David P. Melvin
It’s easier to befriend people who tell us what we want to hear. We want supportive friends, not people who hold us accountable and deliver hard truth.
When it came to prophecies, King Zedekiah had selective hearing. Like the allies Zedekiah chose to join forces with—who trusted in false prophets, diviners, and fortune tellers (Jer 27:9)— Zedekiah and his officials chose to put their trust in false prophets (Jer 27:14). They delivered a message he wanted to hear: His rebellion against Babylon would be successful.
Jeremiah tells Zedekiah otherwise (Jer 27:12). And he doesn’t just act as God’s mouthpiece; Jeremiah directly receives God’s visions and interpretations.
Three Symbolic Visions
After Jeremiah has his first vision of an almond branch, God immediately provides what seems like an unrelated interpretation: “You have seen well, for I am watching over My Word to do it” (Jer 1:12). Wordplay reveals the connection between sign and statement. The root word of “almond branch” (maqqel shaqed, מקל שקד) is sheqed (שקד) as a noun; as a verb, it means “to watch.”
Immediately, Jeremiah sees another vision—a boiling pot facing away from the north. God again interprets the vision: “From the north destruction will be unleashed against all the inhabitants of the land” (Jer 1:13–14). Again, the meaning of the vision depends on wordplay—the Hebrew words for “boiling pot” (sir naphuach, סיר נפרת) and “unleashed” (tippatach, תפתח) have similar assonance and rhythm. The destruction from the north is Babylon— they will be unleashed.
Jeremiah eventually sees a vision of two baskets of figs—one good basket and one bad (Jer 24:3). God’s final interpretation holds both promise and judgment. He explains that the good figs represent the Judaean exiles in Babylon, whom God will restore to their land and reestablish as His people (Jer 24:4–7). The bad figs represent King Zedekiah, his officials, the remnant of Judah still living in the land, and those who have fled to Egypt, who will eventually be destroyed (Jer 24:8–10).
The True Diviner
Understanding the interpretations of these visions helps us understand how Jeremiah would have received them. But what is the purpose of symbolic vision if God immediately reveals the interpretation?
In the ancient Near East, the interpretation of dreams, omens and visions was the domain of specialized classes of diviners. It was believed that the gods embedded signs and symbols in natural phenomena and dreams. These experts were considered guardians of a corpus of knowledge regarding the interpretation of signs and symbols. For example, in Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar calls on the services of the Babylonian “wise men” to interpret his dream (Dan 2:2–3).
Judah had adopted the practices of Babylon. God says to Jeremiah, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and deceit of their own minds” (Jer 14:14 ESV). The consequences of putting trust in false prophets ends with a harsher judgment. The judgment the false prophets say will never come—famine and sword—will be their end and the end of the people who trust them.
In Jeremiah’s case, it is Yahweh who gives the visions, not foreign gods. God also acts as the diviner—the one who correctly interprets signs and symbols. His interpretation is the only one that matters. Even if it meant hard truth, Israel needed to repent and trust in God and what He had revealed through Jeremiah. Like Israel, we need truth—true friends and honest ministers.
Biblical references translated by the author unless otherwise stated.