CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES. Vide previous chapter. Cf. 2Ki .
Natural History. "Baskets of Figs:" Vide Natural History notes on chaps. Jer, Jer 8:13. The "first ripe" figs (Jer 24:2), called here bikkurah (cf. Isa 28:4; Mic 7:1; Hos 9:10), denotes the early or spring fig; and is still called boccore in Mauritania, and in Spanish albacora. The usual time for gathering figs is August; the early fig gathered in June is a rarity and delicacy. It is easily shaken off the tree (Nah 3:12). The "very bad figs" (Jer 24:2) were probably sycamore figs; which, unless punctured as they ripen, turn acrid, and "cannot be eaten" (Jer 24:3); or, they may have been decayed figs. "Baskets of figs" used to be offered as firstfruits in the Temple.
HOMILETIC SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 24
THE BASKETS OF FIGS: A PARABLE AND A PROPHECY
Notes:—i. Those who are amid calamity do not necessarily deserve worse than those who temporarily escape.
ii. Those who temporarily escape calamity may be destined to far heavier chastisements.
iii. Among those whom disaster overtakes there may be eminently good men. Daniel and Ezekiel were among the first captives!
iv. Self-elation over immunity from adversity will only invoke more humbling providences. Probably those who remained behind thought themselves better than those who had gone into captivity; but heavier judgments came in due time upon these boasters.
v. Adversities may have a beneficent design and beneficent influence (Jer ).
I. A nation rent asunder—yet arrayed beneath God's eye.
1. Separated by ordinance of God's providence. God had permitted the captivity; and He had reserved the part which remained behind.
(a.) In respect of location they were widely separated. Babylon lay far off from Jerusalem.
(b.) In respect of outward advantages they were widely dissimilar. Exiles and residents. Yet both were equally
2. Present under the eye of God's omniscience. One part was captive in Babylon (Jer ); the other part remained in Canaan (Jer 24:8); but both baskets of figs were "set before the Temple of the Lord." [The word יָעַד implies that they were appointed to this place before God's Temple.] Thus the exiles in Babylon were equally present to God's eye as those at Jerusalem. Equally under His eye: those afar as those near; those amid adversity as those amid advantages.
(a.) Wherever we are we dwell under the Divine notice. We cannot go beyond His ken. None are forgotten by God. Those "afar off" were still "set before" Him.
(b.) Amid our adversities we do not lose the Divine Fatherhood. Even though "sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans" (Jer ), yet God declares, "I will acknowledge them;" and "I will set Mine eyes upon them for good" (Jer 24:5).
II. A suggestive comparison—indicating vast moral dissimilarities. Two baskets of figs: in the one were "very good figs;" in the other "very naughty figs"—"the good figs, very good; and the evil, very evil."
1. Their experiences seemed to reverse this estimate. It surprises us to find that those carried away captive were accounted "good," while those escaping the miseries of exile are pronounced "very bad." Here is teaching that we judge not character by circumstances; that we do not deem those who most suffer to be the greatest sinners. "Judge not according to the outward appearance;" "judge nothing before the time;" "I have seen the wicked in great power," &c. The facts were that the exiles were the noblest and best of the nation; those left at home were the refuse.
2. Their separation was for a providential purpose. Those of the nation who were of any worth at all were called out and sent away into safe keeping, even though into exile. And there they were in good keeping. Although it seemed worse to be in captivity than to dwell at home, they were really better off in Chaldea. Their removal to Babylon saved them from the calamities which befel the rest of the nation. "Whom God loveth He chasteneth."
3. Their distinctive qualities was emphatically marked. "Very good—very bad." Doubtless those who remained at home flattered themselves with being better than those who were exiled, and more pleasing to God than those who suffered captivity. They showed themselves "very bad" by their pride of heart, by not profiting from the salutary warning of the calamity which had come upon their fellow-countrymen, by not repenting of their own evils and amending their ungodly lives. The exiles showed themselves "good" by signs of regeneration under the discipline of captivity. God Himself esteemed them more favourably (Jer ), and saw in them higher excellences and more hopeful qualities than the rest possessed. "God looketh not on the outward appearance, but at the heart."
