Painters and photographers are visually different from most of the rest of us. In what we see as a field of flowers, Georgia O’Keeffe might find a perfectly pleasing single bloom, and paint it hugely. We drive through Iowa and see farmhouses; Grant Wood sees a stained glass window and puts a farmer and his wife in front of it. The result is the iconic “American Gothic,” which has been imitated by artists and cartoonists since. Driving down an empty street after dark, we see a way home; Edward Hopper sees a brightly lit coffee shop that becomes the classic “Nighthawks.” I see a stream; my friend Katie Spear sees a photo of stones creating small rapids. Their perception is different than ours.
The prophets were apparently artists in their own right, or at least God expected them to be. He would give them a visual and use it to teach a lesson. Ezekiel was adept at recognizing the lesson. With at least three prophets, however, God had to do a little prompting.
Three times God asked Jeremiah, “What do you see?” Jeremiah sees the picture, but God has to explain the meaning.
“The word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an Puns are not infrequent in the writings of the prophets.almond tree.” (Jer 1:11) Some of us would commend Jeremiah for just recognizing the kind of tree, since some wouldn’t know an almond from an ash. God, though, wants Jeremiah to see more than just an almond tree. He wants his prophet to see the message. “Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.” (verse 12) Literally, this last phrase is “I will watch my word work.” So, what does an almond tree have to do with the message God is giving Jeremiah?
After the dead winter months, the almond tree is the first whose white blossoms bloom. The Hebrew word for the almond is () shaqed. The word for “to keep watch” is shaqad, spelled the same in ancient Hebrew (which had no vowels). Context, until the invention of vowel points, and an aural knowledge of the text, determined pronunciation. Thus, God is here giving Jeremiah a pun. You see an almond rod, and just as the almond blooms early, I will watch my word be fulfilled early (quickly). Such puns are not infrequent in the writings of the prophets.
“And the word of the LORD came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north.” (Jer 1:14) This picture is not as hard for us to follow, if we can understand what is the “face” of a boiling pot. Judging from the meaning God gives, what Jeremiah saw was a cauldron sitting in a fire, tilted so that the boiling water spilled out southward; thus the face of the pot is the part that is closest to the flame.
Given this vision, Jeremiah could no doubt have some idea as to its meaning. God, however, makes sure he understands. Invaders from the north are going to boil into the land of Judah, scalding the inhabitants thereof. Invaders, in the Israelite mind, come from only two directions. From the south come the Egyptians and possibly what we would call Ethiopians. Nobody comes from the east, because that is virtually impassable desert. To the west is the Mediterranean, and nobody to this time had ever amassed a conquering navy. If the invaders were not Egyptian, they came from the north. This would include the Hittites (Turkey), Scythians (Russia/Ukraine), Syrians, Assyrians, and (even though they were actually east of Israel) the Chaldeans/Babylonians. God is telling Jeremiah that the Babylonians are coming, and rather than using lanterns (“one if by land and two if by sea”) he uses the picture of a pot.
“Then said the LORD unto me, What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, Figs; the good figs, very good; and the evil, very evil, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.” (Jer 24:3) Now even Jeremiah could figure this one out. There are good figs and bad figs, good people and bad people, or at least blessed people and ruined people. And that is exactly what God said it meant. The good figs were those who had gone to Babylon in the first wave of the captivity, when Daniel and his friends were taken. They would be blessed with an eventual return to Jerusalem. The bad figs are those that resisted Babylon and remained in Jerusalem. They would be killed or scattered in captivity. Unlike those taken directly to Babylon, they and their descendants would never see their homeland again. Because they were evil of mind, they were compared to very bad figs. This is similar to Jesus’ picture of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25.
“And the LORD said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline.” (Amos 7:8) What he actually saw was God standing on a wall with a plumbline in his hands. Even though Amos was a farmer, he probably knew the purpose of a plumbline. Perhaps he had even built walls around his orchards, and used one. A plumbline is essential for building walls that will not fall. With it one determines whether the wall it truly vertical or whether it leans insecurely. It is essentially a weight on a string. When the weight is suspended the string hangs absolutely vertically. If the distance from the string to the wall is consistent, the wall is also vertical. If the top or bottom of the wall, doorframe, or whatever is being measured, is farther from the string than the other point of measurement, the item is not vertical. If it is a wall, it is likely to fall. If it is the opening for a door, the door will not close properly.
God then tells Amos he is about to put a plumbline in the middle of Israel. He is going to measure them in comparison to the Law. If they are abiding by the Law of Moses, all will be well. If, as he knows, they are not, then destruction will follow as surely as an unplumbed wall will fall.
“And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit.” (Amos 8:2) Amos knew fruit. Fruit was his business. To Amos a basket of summer fruit could only mean one thing; the harvest season was over. There is spring fruit; there is summer fruit; and there is the dead of winter. If the summer fruit is in the basket, winter is close at hand. In this case, the winter was to be the end of Israel. God says, “I will pass them by no more.” (verse 2) In other words, the harvest is so completely over that there is no need to look on the trees for more fruit. “The winter of our discontent” has come upon Israel. The good have been harvested, and only death and destruction remains. All this, from a vision of a basket of fruit.
And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep, And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof. (Zech 4:1-3)
This is a little more complex a vision. Even Zechariah had to ask what it meant. After one explanation, he even had to ask again.
Contrary to modern popular belief, God says the vision has a specific meaning for Zechariah’s time. The candlestick is Zerubbabel, the Prince of Israel, supported by “the eyes of Jehovah, which run to and fro through the whole earth.” Zerubbabel is the light of the Jewish nation, the restorer of Temple worship. The olive trees that supply fuel for the lamp are “the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” This is what makes the vision complex, because the two anointed ones are Joshua the Priest and Zerubbabel himself. Essentially it is a vision of the restored power of Israel, supplied by the spiritual (priest) and legal (prince) rulers of the people. No wonder Zechariah had to ask twice about the meaning.
“And he said unto me, What seest thou? And I answered, I see a flying scroll; the length thereof is twenty cubits, and the breadth thereof ten cubits.” (Zech 5:2) Although there were other scrolls in existence, to a prophet of God a scroll generally represented the Law of Moses. This one was flying. God explains that it moves through Judah, condemning the thief and the perjurer. Nobody could hide from the Law.
Lessons for us
Zechariah was shown other visions. These are just the ones for which he was specifically asked, “What do you see?” These visions of Zechariah, and those of Amos and Jeremiah are sufficient to teach us a few lessons.
Sometimes God reveals himself in ways that only those who know him will understand. Jesus spoke in parables. This was so that only the ones who wanted to To Amos a basket of summer fruit could only mean one thing; the harvest season was over.understand would understand. (Matt 13:11) Those who do not possess the mind of God, who do not have the Holy Spirit (God’s word) dwelling in them, will not understand even the most obvious spiritual things. Those who are of a mind to follow God will have no problem seeing what he wants them to see.
Things are not always as they seem. A basket of figs is not necessarily a basket of figs. Sometimes we need to look more closely to find God’s will for us. The beggar on the street corner may not just be a beggar. “Inasmuch as ye have done unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done unto me.” (Matt 25:40) The people of Sodom saw men traveling through as objects of desire; Lot saw them as men needing shelter; Abraham saw them, eventually, as messengers of God. We need to look upon every situation as an opportunity to do good and to teach about God. Who knows but that the person you help today might not be the next great teacher in the church.
Sometimes we need to have things called to our attention. In our normal existence we may not be looking for the wondrous. Photographers may see the wonder of the world, but we see the routine. Before we can “stop and smell the roses,” sometimes we need someone to point out that there are roses to stop for.