Jeremiah 24 – Lessons from Two Baskets of Figs
A. Two baskets of figs.
1. (1) Time and place of the lesson.
The LORD showed me, and there were two baskets of figs set before the temple of the LORD, after Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and the princes of Judah with the craftsmen and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon.
a. The LORD showed me and there were two baskets of figs before the temple: What follows in this short chapter doesn’t seem to be a vision or a dream. What Jeremiah described was not so unusual; there were simply two baskets of figs somewhere near the temple. Perhaps they were there as some kind of grain offering, or perhaps someone simply left them there from shopping.
i. Some commentators (such as Thompson and Feinberg) believe the wording points to this being a supernatural vision.
b. After Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah: King Jeconiah of Judah reigned only a few months. He was deposed and exiled (2 Kings 24:8-15) when Nebuchadnezzar came a second time to Jerusalem in 597 BC. Since this was after his short reign, King Zedekiah reigned. His 11-year reign was the last of the Kings of Judah before a complete Babylonian conquest.
i. When Nebuchadnezzar left Judah with Zedekiah as a puppet king, it was easy for them to think the worst was over and they were fortunate to survive and escape exile. Those who remained thought they were better off than those taken in exile.
ii. “After the exile of Jehoiachin and the leading citizens of Judah (2 Kings 24:10-17), those who remained seem to have been full of optimism for the future.” (Thompson)
c. The princes of Judah with the craftsmen and smiths: King Jeconiah was not the only one brought to Babylon in this second invasion of Judah. They also took others of the nobility of Judah and skilled craftsmen,
2. (2-3) What Jeremiah saw – the two baskets of figs.
One basket had very good figs, like the figs that are first ripe; and the other basket had very bad figs which could not be eaten, they were so bad. Then the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”And I said, “Figs, the good figs, very good; and the bad, very bad, which cannot be eaten, they are so bad.”
a. One basket had very good figs… the other basket had very bad figs: Jeremiah noted that the two baskets of figs were not the same. One had very good figs, and the other had figs that were far past good – they were so spoiled they could not be eaten.
b. What do you see, Jeremiah: God was about to speak to the prophet through these two different baskets of figs.
B. Learning from the baskets of figs.
1. (4-7) The good basket of figs.
Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge those who are carried away captive from Judah, whom I have sent out of this place for their own good, into the land of the Chaldeans. For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land; I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.’”
a. Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge those who are carried away captive from Judah, whom I have sent out of this place for their own good: Judgment came (and was to come) upon Judah as a whole; the entire nation would feel the pain of it. Yet that did not mean that everyone in Judah was the same in God’s eyes. Some were like the good figs – and were essentially sent out of Judah to Babylon for their own good.
i. Judgment upon a nation or community means that all suffer, even those who may be individually innocent of the sins that brought God’s judgment. What God said to Jeremiah through the two baskets of figs means that even when all suffer under a national judgment, God still knows the difference between those caught up in the judgment and those who brought down the judgment.
b. Those who are carried away captive from Judah: We might have expected that those first carried away captive would be the worst in God’s eyes and He allowed them to be first exiled as a demonstration of His displeasure. Jeremiah delivered the surprising message: the first taken were the good figs, not the bad figs.
i. “It was a startling comparison. It is most natural to suppose that those remaining would lay the flattering unction to their souls that those carried away were the more corrupt. This message was in direct contradiction of the false assumption.” (Morgan)
c. I will set My eyes on them for good, and will bring them back to this land: Those represented by the good figs would be blessed even in captivity. God also promised to bring them back to this land, and they would be among those who came back to Judah with Ezra and Nehemiah starting around 538 BC.
i. There was a blessing for those first taken in exile and who did not remain in Jerusalem for the catastrophic end. “The captives, augmented by further deportations in 587 and 582 BC (Jeremiah 52:29 f.), turned to the Lord in repentance and under Ezekiel’s leadership, a new kind of faith, loyal to the covenant-relationship with God, was forged.” (Cundall)
d. I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up: When they returned to the land, God would establish them securely again.
e. Then I will give them a new heart to know Me, that I am the LORD: This sounds something like the many of the New Covenant promises in Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jeremiah 23:1-8, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Jeremiah 32:37-41, Ezekiel 11:16-20, Ezekiel 36:16-28, Ezekiel 37:11-14, 37:21-28). Yet it is better to regard it as using the gathering from exile as a prefiguring of the ultimate fulfillment of the promise in the last days.
i. From a Christian perspective, we know that the New Covenant was not instituted in the return from exile because Jesus Christ specifically instituted it with His work on the cross (Luke 22:20).
ii. Nevertheless, the return from exile did foreshadow the New Covenant in some important ways. God’s people were gathered again into the land, and they were a changed people (a heart to know Me… they shall be My people… they shall return to Me with their whole heart). The great change after the exile was that the people of Israel no longer went after the idols of the nations (such as Baal and Ashtoreth) as they had before. They were separated and devoted to Yahweh in a way they had not been before.
2. (8-10) The basket of bad figs.
“‘And as the bad figs which cannot be eaten, they are so bad’ — surely thus says the LORD— ‘so will I give up Zedekiah the king of Judah, his princes, the residue of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will deliver them to trouble into all the kingdoms of the earth, for their harm, to be a reproach and a byword, a taunt and a curse, in all places where I shall drive them. And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence among them, till they are consumed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.’”
a. As the bad figs which cannot be eaten… so will I give up Zedekiah: Not all in Judah were good figs. There were also rotten ones, including the king. They were past their expiration date and good for nothing.
i. Zedekiah and his associates were really the bad figs: “Zedekiah and his subjects, who were looked upon as the happier, because at home; and derided, likely, Jeconiah and his concaptives as cowards.” (Trapp)
b. I will deliver them to trouble into all the kingdoms of the earth: Virtually all of Judah would be taken captive, but God knew how to appoint the bad figs among them to particular trouble. They would be a reproach and a byword, a taunt and a curse in exile. In a sense, God sent out the people represented by the good figs (Jeremiah 24:5), but the bad figs He shall drive out.
c. I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence among them: God would complete His judgment against those represented by the bad figs.