Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE MYSTERY OF THE DIVINE ELECTION. From comparatively similar circumstances to evolve distinct types of character and destiny. Out of the same clay to mold the saint and the sinner. It is the old lesson of the potter in another form. There is nothing in a man himself to account for God's favor. He chooseth whom he will and rejecteth whom he will. Yet is it true that he willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that all should come unto him and live.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH ELECTIVE GRACE MANIFESTS ITSELF.
1. Recalling. (Ver. 6.) How unlikely under the circumstances! Yet rendered credible by the remarkable individuality of the Jewish people from age to age. Reconstituting. (Ver. 6.) The figure is twofold - building and life-growth (cf. Ephesians 2:21, 22). Spiritually recreating. (Ver. 7.) The aim of the previous discipline; but the beginning of great national glory and blessedness. For connection of these processes, cf. Romans 8:28-30.
2. Circumstances are made to subserve a merciful purpose. The immediate condition of the Chaldean exiles might appear a harder one than that of their compatriots at home; but in the end this would turn to their salvation. Not only will God overrule all things for the good of his people, but he will use them for their spiritual education. The influence of circumstances is thus shown to depend for the most part upon the spiritual state of those who are surrounded by them.
3. Circumstances are appointed for the destruction of the obstinately impenitent. Moral reprobation and political annihilation were to come upon these. There would be no swerving or slackening in the execution of their sentence. This is agreeable with the character of him who hates sin with an eternal hatred. The climax of misery here indicated is but a faint suggestion of that which will follow upon rejection of the gospel. And yet how simple are the elements of such a punishment! God has but to withdraw his grace, and the inner depravity of nature will work unchecked its fearful consequences, accelerating and directing the external circumstances of life. And all this has another aspect, which is full of comfort to those who are spiritually inclined. The faintest dawn of repentance is the opening of the "door of hope;" and when the heart is changed the tendency of untoward circumstance at once is altered, and the positive blessings of God again return. - M.
I. To THE CHILD OF GRACE.
1. It is a chastening.
2. A restoration.
II. To THE UNGODLY.
1. The influence depreciating character.
2. A source of restlessness and fresh transgression.
3. An ever-increasing evil.
4. An ultimate destruction. - M.
I. HOW DIFFERENT OFTEN ARE THE EXTERNAL FROM THE SPIRITUAL PROSPECTS OF MEN! Jeconiah and his companions might have been pitied by their friends left behind. The outward position of any one is no index of his relations with God.
II. PRESENT TRIAL MAY BE A PROOF OF DIVINE LOVE, AND PRESENT IMMUNITY FROM MISFORTUNE IS NOT ALWAYS TO BE TAKEN AS AN EVIDENCE OF DIVINE FAVOR. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." Punishment was needed to atone for the past and purify for the future. The exile in Babylon, with its deprivation of political and religious privilege, was a new point of view for the captives. It is a familiar experience to hear men who have done well in the world, or who have had a comparatively smooth life, say, "God has blessed us." This statement is often open to question. God may simply let alone those whom he has given up. The lethargy induced in many by good fortune is to be guarded against. Count them happy that "endure, as seeing him who is invisible." Inward depravity will soon work the destruction of those in whom it remains.
III. THE GLORY OF THE DIVINE IN MAN IS EVOLVED FROM THE HUMILIATION OF THE HUMAN. A mere remnant. How few of those who went forth would return! Children's children might be blessed, but not they themselves. And even then it would require not only reorganization, but rebirth in spirituality. It is ever so. A profound and radical change is needed ere any one can become a member of the true eternal Israel. Israel after the flesh is sentenced to death, that Israel after the Spirit may live forever. - M.
I. THE SYMBOLS EMPLOYED. The two baskets of figs - one very good, the other very evil. But:
1. They had each the same advantages and disadvantages. The same seed, soil, training, climate, sunshine, and other influences teeming on them.
2. They were of directly opposite character. (Ver. 2.)
II. THE PEOPLE REPRESENTED BY THEM. The men of Judah and Jerusalem. Now:
1. The circumstances of all these were the same. Parentage, religion, teachers, disciplines, privileges, opportunities.
2. But some of these people were symbolized by the good figs, and the other by the evil. Those who had been carried off to Babylon were the good; those who remained still in Jerusalem were the evil.
