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In Jeremiah 1:11, what does the "rod of an almond tree" refer to?

11 Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” 12 Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.” [Jer 1:11-12, NKJV]

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Preamble

Without vowel markings the Hebrew word for "almond" and one of their words for "watch" look the same, שקד. With the vowel markings, almond is שָׁקֵ֖ד (šā-qêḏ), and "watch" is שֹׁקֵ֥ד (šō-qêḏ). In the days prior to vowel markings, those who read the text would have had to have heard it read to them with the distinctive vowel sounds, otherwise the difference would have been lost over time.

The use of these two words could be a pun that Jeremiah's audience would have readily understood, but for us, many, many centuries from the time, the pun, if that's what it was, seems very obscure.

However ...


שָׁקֵ֖ד (šā-qêḏ) and שֹׁקֵ֥ד (šō-qêḏ)

Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond šā-qêḏ tree. Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten šō-qêḏ my word to perform it.
-- Jeremiah 1:11-12 (KJV)

A rod is used for discipline, which is how God intends to use it.

This particular rod, though, is an almond branch. Gesenius suggests the significance of the almond branch is connected to the fact that almond trees are the first to wake up after winter. They are "watching" trees, i.e. trees that watch for the approach of spring. So, the branch will be a "watching" rod.

Okay, if שֹׁקֵ֥ד (šō-qêḏ) means "watch", why has the KJV given "hasten". The only reason I can imagine is that the almond tree doesn't just watch for the signs of spring, it is also eager for spring to hurry along. Gesenius suggests there is a hurry-up sense to the word, as well.

This idea will seem a little more plausible when the other uses of שֹׁקֵ֥ד (šō-qêḏ) in Jeremiah are investigated.


Other uses of שֹׁקֵ֥ד (šō-qêḏ)

Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch šō-qêḏ over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased.
-- Jeremiah 5:6 (KJV)

Here שֹׁקֵ֥ד (šō-qêḏ) is used to depict a leopard watching and waiting for the gates to open, with the sense of hurry-up-and-open, so that when the people venture forth they can be pounced upon and torn to pieces.


Behold, I will watch šō-qêḏ over them for evil, and not for good: and all the men of Judah that are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by the famine, until there be an end of them.
-- Jeremiah 44:27 (KJV)

A group of God's people have defied His instructions and run to Egypt for protection (Jeremiah 42,43), and God tells them through Jeremiah, that He will bring Egypt's enemies down upon that nation, and those of Judah who have no heart to return to Jerusalem will be consumed in the process.

In the past God had put a hedge around His people and had watched them for their good, but since they cared more for the things outside the hedge than they did for those within, the time had come for the hedge to go and for the heathen nations to have their day.

Nonetheless, God would see that a remnant from Egypt, those whose hearts were still fixed on Him, would return to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 44:28).


Conclusion

The "rod of an almond tree" is how Jeremiah depicts the enemies that God has allowed to descend upon Jerusalem and His people. They are lions and wolves and leopards who have been watching and waiting and eager for God to remove His protective hand, so they could devour that insignificant little nation, whose only claims to fame are what He had done for them.

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It may refer to the Rod of Aaron from Numbers 17:1-10:

10 The Lord said to Moses, “Put back Aaron’s staff in front of the ark of the covenant law, to be kept as a sign to the rebellious. This will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die.” [NKJV]

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    This is an interesting connection, Aleksandr. Could you please elaborate on this?
    – C. Kelly
    Apr 13, 2016 at 12:52
  • Additionally you will also note the first mention of the house of God (Bethel) in the bible takes place in gen 35 where Jacob dreams of the ladder between heaven and earth. This takes place in a place originally called Luz which means Almond wood/tree. There seems to be a connection made between the house of God / Priesthood and the Almond tree
    – Marshall
    Dec 31, 2023 at 5:23
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The phrase in Jeremiah 1:11 is מַקֵּל שָׁקֵד" (maqēl shāqēd). This is the only place in the Old Testament where the phrase appears.


