Beautiful Word Pictures show God’s Care
Bible Study with Jairus –Numbers 17
The Meaning of Almond Blossoms
Numbers 17 tells us that Aaron’s staff blossomed with lovely almond flowers. You may be wondering about the significance of almond blossoms. Why did Aaron’s staff sprout, bud, blossom, and even bear ripe almonds? Why did the budding of Aaron’s staff imply that God had chosen Aaron? Why did it put an end to the grumblings of the Israelites? Even more perplexing, why did the people think they were going to die after seeing the blossoming rod?
First, let’s answer the question about the almond blossoms. We want to clarify that we don’t have an absolute answer, but we can share our inspiration on the passage.
When Jeremiah was young, he was called by God to be a prophet. Jeremiah’s first reaction was, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” (ESV, Jeremiah 1:6). But the Lord said to him, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.” (ESV, Jeremiah 1:7). Then the Lord began to teach Jeremiah how to be a prophet. Whether it is a prophet in the Old Testament or a prophet in the New Testament, an important part of the gift of prophecy is to see and explain prophetic visions. In Jeremiah 1:11, the Lord asked Jeremiah, “What did you see?” (ESV) The Lord gave Jeremiah a prophetic vision and then taught him how to explain the prophetic vision he saw. Jeremiah replied to the Lord, “I saw an almond branch.”
The Hebrew word for almond branch sounds the same or similar to the word “watch” (take care of, help, look after). According to Stepbible.org, the word for Almond is שָׁקֵד (sha.qed) in Hebrew. While the word for Watch is שָׁקַד (sha.qad) in Hebrew. They look and sound similar. This is a pun that the Lord used to explain the prophetic vision that Jeremiah saw. In other words, the Lord showed Jeremiah the vision of an almond branch, which is in line with what He said: “I am watching over my word to perform it.” (ESV, Jeremiah 1:12).
Jamie Galloway, a Pentecostal prophet, was a teacher at the prophetic school I attended. He often uses this story to tell how prophets learn to see prophetic visions, hear the voice of God, understand prophetic visions and transmit God’s words. He said that God often speaks in puns.
So although we are not sure about the significance of Aaron’s staff being made of almond wood, the story of Jeremiah may shed some light on this question. It is true that Aaron was chosen by God, and that God would take care of Aaron and watch over him. God would bring fulfillment to the tasks he had given Aaron to do.
Verse 5 says, “The staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” (ESV) This is what the Lord said to Moses. Why would the budding of Aaron’s staff put an end to the complaints of the Israelites? In verse 10, the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” (ESV) After Moses did as the Lord commanded him, the Israelites reacted in a strange way. They said, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, shall die. Are we all to perish?” (ESV, Numbers 17:12-13).
This reaction is very strange. After Aaron’s staff sprouted, each of the leaders reclaimed his own staff. The Bible did not record the reaction of these leaders, but the reaction of the Israelites was recorded. Though we don’t know for sure, we can guess that the leaders were very surprised. Remember, these leaders were most likely new leaders, or at least leaders who had not participated in Korah’s rebellion. In Numbers 16, we learn that the 250 leaders who rebelled with Korah were consumed by the fire of the Lord. Meanwhile, Korah and his family were swallowed up alive by the earth.
A man in our meeting shared some interesting insights on this. He said that this shows that God uses different methods of discipline for different people. Sometimes, His discipline can be very severe. For example, Korah was swallowed directly by the earth; the 250 leaders of Israel who participated in the rebellion were consumed by fire; and the 14,700 Israelites were killed by the plague. In this chapter, the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel and the Israelites were not punished, but simply warned by the budding of Aaron’s staff. None of the Israelites in Numbers 17 died, but they felt a real threat of death.
This is the part that we don’t understand. We can see that it was a miracle for Aaron’s staff to sprout, but we don’t feel that this was a threat to the lives of the Israelites. Do you feel the same after reading this?
We often say that the question we don’t understand is the question that the Holy Spirit uses to disturb us. The Holy Spirit may speak to us through this question. If we understand why the budding of Aaron’s staff would make these Israelites feel the fear of death, perhaps we would understand the question before us: Why did the Lord say that Aaron’s staff would sprout and put an end to the complaints of the Israelites?
