Despair beneath a Juniper-–1 Kings 19:1-15. June 23, 2019–Drummondtown Baptist Church–Accomac Virginia 23301–David R. Denny. Ph.D.
I want to take you, this morning, to a poignant and desperate scene in the life of one of the greatest men in the OT (the prophet Elijah). I don’t want to disturb him for he is in deep despair and I’m sure he would not appreciate a group of tourists gawking at him. But if you are quiet we can see him off in the distance lying beneath a Juniper tree in the wilderness of Beersheba (about an hour and a half southwest of Jerusalem—44 miles).
(The Juniper tree is not the tree we know of by that name. This is really the white broom tree of Palestine, a beautiful bushy shrub that grows about 10-12 feet tall and puts out the most gorgeous white blossoms that cast a welcoming shade for travelers through the desert).
It is beneath this pleasant and friendly three that the great prophet lies exhausted. He is dispirited and drained. His will to live has vanished with the hot winds of the desert and he sees no future, no way forward. As we peer at him from a distance we see a once vibrant man at life’s end. And it is in the wake of utter despair that we see him. It is a sad spectacle. It’s like watching Superman cringing and shivering in the shadow of a chunk of kryptonite.
If you cup your hand around your ear you might be able to hear him. His death words are given to us in 1 Kings 19:4. Have you read them? Have you heard them stumble from his cracked and parched lips as he lies crumpled beneath the broom tree? “It is enough: now, O LORD, take my life.”
*I read an interesting article a few days about a CEO of a Washington think tank who was on a plane. This highly accomplished man was getting older and had been thinking of his life. He had decided to quit his position and do something simpler in a search for life’s meaning. But as he thought about this he heard a man in the seat ahead of him moaning. He couldn’t see him because the cabin was dark but him speaking in quiet tones to the passenger beside him. “I wish I was dead,” said the voice in the seat before him. Nobody remembers me. I am irrelevant now. I wish I was dead.” When the plane landed and the lights came on he was curious to see who this was. And to his shock when the elderly man stood he immediately recognized him as a famous celebrity known worldwide for great accomplishments. Once the other passengers saw him they began to seek his autographs the man smiled and his demeanor changed. But those words of death haunted the CEO.
And that is what I hear as I listen from a distance. Elijah wants to die. Known worldwide for his miracles and brilliance, we see him now as a wreck of a man whose only wish in life is to perish in the desert beneath the broom tree.
Elijah was a man of action who got things done. He reminds me of Julius Caesar who preferred to ride out into battle conquering whole countries rather than sitting in the palace at Rome. Elijah was a dynamic man who headed up a school of prophets. He had stature and prominence in Israel.
Elijah hated what was happening to his country. Ahab the king of Israel had married a Phoenician queen, Jezebel, who worshipped Baal, the god of rain and lightning and dew. Temples of Baal were sprouting up all over the place eclipsing the worship of Jehovah, the one true God. Elijah decided to take on mighty Baal and the prophets who worshipped him. He challenged the god to duel. Come to Mt Carmel and let’s fight it out he said to the followers of Baal. The prophets of Baal were angry and agreed. They came and built a huge altar upon the mountain and sacrificed an ox and then called for fire from heaven. Nothing happened. The prophets shouted louder and cut themselves and danced around the altar but nothing happened. Elijah stood and mocked them. “Maybe your god is asleep. Shout a little louder.” After hours of this, Elijah stepped in and said it was his turn. He too built a huge altar and sacrificed an ox. He dug ditches around the altar and poured water over the altar not once but three times drenching it all and filled the trenches. (Baal was the god of water so Elijah was making a bold statement here). Then he called upon God to consume the altar with fire. (Read I Kings 18:38)—
Such faith! Such confidence in God. Elijah was so powerful and yet look at him now. He moans beneath a bush and looks a lot like you and me when life gets hard.
Joke: Sitting by the window of her convent, Sister Barbara opened a letter from home one evening. Inside the letter was a $100 bill her parents had sent. Sister Barbara smiled at the gesture. As she read the letter by the window, she noticed a shabbily dressed stranger leaning against the lamp post below. Quickly, she wrote, “Don’t despair. Sister Barbara,” on a piece of paper, wrapped the $100 bill in it, got the man’s attention and tossed it out the window to him. The stranger picked it up, and with a puzzled expression and a tip of his hat, went off down the street. The next day, Sister Barbara was told that a man was at the door, insisting on seeing her. She went down and found the stranger waiting. Without a word, he handed her a huge wad of $100 bills. “What’s this?” she asked. “That’s the $8,000 you have coming Sister,” he replied. “Don’t Despair paid 80-to-1.”
The Solution to Despair
Elijah did not die beneath the Juniper tree. He did what you and I can do when we find ourselves beneath the Juniper. Let’s see how he recovered and found joy and happiness again. Maybe we too can find renewal when life gets hard.
- He lay down and slept. So simple. Just a little rest. I think sometimes when exhaustion sets in we need to find a time to just lie down a little beneath the Juniper and sleep awhile. *I remember that Alexander the Great would take a quick nap when he was weary. He would take a small ball in his hand and then close his eyes and drift off. When sleep came and his hands relaxed and the ball hit the ground, he would wake refreshed.
- He conversed with an angel. Now that one might be a problem but remember that angels are all around us. They ministered to Jesus in the garden and they will help you as well in your hard times. Just be open to the divine and seek the angel’s touch when you feel yourself in despair.
- He ate some hot bread and drank some cool water. A little refreshment can sometimes lift your spirits. Next time you feel yourself going under, run down the Island House and get hot fried flounder and some sweet potato fries.
- Listen for the still small voice of God(1 Kings 19:12). Elijah left the Juniper tree and journeyed on to Mt. Horeb and there he tucked himself away in a cave. But when he stepped out on the ledge of the cave he heard the still small voice of God in the gentle breeze.
God wants you to be happy and successful. But we are not immune from hard times and feelings of despair. So when they come, remember Elijah and how he recovered by taking a few simple steps and drawing nearer to God.