God's Purposes & Human Expectation
The vision of Ch.24 brings this division of the prophecy to a conclusion by returning to the question Zedekiah had raised in Ch.21: “is there going to be a miraculous intervention to save Jerusalem?” [21:2]. The answer is still unequivocal: ‘No. There will be no escape’.
§ Repentance was no longer a way of averting doom, but surprisingly there was a message of restoration beyond judgement.
§ What is more, the focus for the future was to be found among the exiles, not those who seemed to be more favoured by being left in the land.
- THE EXILE
1. The Event
The opening words refer to the deportation of 597BC: “after Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive…” [24:1].
§ This locates the vision in the aftermath of the events of March 597BC.
§ The deportation took place in April after the turn of the year: “and when the year was expired, king Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought Jehoiachin to Babylon…” [2Chr.36:10].
§ “Jehoiachin” [2Kgs.24:12] and the leading citizens of Judah were taken away captive by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon.
§ Assuming that it is real “figs” [24:1] that are seen in the vision, this incident would have occurred a few months later, in August 597BC, when the figs became ripe.
The second decisive deportation, the main group of exiles, took place in 586BC
§ As we study this passage we are looking at Israel between 597BC and 586BC.
c. The Remainder
The remainder of the people stayed in Jerusalem.
§ Nebuchadnezzar appointed “Zedekiah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his stead” [2Kgs.24:17].
§ Zedekiah was left to rule over the group who remained in Jerusalem.
§ Jeremiah, the prophet, continued with the remaining group in Jerusalem.
There is the reality of two Jewish communities, one in exile and one in Jerusalem.
§ Exile had already occurred and it would occur again.
2. The Human Perception
There must have been rivalry and conflict between a community in exile and a community at home.
a. Community at Home
The section of the community left at home would have felt themselves fortunate not to have been deported.
§ It must have been obvious to them that they were God’s chosen – not only especially loved, but protected and entrusted with God’s future.
§ Given that self-understanding, it would be equally obvious to the ones in Judah that the Jews in exile were not in God’s favour. The Jerusalem community seemed to have ground for pride.
b. Community in Exile
At the same time, the community in exile would see themselves excluded from Jerusalem and from God’s favour.
§ Because they were the ones who suffered the punishment of exile, they must be rejected and judged by God.
§ Logically, this would produce a feeling of dejection in exile.
§ The exilic community had ground for despair because of their exclusion and deportation.
c. The False Prophets
The false prophets are guilty of shaping the thinking of the people in this way.
§ They are false prophets: “hearken not…they make you worthless; they speak a vision of their own hearts” [23:16].
§ False hope: “they still say to them that despise me, The Lord has said that you shall have peace…” [23:17].
§ False security: “no evil shall come upon you” [23:17].
Those who remained in Jerusalem seemed to be full of optimism for the future and this optimism was reinforced by the false prophets.
§ It was treated as self-evident that those who had escaped deportation were the ones favoured by God.
§ The natural conclusion would have been that those who remained in the land were fortunate to have escaped deportation, and that the unfortunate ones were those who had been deported.
3. The Theological Significance
a. The Old Testament & Babylon
i. The Covenant
The covenant framework: “Thus says the Lord: Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death…” [21:8].
§ Deuteronomy: “see, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil” [Deu.30:15].
§ Faithfulness: “if you shall hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and do…all these blessings shall come upon thee…” [Deu.28:1-14].
§ Unfaithfulness: “if you will not hearken unto the Lord thy God…all these curses shall come upon thee…” [Deu.28:15ff].
ii. The Covenant Curses
God is angry with Jerusalem because of her rebellion: “For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good, says the LORD…” [21:10].
§ “The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave to thee, until he has consumed thee from off the land…” [28:21].
§ “The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies…” [28:25].
§ “Thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all the nations…” [28:37].
§ “he will bring upon thee all the diseases of Egypt…” [28:60].
§ “The Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from one end of the earth even unto the other…” [28:64].
§ The explanation: “because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt” [29:25].
Babylon is the place that symbolises the breakdown of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel.
b. The Message
The heart of Jeremiah’s preaching: “I have set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build and to plant” [1:10].
§ Remaining in Jerusalem or fleeing to Egypt is now regarded as resistance to God’s intent and therefore makes one subject to judgement: “Thus says the Lord: Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death. He that abides in this city shall die by the sword…but he that goes out, and falls to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live…” [21:8-9].
§ The message to Zedekiah: “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people and live. Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the Lord has spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon” [27:12-13].
§ The false prophets: “Hearken not unto the voice of the prophets that speak unto you, saying, You shall not serve the king of Babylon: for they prophesy a lie unto you” [27:14].
c. The New Testament & The Cross
In the New Testament, the cross of Jesus Christ is the symbol of God’s wrath.