Our general understanding is that the budding of Aaron’s staff violates the laws of nature and is a miracle or supernatural thing. Under normal circumstances, a staff is made of withered, dead branches. It is impossible for the staff to sprout, let alone bud, blossom, and bear ripe almonds.
While reading these verses, I didn’t understand why the budding of Aaron’s staff would make the Israelites feel threatened with death, or why it would put an end to their grumbling. But when I was writing this Bible study, I read this verse again and received an inspiration. I will share this inspiration here for your reference. To clarify again, I don’t have a solid answer. I am just sharing my inspiration. Maybe it’s right; maybe it’s wrong. So please judge for yourself.
Let me ask you this. When the Bible says that Aaron’s staff sprouted, budded, blossomed, and bore ripe almonds, is it describing a process or is it describing different scenarios happening at the same time? My view is that it is describing different scenarios happening at the same time. Some places in Aaron’s staff sprouted, and others budded, blossomed, or bore ripe almonds. When I grow vegetables at home, I often like to grow okra. On the same okra plant, there can be flowers, small fruit, mature fruit and a dried up blossom with seeds in it—all at the same time!
Therefore, not only is the budding of Aaron’s staff a miracle which implies that God chose Aaron, but it also serves as figurative language that communicates God’s word to the Israelites. In Jeremiah, God comforted and encouraged Jeremiah by using the word “watch” that sounds the same as “almond branch.” Here, God used pictorial language to give a warning to the Israelites who complained against Moses and Aaron.
The word of warning is this: Just like Aaron’s staff can sprout, bud, blossom, and bear ripe almonds at the same time, God’s discipline can swallow Korah up, burn 250 leaders alive, send a plague that killed 14,700 Israelites, and warn the Israelites who were still complaining. Perhaps God was asking how these Israelites who complained wanted Him to discipline them. Is it enough for Him to just warn them? Or should He send a plague again to kill them? Or burn them? Or swallow them up like Korah? Through the language of this picture, God warned the Israelites who were complaining. If they didn’t stop, God would discipline them in the same way.
We often cannot understand the prophecies or dark sayings and puns God uses in the Bible, but the Israelites understood the warnings of God’s pictorial representations. They exclaimed that they were going to die, and anyone who came near to the tabernacle would die. God could have actually killed them, but because of His mercy, He didn’t choose to kill them. Instead, He only gave them a warning.
This warning obviously worked, so much that the Israelites told Moses, “We perish, we are undone!” (ESV, Numbers 17:12). God’s method of speaking here is “progressive.” He used the different progressive phases of almond growth (sprouting, budding, blossoming, and bearing ripe almonds) to illustrate the progression of His discipline on the Israelites in the previous chapter: Korah was swallowed up by the earth, 250 leaders were burned alive by fire, and 14,700 Israelites were killed by the plague. He used pictorial language to warn the Israelites who still have complaints about the severity of his discipline.
God Speaks through Riddles
Of course, this is just my guess, so it may not be correct. But in the Bible, God often speaks in parables, dark sayings, puns, pictures and other methods. In Numbers 12, when Aaron and Miriam rebelled against Moses, the Lord came out to discipline them. The Lord said to them, “If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.” (ESV, Numbers 12:6). But when the Lord speaks to Moses, He speaks clearly and not in riddles. The Hebrew word for riddle is חִידָה (chi.dah) according to Stepbible.org. This word appears 17 different times in the Bible. One instance this word is used is Proverbs 1:6, “To understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.” (ESV) Another is Psalm 49:4, ” I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.” (ESV) Psalm 78:2 says, “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old.” (ESV) Here, the words “riddles” and “dark saying” are the same.
In Ezekiel 17:2, Jehovah asked Ezekiel to present a riddle and speak a parable to the house of Israel. The word for riddle is the same word. Here, the Lord compares Himself to a great eagle with great wings, long pinions, and rich, colorful plumage. He came to Lebanon and took the top of the cedar, as well as some of the seed of the land, and planted it in fertile soil which became a vine (Ezekiel 17:3-8). The great eagle, the cedar, and the vine are all riddles and parables.
Samson shared a riddle in Judges 14:12-14: “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.” (ESV) The Bible uses the same word to describe this riddle. It is also used in 1 Kings 10:1, when the Queen of Sheba came to test Solomon with “hard questions”.
