“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.
Jeremiah 24:5 (NIV)
It’s still early in baseball season. Our Chicago Cubs have made a lot of moves in the past two years, selling off all of the star players from the 2016 World Series team. Younger players acquired in those trades along with those who are coming up in the system have been combined with short-term contracts of a few veterans to try and piece together a winning team. The result is that Wendy quite regularly blurts out, “Wait! Who is this guy? Where did he come from?”
C’est la vie.
In today’s rather short chapter, God gives Jeremiah a simple metaphor in two baskets of figs he came across at the front of the temple. It’s important to realize that the “exile” of Hebrews to Babylon was not a one-time occurrence that happened when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. There was an almost 20 year period in which Jerusalem was subject to the Babylonian Empire.
It began in 605 B.C. when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, fresh from his crushing defeat of Egypt, stopped by Jerusalem (and a lot of other cities) to demand tribute in exchange for not destroying the city. Empires had learned along the way that having city-states paying regular tributes and taxes was a more lucrative deal in the long-run than simply destroying them. One of the strategies to avoiding rebellion of these cities was to take people of royalty, nobility, along with the talented and gifted into captivity back in Babylon where they could be both useful and controlled. So Neb took the Who’s Who of Jerusalem and sent them off to Babylon.
In 598-597, Neb returned to Jerusalem to put down an attempted rebellion led by King Jehoiakim. More captives were taken and Neb placed Zedekiah on the throne as his puppet. Ten years later, it was Zedekiah who rebelled and made an alliance with Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar returned to destroy Jerusalem in 586 to make an example of her to other city-states under his control. More exiles presumably were sent back to Babylon at that point.
Jeremiah’s prophetic career spanned all of these events. He watched as the best and brightest (the good figs) were taken away and the aged, poor, and weak (the bad figs) were left behind in Jerusalem. It’s kind of like our baseball team selling off and trading all its star players only to be left with scrubs and veterans past their prime to try and finish the season.
The word picture God gave Jeremiah in today’s chapter was a rare, hopeful message in the collection of Jeremiah’s prophetic works. God promises that all the “good figs” who had been taken into exile would survive, thrive, be protected, and would some day return. Most importantly, the captivity and exile in Babylon would teach those in captivity humility leading to repentance and much needed spiritual maturity.
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that life is filled with difficult stretches for a reason. God, like a good father, allows His children to struggle because the pain and struggle is the essential ingredient to spiritual growth and outcome. He reminds Jeremiah of the hope of the exiles successful return which would occur seventy years later.
I am also reminded in the quiet this morning that before the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, they went through similar seasons in which players were sold off and traded in order to put together the young team who would end a 108 year World Series drought. Every baseball team, like every life journey, has seasons of struggle.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.