Mary Moffatt was a remarkable woman. Wife of Robert Moffatt, mother-in-law of David Livingstone, she and her husband served as missionaries in Bechuanaland for 45 years. The early years were hard, their labours resulting in not a single convert. Yet Mary was undaunted. When a friend wrote, asking what useful gift could be sent from home, she replied, ‘A set of communion vessels’. That was either foolishness or faith!
Surely it was faith, like that of Jeremiah when he tells us about what has been called ‘the worst property deal in the history of the Near East’. ‘I bought the field at Anathoth’ (Jer. 32:9). It seemed a crazy purchase, because ‘the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the guard’ (32:2). He could neither visit this property outside the city nor hope ever to enjoy it, since it was already in enemy hands and the nation was doomed. The field was effectively worthless, yet Jeremiah paid a significant price and had the transaction guaranteed in law and the sealed deed of purchase carefully stored (32:10-14). His cousin Hanamel, who sold it, must have been laughing all the way to the bank.
It was in fact not folly but a magnificent affirmation of faith on behalf of the nation. ‘For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land’ (32:15). To buy a field overrun by the world’s conqueror was a claim that God would bring his people back to their inheritance. The captivity would end, the exiles would return and normal life would begin again. When that happened, Jeremiah wanted his family to have a place in the land and he was willing to sacrifice money and short-term credibility because he trusted the future purpose and promises of God.
This is part of what we are called to do in our own time. As men and women of faith, we are to act in ways that seem foolish to the world, to lay down deposits for eternity, when we have nothing but the Word of God to show that what we anticipate will ever happen. We are to claim for Christ what now seems held by the soldiers of today’s Babylons.
When we give sacrificially to the work of the kingdom, we are buying fields. When we resist an appealing temptation or risk criticism for standing up for Christ at work, we are investing in everlasting reality. We take every opportunity to communicate a gospel which few seem interested in. We spend time and effort training children, teaching them values antithetical to those of contemporary culture, because we have ‘assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb. 11:1). To urge Christian standards on a society which hates them is an act of faith in Christ’s present reign and coming triumph. Amid the laughter of the world and disappointing godlessness from many who claim to share our faith, we ‘buy fields’, sure that ‘houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land’.
Unrealistic? No, because, as God reminded Jeremiah when his faith wavered momentarily, ‘I am the Lord . . . Is anything too hard for me?’ (32:27). Mary Moffatt’s communion vessels took a year to reach Africa from England. They arrived the day before the first communion service was held for their new converts. Fields would be bought and sold again in the villages around Jerusalem. It was the best deal Jeremiah ever made.
What costly purchases does the Lord have for us to make during the year which has just begun? It’s an exciting thought, for the day is coming when each of us will be glad for all the ‘fields’ we bought on earth. ‘I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety’ (32:37).
– Ted Donnelly