The Lord Jesus often speaks in parables. He even says, “I said nothing to them without a parable.” (Matthew 13:34). In verse 35, Matthew says that Jesus’ parables fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” Here it quoted Psalm 78:2.
One-third of the message of the Bible is conveyed through prophetic dreams and prophetic visions, which mostly use figurative language. Therefore, understanding figurative language is very helpful for us in understanding the Bible. Many traditional churches, do not teach believers how to understand prophetic dreams and prophetic visions because of errors and misuse of prophetic dreams and prophetic visions. Therefore, they lack understanding of biblical pictures, riddles, and prophetic language.
When I was learning how to interpret prophetic dreams in the Pentecostal Movement, Job 33:14-17 was frequently quoted in order to explain the importance of prophetic dreams. These verses say:
“For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man.” (ESV)
In other words, God speaks to us in various ways. But because of our stubbornness and dull mind, we cannot understand what God is saying. When we are sleeping, our soul is quieter. Therefore, God will bypass our minds and directly speak to our heart and spirit through the language of pictures or animations. Psalm 46:10 says: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations.” (ESV)
Sometimes, God keeps reminding us of a certain danger, but we don’t take it seriously. We may have had a dream about a dog lunging at us and almost biting us. We wake up from the dream, startled. By heeding God’s warnings, we are able to avoid danger. I have had these dreams many times. God warns me about dangers which later prove to be true.
Ever since I was baptized with the Holy Spirit in 2015, I started to have many prophetic dreams. But I didn’t quite understand a lot of these dreams. For this reason, I focused on learning how to understand and interpret pictures. I also tried my best to pursue the gift of prophecy and the gift of dream interpretation. Although I still have a lot to learn, I found that my understanding of the pictorial language in the Bible has indeed made some progress. This progress has helped me understand the Bible in a deeper way.
We need to have a balance towards understanding the Bible. On the one hand, we have to look up the meaning of words, research its history, and learn from the exegetical predecessors. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the enlightenment and illumination of the Holy Spirit. If we pay too much attention to searching for the meaning of words and researching and studying exegetical works, we will often become too dogmatic. We must look to the illumination of the Holy Spirit at the same time. The place where the Holy Spirit needs to illuminate us is our knowledge of Biblical pictures. Of course, we also need careful study to balance us. We can’t just do and say whatever we want, and then pretend it’s the enlightenment and illumination of the Holy Spirit.
Even so, I still said that I am not sure whether my explanation is correct. But this is an inspiration I received when I was reading that verse. One way the Holy Spirit often speaks to me is by highlighting a certain word or portion of Scripture. When reading a certain chapter of the Bible, I will suddenly notice a verse that I had not noticed before, or a point that I hadn’t been aware of. In the practice and use of the gift of prophecy, people often see a picture or animation. They try to explain what God wants to say by interpreting this picture.
When I was reading Numbers 17:8, “On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds, I felt that the Holy Spirit suddenly highlighted this verse. He especially reminded me to ask myself a question: Is this verse describing a progressive sprouting, blossoming, and bearing fruit, which only leaves behind ripe fruit? Or is it describing a scenario in which sprouts, buds, blossoms, and ripe fruit exist on different parts of the branch at the same time?
I seemed to see a picture of Aaron’s staff with these situations happening at the same time. I received an inspiration that this picture was highlighted to the Israelites at that time. I think God spoke to the Israelites through this picture, saying he could treat them as severely as he treated the people in Numbers 16. He could directly swallow them up, or he could kill them by fire or plague. God used this progressive picture to warn the Israelites. Thus after they saw it, they told Moses, “We are going to die!”
This is a way the Holy Spirit often uses to speak to me. So I think this is an inspiration I received from the Holy Spirit. Because I never thought about this aspect, and never saw this picture in the past.
But even if my explanation is wrong, it doesn’t matter. I hope my discussion can lead you to learn how the Holy Spirit uses pictures, parables, riddles, and puns to speak to us. May you be eager to receive the filling and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and to activate your prophetic gifts, to better understand how God uses pictorial language to speak to you. Or you can help more people in the future to better understand the Bible and release the word of God. May the Lord bless you.