When studying Scripture I often notice an interesting pattern of paradox — like the truth that the humble shall be exalted while those who exalt themselves will be humbled. The first will be last and the last first. Whoever wants to become great should be a servant.

In Jeremiah 24, God uses a simple illustration to explain such a paradox to Jeremiah, concerning what is going to happen with the people of Judah. Initially, it would seem that good things are happening to bad people and bad things are happening to good people, but after further examination, it’s clear that the Lord has a different set of intentions.

The Lord shows Jeremiah two baskets of figs. One basket is full of very good figs, just ripened and nice for eating, while the other is full of very bad figs, so bad that they can’t be eaten. The figs are a metaphor for the different types of people living in Judah and Jerusalem at the time.

God is examining the people, the way you might separate out good fruit and bad fruit into two separate baskets, and making a discerning judgement about them.


God says, “Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge those who are carried away captive from Judah, whom I have sent out of this place for their own good, into the land of the Chaldeans.” {Jer. 24:5, my emphasis} Remember, this is during the time of exile, when many of the Jews were carried away in captivity, to Babylon.

The Lord promises, “For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to the land; I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.” {v. 6 & 7}

He then speaks of the end for the “bad figs” among His people: “And as the bad figs which cannot be eaten, they are so bad…so will I give up Zedekiah the king of Judah, his princes, the residue of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will deliver them to trouble into all the kingdoms of the earth, for their harm, to be a reproach and a byword, a taunt and a curse, in all places where I shall drive them.” {v. 8 & 9}

At first sight, it would seem that a bad thing — being carried away into captivity — is happening to good people, while the good thing — remaining in Jerusalem — is happening to the bad figs among God’s people. But He explains that the “good figs” — those people who have hearts that are pleasing to Him — are being sent out for their own good, even though it surely would not have seemed so at the time. God has a plan to bring them back, to rebuild His people and their nation, where they can be planted and flourish again.

And though the people who stayed behind might have rejoiced that God was “sparing” them, instead we see He had something else in mind. As is often the case, He is discerning hearts, separating sheep from goats, good figs from bad figs, those who’ve made Him their Lord from those who just call Him the Lord.

We would do well to remember His words when life seems this way, when it seems that the wicked are prospering and the righteous are suffering. Remember that Isaiah 55: 8 & 9 says

“For My thoughts and not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Indeed, His ways are so much higher than ours we can scarcely comprehend how something that would seem bad, like being taken away from the only home and life and people you’ve ever known, could be good. But just as our perspective of the earth itself is changed completely when we look down on it from an airplane, or see satellite images from space, so God’s perspective on the things which concern us is so incredibly different from what we can see, standing in a single place in time, not knowing the future or His thoughts.

Whether we are saying goodbye to a dear friend sooner than we want, or simply stuck in traffic and running late getting where we want to be, we can trust that God is directing the course for His good figs — for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. {Rom. 8:28}

The Sermon in a Nutshell: Love God and trust Him, aim for having the heart of a good fig, and even when it seems like all is lost, you’ll be able to say It is well, It is well with my soul.