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.”
The word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” Then the Lord said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” – Jeremiah 1:11-19 ESV
Jeremiah must have looked like he needed a bit of convincing. Of course, God knew Jeremiah’s heart and was fully aware that just because Jeremiah was called didn’t mean he was convinced of and committed to that calling. So, God gave His reluctant prophet a few signs to confirm that what He was saying was true. These two signs are similar to what God did when Moses expressed reluctance at God’s call to be the deliver of Israel. Moses had his doubts. He was unconvinced that the people of Israel would listen to what God had given him to say.
But Moses protested again, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?” – Exodus 4:1 NLT
So, God gave Moses a sign. He asked Moses what he was holding in his hand and Moses, responded, “A shepherd’s staff” (Exodus 4:2 NLT).
“Throw it down on the ground,” the Lord told him. So Moses threw down the staff, and it turned into a snake! Moses jumped back. – Exodus 4:3 NLT
Moses couldn’t believe his eyes. He jumped back in fright and astonishment. He hadn’t seen this one coming. But God was not done yet.
Then the Lord told him, “Reach out and grab its tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff in his hand. – Exodus 4:4 NLT
In a similar way, God asked Jeremiah what he saw, and he responded, “I see an almond branch.” Whether this was a vision or an actual almond tree, we are not told. I tend to believe that God simply pointed out a nearby tree and almond trees were plentiful in that area of the world at that time. So Jeremiah saw the almond tree, which is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring. God was going to use this common sight and turn it into a constant reminder of His faithfulness to do what He has said He will do. The Hebrew word for almond is shaqed and it is very similar to a key word God uses in the very next line: shaqad. This Hebrew word mean “watch”. God told Jeremiah, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12 ESV). Every time Jeremiah saw an almond (shaqed) tree, he would be reminded that God is watchful (shaqad) and will do what He has promised to do. Jeremiah could trust God.
But God was not done. Once again, He asked Jeremiah, ““What do you see?” And Jeremiah responded, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north” (Jeremiah 1:13 ESV). This time, Jeremiah was shown a pot of boiling water that was tipped precariously, as if its scalding contents were about to spill out. And when Jeremiah told God what he saw, God provide its meaning: “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land” (Jeremiah 1:14 ESV). What followed was God’s description of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Judah. Remember, God had given Jeremiah a visual prompt in the form of the almond tree, that whatever He says will happen, will happen. And now, He was telling Jeremiah exactly what was going to happen.
It is interesting to note that God simply tells Jeremiah, “ I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north … and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 1:15 ESV). We know that it was the Babylonians who would eventually come against Judah. But when God gave Jeremiah this prophetic word, they were not a threat. It was the Assyrians who were the bully on the block at the time Jeremiah received his call and commission. But they would eventually be replaced by the Babylonians. The Neo-Babylonians would actually be a confederation of northern tribes that join forces in a massive army under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar. They would come against the cities of Judah and eventually establish a siege against the capital, Jerusalem.
God provided Jeremiah a glimpse into Judah’s not-so-pretty future. And He tells Jeremiah exactly why this was going to be their fate.
And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. – Jeremiah 1:16 ESV
Unfaithfulness. That would be the ultimate cause of Judah’s fall, just as it had been for Israel, the northern kingdom. And it is important to note that this word of warning came to Jeremiah when Josiah was king of Judah. He was the reformer-king. Unlike most of the other kings of Judah, he was described in positive terms: “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right” (2 Kings 22:2 NLT). He ordered repairs to the temple and in the process of doing the work, a copy of the book of the law was found. When Josiah heard what was written in the law, he was devastated. He realized that the people of Judah had been living in disobedience to God’s commands for years. So, he set out to change all that. He instituted a series of important reforms, calling the people back to the worship of Yahweh. He had the law read to the people and then he “renewed the covenant in the Lord’s presence. He pledged to obey the Lord by keeping all his commands, laws, and decrees with all his heart and soul. In this way, he confirmed all the terms of the covenant that were written in the scroll, and all the people pledged themselves to the covenant” (2 Kings 23:3 NLT).
So, when God gave Jeremiah the vision of the boiling pot, and warned him of the destruction to come, it was at a time in Judah when things were a spiritual upswing. Josiah was making some real progress in bringing about change. But God knew better. He knew the hearts of the people and was fully aware that much of what was happening was external in nature. The hearts of the people had not and would not change. Their unfaithfulness was inevitable and God’s judgment was unavoidable.
And God gives Jeremiah his marching orders: “Get up and prepare for action. Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say. Do not be afraid of them, or I will make you look foolish in front of them” (Jeremiah 1:17 NLT). Not exactly what you might call a pep talk. God let Jeremiah know that this was not going to be a walk in the park. He was going to face opposition. The people were not going to like what he had to say. Jeremiah was not going to win any popularity contests or be invited to a lot of dinner parties. But God let’s Jeremiah know that he will not be alone or left on his own.
“I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” – Jeremiah 1:18-19 ESV
God was going to equip Jeremiah to handle the task ahead of him. God uses three images to assure Jeremiah that he will have what it takes to do what he has been called to do. God tells this reluctant and, probably shell-shocked young man that He will make him like a fortified city, able to resist the onslaught of the enemy. He will be like an iron pillar, strong and able to remain upright under the greatest of pressures. He will also be like a bronze wall, impervious to the arrows of those who would seek to do him harm. Jeremiah’s job was not going to be easy, but God was going to be with him.
It is not easy to speak the truth of God. It never has been. What Jeremiah was going to have to tell the people of Judah was not going to be easy to say and it would be even harder to receive. The idea that God would destroy them would be repugnant to the people of Judah. Any calls to reform or repentance would be met with deaf ears. The prophet of God is rarely ever met with open arms by the people of God. And that is true today as it was back in Jeremiah’s day. In fact, Vance Havener sarcastically describes the modern church as a “non-prophet organization” (Vance Havner, cited by Dennis J. Hester, compiler, in The Vance Havner Quotebook, p. 179.). We don’t like to hear the truth. We don’t want to be told that what we’re doing is wrong or out of step with God’s will. We don’t like to be called on the carpet or have our sins exposed. In fact, Paul told Timothy that a day was coming “when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). And that day is here.
Jeremiah had his work cut out for him. But God was going to be with him. He just needed to be obedient and faithful to his calling, and God would do the rest. Jeremiah was not to seek the favor of men, but to pursue faithfulness to God.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.