God kept talking to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:11-12: “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 08 wordplayword to perform it.’” The Old Testament is full of passages like this. We can’t understand exactly what is being said until we delve into the language and the culture in which the statement is made. In this case we must look for figurative language. The truth is God speaks in many different figures of speech to us in the Bible. Bullinger[1] suggests that there are about 217 figures of speech in the Bible. This figure of speech is simply a “word play.”

According to Martens word-plays are “Interesting, clever, and sometimes highly significant ‘takeoffs’ on words which sound the same, or roughly the same, but mean quite different things. It is a rhetorical device which not only brings surprise and sometimes a smile, but makes a memorable point. The effect, striking in Hebrew, can seldom be adequately represented in English. ‘He (God) looked for right (mishpat), but behold a riot (mishpah)” (Isa. 5:7). Or, ‘If you will not confide (ta’aminu), you shall not abide (te’amenu)’ (Isa. 7:9).”[2] We might be familiar with how our humor uses word plays. One word play I saw on the internet recently was simply a sign that said, “We should be respectful to our criminals and let them finish their sentences.” Although there may be times God uses word plays humorously, in this passage He uses it to focus attention. The word for almond branch in Hebrew is shaqed while the word for watching is shoqed.

Constance also observes, “The Hebrew meaning of the almond tree means ‘the waker,’ the tree that wakes earliest in spring from winter. It begins to bloom in January and often produces its fruit in March. This becomes an expressive figure for what will soon be done and with wakeful earnestness.”[3] The King James Version has the more accurate translation of the last phrase in Jeremiah 1:12 than the modern renditions as much as I hate to admit it. It says, “I will hasten my word to perform it.” The almond tree speaks to us both of the inevitability of God’s judgment as well as its imminent arrival. Wiersbe said, “The Lord used this play on words to impress Jeremiah with the fact that He is ever awake to watch over His Word and fulfill it.”[4] God’s word to us is not a word of judgment but of redemption. He’s ever watching over us and has promised eternal life to those who come to faith in His Son. He is ever watching over his promises and will not be late to fulfill them.

[1] Ethelbert William Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London; New York: Eyre & Spottiswoode; E. & J. B. Young & Co., 1898), 1.

[2] E. A. Martens, Jeremiah, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986), 313.

[3] Mrs. T. M. Constance, Jeremiah, vol. 1 (Dickson, TN: Explorer’s Bible Study, 1978), 10.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Decisive, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 19.