III. A contrasted destiny—according with their merit and conduct. The good figs were a delicacy (see Natural History note supra); the bad were obnoxious—"could not be eaten." There was a reverse destiny for them. God gave this vision and prophecy to Jeremiah: (a) To cheer the disconsolate captives with a hope of future good; (b) To check the vaunting of the heartless residents by menaces of their impending doom.
1. The gracious destiny of the exiles. (1.) They should be carefully preserved (Jer ). (2.) They were favourably regarded, and would be "acknowledged" by God (Jer 24:4). (3.) Their banishment was for their good (Jer 24:5). (4.) Their miraculous rescue was pledged them (Jer 24:6). (5.) Spiritual regeneration should crown all other and temporal benefits (Jer 24:7). Thus "God will devise means whereby His banished ones shall return unto Him."
2. The hopeless desolation of the disobedient. They had refused to act on God's counsel (chap. Jer ); and now boasted of their prudence in remaining in the city; probably, too, they talked scornfully of the captives. But these people should (1.) Be driven asunder over the earth (Jer 24:9); whereas the Babylonish captives were altogether in one scene; companions and confederated. (2.) Their calamities would work ill to them—not regenerating them, as the others, but hardening and alienating them the more (Jer 24:9). (3.) They would be subjected to contempt and ridicule (Jer 24:9). (4.) No hope or possibility of restoration would be granted them (Jer 24:10). Whereas their exiled fellow-countrymen were being preserved for better times, they were but reserved for greater woes. Neither those who were carried into Egypt with Jehoahaz (Jer 24:8), nor those who should flee thither, would share in the blessings promised to the Chaldean exiles. "According to their deeds, accordingly He will repay" (Isa 59:19). God's administrations of chastisement or punishment are regulated by what He discerns are our dispositions and possibilities.
See Addenda: CHASTENED, YET NOT ABANDONED.
Lange supplies the following homiletic summary of the chapter:—
GOOD AND BAD FIGS—EMBLEMS OF HUMANITY
Humanity in its twofold aspect: well-pleasing or displeasing to God.
I. The prisoners and broken-hearted are, like the good figs, well-pleasing to God. For (1) They know the Lord, and turn to Him; (2) He is their God, and they are His people.
II. Those who dwell proudly and securely are, like the bad figs, displeasing to God. For (1) They live on in foolish blindness; (2) They challenge the judgment of God.
HOMILIES AND COMMENTS ON VERSBS OF CHAPTER 24
Jer . Theme: DELICIOUS AND REPUISIVE FRUIT. "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."
See Natural History note above, on the varieties of figs and their ripening periods.
Analogy: Men show varieties in temperament and character, more remarkable than the varieties among figs, and more numerous. And among men the ripening matures at different periods: some being early ripe—children and youth; others reaching maturity only in the autumn years of life; others only in the winter of age. But the differences among men may be summed up thus: good and bad. Two classes only. Gradations there are in each class, but the absolute qualities are only two.
I. Growth under common conditions. These figs were all Palestine figs.
1. Their original stock was the same. All were "figs;" and grew on trees which were identical in genus. So all men, whatever their nationality or individuality or parentage, spring from the one stock—humanity; and humanity invested with its qualities and possibilities by God.
2. Their advantages were the same. The same soil—Canaan; under same fructifying influences—religious influences, Divine teachings, prophetic counsels and warnings, &c.; guarded by the same care—God watched over both: He the Gardener.
II. Maturing under gracious influences. Both the "good" and "bad" reached maturity and ripeness. They could not resist these influences working that result.
1. Maturing influences which compelled development. Probably people dislike their true character being forced to decision and fruition; they would rather remain neutral. But the "figs" could not escape nor resist the action of earth, air, and sun. This Jewish nation could not escape nor resist the influences of prophetic teaching and providential discipline. On the two sections of the people there had acted developing influences: exile had benefited the captives; whereas exemption from captivity had hardened those who remained in Judah. So on all men providence, religion, grace, and God's Spirit are acting; compelling the development and manifestation of their temper and character.
