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.

Jeremiah 20:7-19 The cost of ministry

To be a faithful speaker of God’s Word can be very costly.  The message will often be one people do not want to hear and their response can be one of indifference, but it can equally well be one of hostility, sometimes quite open.  Jesus warned, ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first’ (John 15:18).  That is the experience of Jeremiah, who, when he preached God’s message of judgment was ‘beaten and put in the stocks’ (Jeremiah 19:15).  We consider Jeremiah 20:7-18 The cost of ministry.

1. Persecution

His harsh treatment plunges Jeremiah into profound agony of soul – he is a deeply sensitive man.  He turns to the Lord and pours out his heart.  Most translations read ‘you deceived me’ (v7) – possibly a reflection of his feelings at the time, or it may be translated ‘you persuaded me’ – putting him into the office of prophet.  He now understands the cost – the message of judgment has not yet been fulfilled and he experiences ‘insult and reproach’.  False ‘friends’ seek revenge (v10).  Any speaker of God’s Word can expect a hostile reaction from some.  The pattern was set by our Saviour, the perfect Prophet, who was hated and rejected.

2. Pressure

To avoid such hardship, it seems Jeremiah had tried silence: ‘I will not mention him’ (v9).  His calling seems to be an intolerable burden.  But silence ultimately is not an option.  The Lord will not allow his prophet to be silent and Jeremiah cannot be.  The word God has given demands to be preached – ‘in my heart like a fire’ – keeping the word in burns him up.  He cannot hold it in.  In the end his commitment to the Lord and to his prophetic calling must win.  Note Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:16, ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel’.

3. Presence

Jeremiah clings to what he knows of God: ‘But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior’ (v11).  This remains true even if it does not fell like that now.  That truth gives confidence in this God who will bring down the persecutors.  The ‘vengeance’ (v12) is on the enemies of God and truth, not Jeremiah’s personal enemies.  Facing the cost of ministry, we must hold fast to the truth about God that we know.  He will deliver (in his time) and that frees us from fear and bitterness.  Like Jeremiah we commit our cause to the Lord and so are able to praise him, like Paul in prison in Philippi (Acts 16:25).

4. Pain

But solutions do not come easily nor necessarily at the time we want.  We have a cry of pain in v14-18 straight from Jeremiah’s heart.  He regrets even being born.  The light he had (v11-13) seems to have gone for the time being.  Here is a reminder that the child of God may experience dark times from which escape is difficult.  We can be honest with the Lord about them.  Our focus needs to be on the Lord and on his truth.  The Lord can cope with our words and never forsakes us (Hebrews 13:5).  The sense of his presence will return, and we recall that on the cross the Saviour experienced the feeling of forsakenness – he understands.

Jeremiah 18:1-10 At the potter’s house

Finding good illustrations can embed the truth firmly in the memory.  A striking picture can stay with us when words might well be forgotten.  The Lord often provides visual reinforcement for the truth he is teaching his people.  One example comes from the ministry of Jeremiah.  This episode may come from early in the reign of Jehoiakim, when there seemed still to be hope for a spiritually declining nation.  We consider Jeremiah 18:1-10 At the potter’s house.

1. Divine revelation

It is vital to see that the insight Jeremiah gained at the potter’s house is not merely the result of his own thinking: we are dealing with divine revelation.  ‘This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord’ (v1).  At the potter’s house ‘the word of the Lord came to me’ (v5).  How the word came to Jeremiah we do not know.  There is an element of mystery and perhaps these things are beyond our understanding.  What is crucial is that this message has its source in the Lord.  Note 2 Peter 1:21 ‘prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’.  The agent of revelation is the Holy Spirit, working in such a way that the faculties of the prophets were not suppressed but were used by God.  The result is that Scripture is ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16).

