Yahweh showed me, and behold, two baskets of figs were set before Yahweh’s temple, after Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, with the craftsmen and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon. One basket had very good figs, like the figs that are first-ripe; and the other basket had very bad figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad.
Then Yahweh asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
I said, “Figs. The good figs are very good, and the bad are very bad, so bad that can’t be eaten.”
Yahweh’s word came to me, saying, “Yahweh, the God of Israel says: ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans, for good. For I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land. I will build them, and not pull them down. I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am Yahweh. They will be my people, and I will be their God; for they will return to me with their whole heart.
“ ‘As the bad figs, which can’t be eaten, they are so bad,’ surely Yahweh says, ‘So I will give up Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the remnant of Jerusalem, who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will even give them up to be tossed back and forth among all the kingdoms of the earth for evil, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places where I will drive them. I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, among them, until they are consumed from off the land that I gave to them and to their fathers.’ ”
If you have been following along on my journey through the Old Testament, you may remember that several times, I have commented about the fact that there were Israelis who left Israel to go live in foreign lands. I usually mentioned that this was wrong. God told the people that they were to trust Him and occupy the land that He had given them to occupy. When they went out to foreign countries, they would also be influenced by their idolatry and bad behavior. They would also be subject to their pagan governments. We also saw how God protected those who remained in the land and eventually helped them to prosper again. What we have here is a significant departure from the past. God was now telling the people that they should leave. Is this an inconsistency? Well, we know that it isn’t because God is never inconsistent. When I think that there’s an inconsistency with God, it’s only a matter of time until God shows me the glaring inconsistency in my interpretation of His word and actions.
It turns out that this situation illustrates God’s constancy. God always expects us to listen to His word and obey without trying to lean on our own understanding. We may think that God wants us to never do something, but when He tells us to do it, then we must change our minds and not assume God is wrong. It’s obedience and faith in God’s word that should guide us, not our understanding of how things work. In this case, as in all other cases, when the people failed to obey God’s word, they were to be punished. God had told them to surrender to Babylon and here we read the difference between those who would end up in Babylon and those who would stay in Judah.
Those who were taken captive to Babylon were going to be given a heart for God and those who stayed were to suffer intensely until they were completely destroyed. Up to this point, Jeremiah has been describing the horrible judgment of God against Jerusalem and Judah. Now we get to see a little glimpse of His plan of salvation for Israel and ultimately for the world. God was going to preserve for Himself a group of His people in Babylon. I call this a remnant. This is a pattern we see in all of God’s judgments. Remember, God decided to destroy the world with a flood, but He protected Noah and his family. Ahab and Jezebel tried to destroy all of God’s prophets and Elijah thought that he was the only one left, but God had protected a remnant of His people even under those conditions. Here we see the pattern again. God had reserved for Himself a remnant of the Jewish people who were to return to Jerusalem in the future. God had not given up on Israel and He had not given up on His plan to save mankind.