§ The covenant-breakers: “cursed is everyone that does not continue in all things written…” [Gal.3:10].
§ The curse bearer: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us…” [Gal.3:13].
§ The separation: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mat.27:46].
Heart renewal could only come after judgement; so that judgement was the very means by which the new beginning for God’s people was to be achieved.
§ The message: embracing God’s estimation and judgement of sin; embracing God’s purpose for Israel.
- THE VISION
1. The Two Baskets
a. The Figs
The vision: “the Lord showed me, and behold, two baskets…” [24:1].
§ הִרְאַנִי֮ - “showed me” [24:1], hiphil perfect, ‘to see, look, view’; ‘divine disclosure through a vision’;
§ שְׁנֵי֙ דּוּדָאֵ֣י - “two baskets” [24:1], ‘a deep two-handled cooking pot, spherical in form, and probably in the shape of a basket’; ‘It was used in the cult for cooking meat [1Sam.2:14]; ‘can also denote a container for carrying figs’;
§ תְאֵנִ֔ים - “figs” [24:1], ‘a tree of the mulberry family, with edible fruit and large leaves’; ‘the oblong or pear-shaped fruit with a covering (syconium), of the fig tree’;
§ The fig casts its leaves in autumn and blooms in the spring (late March). The early figs begin to form in March and are ripe in May (cf. Isa 28:4). The late figs, developing on new shoots, ripen in late summer and are gathered from the middle of August into October.
b. The Position
The position of the baskets: “set before the temple of the Lord…” [24:1].
§ מוּעָדִ֕ים - “set” [24:1], the hophal participle of the verb ‘to appoint, assign’; ‘to place an object in a spatial location’;
§ The verb is used of the Lord meeting with his people at the tabernacle: “there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee…” [Exo.25:22].
§ לִפְנֵ֖י - “before” [24:1], ‘to the face’; ‘in front of’;
§ הֵיכַ֣ל יְהוָ֑ה - “temple of the Lord” [24:1], ‘palace, temple’; ‘dwelling place of the king/God’;
§ The presentation of the first-fruits: “now, behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me…” [Deu.26:5-11].
The baskets of figs are presented as meeting with the Lord at the temple where they are subject to his scrutiny and approval.
2. The Description
a. The Good Figs
The first baskets: “one basket had very good figs…” [24:2].
§ מְאֹ֔ד - “very” [24:2], ‘exceedingly’; ‘much’;
§ טֹב֣וֹת – “good” [24:2], ‘pertaining to having good value’; ‘pertaining to being the moral opposite of evil’; ‘working according to its original design and purpose’: “it was all very good” [Gen.1:31].
§ הַדּ֣וּד - “figs” [24:2], ‘a tree of the mulberry family, with edible fruit and large leaves’; ‘the oblong or pear-shaped fruit with a covering (syconium), of the fig tree’;
i. The First Ripe
The quality of the figs: “like the figs that are first ripe…” [24:2].
§ הַבַּכֻּר֑וֹת - “first ripe” [24:2], ‘first of the fruit to mature’;
§ They were not ‘first-ripe figs’, but ‘like’ them, that is, of the same high quality.
§ The ‘first-ripe’ figs ripened in June on the wood of the previous year, before the second crop which came in late August at the same time as the rest of the fruit harvest.
§ They were particularly juicy and considered to be a prize delicacy.
b. The Bad Figs
The other basket: “the other basket had very naughty figs…” [24:2].
§ מְאֹ֔ד - “very” [24:2], ‘exceedingly’; ‘much’;
§ רָע֣וֹת - “naughty” [24:2], ‘the opposite of good’; ‘morally evil’;
§ וְהַדּ֣וּד - “figs” [24:2], ‘a tree of the mulberry family, with edible fruit and large leaves’; ‘the oblong or pear-shaped fruit with a covering (syconium), of the fig tree’;
i. The Quality
The quality of the figs: “could not be eaten…” [24:2].
§ לֹא־תֵֽאָכַ֖לְנָה - “not be eaten” [24:2], niphal imperfect, ‘to consume, eat’;
§ The damaged and rotten fruit was unfit for human consumption and should not have been presented to the Lord.
One basket meets with the Lord’s approval; the other basket is judged as unacceptable and rejected by the Lord
§ What is here symbolically represented is a meeting of the Lord with his people as represented by the two baskets and their contents.
§ They have been called by divine appointment ‘in front of the temple’, to the place he has designated as the one where he will meet his people, and where they are subject to his scrutiny and approval.
