Jeremiah 24:1-10 God’s surprising grace

The fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians was the greatest disaster experienced by the people of Judah in Old Testament times.  It was an event that the people believed God would never allow to happen, yet he did, and the result was a crisis of faith for the people.  In 597BC Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and carried the best of the people to Babylon.  He set up Zedekiah as a puppet king, but several years later Zedekiah rebelled, and the Babylonians finally destroyed Jerusalem.  In the reign of Zedekiah Jeremiah received a word from the Lord that turned upside down the people’s perceptions of the exiles and of those who remained.  We consider Jeremiah 24:1-10 God’s surprising grace.

1. Two baskets of figs

The historical setting is very specific (v1) – after the first deportation to Babylon in 597BC.  This was a manifestation of the wrath of God on Judah chiefly because of idolatry.  The prophets had often warned that this would happen, but kings and people ‘mocked God’s messengers, despised his words’ (2 Chronicles 36:16).  The assumption of the people was that those in exile suffered because of their sin and deserved what they endured, whilst those left in Jerusalem enjoyed a measure of God’s favour.  Into this situation came ‘the word of the Lord’ (v4) which presents a totally different view and explains what the Lord will do.  The common assumptions are shown to be entirely wrong.  Note ‘the Lord showed me’ (v1) – stressing this is revelation from God (also v5).  Jeremiah sees ‘two baskets of figs’ (v1).  There is a total contrast in the quality of the figs – this is a two-edged vision, describing God’s diverse working.

2. Good figs have received grace

In 21:2 Zedekiah asks Jeremiah to enquire of the Lord if judgment could be averted – the Lord’s answer is ‘No’.  There will be ‘no mercy or compassion’ for them (21:7).  But the Lord is going to do something marvellous for those in exile – he will do a work of grace for an undeserving people.  Contrary to common assumptions, ‘Like those good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah whom I sent away’ (v5).  It is not that the exiles are better people than others, but the Lord freely wills to be gracious to them.  The crucial statement is ‘I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord’ (v7).  This is a saving work that God performs through Messiah Jesus who makes sinners ‘a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17).  What makes them ‘good figs’ is the sovereign grace of God.  God will ‘watch over them for their good’ (v6).  There will be an end to exile – God will ‘build them up…plant them’ (v6).  The promise is of covenant life – ‘they will be my people and I will be their God’ (v7).  He will enable a response of faith – ‘they will return to me with all their heart’.  It is the gospel of saving grace.

3. Bad figs will receive judgment

On the other hand, ‘the survivors from Jerusalem’ are in fact ‘like the poor figs’ (v8).  Far from being better than the exiles, they are ‘so bad they cannot be eaten’.  Here are sinners apart from God’s saving grace.  They are hardened in enmity against the Lord, as is evident in Zedekiah and his associates.  Their only future is judgment – ‘I will send sword, famine and plague’ (v10).  They will lose ‘the land I gave to them and their fathers’.  The Lord speaks the language of covenant curse – it is a grave sin to falsely profess to be one of the Lord’s people.

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