Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
We often forget (or don’t talk about) that the exile of Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel, featuring Jerusalem) happened in multiple parts. Not only that, but it is actually an important thing to take note of. Honestly, I forget all the time, but the Holy Spirit reminded me as I read through Jeremiah. We can read about the first parts of the exile in 2 Chronicles 36:5-10,
Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon attacked him and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also took to Babylon articles from the temple of the Lord and put them in his temple there.
The other events of Jehoiakim’s reign, the detestable things he did and all that was found against him, are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah. And Jehoiachin his son succeeded him as king.
Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months and ten days. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. In the spring, King Nebuchadnezzar sent for him and brought him to Babylon, together with articles of value from the temple of the Lord, and he made Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, king over Judah and Jerusalem.
Now it was during these first invasions by king Nebuchadnezzar that Daniel and his friends were brought to Babylon. We can read about this in Daniel 1:1-4,
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility- young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.
It then continues, “Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah” (Daniel 1:6). After these early invasions, king Zedekiah was left ruling over a greatly weakened kingdom while angry Jeremiah kept predicting doom and gloom up until Jerusalem was totally destroyed.
Anyway, with the history lesson out of the way, let’s take a look at today’s prophecy: “The Two Baskets.” Jeremiah writes,
After Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and the officials, the craftsmen 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 poor figs, so bad they could not be eaten (Jeremiah 24:1-2).
So God showed Jeremiah two baskets of figs, one looked very tasty, the other was beyond disgusting. As I read this my mind went back to Genesis, when Pharaoh dreamed of the tasty and icky cows
When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up (Genesis 41:1-4).
Joseph later revealed to Pharaoh that his dream was about a famine, so I assumed this would be similar (as Jeremiah frequently references some drought). However, to my surprise, the explanation of this vision was different,
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 poor 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 offence to all the kingdoms of the earth, a reproach and a byword, an object of ridicule and cursing, 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 fathers” (Jeremiah 24:5-10).
The baskets of figs represent the sackings of Jerusalem. God says that those taken before Zedekiah would flourish, which we know to be true from what we’re told in the Daniel 6:3, “Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” The prophecy also says that things wouldn’t go so well for those in the final capture, which we also know to be true,
There at Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes; he also killed all the officials of Judah. Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon, where he put him in prison until the day of his death (Jeremiah 52:10-11).
Indeed, this turned out to be a very accurate prophecy.
So, what does all of this mean for us? Jeremiah describes there being two baskets of figs. We can know from other scripture (and the assumption that god knows everything) that God is keeping track of good and bad people. We can read about the Lord separating the righteous from the unrighteous in Matthew 25:31-33,
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. Al the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one form another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
In the end, the good people (sheep) go to heaven and the bad folks (goats) go to hell. Likewise, Jesus tells a parable about weeds and good plants,
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared (Matthew 13:24-26).
I probably don’t need to tell you, but this story ends badly for the weeds.
As believers, we’re grouped with the wheat, sheep, and tasty figs. We’re on the good side. But today’s prophecy teaches us that although our end will be good, it might be harder for us right now. Remember, those taken by Nebuchadnezzar first, though God considered them blessed, were still taken as captives, prisoners, and slaves. We read earlier that king Jehoiachin was captured and taken to Babylon as a prisoner. I don’t think anyone would see this as a happy ending like the one described in Jeremiah’s vision. Likewise, many Christians are currently enduring hard times. Often it seems believers are enduring very difficult circumstances while the wicked prosper in their ways. Actually, Jeremiah complained about this once,
You are always righteous, O Lord,
When I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease? (Jeremiah 12:1)
As a believer, it is really frustrating to watch unbelievers always going up while we have to scrape along.
Luckily, God has promised us a happy end. He said in his explanation of the fig prophecy that he would watch over those taken first, who had to struggle while Zedekiah and his crew kept going on free. Well, God held true to his promise. We already read about Daniel, but what about Jehoiachin? We can read about him in 2 Kings 25:27-28,
In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon.
Even though he had to suffer through hard times (as did Daniel and the others taken before the final fall of Jerusalem), God later blessed Jehoiachin and protected him, and even raised him to a place of honor. We can take this as a message to us today as well. Even if we are struggling today, God has something better planned for tomorrow; both in our earthly life, and later when we go to heaven. So, don’t let today get you down, because tomorrow will be great!
If you are not a follower of Jesus, you are in the other basket; which is doomed to destruction. However, you are in luck, because unlike a rotten fig, you can change your standing- today! Just pray with me (by reading the following prayer) and you’ll jump from the doomed basket into the tasty and blessed basket. So take the leap of faith and pray with me!
Thank you for this chance to change.
I have spent life without you,
And as comfortable as it may be today
I know that you have something better planned for tomorrow.
Forgive me for my sins, Lord Jesus.
Come into my heart,
And guide my path from here on out.
You are my king and my God,
Show me your mercy and your love.
In Jesus’ name I pray,