This next portion is titled Qorah (Numbers 16-18). It chiefly covers Korah’s rebellion and its aftermath, and I thought I’d look at the miracle of Aaron’s rod, specifically as it relates to the symbolism of the almond in Scripture.
The Hebrew word for almond is שָׁקֵד (pronounced “shaqeidh”) from the verb שָׁקַד (shaqadh), which means to be awake, watchful, on guard, vigilant. The name is descriptive of the fact that the almond tree is among the first to bloom in late winter/early spring, before the leaves appear. It is, as it were, awake before the other trees, and a watchman of the time and season. And it’s highlighted in 3 places in the Bible: the design of the menorah in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25 and 37), Aaron’s rod (Numbers 17), and Jeremiah’s first ever prophetic vision (Jeremiah 1).
Unsurprisingly, the wordplay of the almond’s name features prominently in all 3 instances. Where the menorah is concerned, 22 almond blossoms adorned its appearance: 3 on each of the 6 branches, and 4 on the central trunk. The lamps were commanded to be cared for by the priesthood perpetually – cleaned, trimmed and lit with pure olive oil everyday (Exodus 27) – and, taken in conjunction with Revelation 1:20, 11:3-4 and Zechariah 4, which identify lampstands with individuals and churches, one gets the idea that the menorah essentially symbolises the people of God, who are to be a perpetual and vigilant light (just as Yeshua indicated in the parable of the light under the basket) – maintained daily and in faithful service.
In Aaron’s case, the budding and fruiting of his rod to produce almonds was a sign that God had chosen him (and the sons of his house after him), above all the other heads and tribes of Israel, to be the High Priest. And this was fitting because it would be the duty of the priesthood to distinguish between the holy and unholy, unclean and clean, and to teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord had spoken to them by the hand of Moses (Leviticus 10:10-11). Thus the almond was a sign that Aaron and his sons were to be vigilant for the people, and to the people, concerning their priestly duties and the law of God; it was not only a symbol of their chosen status, but a message that they were to conduct themselves with constancy and exemplify watchful obedience.
And finally, in Jeremiah’s inaugural vision, he saw a branch of an almond tree, in response to which God said, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word” – or in Hebrew:
הֵיטַבְתָּ לִרְאוֹת כִּי־שֹׁקֵד אֲנִי עַל־דְּבָרִי לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ
“You have seen well, for I am watchful upon my word to do it.”
This means that God Himself is watchful, just as He commands His servants and worshippers to be watchful. Psalm 138:2 further says that He magnifies His word above all His name, so He’s jealous and faithful concerning His word to carry out judgement and fulfill its promises (hence Jeremiah’s next vision of the boiling pot). Job even called God a watcher of men (Job 7:20), so we can see that, in the use of the almond as a prophetic symbol, God was impressing on His people the necessity and virtue of being awake and aware, even as we are exhorted to imitate Him.
In the New Testament, we are instructed over and over concerning this as well. Jesus said to His disciples:
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. … Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:36-44)
Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch! (Mark 13:33-37)
Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. (Luke 12:35-38)
Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. … But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:29-36)
Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame. (Revelation 16:15)
Paul also warned:
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)
Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. … For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-10)
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:2-5)
One almost gets a sense, with all this, that when Isaiah likened those who were mourning in Zion to trees of righteousness that’re planted by the Lord (61:3), that there’re orchards of spiritual almonds among His people that’re constantly before His eyes, as it were… gnarled with the weight of trying storms, but still managing to keep watch and bloom, in season and out of season. Verdant, vibrant, vigilant. A private delight to Him. And it reminds me of Isaiah 27:6, which says,
Those who come He shall cause to take root in Jacob;
Israel shall blossom and bud,
And fill the face of the world with fruit.
Jacob said in Genesis 43:11 that almonds were some of the best fruit of the land. And when one thinks of the beauty of the tree itself… its green leaves, snowy pink blossom-drifts and velvet drupes, it’s not surprising that He chose this particular plant as a motif for the candelabra in His sanctuary. It’s poetic… meaningful… and it fits.
Next portion: Israel continues in its wanderings.