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.” (Jeremiah 1, 11-12)
In the first chapter of Jeremiah, Jeremiah tells us about a vision in which he sees a branch of almond tree.
In Hebrew, the word is not just a ‘branch‘ (Anaf – עָנָף) as translated here, but a ‘dry branch’ (Makel -מַקֵּל).
The almond tree, during fall, has no leaves. In this season it is difficult to distinguish between a dry branch of an almond tree and a dry branch of any other tree.
Jeremiah can make the distinction. And therefore the Lord compliments him and says: “You have seen well”!
And the Lord continues: “for I am ready to perform My word”.
If you read it in Hebrew, there is a special meaning: “ready to perform my Word” or in better translation: be diligent to perform my Word.
Be diligent is: “shoqed” – שֹׁקֵד.
Almond in Hebrew is “shaqed” – שָׁקֵד.
So the vision of the almond – “shaqed” tells Jeremiah that the Lord is being diligent “shoqed” to perform his Word.
There are other verses in which the Lord uses the word “shoqed” with the same meaning. For example:
28 And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 31, 28)
Here again, the expression “watch over” that is used twice, is derived from the word “shoqed” in Hebrew.
Other almonds in the Bible
In the story of the rod of Aaron in the desert, the rod becomes a branch of an almond tree:
8 Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses went into the tabernacle of witness, and behold, the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds. (Numbers 17, 8)
The Menorah (lamp) in the tabernacle has also almond shapes in it:
33 Three bowls shall be made like almond blossoms on one branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almond blossoms on the other branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower—and so for the six branches that come out of the lampstand. (Exodus 25, 33)
Literal meaning of ‘Almond’ in Hebrew
Why is the almond tree called ‘shaqed’? is it related to the verb ‘shoqed’?
A common explanation for the connection between almond (shaqed) and ‘being diligent’ (shoqed) is the special way that the almond tree blossoms.
During February, when most trees in the mountains of Israel are without leaves, the almond tree blossoms with beautiful white flowers. This is the first sign for the coming spring.
This magnificent blossom in the middle of the winter might have brought our fathers to call the tree ‘shaqed’ for its hard and diligent work.
Almond in the modern Israeli feast
In February, we celebrate in Israel the feast of “Tu-Bishvat”. This is also known as the “New year of the trees”. This feast is not mentioned in the Bible. Jews started to celebrate it not before 200 hundred years ago.
In the modern state of Israel, this is the day that is dedicated to planting new trees in the land. And the symbol of this day is the almond tree that blossoms in this time of the year.