2. Maturing influences which tested their true nature. The figs ripened into "good figs" and "naughty figs." The maturing processes do not change the nature of the thing fructified, but only bring it to complete development. So Jeremiah's prophecies and God's providential dealings did not make them "good" or "naughty," but tested their tendency. Thus life's incidents and Gospel preaching test us: prove our spirit; try the state and inclinations of our hearts.
III. Resulting in the completest contrast. "Very good figs, even the figs first ripe"—a delicious fruit; "very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, so bad"—rotten or repulsive fruit.
1. Wholly dissimilar in quality and character. The exiles became humble, repentant, reformed. The resident Jews became insolent, self-secure, defiant. The former became a delicacy "as the first ripe figs;" the latter obnoxious, "could not be eaten." "Good" and "bad." What is our moral quality or spiritual character? Godly or ungodly; sacred or sinful; with Christ or against Him; redeemed or reprobate?
2. God dealt with them according to their state. Not according to their name; both fruits were "figs;" and both sections of the nation were "Jews." But according to their nature and quality: "good" or "naughty." The "good"—God "will acknowledge" (Jer ), and make better (Jer 24:7). The "bad"—He would reject (Jer 24:9) and destroy (Jer 24:10). The exiles became ripe for God's mercy; the residents became rotten and repulsive—fit for nothing but rejection.
Jer . Theme: KNOWING GOD WITH THE HEART. "And I will give them an heart to know Me."
God has often kind and gracious purposes towards men when they least imagine it. "Truly God is good to Israel." We are very imperfect judges of the character and design of Divine dispensations. "No man knoweth good or evil from all that is before him." The good figs, meaning the best and most spiritual part of the nation, were sent to Babylon for their good; and the bad figs, the most corrupt among the Jews, were kept in Jerusalem that they might ripen to ruin. Those who remained in Jerusalem no doubt thought that they were special objects of Divine favour, and that they who were sent first to Babylon were the objects of God's displeasure: but the reverse was the fact. This may teach us not to be rash and hasty in our conclusions; not to judge before the time; and not to convert calamities into judgments (Luk ).
I. The eminent blessing promised—a heart to know and love God.
i. It is inestimably precious—"to know Him"—know Him as their God. All knowledge is valuable; but Divine knowledge supremely so. By this is meant not a speculative knowledge, which the devils have in greater perfection than ourselves, and remain devils still; but a spiritual, experimental, and soul-satisfying knowledge of God. It includes a knowledge of Him in His revealed character, in His condescending grace, in His covenant relations, in His providential government, and in the special communion with the souls of His redeemed children. "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious"—gracious in making His promises; faithful in fulfilling them. God known in the heart is, in effect, to have the Bible opened, the Law opened, the Gospel opened, Christ opened, heaven opened, the covenant of grace opened, and the blessings and immunities of the spiritual life laid opened and revealed. But without this—without Christ and the knowledge and love of God shed abroad in the heart, our religion is a mere name—like a husk without the kernel, like a casket without the jewel, like a body without the informing spirit.
ii. It is God's special gift. "I will give." He claims it; He only is competent; He delights to give it. This is not a natural attainment, but a Divine communication and bestowment. All knowledge is essentially from God, for He teacheth the husbandman discretion, and taught Aholiab and Bezaleel how to accomplish the carved work for the tabernacle—but this spiritual knowledge is pre-eminently from Him.
iii. This is often a gradual attainment: begun in conversion, carried on in the successive developments of the Christian life. He who impresses Divine truths upon the mind, at first, in conversion, opens them more fully afterwards—shows their importance, harmony, consistency, and power; removes doubts and jealousies and suspicions concerning them, and renders them vitally influential upon the soul. "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know, His going forth is prepared as the morning."
One beam of light breaking in from the Spirit of God does more towards confirming and establishing the mind in the truths of religion, than a thousand arguments of the most subtle disputers, or a thousand sermons of the most eloquent preachers. Hence we read of "the demonstration of the Spirit."
iv. It is greatly facilitated by sanctified afflictions. The good figs must be removed to Babylon, to attain a higher knowledge of God, and a greater ripeness of grace. The school of the Cross is the school of light. In captivity it is given them. Afflictions were the means of it.
