THE AWAKENING TREE
Since early times the almond tree has been valued for its flowers and seeds, which produce a pleasant oil. It is first mentioned in Gen. 43:11 in the circumstances of Jacob’s gift to the great Egyptian authority at a time of famine in the land. It was obviously considered to be a stock of merit, one of the “best fruits in the land” that might move Pharaoh’s representative to consider their case with concern, and to provide the needed corn they sought.
THE FIRST BUDS
The Hebrew for “almond” is shaqad, and comes from a root signifying to awaken; to be alert; sleepless; thus to be on the lookout for future events. It is one of the first trees to bloom, and is considered a herald of spring (see Jer. 1:11-12). It stands, therefore, as evidence of the beginning of the new year (springtime), a symbol of resurrection.
The tree produces its lovely whitish blossom from the bare and formerly lifeless branches of winter, and at a time when all other trees are still at rest. Its blossoms herald that “the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come…” (Song. 2:11-12).
AWAKENING THE NATION TO ITS RESPONSIBILITIES
It was the almond “awakening” tree that brought new life to the family of Aaron in the deserts of Midian. Facing a challenge from the envious princes of Israel against the leadership of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron, twelve rods were laid up in the tabernacle, each one inscribed with a name from the tribe; with Aaron’s name on the rod for Levi (Num. 17:1-5). It was this rod that, on the new day, not only budded, but also bloomed blossoms and produced almonds, confirming Aaron’s status as high priest.
The words “yielded almonds” in verse 8 is from the Hebrew gamal, and signifies to ripen; mature. It was not only astonishing that a dry branch could do this, but it was remarkable that the three stages of growth should appear together — for that is not according to nature. It points to the statement of Scripture that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word shall be established.” In the natural course of things, Aaron’s rod, being severed from the parent stock, would have been impotent. Therefore as it revealed all the processes from sprouting to bearing fruit, it foreshadowed in type the miracles of Christ’s perfection of character and resurrection from the dead. One of his titles is The Branch (Isa. 4:2; 11:1; 53:2; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 6:12).
The lampstand was ornamented with almonds (Exo. 25:33-34). Of itself, the lampstand was but a mute piece of furniture in the Holy Place. It needed both oil and flame to make it vibrant. Each of the branches had three almond shaped protrusions, followed by a pomegranate and a lily-flower. The presence of the almonds was to emphasise the importance of dressing the lamps early each morning (Exod 30:7) and to bum always (27:20); for they were to shine forth to proclaim the newness of the life within the holy place, foreshadowing the glory of the new day of Messiah’s reign.
THE FLOURISHING WHITE
There is a note of sadness in the parable of the almond tree, which the king of wisdom places in the context of the onset of old age. In describing the end of life, as the human frame bends under the load of deteriorating health and vitality, he declares that “the almond tree shall flourish” (Ecc. 12:5). The “hoary head” might well be considered the evidence of maturity and wisdom (Lev. 19:32; Pro. 16:31), but it is also the sign that the phase of youthful life is passing and one of darkness and dissolution lies ahead: the grave! It is a reminder, a herald, that life as we enjoy it, has an end, and we need to “awaken” to recognise that fact.
Yet, the hoary white of the head might well be reflected in the brilliant robes of the redeemed (Rev. 19:8), the symbol of righteousness, and of immortality. Thus the hoary head can point both to the onset of death and also to a future of life for those who are exercised thereby.
The final reference in Scripture to the almond tree is in the vision of Jeremiah (ch. 1:11). He was called upon to cast his eye beyond his environment, and to observe the great sign of the divine purpose: “What seest thou? Jeremiah!” It was very evident: “I see the rod of an almond tree.” It was the foreboding of great disaster, for judgment was about to fall upon a nation that had neglected its responsibilities, and had repeated the action of its former leaders in rejecting the authority of God’s appointments. “Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten My word to perform it!” The sign was obvious; and the result would be absolute.
The Israel almond tree has sprouted in these last days. The fresh, young buds are apparent to those observing the signs of the times. Soon, it will blossom forth and bear fruit, when the Great Branch appears, and causes his illustrious companions to come forth from the gloom of the night, and herald the glorious Day of Redemption.
Then all the shadows of the past, will have vanished, and the joy of eternal righteousness and peace will blossom forth in all glory, beauty and wonder.