11 The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.
12 The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”
(Jeremiah 1:11-19 NIV)
In the previous passages, we met Jeremiah as he introduced himself and his calling from the Lord. Today we listen in as Jeremiah receives his first oracle from God.
Jeremiah’s first words from the Lord are a test, a play on words, and a reminder of God’s character (vv. 11-12).
The test is the obvious part of this passage. The Lord asks Jeremiah what is in front of him. Jeremiah replies that he sees a branch from an almond tree. The Lord is checking to see if Jeremiah will report truthfully, or will try to read too much into it. This is reminiscent of the story of the Sunday School teacher that asks the class, “What lives in a tree, eats nuts, and has a furry tail?” To which one child replies, “That sounds a lot like a squirrel, but since we’re in church, I will say Jesus.”
The play on words is lost from the Hebrew to the English. The Hebrew word for an almond branch (v. 11) is “shaqed” (pronounced shaw-kade’); the Hebrew word for watching (v. 12) is “shaqad” (pronounced shaw-kad’).
There were large groves of almond trees around Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth, so an almond branch would be a very familiar item to Jeremiah. Also, almond trees were the very first thing to bloom every spring, so this was a reminder to Jeremiah that God is faithful and wants to renew life in His people just like new life springs forth in the almond branches each spring. The almond tree may look dead in the winter but revives in the spring. And there is hope for a spiritually dead Israel that has turned its back on God to spring forth in new life again.
May we always remember that God never gives up on us. We can never be too far from the Lord that He will not welcome us back with open arms. He stands watching and waiting for us to turn back to Him.