II. The means of its attainment.
i. Plead the promise in prayer. Oh, how much need have we to wait and pray for its accomplishment in our own experience! Some are weak in knowledge; slow in capacity, like the disciples, who, though they had so good a Master, were but dull scholars. "Some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame." Like the Hebrews, chap. Jer . We must open our mouth to God in prayer, that He may open our eyes. "Open Thou mine eyes." "Lord, that I may receive my sight." "Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us."
ii. Honour the methods of Divine instruction: ordinances, providences.
iii. Walk by the light of the truth you know. If you have any saving and spiritual knowledge, be thankful, be humble. Do not abuse the light, but improve it. Live under the power of the truth as it is in Jesus. Resign yourself to its transforming power. Give this knowledge room to work, that it may have free course and be glorified in you.
iv. Guard against all the obstructions to this knowledge: against sloth, against worldliness, against easily-besetting sins. "Ye did run well, who hath hindered you?" Some men know much, but to little purpose. Their hearts are too strong for their light. This makes them more skilful hypocrites. These make rents and divisions in the Church. They employ the light they have to do the devil's work.
III. The uses to which this knowledge is subservient.
i. To our happiness: free from doubt.
ii. To our holiness: alienate us from the world and evil.
iii. To our usefulness: makes us bold for God, a centre of light; emboldens us to act and suffer.—Samuel Thodey, A.D. 1856.
See Addenda: CHASTENED, YET NOT ABANDONED.
Theme: AN ENLIGHTENED HEART IS GOD'S GIFT.
"Since He affirms that He would give them a heart to understand, we hence learn—
i. That men are by nature blind; and also that, when they are blinded by the devil, they cannot return to the right way.
ii. That men cannot be otherwise capable of light than by having God to illuminate them by His Spirit.
This passage also shows—
iii. That until the sinner bows before God's tribunal and owns Him to be the Judge, he will never be touched with the feeling of true repentance."—Calvin.
"He who willingly and readily resigns himself to the will of God [as the exiles did] even to the cross, may escape misfortunes. But he who opposes himself to the hand of God [as the residents in Jerusalem], cannot escape."—Cramer.
"The captives are dearest to God. By the first greater affliction He prepares their souls for repentance and radical conversion, so that He has in them again His people and inheritance. Oh the gracious God, that He allows those who on account of sin must be so deeply degraded and rendered slaves, even in such humiliation, to be His people! The captives are forgiven their opposition to God.… God will show them what His love can do; they shall return, and in true nearness to God be His true Israel."—Diedrich.
NOTICEABLE TOPICS IN CHAPTER 24
Topic: JEREMIAH'S VISION OF FIGS. Reflections on some of the characteristics of the age we live in. (Jer .)
It is not difficult to see the force and application of this homely but sententious little allegory. Jeremiah lived in those days of declension and disaster in which the threatened invasion of Judea by the king of Babylon actually took place. Those who were "carried away" comprised the best of the population with regard to intelligence, religious feeling, and patriotism. Their sorrows and afflictions humbled them, so that they repented of their idolatries and obtained mercy of the Lord. They also found favour with their conquerors, and not a few of them rose to high and influential positions in the court and kingdom of Babylon. The Jews who remained at home with Zedekiah "and his princes" revolted against God more and more. Their heart was proud and unhumbled. Year after year they sunk deeper into misery, profanity, and vice. They not only provoked the Divine anger increasingly, but awakened the fierce disdain and hatred of their Chaldean masters, so that at length they were so wasted and ravaged by pestilence, battle, poverty, and exile as to be utterly consumed from off the land which God had given to them and to their fathers (see Jer ). These were the evil figs, so evil that they could not be eaten. The figs ought to have been good, but were not. All the figs were figs of the same season—say an unusually hot and dry one—suiting the trees in certain localities pre-eminently well, whereas in other localities the trees were blighted and withered, and the figs which grew upon them, dry, dusty, tasteless, and worm-eaten.