3. The reverse results might have been looked for. For the good had been dealt with more sternly than the evil. How terrible and sad their lot appeared! Torn away from all their wonted privileges; made to endure a fate which others deserved far more than they; surrounded with idolaters and blasphemers of God. But the evil continued in the possession of all those aids to religion and piety of which those others were deprived. So that the circumstances of the good were less favorable, and those of the evil far more so. Exile, which might have been thought to injure the captives, had done them good; whilst exemption from it, which might have been thought to benefit the evil, had wrought them harm. "With the exiles were some of the choicest spirits of the nation. Ezekiel, second only to Jeremiah himself in the prophets of this epoch; and, probably, the ancestor of Mordecai; and Daniel, with his three companions." "The exiles became humble, repentant, reformed. The resident Jews became insolent, self-secure, defiant. The former became worthy of comparison with the first ripe figs; the latter as the 'naughty figs, which could not be eaten.'"
III. THE LESSONS TAUGHT THEREBY. That character and destiny do not depend on circumstances. We should have thought that either all would be alike, or else that the characters and destinies would have been the reverse of what they were.
1. Let the good who may be placed in adverse circumstances take encouragement from this fact. They can surmount and triumph over all the evil influences which surround and oppose them (cf. ver. 7.)
2. And the evil are to take warning. Prolonged privilege and opportunity have no necessary saving power. Such advantages may leave them worse than before. It was so here.
IV. OBSERVE THE GREAT ILLUSTRATION OF THE TRUTH TAUGHT HERE IN CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH.
1. Christ was "as a root out of a dry ground." How utterly opposed to all prospect of his becoming great, and his Name above every name, were the early circumstances in his history! And yet he has triumphed over all.
2. And so with the history of the Church. It was small as "a grain of mustard seed," feeble as "sheep amidst wolves," was as a thing of naught and despised. And yet what has it not become, what will it not become? And what is true of Christ and his Church shall be true likewise of all that are his. "Fear not, little flock," said our Lord; "it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." - C.
I. CONSIDER THE FIGS GENERALLY. We cannot, of course, say why figs should be chosen rather than another fruit, though the choice can hardly be a mere accident. Some reason probably appeared to the observant of that time which we are without sufficient information to discover. Possibly the goodness of good fruits was more obvious against the badness of bad ones, in the case of the fig than in the case of other fruits. It is to be noticed also that the figure chosen to set forth the difference between the good and the bad in Israel is taken from fruit. It was something presented as the result of growth and in connection with culture. The question was suggested how such a difference should come between the good and the bad. For if trees of the same sort grow in the same soil and have the same attention, and the same external influences, how comes some of the fruit to be very good and some very bad? Notice also the sharpness of the distinction. These fruits were either good or bad. To be excluded from one is to be included in the other. There is no third, no medium class. This exactly agrees with the way of speaking in the New Testament, especially by Jesus himself: e.g. the seed in the good and bad ground, the sheep and goats, the good kinds of fish and the bad ones, the five wise and the five foolish virgins. It is of the first importance to bear in mind that the imperceptible gradations, as we reckon them, count for nothing with God. There are only two kinds of hearts, the good and the bad.
II. CONSIDER THE BLESSINGS ON THAT CLASS IN ISRAEL SET FORTH BY THE GOOD FIGS. Painful external experiences cannot destroy the blessing coming from satisfactory internal character. These people represented by the good figs might say, "If we are indeed as good figs, why make us pass through such pains?" To this it might be answered, in the first place, that it was because of this very goodness that God thus treated them. They were being pruned and cleansed that they might bring forth more fruit. Secondly, when they looked on the fate of those represented by the bad figs, even captivity in a distant land would be seen as a blessing. God bends every word that he here speaks through his prophet so as to form a total of strong consolation and hope.
1. Though these people are called captives of Judah, yet this is only the conventional mode of description. In reality, Jehovah himself sends them into the land of the Chaldeans. So Joseph was made to feel that it was God who had brought him into Egypt.
2. God's eye is upon his people for good. That which God sees to be good he always regards for good. Whosoever has, to him is given more. Note, too, that the people were not merely remembered, as if God had stayed behind in the land of Israel. He was equally in Israel watching over it against the day of his people's return, and in the land of the Chaldeans watching over his faithful ones there.
3. There is to be in due time a restoration. He who sends away can also bring back. The external circumstances of his people are completely under his control. He was speaking to those in whose history was written down all the marvelous things of the Exodus from Egypt.
4. There is to be a Divine building and planting. What others had built God had pulled down, what others had planted he had uprooted. Every plant not of the heavenly Father's planting must be rooted up. All this was done, not for any delight God took in the ruin and the wilderness, but that a nation might be built up in righteousness, and bring forth only good fruit.
