1 Kings 19:1-8
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
After the Jewish kingdom split, the northern kingdom had eight kings in its first 58 years as a nation. The story of the prophet Elijah occurred during the reign of King Ahab, 874-853 B.C. Ahab married Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon, a woman who worshiped Baal, who Ahab built a temple to, consecrating priests to serve Baal. 1 Kings 18 reveals an encounter between Elijah and King Ahab, Elijah challenged him to bring the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel to see whose god, Baal or Yahweh, would answer. So 450 prophets of Baal, 400 prophets of Asherah, along with many of the people from all over Israel were summoned to met Elijah on Mount Carmel. Baal’s prophets placed a cut up bull on their altar, calling to Baal to ignite the sacrifice. While the people watched them worship, despite their desperate and relentlessly ritual, calling on Baal from morning till evening, even slashing themselves with knives, nothing happened. Their sacrifice didn’t catch fire and the only thing the people witness was worthless worship. Then Elijah asked, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. He repaired the altar of God which had fallen apart from disuse and neglect. Then he arranged the wood and sacrifice, pouring on massive amounts of water, and coving it with pray, asking God to light the fire. Immediately, fire consumed the sacrifice, and the people fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!” 1 Kings 18:39. When King Ahab told Queen Jezebel what had happened she sent a messenger to Elijah, telling him that she would have him killed by that time tomorrow. Elijah had expectations, he assumed after Mount Carmel that things would change, that revival and spiritual renewal would replace religion. But it didn’t work out according to his expectations, triumph turned to terror, success turned to survival. As his faith was replaced by fear he fled to Samaria, running over 100 miles to an area south of Beersheba in Judah. When our expectations are run over by reality, leaving us ragged and run down, we often become dissolutioned with God’s plan, choosing instead to run away. Once there Elijah then parted ways with his servant, choosing to go it alone. One of the great dangers of depression and despondence is our tendency to turn inward and isolate ourselves. When we are hurting, we often hold back and hide. Instead of reaching out for relationship we withdraw, pulling into our shells, and then wondering why we feel so alone. Why in our greatest times of emotional need do we run from relationship? Despondency is a signal that something is wrong, that we need help and hope, when we need relationship more than ever. Coming upon a broom tree, he sinks down, it is here we find the prophet deep in depression praying to die. Most have heard of the dramatic encounter between the great Old Testament prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal. We teach about his triumph, but many are not familiar with the story of sorrow that follows. We love to shout about success, we trumpet the triumph, but, discouragement, depression and despair we dare not share about that. Surely despair to the point of death is not for the faithful, after all, this is the victorious Christian life right? But depression knows no boundaries, you can experience success one day and sorrow the next. Like Elijah our mountain top high can soon dissipate, leaving us in a desert of despair. But this is not the end, under the broom tree Elijah discovers rest. Although called a tree, in reality the broom tree is really a shrub with a broad canopy. In Israel, when the white broom tree flowers it is covered in a myriad of beautiful white blossoms that emit a honey fragrance. Could it be that Elijah slumped under its succulent scent? We don’t know but the broom tree has come to symbolize renewal. Reminding us that when reality runs over our expectations, living us rundown, we need to give ourself permission to rest. It is here that we discover a great mystery, both deep and profound, God loves losers. Even in our fears and failures our Father still loves us. The Fathers love is the sweet fragrance we breath, under the brokenness of the broom tree. His unconditional and unfailing love is the one simple lesson Elijah needed to learn. Even in retreating to the desert to die Elijah encounters the reality of the Lord’s love. Notice God’s response wasn’t to chastise, or tell Elijah to get over it, God didn’t shake a disapproving finger at him. Instead of condemning there was compassion, all Elijah was required to do was rest and recuperate. The broom tree becomes the place where we learn to surrender our will to God, to rest in His redemptive love. Elijah surrender to the voice of God, even though reluctant at first, it shows us a pattern. It reminds us that we can hear the voice of God in those difficult times in our own lives. Like Elijah, when we reach the end of ourselves, we often find the beginning of authentic faith. This time of complete fatigue becomes an invitation to deeper faith. We will all find ourselves under the broom tree at some point in our lives, dare I say, often more than once. Many of us despise the brokenness of the broom tree with its discouragement and despair. Yet this is a holy place, a place of invitation, in the unfolding loving plan of God for our lives. It is under these “broom trees”, when we feel the least able to continue the struggle that we finally surrender ourselves to the Savior. Often, it takes the depletion of all of our own efforts and resources before we are willing to give up, and give over to God.
Why does it take desperate times for us to depend on Savior? because we are a stubborn people. When you find yourself in the pits of despondence give yourself permission to rest. Sometimes the first step to healing your soul is stopping, getting off the treadmill of life, and getting rest. Only then can we experience renewal and restoration. Today God is still searching for those who will surrender their lives in love to Him. What if we would learn to embrace the “broom trees” in your life, as we lie down and listen to the leading of the Lord.