24 After Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and the officials, the skilled workers and the artisans of Judah were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Lord showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the Lord.2 One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very bad figs, so bad they could not be eaten.
3 Then the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“Figs,” I answered. “The good ones are very good, but the bad ones are so bad they cannot be eaten.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 5 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. 6 My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. 7 I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
8 “‘But like the bad figs, which are so bad they cannot be eaten,’ says the Lord, ‘so will I deal with Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the survivors from Jerusalem, whether they remain in this land or live in Egypt. 9 I will make them abhorrent and an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth, a reproach and a byword, a curse and an object of ridicule, wherever I banish them. 10 I will send the sword, famine and plague against them until they are destroyed from the land I gave to them and their ancestors.’”
(Jeremiah 24:1-10 NIV)
As we step into Chapter 24, the Lord uses another object lesson to instruct and inform Jeremiah. Figs are the focus for this dialogue with the Lord. Jeremiah sees two baskets of figs left as an offering at the temple.
Notice the specific timeframe for this event – after Jehoiachin and many others were carried into exile in Babylon. This passage was around 597 BC. The Lord records the details of this exile in 2 Kings 24:8-17.
The Lord uses the object lesson of figs to contradict the popular opinion surrounding the exile. The thought of the day was that the exiles were the ones the Lord was judging, and the remainder of people left in the land were the chosen ones, the “good figs” if you will.
As it turns out, the Lord promises to restore Jerusalem from those that He is exiling, not those who remain. The “bad figs” are Zedekiah (Jehoiachin’s uncle) whom Nebuchadnezzar appointed as the puppet ruler of Jerusalem and Judah, and the remaining people of the land.
Verses 6 – 7 are the heart of this passage. The Lord reiterates His promise (from 1:9-10) to use Jeremiah to make a difference among the people of Judah. After years and years of work with seemingly no word from the Lord, Jeremiah now has a personal showing of God’s hand at work through him.
Verse 7 is God’s promise of the renewed covenant relationship with His people, where He will be their God, and they will be His people (Leviticus 26:12).
While the Lord wrote this passage to Jeremiah and the people of his day, it applies to us in our day as well.
Just as the Lord reversed the definitions of “bad” and “good” figs, may we remember that Jesus’ disciples represented the “remnant” of the Jewish people that would be saved for eternity, not those who remained with traditional Jewish beliefs and rejected Messiah. Jesus, His disciples, and all who followed after Him were exiled from the Jewish community (John 9:20-22) but carried God’s Good News to all the world.
Likewise, we who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord are like the exiles, the “good figs” in Jeremiah’s day. 1 Peter 1:1-9 refers to those who follow Christ as “exiles”, and promises to restore them (and us) to our eternal home with Christ.
May we count our blessings as the “exiled”, and that by God’s grace, we have an eternal promise of hope and restoration.
May we remember that the trials and tribulations we experience on this earth are the worst we will ever know, and there will be an end to our suffering and pain, with the promise of restoration to and eternity with Christ.