Hope in Deep Winter (Jeremia 1:11-19)
An almond tree can already start to blossom, even if there is still snow outside! This is what the painter van Gogh experienced when he moved to Arles in February 1888. He was quite surprised to find that there was still frost there and it was bitterly cold. He had moved to the south to be warm! Since he couldn’t paint outside, he cut a branch from an almond tree that was already blooming despite everything. Inside he put it in a glass. This is how his little study came into being!
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Blossoming almond tree branch in a glass, March 1888, oil on canvas, 24.5 x 19.5 cm, Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum
The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.”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, tilted away from the north.”
Then the Lord said to me: “Out of the north disaster shall break out on all the inhabitants of the land. For now I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the Lord, and they shall come, and all of them shall set their thrones at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its surrounding walls and against all the cities of Judah. And I will utter my judgments against them for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands.
But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall 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, says the Lord, to deliver you.”
Characteristic for Jeremiah’s preaching is that he has visions in which YHWH shows him what he is going to do. In a first vision, Jeremiah sees an almond branch. This becomes for him a sign of YHWH’s watchfulness and faithfulness. YHWH can be trusted because he makes sure that he implements what he has promised. Behind this is a Hebrew play on words between shaked (almond tree, it is one of the first to blossom in spring) and shoked (watchful). The boiling pot of the second vision stands for the disaster that will befall Jerusalem from the north by enemies (here still undetermined). According to the two visions, Jeremiah is to go about his mission. He is to replace the city of Jerusalem, which will be destroyed, and become a safe home for the people. Instead of the temple and its pillars, which will be carried off to Babel, he now mediates the access to YHWH and will protect the people like a city wall with the word of YHWH (Fischer 2015, 22ff.).
Photo: akg-images / WHA / World History Archive
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