2. Divine rule

What is the Lord’s message?  The work of the potter was familiar to Jeremiah’s readers.  A common event: ‘the clay was marred’ (v4).  The pot is not satisfactory and is not coming out as the potter wishes.  The situation is not irretrievable – ‘so the potter formed it into another pot’.  His plan is not frustrated, but will be produced, ‘shaping it as seemed best to him’ (v4).  We are not left to interpret what the prophet has seen.  The words are addressed to the ‘house of Israel’, the covenant community.  God reminds them of his sovereignty in relation to their very identity – ‘can I not do with you as this potter does?’  These people ought to be living in obedience to God’s covenant law but (by and large) are not.  The Lord has a design and purpose for his people, and their sins will not ultimately frustrate his plan.  This is a truth to encourage us regarding his work of grace, but this does not guarantee all members of the covenant community will prove genuine.

3. Divine responses

The remainder of the message is heart-searching.  The attitudes of individuals and communities are included in God’s working and call forth different responses from the Lord:

            (i). Judgment averted (v7):  When a nation hears the announcement of judgment, perhaps it ‘repents of its evil’ (v8).  The Lord’s attitude then changes: ‘I will relent and not inflict…’.  This is the reality of grace.  The illustration cannot portray the sinner’s repentance.

            (ii). Judgment imposed (v9):  The promises of blessing are not unconditional.  Some will not obey (v10) and so ‘I will relent of the good I had intended’ (ESV).  We can never presume on God’s blessing.  Our repentance or rebellion are included in his decrees, but our belief and obedience are essential to receiving blessing and avoiding judgment.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 The tree by the water

Every 7th year, at the Feast of Tabernacles, the Law was read to the assembled Israelites, as commanded in Deuteronomy 31:10-11.  Integral to that ceremony was the reading of the curses on law-breakers and the blessings on those who kept the law.  This ceremony was a reminder that there are only two ways to live, either obedience to the Lord, or disobedience.  Grace-enabled obedience, expressing love for the Lord (John 14:15) is the only joyful and fruitful way of life.  We consider Jeremiah 17:7-8 The tree by the water.

1. Gracious planting

Verses 5-6 deal with the ungodly, ‘whose heart turns away from the Lord’.  There is a powerful contrast with the man ‘who trusts in the Lord’ (v7).  These verses bear a strong resemblance to Psalm 1.  It is clear this life is all of grace.  There are 2 indicators:

            (i). Blessed:  the conferring of divine favour.  We do not bless ourselves.  Note Paul’s question in 2 Corinthians 4:7.  In the Covenant of Grace God bestows riches beyond imagining.

            (ii). Planted:  We do not plant ourselves.  In saving grace the Lord ‘plants’ his people.  He is the source of all spiritual life and growth (Ephesians 2:8).  God’s work cannot fail.

2. Firm trust

The sovereignty of God does not take anything away from our responsibility to believe.  Faith is ‘the gift of God’ (Ephesians 2:8), but we must exercise it.  Blessing is for ‘the man who trusts in the Lord’.  The word used has the sense of ‘leaning’ – putting our weight on someone we believe will support us.  Saving faith requires a personal commitment – we put ‘confidence’ in the Lord.  We must forsake reliance on anyone or anything else.  There will be ongoing service in faith – ‘sends out its roots’.  Faith involves not just a single moment, but a whole life.

3. Testing drought

We have a vivid description of ‘a tree planted by the water’ (v8), a powerful description of a believer filled with life and nourished by God’s gracious provision.  There is too a recognition that testing times will come – ‘heat…a year of drought’.  Jesus gave warning in John 16:33.  There are hard experiences we share with everyone else and trials that come because of our faith.  The verse provides a warning to be ready and make sure we are rooted in the Lord.  With his help we can rejoice in ‘trials of many kinds’ (James 1:2).  He is working out his good purpose.

4. Abiding fruit

These verses are full of encouragement for ‘the man who trusts in the Lord’ (v7).  In the inevitable trials he will not be overwhelmed because the Lord supplies the needed grace, ‘the water…the stream’ (see also Psalm 36:9).  If we fully rest in the Lord we will be free from fears and worries (v8).  Remember that Christ has ‘overcome the world’ (John 16:33).  In addition to enduring, we can ‘bear fruit’ – godly character (Galatians 5:22ff).  Partly that is the result of trials (Romans 5:3ff), and so we can be trusting, tested and fruitful, ministering to others.