You Naughty, Naughty Fig!

By: Bored in Vernal
October 24, 2010

OT SS Lesson #42

For a complete understanding of the Book of Jeremiah, one must keep in mind three different time periods.

  1. 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.
  2. To elucidate these events, Jeremiah draws upon the powerful archetype of Moses and the Exodus, which occurred hundreds of years previously.
  3. 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 11:17–2036:24–282 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?

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6 Responses to You Naughty, Naughty Fig!

  1. Troth Everyman on October 24, 2010 at 7:12 AM

    The tension between exact obedience to a list of rules and living the spirit of the rule has been played out several times in biblical history. It is a negative thing when we get to far on the exact obedience to a list of rules side. Jesus fulfilling the Law of Moses is a good example.

    When serving a mission I saw this several times. Missionaries who allowed their zeal for being exactly obedient get in the way of helping their fellow man. One rule we had was not allowing investigators to ride in our mission cars. And yet, when I had an investigator family get evicted from their home by a group of men who through all their stuff in the street (with all their neighbors riffling through their stuff and taking what they wanted) I didn’t hesitate to break the rule… in order to abide by the spirit of the law of helping someone in need (my companion had a hard time with it). It seems to me that learning to depend on the Grace of God outweighs living by a list of prescriptive laws. Living by the list of rules alone without fore-thought to the consequences of such actions (in a given situation) can lead to inadvertent poor consequences for ourselves and others.

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  2. Jared on October 24, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    The ultimate purpose of the church, including all the ordinances members receive, is to bring each member to the point where they receive a remission of sins. That’s why we’re baptized. The purpose of baptism is for receiving a remission of sins(D&C 33:11).

    Remission of sins is referred to by many names in the scriptures:

    baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost
    born again
    mighty change of heart
    converted

    Having a list to help us along the path until we receive a remission of sins is useful because it helps us to be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit.

    It’s a means to and end, not the end in itself.

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  3. Mike S on October 24, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    I think the “list mentality” causes a type of co-dependency to develop that is not healthy.

    Instead of merely saying something such as “Be modest” and letting each person determine what that means in the context of their society, peer group, country, etc., the Church gives lists. This extends to even something as trivial as how many earrings someone has to little kids keeping their shoulders covered because someday they might wear garments. Because the Church gives so many seemingly arbitrary rules, people naturally go right up to the edge of those rules. To “reign” people in, the Church therefore comes up with more rules.

    A much healthier attitude can be found in other areas. In Buddhism, for example, there is the principle – avoid intoxication – but the specific interpretation of that is left up to the person. For some Buddhists, the avoid alcohol all together. For others, they might have a glass of wine with dinner, yet not enough to be intoxicated. Some extend this past alcohol to mean other things that might “intoxicate” you and distract you from what is important. But the main thing is that the PRINCIPLE is emphasized. There is a real value in having someone struggle to see what something means to them and to internalize that.

    We lack that in the LDS Church with our lists of rules.

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  4. MoHoHawaii on October 24, 2010 at 11:09 AM

    Re #3 (Mike S) I think the “list mentality” causes a type of co-dependency to develop that is not healthy.

    I think the WoW analogy is a good one. The history of the WoW shows a progression from suggestion, to principle, to commandment, to unbreakable social taboo.

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  5. Proud Daughter of Eve on October 24, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    The Jews were not taken away captive into Egypt because of disobedience. They were led there by God for their preservation in Joseph’s time.

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  6. Bored in Vernal on October 24, 2010 at 4:27 PM

    OH, thank you for that correction! You are absolutely right. I should amend that paragraph to read as follows:

    As is the case throughout Jeremiah, there is allusion to Moses and the Exodus. 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. During their long residence in Egypt, the children of Israel picked up habits and beliefs which needed to be purged by means of a long journey through the wilderness. The chastisement that came upon Moses’ people and the Babylonian exiles of Judah was to cause them to return to God.

    Is that better, PDoE??

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