- THE INTERPRETATION
The two types of fig represent the two groups found in the people of Judah: some deported by the Babylonians, some both at home and in Egypt enjoying freedom.
1. The Good Figs
Yahweh is emphatically the actor in this oracle. He is the sovereign Lord who directs and fulfils his purposes.
a. The Exiles
The exiles are regarded as good by Yahweh: “like these good figs…” [24:5].
§ אַכִּ֞יר - “acknowledge” [24:5], hiphil imperfect, ‘behave or speak in a manner corresponding to that situation’;
§ Can have special reference to God’s care for his own people: “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me…” [Psa.142:4].
§ אֶת־גָּל֣וּת - “carried away captive” [24:5], ‘exile’; ‘forced deportation of a person to live in another place’;
b. The Hand of Yahweh
The hand of Yahweh: “whom I have sent out of this place…” [24:5].
§ שִׁלַּ֜חְתִּי - “I have sent out” [24:5], piel perfect, ‘to send’; piel ‘to send away’;
§ לְטוֹבָֽה - “for good” [24:5], ‘benefit’; ‘restoring good order and function’;
§ מִן־הַמָּק֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה - “this place” [24:5], ‘the place that he had chosen’;
c. The Purpose of God
i. God’s Gracious Intervention
It is with the deportees that God’s purpose would be forwarded: “I will set my eyes upon them for good…” [24:6].
§ וְשַׂמְתִּ֨י - “set” [24:6], qal perfect, ‘to place’; ‘to cause an object to be situated in a certain place’;
§ עֵינִ֤י עֲלֵיהֶם - “my eyes upon them” [24:6],
§ לְטוֹבָ֔ה - “for good” [24:6], ‘benefit’; ‘restoring good order and function’;
ii. The Return
Return from exile is promised to them: “I will bring them again to this land…” [24:6].
§ וַהֲשִׁבֹתִ֖ים - “bring them again” [24:6], hiphil perfect, ‘to turn’; ‘linear motion to a point previously departed from’; hiphil ‘to return’;
§ עַל־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֑את - “to this land” [24:6],
iii. The Restoration
A time of restoration beyond judgement: “I will build them up, and not pull them down…” [24:6].
§ וּבְנִיתִים֙ - “build them up” [24:6], qal perfect, ‘to make, build, construct’; “And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman…” [Gen.2:22];
§ לֹ֣א אֶהֱרֹ֔ס - “not pull down” [24:6], ‘destroy, demolish’; ‘to tear down’;
§ וּנְטַעְתִּ֖ים - “plant them” [24:6], qal perfect, ‘place seed in the ground’; ‘cause to live or stay in a place’;
§ לֹ֥א אֶתּֽוֹשׁ - “not pluck up” [24:6], ‘to uproot’; ‘pull an object out of the ground’;
§ The “pulling down” and the “plucking up” have already taken place, and now God restores: “And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, says the LORD” [31:28].
d. The New Covenant People
The divine initiative and grace: “I will give them a heart to know me…” [24:7].
§ וְנָתַתִּי֩ לָהֶ֨ם - “give them” [24:7], qal perfect, ‘to place an object in the possession of another’;
§ לֵ֜ב - “heart” [24:7], ‘inner being’; ‘mind, will, and affections’;
§ לָדַ֣עַת אֹתִ֗י - “to know me” [24:7], ‘to possess information about’; ‘to be intimately familiar with’;
§ יָשֻׁ֥בוּ אֵלַ֖י - “return to me” [24:7], qal imperfect, ‘linear motion to a point previously departed from’;
§ בְּכָל־לִבָּֽם - “whole heart” [24:7], ‘whole-heartedly’;
§ The embrace of the covenant: “they shall be my people…” [24:7].
They will be given a new inner capacity of mind and will to commit themselves totally to the Lord in his capacity as the God of the covenant.
§ The need for a change of heart is part of Jeremiah’s vision for the future: “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts…” [31:33].
§ The promise: “but he that goes out, and falls to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live…” [21:8-9].
§ They will experience a saving change in the exile when their will come a total commitment to the Lord.
§ God is now allied, by free choice, precisely with the community that the world thought he had rejected. ****
§ An act of free grace creates a new historical possibility: “if anyone is in Christ, new creation…” [2Cor.5:17].
§ Supremely, this mode of acting was revealed when the stone the builders rejected became the headstone of the corner [Psa.118:22-23; Mar.12:10-11].
§ The exiles devalued by the world are here identified as the bearer of God’s future. This revaluation of the world’s rejects is the surprise of the gospel, echoed in so many places [Luke 7:34; 1Cor.1:26-27; Mar.12:10-11].
2. The Bad Figs
Yahweh is again emphatically the actor in this oracle. He is the sovereign Lord who directs and fulfils his purposes.
