I identify with Jeremiah for a number of reasons. For one thing, I most often hear from God in the same way that he often did: I see. When God speaks, especially in visions, it is a metaphoric message. When God speaks, its full of creativity. This multi-layered, metaphoric creativity is the natural language of the eternal spiritual realm. Jeremiah 1:11-12 gives us a glimpse into the multi-colored, multi-faceted language of the spirit.
And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.” Jeremiah 1:11-12 ESV
There are at least five layers of meaning or distinct yet correlating messages in this one passage. Before we dive into those messages, lets acknowledge the timeless surface-layer truth which we find here.
God tells Jeremiah, "You have seen well!" Is there any stronger indication in the Bible that we have a definite role to play in how well we see? Perhaps you've considered "seeing" to be a passive action; something that just happens without any effort or responsibility on your part. God didn't tell Jeremiah that he did a good job at describing what he saw -- He affirmed that he had done a good job in seeing.
In that moment, God validated that what he saw was indeed a message from God. We all need confirmation and encouragement in order to grow in the understanding that God is, in fact, speaking to us.
Lets explore the layers of meaning in this one simple vision: a picture of an almond branch.
The first message is the obvious one: "I am watching over my word to perform it." This is God’s own interpretation of the vision which He gave Jeremiah. The Amplified Bible says, "I am alert and active, watching over My word to perform it." God never sleeps and He never fails to accomplish what He intends. He is the "I AM," always here and now. It is a declaration that reverberates through the ages, "I AM watching over my word to perform it."
To understand how this interpretation relates to the vision, you have to think in Hebrew. Of course, if you're like me, that's not possible for you. Thankfully, some translations of the Bible have a footnote for this passage which gives us some extra information.
The Hebrew word for "almond" in this passage sounds like the Hebrew word for "watching." This vision is primarily a play on words. I think its worth noting that if it wasn't for the fact that God specifically declares this to be the interpretation, many of us would never accept it. Let's not forget that God has not changed. God can speak by giving a picture that sounds like something else when you say it.
The second message is, "Now is the time of fulfillment!" In the Hebrew, "hasten" and "watching" are closely related and even interchangeable (see Strong's H8245). The Stone Edition Tanach says, "You have seen well, for I hasten to fulfill My word." In that translation, the footnote for this verse is particularly interesting. It says, "The almond tree symbolizes swift, efficient action because it blossoms well before other trees in the spring. This is a play on words: The Hebrew words for "almond" and "hasten" are linguistically related."
God is giving Jeremiah assurance that He is fulfilling His own word which He had just spoken to Him, making him a prophet to the nations (Jer. 1:5).
The third message is that God was waking Jeremiah to hear His voice. Strong's Concordance confirms that the Hebrew word for almond signifies "wakeful" or "waking" (see Strong's H8245). God is awakening him to hear His voice and giving Him the confidence to declare it.
The fourth message is an affirmation that Jeremiah is indeed being called to a great level of responsibility at a young age. The Easton Dictionary of the Bible says that the word "almond" is, "given to it on account of its putting forth its blossoms so early." Remember, the Stone Edition Tanach footnote says that the almond tree "blossoms well before other trees in the spring."
This is especially significant since God is calling Jeremiah at such a young age. God is telling him that He is bringing him to maturity earlier than others. This directly relates to the issue that God had just addressed before giving Jeremiah his first vision.
Jeremiah had said, "I cannot speak, for I am only a youth." (Jer. 1:6). But God said, "Say not, I am only a youth; for you shall go to all to whom I shall send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak." (Jer. 1:7). In other words, "Don't say you can't. I'm telling you that you are blossoming into ministry earlier than others. Say with authority whatever I tell you to say."
The fifth message is a confirmation that Jeremiah was chosen by God to speak on His behalf. To see this, you must know how God confirmed that Aaron, the brother of Moses, was His choice as a priest and prophet.
After some rebellion and controversy, God commanded Moses to get the staff of each of the fathers the twelve tribes of Israel. He commanded that the names of each father of the tribes be written on their staff, but to write Aaron's name on Levi's staff. He them commanded Him to "deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you." (Num. 17:4). God declared, "… the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people…" (Num. 17:5).
The next day when Moses went into the tent, he found that the staff of Aaron had "sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds." (Num 17:8). Aaron's staff was an almond branch that blossomed before the others!
In the case of Aaron, as well as with Jeremiah, this was a testimony against any who rebelled against God’s choosing of him (Num. 17:8-11), as well as the initiation of his responsibilities and privileges (Num. 17:12-18:24).