They are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets (Ecc 12:5 ESV)
When I was doing my mini-study on the significance of almonds and almond blossom, I came across the above verse which raises more questions that it answers. If you find it puzzling you are not alone!
The context of this passage is shown by verse 1:
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, "I have no pleasure in them"
The obvious explanation in the context is that these are figurative illustrations of the signs of aging. A man's hair turns white like the almond blossom, and he walks along bent over like the grasshopper. These are the signs of the "last days" of a man's life before he goes to his place in eternity.
The language in this passage seems to be ambiguous though. There is a sense of both "the almond blossoms grow white" and "the almond tree bursts into blossom"; "the grasshopper is a burden" or "the grasshopper is burdened". There is also the fact that these illustrations are not immediately obvious; this is clear from the diversity of ways this verse has been translated.
I have a suspicion that there are deliberately two meanings here. I don't believe the word is ever deliberately obscure, but that sometimes language is chosen precisely because it conveys more than one layer of truth. We seem to have a problem with this in our modern scientific way of thinking — we assume everything has to have one meaning, and all prophecy has to have one fulfilment. It seems to me though that biblical thought is quite happy with multiple layers of meaning and multiple fulfilments of prophecy. [e.g. people read Matthew 24 and puzzle over whether it is referring to AD70 or the end times. In my mind it is clearly both.]
So I'd like to propose that, just perhaps, there are two layers here. As well as having the obvious anthropological application - the last days of a mans life - it also conveys an escatological message - the last days, period. Verse 2 certainly has an escatalogical vibe about it:
before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened (Ecc 12:2)
You see, my only problem with the "safe" exegesis of "white hair" and "bent over" for the almond blossom and grasshopper pictures are that these are not the meanings these symbols convey in the rest of the scriptures. The almond tree is symbolic of the lampstand, or the word of God. And the grasshopper is more symbolic of those who have been intimidated.
I'd like to think that as well as conveying the signs of aging, they also convey the signs of the end of the age. Even though the days are evil and men are in fear and termoil of things above and below, yet the almond tree will blossom and the grasshopper will lose its strength. The word of God will be fulfilled, the church will come to maturity in manifesting the fullness of Christ, and the power of the enemy that intimidates and keeps people from coming into their inheritance in God will be subdued. There will be a great end-time harvest.
Even in evil days, the almond tree will blossom — I like that!
I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Mtt 16:18)
We are not triumphalists, but we do expect to triumph! ~ Bryn Jones