SUMMARY: This (fairly long) article was taken out of Jeremiah 24 and gives a fascinating account of the LORD promising eternal blessings on people whom He “regards as good.” The expression, “regards as good,” introduces the idea of God’s sovereign election of some for salvation. This passage shows that God was sovereign over their salvation and, by implication, He is also sovereign over our salvation.
“The Lord God is sovereign over His universe.” Most professing Christians will agree with this statement whether they have thought much about it or not. But it makes sense, especially when we remember that, according to Genesis 1, God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Since He is the Creator, He should also be the ruler. Many do not realize, however, that the Bible claims that God is sovereign over all that takes place to anyone anywhere in the world, including where people will spend eternity. And uncomfortable though some may be with the Lord God’s right to rule His universe as He sees fit, and “to have mercy on whom He desires, and to harden whom He desires (Romans 9:18),” the biblical evidence of God’s sovereignty is plentiful in both testaments. In my daily Bible reading, I was in Jeremiah 24 and found a fascinating passage about good figs and bad figs.
In the Old Testament, it is often helpful to get the context of a passage. In Jeremiah 24, the year is 597 BC. The nation of Judah has been in moral and social decline for a long time. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has recently carried away into exile Jeconiah king of Judah along with many others in Jerusalem and has brought them to Babylon. Jeremiah has been the LORD’s anointed prophet to Judah for thirty years, warning them of the LORD’s coming judgment and urging them to repent.
In Jeremiah 24, the LORD shows Jeremiah a vision of two baskets of figs:
2 One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, and the other basket had very bad figs which could not be eaten due to rottenness.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying,
5 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. 6 For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not uproot them. 7 I will also give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.’”
Consider carefully what the LORD God of Israel says:
“I will REGARD AS GOOD the captives of Judah, WHOM I HAVE SENT OUT of this place into the land of the Chaldeans.”
REGARDED AS GOOD
The LORD declares that He will regard the captives as good. Notice that it is of no importance how the captives regard themselves. Nor is it of any importance whether the captives are actually good or not. We search the text in vain for any mention of the obedience or of the moral character of the captives. We do not know if they fear the LORD and try to obey the Law or if they ignore the LORD altogether. When the LORD regards them as good, all other data or opinion becomes irrelevant.
Again, we ask, “Why does the LORD regard them as good?” No reason is given. The LORD regards the captives as good because the LORD regards the captives as good. No other reason is given because no other reason is needed. The LORD’s declaration of “good” establishes the fact of the captives’ “goodness,” and nothing can change it.
The LORD’s declaration of “good” was not based on anything the captives had done in the past, and so it cannot be lost by anything they will do in the future. The captives did nothing to merit the LORD’s regarding them as good. According to His sovereign will, the LORD chose to regard as good this group of people called captives, and whatever the LORD regards is irrevocable.
THE LORD AT WORK IN THE PAST
But notice also that the LORD’s sovereignty has already been at work in the past on behalf of these captives. The LORD says the captives are those “whom I have sent out of this place.”
How did this group of captives get taken from Jerusalem? The LORD sent them out. Well, how did these captives get taken to Babylon? The LORD sent them out. But didn’t Nebuchadnezzar come to Jerusalem from Babylon and take these captives away with him? Yes, the LORD sent out these captives by bringing Nebuchadnezzar and his army from Babylon to Jerusalem and then having him gather the exiles and take them back to Babylon That was how the LORD sent them out.
THE LORD HAS PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
And, also, notice that the LORD has plans for those who He has regarded as good. The LORD pours out eight promises for future blessing.
I will set My eyes on them for good.
I will bring them again to this land.
I will build them up and not overthrow them.
I will plant them and not pluck them.
I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD.
They will be My people.
I will be their God.
They will return to Me with their whole heart.
The LORD gushes out on the captives four promises of temporal, material blessings, but He also pours out four promises of eternal, spiritual blessings. Note that none of these blessings have been requested by the captives and that none of them are earned by the captives. These promised blessings are given by the LORD solely because it is His sovereign will to do so. Also observe that in these promises, the LORD is declaring what He will certainly do. These promises will certainly come to pass because the LORD always does what He intends to do. Nothing and no one resists His will (Romans 9:19).
ETERNAL SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS
“I will give them a heart to know Me.” All children of Adam are born with a heart that is deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). We have a hard heart (Ephesians 4:18), a foolish heart (Romans 1:21), a stubborn, unrepentant heart (Romans 2:5), and an evil, unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12). But the LORD here promises a new heart to those whom He regards as good, a heart that will know Him. He “will remove the heart of stone and give a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-28).” And with that heart they will know the LORD.
“They will be My people and I will be their God.” The captives who are regarded as good will be the people of the LORD (1 Peter 2:10), and in all the earth they will be His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5). And the LORD will be their God: their defender, their shield, their refuge, their provider, their Lord and their God.
“They will return to Me with their whole heart.” Read this carefully, for in this blessing the LORD is making an unconditional promise about what free people will do. What does it mean when the Scripture says, “Return to Me with their whole heart”? This is an Old Testament way of saying that they will genuinely and fully believe in the LORD. We would say that they will be saved. But notice that the LORD is promising that these captives whom the LORD regards as good WILL CERTAINLY return to Him with their whole heart. How can the LORD promise that these captives will do that? He can make this promise because the LORD is the sovereign ruler of the universe and has ordained it to be so.
APPLICATION TO OUR LIVES
This story from Jeremiah 24 of God’s eternal promises and of His regarding some people as good to their eternal, unmerited benefit is the story of the gospel and of how God has sovereignly chosen His people for salvation. But this story in Jeremiah also shows that, when the Lord chooses to regard someone as good, He also ordains that all the means necessary to bring about that person’s salvation will providentially occur in their lives.
So, just as the LORD unconditionally regarded the captives as good, so the Lord has unconditionally “chosen His people in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).”
As the LORD promised to give the captives a heart to know Him, in the same way the Lord has “made us alive with Christ and raised us up with Him” (Ephesians 2:4-5), and the Lord has “caused His people to be born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).”
The LORD declared that these captives would return to Him with their whole heart, and now we who are in Christ have a heart that says, “To live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).” We are those who declare, “I count all things loss in view of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8).”
SDG rmb 3/12/2021