5. The giving of a true knowledge of God. God must give this knowledge, for it can only come to a renewed heart. The mere exhibition of God's name and person to the natural man is not enough. There may be very elaborate intellectual conceptions of Deity without the slightest profit or comfort. When the renewed heart begins to know, then God begins to be truly known. His love must not only be set before us, but must be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us.
III. THE CURSE ON THOSE SET FORTH BY THE BAD FIGS. There is the greatest possible contrast between the treatment of good fruit and bad fruit. And so there was the greatest possible contrast between the treatment of the people taken to Babylon and the treatment of those remaining at home and nearer home. Upon the surface and at the first aspect it might seem as if these latter had the best of it. And, indeed, there might be no immediate way of making clear the difference. But a difference there assuredly was, and every succeeding year would manifest and emphasize it the more. In the mean time here stood the contrast between the good and bad figs, which would be quite enough for the eye of faith. How the history of the Jewish people justifies the bitter words of vers. 9 and 10! Again and again the Gentile has treated the Jew according to the words of this prophecy, and found in them and similar words a justification of his treatment, not, of course, that the prophecy did really justify the treatment, but God could speak beforehand of the way in which human passions would assuredly work. - Y.
his banished ones," and he will make them to return. Those who are undergoing severe trials, in circumstances, in faith, etc., but who are truly seeking after God, are to be comforted with this word. It is a promise that has been gloriously fulfilled. It pledges -
I. GOD'S CARE.
2. Provision, temporal and spiritual.
Although we see him not, he ever sees us and regards us with complacency and love.
II. GOD'S FAVOR. This indicates interest, but because of something evoking it - the first germs of faith and repentance. When others see them not, he sees the longings of the soul and its efforts after better things; and he will further them.
III. GOD'S GUIDANCE. Although they were led away into a strange land and amidst an alien people, he would never lose sight of them; but, directing their footsteps, would bring them back again to the land they had left and to himself. It was a strange way, but it was God's way, and his influence would be continually in them and upon them for good. It is the surest proof that God's eye is upon us for good when his Spirit is within us. As many as are led of the Spirit are the children of God. - M.
I. THE ABILITY TO KNOW GOD IS THE GIFT OF GOD. Not more facts, external, historical, etc., are required. Not a new Bible - the letter of the Bible is probably completed already. Nor even a new mode of spiritual demonstration. But a new heart. We cannot make a new heart. God will save us by renewing:
1. The moral nature.
2. The whole life through it.
II. THE BLESSINGS OF SALVATION CAN ONLY BE SECURED IN ABSOLUTE CONSECRATION. "They shall return unto me with their whole heart." Complete salvation is impossible without complete faith. To believe - to believe simply, to believe wholly, - this is the condition of perfect salvation.
III. THE IDEAL ISRAEL MUST EVER BE A THEOCRACY. In the obedience of faith they shall be God's people, and he will be their God. That upon which we depend in faith is that which we observe and respect in practice; it is the law and inspiration of life. Christ leads us to the Father that he and we may be one in God; not merged, confounded with Deity, but in eternal and ever-blessed subordination to him. - M.
I. A TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD HAS ITS SEAT IN THE HEART. Intellect cannot solve the mystery of his being. Reason alone cannot even demonstrate his existence. "Who by searching can find out God?" "The world by wisdom knew not God." It is a matter of pure spiritual sensibility. Moral sympathy is the true key to this knowledge. Reverence, humility, love, trust, submission, affections of the heart, are its conditions. Even right ideas of God depend very materially on the state of the heart towards him. The exhalations of a vain, frivolous, corrupt, or carnal heart pervert the soul's vision and obscure his glory. Only as our hearts are purged from every form of earthly defilement can we behold him as he is. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."
II. GOD HIMSELF CAN ALONE IMPART THIS KNOWLEDGE. "I will give them," etc. It is a matter of direct Divine revelation; a Divine science in which mere human teaching is of little avail. A secret, silent, gracious power above all natural influences can alone awaken in us those moral affections which lie at the root of it. A true knowledge, like a true Christian faith, must stand "not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." The blindness of the man of science to the deeper meaning of nature, and of the skeptical philosopher to the manifestation of God in Christ, and of the worldling to the Divine presence in his own life, does but indicate the lack of this power. God must unveil himself to us, by drawing our hearts into lowly and loving fellowship with himself, before we can truly know him. - W.