Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The LORD shewed me, and, behold, two baskets of figs were set before the temple of the LORD, after that Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, with the carpenters and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon.XXIV.
(1) The Lord shewed me . . .—The chapter belongs to the same period as the two preceding, i.e., to the reign of Zedekiah, after the first capture of Jerusalem and the captivity of the chief inhabitants. The opening words indicate that the symbols on which the prophet looked were seen in vision, as in Amos 7:1-4; Amos 7:7; Zechariah 1:8; Zechariah 2:1, and the symbols of Jeremiah 1:11; Jeremiah 1:13; or, if seen with the eyes of the body, were looked on as with the prophet-poet’s power of finding parables in all things. The fact that the figs were set before the Temple of the Lord is significant. They were as a votive offering, first-fruits (Exodus 23:19; Deuteronomy 26:2) or tithes brought to the Lord of Israel. A like imagery had been used by Amos (Amos 8:1-2) with nearly the same formulæ.
The carpenters and smiths.—See 2Kings 24:14. The word for “carpenters” includes craftsmen of all kinds. The deportation of these classes was partly a matter of policy, making the city more helpless by removing those who might have forged weapons or strengthened its defences, partly, doubtless, of ostentation, that they might help in the construction of the buildings with which Nebuchadnezzar was increasing the splendour of his city. So Esar-haddon records how he made his captives “work in fetters, in making bricks” Records of the Past, iii. p. 120). So, from the former point of view, the Philistines in the time of Samuel either carried off the smiths of Israel or forbade the exercise of their calling (1Samuel 13:19). The word for “smith” is found in Isaiah 24:22; Isaiah 42:7 in the sense of “prison,” but, as applied to persons, only here and in the parallel passage of 2Kings 24:14; 2Kings 24:16. It has been differently interpreted as meaning “locksmiths,” “gatekeepers,” “strangers,” “hod-carriers,” and “day-labourers.” Probably the rendering of the E.V. is right.
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.(2) Like the figs that are first ripe.—Figs were usually gathered in August. The “first ripe,” the “summer fruits” of Micah 7:1, the “hasty fruit before the summer” (Isaiah 28:4; Hosea 9:10) were looked upon as a choice delicacy. The “naughty” (i.e., worthless) fruits were those that had been left behind on the tree, bruised and decayed. The word was not confined in the 16th century to the language of the nursery, and was applied freely to things as well as persons. So North’s translation of Plutarch speaks of men “fighting on naughty ground.”
“So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”
SHAKESPEARE, Merchant of Venice, v. 1.
Then said the LORD unto me, What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, Figs; the good figs, very good; and the evil, very evil, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.(3) What seest thou, Jeremiah?—The question is asked as if to force the symbol as strongly as possible on the prophet’s mind, leaving him to wait till another word of the Lord should come and reveal its true interpretation. We are reminded, as he must have been, of the vision and the question which had first called him to his work as a prophet (Jeremiah 1:11).
Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,(4) Again the word of the Lord came unto me.—The words seem to imply an interval, during which the prophet was left to ponder over the symbols that he had thus seen. At last “the word of the Lord came” and made their meaning clear.
Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good.(5) So will I acknowledge.—The expected revelation came. The two baskets represented the two sections of the people. The captives who had been carried to Babylon were, as the list shows, for the most part of higher rank than those who were left behind. The workmen were the skilled labourers of the artisan class. There are many indications that under the teaching of Daniel and his companions, and of Ezekiel, they were improving morally under their discipline of suffering. Their very contact with the monstrous idolatry of Babylon made them more conscious than they had ever been before of the greatness of their own faith. The process which, at the end of the seventy years of exile, made them once more and for ever a purely monotheistic people had already begun.
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.(6) I will set mine eyes upon them for good.—The state of the Jews at Babylon at the time of the return from exile was obviously far above that of slaves or prisoners. They had money (Ezra 2:69), they cultivated land, they built houses (Jeremiah 29:4; Jeremiah 29:28). Many were reluctant to leave their new home for the land of their fathers, and among these must have been the families represented at a later date by Ezra and the priests and Levites who accompanied him (Ezra 8:15). They were not subjected, as many conquered nations have been, to the misery of a second emigration to a more distant land. The victory of Cyrus manifestly brought with it every way an improvement in their condition; but even under Nebuchadnezzar they rose, as in the case of Daniel and his companions, to high honour.
And I will give them an 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.(7) I will give them an heart to know me . . .—Of this also the history of the return gives at least a partial proof. Whatever other faults might be growing up, they never again fell into the apostasy from the true faith in God, which up to the time of the exile had been their besetting sin.
They shall be my people . . .—The prophet clearly remembers and reproduces the promise of Hosea 2:23.
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:(8) And them that dwell in the land of Egypt.—These were, in fact, such as had been carried into captivity with Jehoahaz by Pharaoh-nechoh (see Note on Jeremiah 22:11), or had fled thither in order to avoid submission to Nebuchadnezzar, and were settled in Migdol, and Tahpanhes, and Noph. We meet with them later on in Jeremiah 44. For these there was to be no return, no share in the work of restoration. They formed the nucleus of the Jewish population of Egypt, and in course of time (B.C. 150) set up a rival temple at Leontopolis. (See Note on Isaiah 19:19.)
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.(9) To be a reproach and a proverb.—The language of the verse is coloured by that of Deuteronomy 28:25; Deuteronomy 28:37, from which most of the words are chosen.
And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, among them, till they be consumed from off the land that I gave unto them and to their fathers.(10) The sword, the famine, and the pestilence.—The three forms of suffering are grouped together, as in Jeremiah 14:12 and Ezekiel 14:21. The two latter followed almost inevitably in the wake of the first.