§ In the thinking of the established prophets in Jerusalem the worst had now passed for the city and its remaining inhabitants were fortunate in being left in the land.
a. The Remaining Inhabitants
This air of optimism was countered by the message of the vision: “so will I give…” [24:8].
§ אֶ֠תֵּן - “give” [24:8], qal imperfect, ‘to place an object in the possession of another’;
i. The Leadership
The leadership: “Zedekiah the king of Judah…” [24:8].
§ צִדְקִיָּ֨הוּ - “Zedekiah” [24:8], “king of Judah” [24:8];
§ שָׂרָיו֙ - “princes” [24:8], ‘commander, prince, captain’;
ii. The Remnant
The remnant: “the residue of Jerusalem…” [24:8].
§ שְׁאֵרִ֣ית יְרוּשָׁלִַ֗ם – “residue of Jerusalem” [24:8], ‘remainder, remnant’;
§ הַנִּשְׁאָרִים֙ - “remain” [24:8], niphal participle, ‘to be in a state of being a left-over part of a whole or group’;
§ בָּאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֔את - “in this land” [24:8],
The ones who fled to Egypt: “them that dwell in the land of Egypt” [24:8].
§ וְהַיֹּשְׁבִ֖ים - “them that dwell” [24:8], qal participle, ‘inhabit, dwell, live’;
§ בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם - “land of Egypt” [24:8],
§ This cannot refer to those who fled to Egypt in 587BC or after the assassination of Gedaliah.
§ The latter years of Judah’s independence prior to the exile witnessed continued manoeuvrings between pro-Egypt and pro-Babylon elements of the royal court.
§ It is not unreasonable to expect that some of the pro-Egypt party may have fled to Egypt at the time of the deportation of Jehoiachin in 597BC.
iv. The Significance of Egypt
‘In Egypt’ as an expression denotes both a punishment and the worst lack of faith on the part of those who go voluntarily.
§ The command: “the Lord has said concerning you, O remnant of Judah, Go ye not into Egypt…” [42:19].
§ The rebellion and forsaking: “saying, No; we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of trumpet…” [42:14].
b. Warning of Judgement
i. The Judgement
They will be cursed by God: “I will deliver them…” [24:9].
§ וּנְתַתִּים֙ - “deliver” [24:9], ‘to place an object in the possession of another’;
§ לְזַוֲעָ֣֯ה – “to be removed” [24:9], ‘state of dread, terror’;
§ לְרָעָ֔ה – “for hurt” [24:9], ‘evil’;
§ אַדִּיחֵ֥ם - “drive them” [24:9], hiphil, ‘to scatter, drive’;
ii. The Surrounding Nations
They will be treated in the same way by the nations: “to be a reproach and a proverb…” [24:9].
§ לְחֶרְפָּ֤ה - “reproach” [24:9], ‘disgrace, scorn, contempt’; ‘despised and treated as of no account’;
§ וּלְמָשָׁל֙ - “proverb” [24:9], ‘proverb, parable’; ‘wisdom saying’; here ‘an unfavourable comparison’;
§ לִשְׁנִינָ֣ה - “taunt” [24:9], describes a ‘sharp biting word’; ‘ridicule’; ‘a word of scorn and taunt’;
§ וְלִקְלָלָ֔ה - “curse” [24:9], ‘the invoking of divine harm in certain conditions’; ‘something treated as valueless and worthy of scorn’;
iii. The Power of the Enemy
They will be subject to the horrors of warfare and conquest which Jeremiah had announced to them throughout his ministry: “I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence…” [24:10].
§ וְשִׁלַּ֣חְתִּי - “send” [24:10], piel perfect, ‘to send out’; piel ‘to send away’;
§ הַחֶ֖רֶב - “sword” [24:10], ‘metal weapon of war’;
§ הָרָעָ֣ב - “famine” [24:10], ‘lack of food’; ‘starvation’;
§ הַדָּ֑בֶר - “pestilence” [24:10], ‘disease, plague’;
iv. The Complete Destruction
The complete destruction: “till they be consumed…” [24:10].
§ נְא֣וֹת - “consumed” [24:10], ‘be complete’; ‘to cease, end’;
§ מֵעַ֣ל הָאֲדָמָ֔ה - “off the land” [24:10],
§ נָתַ֥תִּי - “gave” [24:10], qal perfect, ‘to place an object in the possession of another’;
The deadly trio [14:12] again signal the outpouring of the Lord’s wrath on the people.
§ The thought seems to be, ‘Just as an individual will deal with poor, uneatable figs, so I will deal with those remaining in the land’. In both cases they are thrown away.