Jeremiah’s vision of the figs illustrated God’s natural inclination to choose good rather than evil. Choice is an important theme in the Old Testament of the Bible, especially in connection with living in the Promised Land. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses presented the people with a choice that they needed to make. He said, I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Before he died, Joshua reiterated the choice that each person had to make and emphasized the need to serve or worship the LORD instead of idols (Joshua 24:15). In spite of their promised to do so, the people of Israel and Judah were not faithful to God, but continually chose idolatry as a way of life. The tendency of man to choose evil rather than good was first demonstrated in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. Even though God told them they would die if they ate it, “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).
In his vision, Jeremiah was shown two baskets of figs that were set before the temple of the LORD as if they were an offering to God. Jeremiah recorded, “One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten they were so bad” (Jeremiah 24:2). Jeremiah’s reference to the second basket of figs as “naughty figs” was intended to portray the character rather than the condition of the people they represented. The Hebrew word translated naughty, ra‘ is a word that “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences” (7451). Ra‘ characterizes the ungodly man that has chosen a life of evil. “One of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and every one around him.”
Jeremiah was told that the good figs had been chosen or set apart by God to fulfill his plan of salvation. Jeremiah declared:
Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive in Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And 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 unto me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:5-7)
In order to differentiate which of his people were the evil figs, God stated, “And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the LORD, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt: and I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them” (Jeremiah 24:8-9). In 597 B.C., 3,023 Jews, the best of Judah’s leaders and craftsmen were taken captive by Nebuchadrezzar and they went into exile in Babylon. In 588 B.C., Nebuchadrezzar’s army attacked those who remained in Jerusalem. After a two year battle, the Babylonian army finally penetrated the walls of Jerusalem and the city fell to Nebuchadrezzar who completely destroyed it.