Jeremiah was sanctified before he was born and ordained as a prophet to the nations. God would use him “to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant (Jeremiah 1:10b).”He pleaded with Israel to return to the Lord and then the Lord would return to them. He had persistently warned them of idolatry, false shepherds and false prophets saying “peace, peace when there was no peace” and of judgement in the form of sword, famine, and pestilence. King Jeconiah and many others had been taken to Babylon and they would remain there for seventy years until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths; yet for the exiles, there was still a comforting message of hope and reassurance.
The Lord showed Jeremiah two baskets of figs. One basket was excellent, consisting of ripe figs and those good figs were those who were carried away captive from Judah. The other basket contained figs so poor that they could not be eaten and represented King Zedekiah and those with him who remained in the land and those who dwelt in Egypt.
The thought of seventy years in captivity in a foreign land is not an enviable one. Most setting out would never see Judah again. In human terms being taken to Babylon would have reminded them of slavery in Egypt and would appear a bleak situation and a case of making the best of the worst, grimly seeing out the sentence and investing in and hoping that things would be more promising for the next generation. Yet despite all the above, God actually explained that it was for their good.
How could that possibly be good? God would set His eyes on them for good. He would therefore not abandon them and would watch over them and would bring them back into their land and would build them and not pull them down and plant them and not pluck them up. Some serious pruning was about to take place which would undoubtedly be painful but in the long run would be beneficial. When God is at work in our lives and shaping our character, training, and preparing us, there is a necessary work that needs to take place which is tough at the time yet produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
A couple of the hardest things about the lockdown is the uncertainty of how long it will last or what might happen. It seems like life is temporarily on hold, our plans are sitting in a pending tray, projects are in abeyance and no man’s land is not governed by time. Yet we should remember that the Lord is the potentate of time and that if we are trusting in Him, He can enable us to be useful for Him in the most trying situations and we can trust Him with the outcome. One may plant a seed and another water, though God gives the outcome. Scripture constantly compares the lot of the righteous and the ungodly. The righteous are not promised an easy path but they are assured of the Lord watching over them, of their character becoming more like His and that all things work together for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
On this passage, Warren Wiersbe wrote: “In times of national catastrophe, no matter how discouraging the circumstances may be, God doesn’t desert his faithful remnant. Rebels are scattered and destroyed, but true believers find God faithful to meet their needs and accomplish His great plans.”[i]
It is better to be amongst the righteous and reside in a difficult environment and endure hardship than to remain with the ungodly and to trust in the flesh. For those who are faithful to the Lord and who are trusting in Him, God can enable them to be rooted and built up and strengthened in Him. Gardening does not always yield immediate results and initially may appear unpromising but when good seeds come to fruition, the results are highly worthwhile, productive, and long lasting.
Can a bad tree produce good fruit and will a good tree produce bad fruit? God would send the sword, famine, and pestilence among them. Jeremiah echoed that warning repeatedly and that should not surprise us if we see the same today. In Matthew 24:7 those are all signs of the end of the age and the beginning of sorrows.
But the Lord’s plans went even beyond the return to the land after seventy years of exile when they were looked on favourably and even helped by King Cyrus. God would give them a new heart to know Him, He would be their God and they would return to Him with their whole heart. This even projects beyond our time and looks forward to the Messianic Kingdom.
When a seed is planted it might look like nothing is happening, yet a tree may grow to maturity and some trees last for hundreds of years or even a couple of millennia. When we consider God’s purposes for people and nations, we must recognise that the Lord works on a time scale that far exceeds ours, yet the timing is always perfect. Similarly there will be times and painful experiences in our lives that we will not be able to comprehend over the course of our lifespan, though one day, we will recognise God’s fuller purposes when we are with Him in heaven.
[i] Warren. W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (David C. Cook, 2007; Colorado Springs), p1238