For a complete understanding of the Book of Jeremiah, one must keep in mind three different time periods.
- The first is that to which Jeremiah is ostensibly referring: his own. In this history, Jeremiah describes the rise of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar in the 600’s BC, the fall of Jerusalem, the deportation of Judah in three waves, and the hope for their return.
- To elucidate these events, Jeremiah draws upon the powerful archetype of Moses and the Exodus, which occurred hundreds of years previously.
- There is also a prophetic application to events of scattering and gathering of latter-day Israel.
I think that without a thorough understanding of the Babylonian captivity it is difficult to make inferences about events of the latter days. Yet again because of time restraints, our lesson manual skimps on this very essential basic knowledge. In the Gospel Doctrine lesson “I Will Write it in Their Hearts,” the teachings bounce back and forth between the Exodus and latter day events with nary a mention of the kingdom of Judah. But a quick look at the object lesson Jeremiah provides in Chapter 24 can remedy this situation.
The allegory of the baskets of figs is one of the more striking teachings found in the Book of Jeremiah. The story goes like this: two baskets of figs are found in front of the Temple of God. One basket contains “naughty,” or rotten figs, and the other basket is full of good, ripe fruit. Jeremiah explains that the rotten figs represent King Zedekiah and his followers who remained in Jerusalem, allying themselves with Egypt. These naughty figs have the false security of remaining in the land with their temple and leaders, but the best of the nation has already been deported. The edible figs represent the group of skilled artisans and craftsmen including Ezekiel and Daniel, who were carried off into captivity in Babylon. Through Jeremiah, Jehovah tells Judah that they have all been punished for their infidelity. Those who have gone into captivity will find it for their eventual purification, and they will be returned to the land (good figs). Those who remain will be scattered into Egypt and many other lands and destroyed (bad figs).
Only this understanding of the then-current situation in Judah can illuminate the allegory. As is the case throughout Jeremiah, there is allusion to Moses and the Exodus. Because of their disobedience, the children of Israel were taken away captive into Egypt. A purification process was begun while slaves in a foreign country. Their sojourn in Egypt kept them segregated and enabled them to develop into a powerful people. The punishment that had come upon Moses’ people and the Babylonian exiles of Judah was to cause them to return to God.
With this understanding, we can finally take the information in the chapter and apply it to the latter day scattering and gathering of Israel. There are two different groups who represent two different attitudes toward adversity. The good figs learn their lesson well, repent, experience spiritual renewal, and develop a heart for God. The naughty figs did not learn from their experience. They depend on earthly systems and false security.
Do you see how important it is not to leave out at least a cursory discussion of the people of Jeremiah’s day when discussing the implications of this book of scripture to the latter day? I think this chapter of Jeremiah, and indeed the whole book carries a different message than that portrayed in our manual. For example, the manual asks:
- The children of Israel relied on Moses to receive revelation for them during their sojourn in the wilderness. What great longing did Moses express in Numbers 11:29? (He wanted the people to learn God’s law and learn to listen to the Spirit for themselves.)
- As recorded in Jeremiah 31:31–34, what did the Lord promise to do in the latter days? (See also Ezekiel 11:17–20; 36:24–28; 2 Corinthians 3:2–3.) What does it mean to have God’s law written in our hearts? What must we do to have God’s law written in our hearts?
- How is our behavior affected when we have God’s law written in our hearts? You may want to discuss how this helps us obey specific commandments, such as:
- a. Loving our neighbors.
- b. Honoring our parents.
- c. Being morally clean.
- d. Keeping the Sabbath day holy.
- e. Choosing appropriate movies, television programs, books, and magazines.
- f. Wearing modest clothing.
- g. Selecting suitable music.
This type of specific list seems counterproductive to having God’s law in our hearts and listening to the Spirit for ourselves. What do you think? Are such rigid instructions more in line with behavior exhibited by legalistic and worldly “naughty figs” or the exiled “good figs” who had to learn to depend on the grace of God?