God's Grace Toward Bad Figs
Jeremiah 24:1-25:14 teaches us that like rotten figs, we all have rotten hearts that we can’t cure. But God can.
When I think about figs I remember a fig tree my grandma and grandpa had in their back yard. They warned me about eating too many but I didn’t listen and ate until my face became stained and became sick. I was a bad boy and being in misery was what I deserved.
The Israelites also got what they deserved. For decades God’s people had lusted after foreign gods and God gave them what they wanted. All the skilled people that hadn’t died in battle or from starvation were shipped off to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. Men like Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego plus 10,000 others got to experience up close and personal all that the foreign gods had to offer (2 Kings 24:14).
As an illustration of what was occurring, the Lord showed Jeremiah two baskets of figs...
One basket contained very good figs, like early figs, but the other basket contained very bad figs, so bad they were inedible. The Lord said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs! The good figs are very good, but the bad figs are extremely bad, so bad they are inedible.”
One description of figs says, “As the figs start to ripen, they will give off a fermented smell and a pink, syrupy liquid will begin to ooze from the eye, sometimes forming bubbles as it comes out. Eventually, the flesh inside the fruit will liquefy and become covered in a white scum.” Gross.
The bad figs represent those who tried to stay behind in Jerusalem for various reasons. Maybe they loved the land. Maybe they hated the Babylonians and would rather die. Or maybe they thought they could have a fresh start after everybody else left. Whatever the reason, God says they were “bad” and promised to curse them for their disobedience.
Remember, back in Jeremiah 21:9 God gave them a choice to either surrender or die. God said, "Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine, and plague, but whoever goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you will live and will retain his life like the spoils of war.”
So the people who choose to stay behind or even run off to Egypt were rejecting God’s discipline and could expect to receive even more death by sword, famine, and plague until they were completely destroyed (Jer 24:8-10). God had a good purpose in sending the remnant of His people to Babylon but many of the people were too stubborn to listen.
The point is, if we want to escape God’s wrath we aren’t going to do so by going our own way. We must admit we are boastful idolaters, adulterers, and selfish oppressors and then embrace Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Otherwise, we bring judgment on ourselves and we get what we deserve.
Jeremiah 25:7 says,
‘But you have not obeyed me’—this is the Lord’s declaration—‘with the result that you have angered me by the work of your hands and brought disaster on yourselves.’
And as we’ve seen many times through the book of Jeremiah, God not only allows suffering to occur to his people, he actually causes it. God is not passively reacting to us. He is active and constantly in charge. Is this the kind of God we know?
Knowing God’s Grace
If we know God for who he really is it’s the best knowledge of all because then we’re set free to be joyful even when things don’t go our way, even when people seem to be getting away with murder and our whole nation seems to be a basket case of bad figs.
So, for the remainder of this sermon, I want to focus on four ways the exiles would come to better know God's grace through their captivity.
They would come to know God through his justifying grace, through his protecting grace, through his overcoming grace, and through his regenerating grace.
First, let’s look at God justifying grace.
Jeremiah 24:5 says,
This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Like these good figs, so I regard as good the exiles from Judah I sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans.
The exiles from Judah were not actually good— God regarded them as good. God didn’t punish the bad figs and save the good figs. They were all bad but God regarded some as good and saved them despite their rebellion against him.
So, to know God is to know his justifying grace. God, because of the work of Jesus Christ, justifies sinners as righteous. Galatians 3:6 says “just like Abraham who believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness.” Did Abraham’s goodness justify him? No. His faith in God’s goodness was regarded as righteousness.
Second, to know God is to know His protecting grace.
Jeremiah 24:6 says,
I will keep my eyes on them for their good and will return them to this land. I will build them up and not demolish them; I will plant them and not uproot them.
Even though God’s people were taken to Babylon, God promised to keep watch over and protect them.
As proof, all we have to do is remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who God watched over them for their good even though they were put into service of their enemy, King Nebuchadnezzar.
These three young men knew God and his protecting grace. When they were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace they said in Daniel 3:16-18 “If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”
That’s real faith in a real God who is able to care for his people. And we know the rest of the story ends with God sending an angel to protect them. Not one hair of their heads was singed; their robes were not scorched, and there wasn’t even any smell of fire on them.
God protects his people and this point is made all the more dramatically after his people are in exile. So even if our world falls apart around us and it looks like God has abandoned us, he hasn’t. If history has anything to teach us, it’s that God will use the chaos and heartbreak to display his protecting grace for his people in even greater ways.
Third, the exile of Judah gave his people the opportunity to see more clearly God’s overcoming grace. God’s people will suffer but not forever, and not without a good purpose.
Jeremiah 25:12–14 says,
‘When the seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation’—this is the Lord’s declaration—‘the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, and I will make it a ruin forever. I will bring on that land all my words I have spoken against it, all that is written in this book that Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations. For many nations and great kings will enslave them, and I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.’
God doesn’t just keep his eyes on Israel, he’s keeping watch over all nations. Even though the Babylonians were being used by God to punish the Israelites, their own misdeeds would not go unpunished. In other words, God will overcome all of his enemies. To know God is to know his overcoming grace.
There are many interpretations about how long the seventy years is and I don’t want to distract from the main point by offering up the various opinions. The main point is that the sufferings of God’s people will not last forever. There is a limit and God knows what that limit is.
For you and me, our sufferings are temporary, too. Some of our sufferings will only last a few days while others may last a lifetime. But either way, God promises to overcome them all by his grace.
1 Pet 1:6 says, “You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials.” From God’s perspective, all our grief only lasts a short time. And once God overcomes all our grief it will seem like a short time to us, too, so we rejoice in this.
Fourth, another way people in exile know God is by his regenerating grace. God not only regards his people as good, but he also protects them, he overcomes their enemies and regenerates them, making them actually good.
So far, if there’s one thing the first 23 chapters should have taught us it’s that God’s people are not good. God’s people are stubborn, rebellious, and as Jeremiah 17:9 says, “Our hearts are more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?”
Like rotten figs, we all have rotten hearts that we can’t cure. But God can. God knows our hearts and can cure them.
Jeremiah 24:7 says,
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 because they will return to me with all their heart.
Our old hearts aren’t repairable, they need to be replaced. God must give a person a new heart before they will return to him.
So to use a metaphor, we need a heart transplant and if we haven’t had one yet I can recommend the best surgeon and even donor for you—God the Father and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
Give your old rotten heart to Jesus. Once you do he’ll give you a new heart and you’ll come to know him as he really is. He’s the God who justifies you, protects you, overcomes your enemies, and regenerates you by His grace.