The Lent 5 Hebrew Bible reading includes Jeremiah 31:31-34:
“Behold, the days come, says YHWH, that I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah: not like the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took their hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant they broke, although I was a husband to them, says YHWH. But this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel when the time comes, says Yahweh: I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: and they will no longer teach each other or speak to their neighbors, saying, Know YHWH; for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says YHWH: for I will forgive their faults, and will I remember their sin no more.”
Jeremiah’s hometown was Anathoth, a small village within easy walking distance of Jerusalem to the northeast. There were quarries nearby where some of the stones used in the walls and buildings of the Holy City originated.
When David was king he had two high priests, Zadok from Hebron and Abiathar who was the sole survivor of King Saul’s slaughter of the priests at Nob. Nob was also a village a little ways north of Jerusalem. But Abiathar had an estate at Anathoth. When Solomon deposed him and elevated Zadok as the sole high priest, Abiathar went into exile at his estate in Anathoth (1 Kings 2:26).
I speculate that a kind of priesthood in exile persisted at Anathoth through the centuries. The whole perspective that we call “deuteronomic” may have had its home there. As estate holders, the descendents of Abiathar would have been “people of the land”. Probably they were leaders among the “people of the land” who supported the reign and reforms of King Josiah (2 Kings 21:24).
Jeremiah bought land from relatives in Anathoth (Jeremiah 32:8ff.). He did this while the Babylonian army stood outside the walls of Jerusalem and while king Zedekiah of Judah had Jeremiah under a restraining order. To invest in land at such a time was to literally put his money where his mouth was. Because Jeremiah offered no immediate hope for Jerusalem, the king thought him treasonous. But Jeremiah had great hope for the land and the people, just not for the immediate future of the city and the monarchy. So he invests in land.
These thoughts help me put Jeremiah 31:27-34 in context. Chapters 30-33 constitute the Book of Consolations within Jeremiah. From the perspective of the exiled priests of Anathoth, the covenant of Moses had been mocked and annulled by the kings, Zadokite priests, and false prophets in Jerusalem. But God was committed to a renewed covenant with the faithful. God hadn’t rejected his people. In fact, vss. 35 ff. contain a reaffirmation of God’s commitment to the people and the land in the strongest terms. God intended to start over, but in the same place, with the same people. So Jeremiah invests in land.
Christians who want to see this promise of the new covenant as a prophecy that God’s covenant in Christ will replace God’s covenant with Israel are wrong. Jeremiah’s renewed covenant is more direct–with the people more than with their priests, scribes and teachers. Everybody will be accountable for their own sins (vs. 29-30). Everybody from the greatest to the least will have a direct relationship to God (vs. 33-34). It is probably to this direct relationship and the forgiveness of sins (v. 34) that Jesus referred when he said at the Last Supper “This is new covenant in my blood.”
By the way, Jeremiah’s land purchase may have turned out ok. He was carried off to Egypt for a while. We don’t know if he ever returned to Anathoth. But archeologists have found that the economic life in Benjamin (where Anathoth was) shows little disruption after Jerusalem fell to Babylon. Excavations at Beitin, aj-Jib, and Tall al-Ful show that these sites survived without damage. It may well be that Anathoth did as well.