In the close of the foregoing chapter, we had a general prediction of the utter ruin of Jerusalem – that it would be forsaken and forgotten. No matter what effect it had upon others, we have reason to think that these words made the prophet himself very melancholy. Now, in this chapter, God encourages him by showing him that although the desolation seemed to be universal, yet all the people were not equally involved in it; for the Lord knew how to distinguish and separate between the precious and the vile – between those who were obstinate rebels, and those who truly loved and worshiped Him. Some of the people had actually recently gone into captivity with King Jeconiah (597 BC), and Jeremiah lamented for them; but God tells him that it would ultimately turn out for their good. Among the people who yet remained in the city of Jerusalem, many still remained hardened in their sins; and against them, Jeremiah had a just indignation. And those people, God tells him, would eventually go into captivity also; but it would be to their hurt. In order to communicate this message to the prophet, the Lord showed him this vision of two baskets of figs – one very good, and the other very bad (verses 1-3). The basket of good figs represented those who had already been sent into captivity for their good (verses 4-7), while the bad figs stood as a symbol for those who would hereafter be sent into captivity for their hurt (verses 8-10). Herein we learn that the same Providence which is a savor of death unto some people may also, by the grace and blessing of God, be made a savor of life unto others. Although God’s people sometimes share a lot with others in the same calamities, yet it does not have the same purpose for them that it does for others; for it is designed for their good, and it shall end in their good. To them, it is a correcting rod in the hand of a tender Father; while to those who are stubborn in their sins, it is an avenging sword in the hand of a righteous Judge.
It was soon after the deportation of King Jeconiah (597 BC) – when Nebuchadnezzar had just recently set up Jeconiah’s uncle and Josiah’s son Zedekiah on the throne of Judah – that the prophet beheld the vision of two baskets of figs, standing before the Lord’s Temple. “One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe; and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad.” In the land of Palestine, these figs begin to turn red in March and they are ripe in June; and at that time, they fall off the tree with a slight shake, and are exceedingly pleasant and refreshing to eat (Isa. 28:4). But bad figs are very nauseous, for they soon breed insects and rot.
The good figs were an emblem of the people who had just gone into captivity with King Jeconiah. Just as one looks with pleasure upon good figs, and takes them and keeps them; so also, the Lord would look favorably upon His people. He would bring them again to their own land; and He would plant them therein, and not pluck them up. Even the captivity that they had just entered would ultimately work out for their good. By their afflictions, they were convinced of their sins and iniquities; they were humbled underneath the hand of God, weaned from the world, taught to pray, and brought to turn from their sins – especially from their sins of idolatry. In the midst of their afflictions in captivity, the Lord assures them of His protection in their troubles; and when they had done their appointed work, He promises them that they would experience a glorious deliverance in due time.
However, this could not be brought to pass until the Lord Himself gave these people a heart to know Him, so that they would return to Him in true sincerity. Such a heart He would indeed give them! Instead of casting them off forever, He would accomplish in them the purposes of His grace and love. This prophecy was partially fulfilled when the Jewish exiles were permitted by King Cyrus to return to Jerusalem; but it is still being fulfilled even today, as the Holy Spirit plants new hearts in myriads of lost souls – causing them to turn to the Lord Jesus for salvation! Under the merciful reign of the Messiah, they are planted in Christ’s Church; and there they bring forth abundant fruit.
On the other hand, the basket of rotten figs, which one throws away, represented King Zedekiah and the people who remained in Judah. They congratulated themselves on the fact that they had been left behind in the city, while their friends and relatives were taken away to Babylon with Jeconiah. But they, too, would ultimately be carried away into captivity, and it would not be for their good. They were becoming worse and worse, and more and more hardened in their iniquities; and so nothing remained for them except for them to become a reproach, a proverb, a taunt, and a curse wherever they were driven by the hand of the Lord. Did the ears of Zedekiah tingle as he heard this vision? They ought to have tingled, but we do not know whether or not they did; for he cared very little for the words of Jeremiah. Let us pray for grace so that we may not be numbered among such obstinate persons! Let us beseech the Holy Spirit to give us a new heart that truly knows Him and returns to Him! (verse 7)
Lord, we thank You for showing us Your love through the afflictions and distresses that You have placed upon us; for thereby, we have been convinced of our sins, humbled under Your hand, weaned from the world, taught to pray, and brought to turn from our sins – especially from our sins of idolatry! Amen.
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illustration taken from The Art Bible, 1896