that God will bless this land in spite of the dark clouds on the horizon?
Someone once asked the famous evangelist Billy Graham if he was an optimist or a pessimist. “I’m an optimist,” he answered. “I’ve read the last page of the Bible.” But it’s not just the final page of the Bible that gives us cause to be optimists, but the many covenant promises of God told in poetry and prose and in songs and epistles: God will restore His people.
God is restoring His people. He has been bringing His people back to this land. He is keeping his promises. And when this nation was reestablished, they decided that their national anthem would be “Ha’Tikvah” – “The Hope.” When many people today have stopped singing, may we who have our hope in Messiah Yeshua, lift up our heads and lift up the song of hope.
And it was Jeremiah himself who spoke these words in Lamentations (3:22,23) at the time of Jerusalem’s darkest hour:
“22 Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
The people of this nation are looking for a sign of optimism, a sign of hope. You and I have true hope. Our hope is in God. We don’t hope in our own worth. Our hope is not in Israel’s worth. Our hope is in the covenant promises of the God of Israel, who disciplines His people, but not for their destruction, rather to cause them to fulfill their destiny.
And so let’s be more than a prophetic voice; let’s take prophetic actions. Let’s not abandon the land, but let’s invest in this land.
My message is simply this: To be a prophetic people among the nation of Israel we need to bring a message of hope. Besides merely speaking, being a prophetic voice means taking tangible steps that prove that we have thrown in our lot with this nation. A prophet’s voice will ring hollow unless the prophet is part of the people – a true friend in good times and bad. A prophetic people are willing to work alongside this nation, willing to sacrifice for this nation, and willing to invest in this nation.
In closing, I wish to add something. It’s not in the haftarah portion that we’ve been examining, but it is Scriptural.
When we think of Jeremiah’s buying that little piece of property outside the walls of Jerusalem, it reminds me of another little piece of property outside those rebuilt walls. It’s called Golgotha, “the place of the skull.” God made a huge investment there. God sealed it and stamped it and made this investment both to Israel and to the world. It was not just words, but love demonstrated by action. God’s investment in that property spoke louder than any prophetic sermon.
His investment in Golgotha spoke these words: “This is how much I love you. This is how far I will go to be with you. This is what I want you to remember when times are bad and hope is scarce and your fear is so deep that you can’t find the words to describe it. Remember this plot of land I bought and the cross planted in it. Remember my investment there. I will not let you go.”