After years and years of disobedience to God, the LORD allowed Babylon to enter Judah and carry most of the people off into exile (This is where we find the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego).
There was a prophet named Jeremiah that God had been speaking to all of the people through. In chapter 24 of the book by his name, the Lord places two baskets of figs in front of Jeremiah; one basket is filled with good figs, and the other is filled with bad ones, too rotten to eat.
Conventional 21st-century American Christianity would tell us that the bad figs represented the people carried off- they were the wicked ones who got what they deserved. Their troubles were the proof of their disobedience, their distance from God; “bad things happen to bad people.” At it’s best, the bad things that happen to me are the result of the bad things I’ve done and at the opposite of the spectrum, bad things happening are the proof of an evil, wicked, spiteful God who neither hears nor cares for his people; “He’s abandoned us!” Is our cry.
Conventional 21st-century American Christianity would have us believe the those left behind remained there because they were good and faithful, they did the right things and being allowed to remain in their homeland was the just reward for a life well-lived- God was blessing them with lives of peace, harmony and goodness.
Then the LORD gave me this message: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: The good figs represent the exiles I sent from Judah in the land of the Babylonians. I will watch over and care for them, and I will bring them back here again. I will build them up and not tear them down. I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them hearts that recognize me as the LORD. They will be my people and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly.
“But the bad figs,” the LORD says, “represent King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, all the people left in Jerusalem, and those who love in Egypt. I will treat them like bad figs, too rotten to eat. I will make them an object of horror and a symbol of evil to every nation on earth. They will be disgraced and mocked, taunted and cursed, wherever I scatter them. And I will send war, famine, and disease until they have vanished from the land of Israel, which I gave to them and their ancestors.”
I have friends and folks in our congregation who are in the midst of hardship that they (and I) cannot understand. Situations and realities that seem impossible to bear
Maybe they are wicked sinners whose sins are catching up to them. Maybe they are reaping what they’ve sown, maybe God is angry and it’s time to pay the piper.
It’s possible because in God’s omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence, no one gets away with anything (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
And maybe, just maybe, God’s sent them off to exile for the glory of His Name and their own protection. He’s watching over and caring for them, he’s building them up and planting them, giving them hearts that recognize him as LORD, writing his words on their hearts and in their minds, to make them his people as they are prepared to return to him wholeheartedly.