Both Christian and Jewish interpretation of the verse suggest that the significance of an almond rod is that the almond tree is first to blossom. Jerome, for example, explained in his commentary:

The rod of an almond tree means the vigilance of God, for it is the first to flower. The significance is that, just as the almond flowers before any other tree, so God carries out His threats before any other nation.

At least one Talmudic interpretation is similar:

What is the meaning of the rod of an almond tree? It teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Jeremiah an almond in order to prompt him, just as an almond is the first of all trees to blossom, so too Babylon would be the first kingdom to rise up against Jerusalem (Sanhedrin 20a)


As @enegue has observed, שָׁקֵד (shāqēd - almond) and שֹׁקֵ֥ד (shōqēd - hasten) both are from the same unvocalized word שקד (sh-q-l). In the original Hebrew text there would have been no distinction, as the vocalization was not added until well after the time of Christ. The Talmud also observed the connection that @enegue suggested:

The staff which Aaron had used had budded, and a blossom had risen; hence the one that was ripe in respect of the rod was Aaron, to whom the priesthood was ripe. The one which was ripe in respect of the blossoms was Moses, to whom the kingship was ripe. And what is the meaning of the rod of an almond tree? Rabbi Judah ben Illai said: Just as the almond tree hastens to bud, blossom and ripen, so Aaron's rod budded, blossomed, and brought forth ripe almonds (Yoma 54b)

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The “rod of an almond tree” represents the sceptre of the high priest. From the metaphorical perspective, "the almond tree" represents the high priests as the vigilant watchmen over the churches. They are appointed by God to be the first to awaken the Church regarding God’s kingdom purposes and ecclesiastical mandates, among their main responsibilities are the functions of teaching the Word of God, preaching the Gospel, prophesying God's decrees under the influence of the Holy Spirit, averting the wrath of God upon the Church and the nations through intense prayers, and keeping the Church in constant revival and spiritual awakening.

In Matthew 25, the "midnight cry" speaks of the prophetic ministries or high priests, awakening the sleepy Church on a global level. This term means to scream like an eagle, the eagle is symbolic of the God-ordained prophets.

Matthew 25:1-6 The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom (Christ) was delayed (the Second Advent), they all [spiritually] slumbered and slept.

And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’

Ephesians 6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times with every kind of prayer and request. Likewise, be alert with your most diligent efforts and pray for all the saints.

1 Peter 5:8-9 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

Definition of Almond: H8247 שָׁקֵד Shâqêd, the almond (tree or nut; as being the earliest in bloom).

Watch: Eye: Eyes open wide for watching carefully. Watch: To be alert and watchful, be [spiritually] awake, remain, hasten. Almond: From its shape like an open eye.

H8245 שָׁקַד Shâqad, a primitive root; to be [spiritually] alert, that is, sleepless; hence to be on the lookout (whether for good or ill): - hasten, remain, wake, watch (for).

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    – agarza
    May 16, 2023 at 0:55
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Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.” [Jer 1:11-12, NKJV]

The vision of the almond rod was a reassurance to Jeremiah that God was actively watching over His promises to fulfill them.

Masao Takenaka in his book, "God is Rice" notes about Jeremiah:

He was called to be a prophet to the nations. He could not cope with it. "I am only a youth," he said. Then, the word of the Lord came to him sating: "Jeremiah what do you see?" He said: "I see a rod of almond" (Jer. 1:11) The Hebrew word for almond has also the meaning "to awake". The almond blooms from the end of January to early February, a symbolic sign of the coming spring. At a deeper level is stands for the awakening of the people to the living reality of God's presence.

Calvin's Commentary also says:

The verb שקד does not mean to hasten, but to watch, or to be awake. Then the version of the passage would be the following: -

  1. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, “What seest thou, Jeremiah?” and I said, “The rod of a watcher is what I see.”

  2. Then Jehovah said to me, “Thou seest rightly, for I am watching over my word to do it.

For him “the sight of the tree is more than a coincidence: Nature is a parable of God’s working. Hence he sees in this harbinger of the spring a sign that the hard frost is about to break and new life to spring from the soil.” - Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

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