We are thus led to think of A SEASON FOR FRUIT, PECULIARLY INTENSE AND ARDENT, causing it to come to pass that good fruit turns out remarkably good, and bad fruit remarkably bad. The point suggested by Jeremiah's vision is, That there occur periods or special circumstances in the religious life of nations, which tend to develop and force the maturation of character with unusual energy and astonishing rapidity. In such times you do not find people merely good or bad; but the good are very good, and the evil very evil. Such a crisis it was with the Jews at the time when Jeremiah prophesied.
We live, at present, in a kind of hothouse atmosphere, which has the effect of rapidly developing, as well as mightily intensifying, all the moral and religious elements which go to constitute personal character. Must not the good be very good, and the evil very evil?
Suggest some of the circumstances and influences which invest the times we live in with this interesting peculiarity, and point out a few of the instances and illustrations of the effect thereby produced.
I. Certain peculiarities of our times and position may be noted.
1. This is an age of extraordinary intellectual and social activity. It is an age of many books and much reading; of fearless inquiry and frequent discovery, &c. It requires a great effort to keep the mind calm, to allay the frenzy of excited feeling, to check the extravagances of new-found liberty, and hold fast to the sober requirements of sound principle and acknowledged truth.
2. Another thing to be noticed is the very full and clear religious light which we enjoy. Compare it with any period since the Apostolic age; the Bible was never more closely and deeply studied than now; never were its great cardinal doctrines so fully established or so generally acknowledged among all sections of the Church; the Gospel was never preached to so many nations as now, and at no period were there in Great Britain so many preachers of evangelical truth as now. It would seem well-nigh impossible for any man to remain in ignorance of the things of God, the claims of Jesus, and the way of salvation.
3. There is also a corresponding increase of activity in the Church. Certainly no age has ever surpassed our own in visible earnestness, in pecuniary liberality, or in the excitement and emulation of real Christian work.
What do all these things necessitate on our part individually? Truly potent and stimulating agencies are in operation, calculated to arouse us to repentance and godly solicitude, and then to prompt and goad us on to vigorous Christian life and action. What bold, what firm, what fruitful Christians we must become if we enter fully into "the spirit of the times," considered as engaged on the side of Christ and His Gospel! But if we refuse to do so, if we set ourselves to resist these powerful influences, how strenuous must that resistance be! how determined and resolute and how self-conscious that action of the will which still fights against God and clings to worldliness and sin! It seems impossible for us to be half-hearted, undecided, only negatively good or bad. Truly we must take sides openly, one way or the other. We cannot stand neutral: we must declare ourselves boldly and actively either for Christ or against Him. Behold the two baskets of figs; the good figs must be very good, and the evil figs very evil.
II. Facts are in harmony with these reasonings. Illustrations abound on every side. In this earnest age you find earnest men both for good and evil.
l. Was ever war conducted on so fearful a scale as we have lately witnessed it?
2. In our day, we have also seen such specimens of commercial roguery and robbery, conceived on so magnificent a scale, and executed under so clever and admirable a cloak of hypocrisy, as no previous age has ever presented to the world. Never, assuredly, in any land—Sodom and Gomorrah unexcepted—have baser things been done than have been discovered in our land, and in our own time.
3. On the other hand, look at the men who stand foremost in the van of religion and philanthropy. These are God's heroes; worthy of comparison with the spiritual heroes of ancient times, in regard to all that is noble in faith, self-denying in zeal, munificent in giving, or abundant in labours. These are among the good figs, which by God's grace are very good: and to the production of such instances of exalted and matured piety the present times are not in the least unfavourable.
4. One might speak of books as well as men. We defy any age to show such noble and masterly treatises as are now written by men of sanctified, learning and genius, either in exposition of the Scriptures, or in vindication of their contents. Here again the good figs are very good, even as the evil figs are very evil.
5. Then there are public institutions and societies to be looked at. There are all manner of good institutions set on foot, it is true, but so are there, also, all manner of evil institutions established and seen to be flourishing. The kingdom of Satan is as active and roused up to new exertions as is the kingdom of Christ. Enormous sums of money are spent in the cause of religion; but far, far greater sums are forthcoming to support folly and wickedness, to build temples of mammon-worship and of pleasure, and to uphold the reign of sensuality and impiety.
