After Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and the officials, the skilled workers and the artisans of Judah were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Lord showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the Lord. One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very bad figs, so bad they could not be eaten.
Then the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“Figs,” I answered. “The good ones are very good, but the bad ones are so bad they cannot be eaten.”
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
“‘But like the bad figs, which are so bad they cannot be eaten,’ says the Lord, ‘so will I deal with Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the survivors from Jerusalem, whether they remain in this land or live in Egypt. I will make them abhorrent and an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth, a reproach and a byword, a curse and an object of ridicule, wherever I banish them. I will send the sword, famine and plague against them until they are destroyed from the land I gave to them and their ancestors.’”
- Jeremiah 24:1-10
Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.
When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
- Matthew 21:18-22
Have you ever eaten a bad fig? We had a fig tree in our back yard. I quickly learned the difference in a ripe fig and an overripe fig. Yuck! My mother loved figs, but I was never a big fan. If my mother blended the figs with something else in a jelly or jam, I would eat it.
What might have ruined my enjoyment for the fig tree itself is a ruined fishing trip with my Dad. He told me to dig behind the fig tree for worms. Instead of worms, I uncovered a copperhead nest. There must have been twenty or more venomous snakes nesting near the roots of the fig tree. We quickly buried the nest and ran a hundred yards away to dig up three or four dry holes. My Dad was trying to teach me what to look for in searching for worms, but there simply were no worms that day. Taking an inventory of the day: God saved us from being bitten by venomous snakes, but never found any worms, and never went fishing. Got to spend a couple of hours with my Dad doing something other than pure work (working a shovel is work, but it was in hope of doing something fun.), so the day wasn’t all bad. Days like that with my Dad were extremely rare.
This prophecy in Jeremiah shows two types of figs and two types of people who were sent into Babylon. The first are the good figs / people. These people will repent and return to the Promised Land. They may stay in exile for seventy years, but their descendants will return. The key is that they will “return to me (God) with all their heart.” I think that the promise of God to never uproot the faithful is in a spiritual sense. Many believers have been uprooted. In part, this has helped to spread the word of God to all nations on earth. Yet, regardless of where God plants us, we are able to bloom.
As for the bad figs, the verses are focused on Zedekiah and his cronies, but the admonishment can be transferred to any stiff-necked and thick-headed people who ignore God and follow their own selfish desires. God’s warning of sending sword, famine and plague makes me think of the many times that Jews have been persecuted in the past 2000 years, but in most of those cases, the persecution was indiscriminate. The good and the bad were persecuted. We need to be careful drawing a line that connects those dots.
I added the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree, because the people of Judah who would return had faith, just as Jesus described to His disciples. Yet, many question Jesus in this passage. Jesus has performed many miracles until this point, but all are good things. The blind see. The deaf hear. The lame walk. A few dead people rise again. But Jesus killed the fig tree.
Matthew Henry makes a good point. The fig tree had leaves, but no fruit. There are a lot of Christians who have a good testimony, but it is not obvious whether they are bearing any fruit. The sin of barrenness is only a sin when our barrenness stems from being unavailable to God when he calls us. We may have leaves and no fruit because it is not our season (as it was for this fig tree). But when we are in season, we must not make excuses. We must follow God’s lead.
Don’t be afraid. God will guide you to the spot where fruit will grow and multiply. Don’t bother counting the fruit. Abraham was promised a great nation through Sarah, but they had one son. Isaac only had two sons, but Jacob had twelve sons and a daughter. Your bountiful crop may come in the next generation. Keep working the fields.
To be a good fig, we must have faith and come to God with all our heart, holding nothing back. To be a good fig tree, we must produce fruit.