III. One or two practical lessons ask our attention. We live in stirring times, in which the forces, both of good and evil, like the arts of material warfare, are developing unprecedented resources, and putting forth unheard-of and most gigantic energies; times in which prodigies abound, both of wickedness and of goodness; times in which the "good" figs are very good, and the "naughty" figs very bad. It is no small matter to live in England in this nineteenth century. A hotter, more crowded, or more excited moral battle-field was never known in the history of the world. Therefore—
1. Let no man's trumpet give an uncertain sound; nor let any one think that he can remain a neutral or uninterested spectator of the conflict. What a heavy responsibility rests upon those who live in such a century as this! The religious and moral influences which bear upon us are mighty beyond all that has gone before us.
2. This is no time for trifling. Let us seek to be good, and do good: and then, behold what glorious possibilities belong to us of being pre-eminently holy, blest, and useful! Ought we not to seek this higher growth in grace? Should we not desire to be, among the lowly, the most humble; among the spotless, the most pure; among the active, the most toilsome; among the meek, the most patient; and among the kind, the most charitable? Let us be "instant" in prayer; and, like Abraham, "strong in faith, giving glory to God." Surely this is a worthy and noble ambition; not merely to be a Christian, but a Christian of the highest order.
3. Each may do great things for God. His talent may be small; but how much may he make of it! What means of knowledge, what incentives to zeal, what facilities for usefulness are within every one's reach! None need be idle or half employed. Now, if ever, may the "good figs" be "very good," even as the "naughty figs" are very "bad." Now, if ever, does the saying of Zechariah apply to God's Church: "And he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the Lord before them." Let us never forget that he who would have God on his side, must take care himself to be always on the side of God.—Rev. T. G. Horton (Wolverhampton), in "Christian World Pulpit" (summarised).
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 24: ILLUSTRATIONS AND SUGGESTIVE EXTRACTS
Jer . CHASTENED, BUT NOT ABANDONED.
Three facts should be here noted:—
The exiles were remembered by God, as this vision shows. Also, they were graciously esteemed by Him—better figs than those who remained at home. Further, God intended good to them. So that when we seem outcast from happiness and hope, God may be only chastening us for our profit, or keeping us away from besotting "prosperity" (chap. Jer ), in order that we may be prepared for spiritual elevation (chap. Jer 24:7).
"After the storm, a calm;
After the bruise, a balm;
For the ill brings good in the Lord's own time,
And the sigh becomes a psalm.
"After the drought, the dew;
After the cloud, the blue;
For the sky will smile in the sun's good time,
And the earth grow glad and new."
Trapp remarks that "Jeconiah was a wicked prince, and therefore written childless. Howbeit, because by the advice of the prophet Jeremiah he submitted to Nebuchadnezzar, he and his company are here comforted, and pronounced more happy, however it might seem otherwise, than those that continued still in the land; and this, say the Hebrews (Rabar, Hugo, Lyra), was not obscurely set forth also by those two baskets of figs, whereof that which was worst showed best, and the other showed worst till they came to be tasted."
"Winter brings blessings, so the chill
Of dark adversity;—from its cold grasp
The soul revives reanimate,—more strong,
And better armed."—F. A. Mackay.
Winter will kill vermin which the summer of success and comfort is apt to produce and nourish.
"Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant."—Horace.
Severe in mercy, chastening in its love,
Oft-times in dark and awful visitation
Doth interpose, and leads the wanderer back
To the straight path, to be for ever after
A firm, undaunted, onward-bearing traveller,
Strong in humility, who swerves no more."
(Comp. Addenda to chap. 22, PROSPERITY.)
"I have read of a fountain that at noonday is cold, and at midnight it grows warm. So many a precious soul is cold Godward and Heavenward in prosperity, and grows warm in the midnight of adversity."—Brooks.
Jer . "THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE."
"This falling out of lovers shall but be a renewing of love betwixt us. God must sometimes whip His people to duty, and gather them from evil, as well as entice them."—Trapp.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jeremiah 24". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany