We all have moments when we wish nothing more than to just give up, just like Elijah had under a Broom tree, and even wish we had not lived, but are such even applicable for us? More importantly, for whom do we desire such for what?
1 Kings 19:4-8
4. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”
5. Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.”
6. Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again.
7. And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”
8. So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
ELIJAH THE REALIST
Elijah, it seems, was quite practical as much as he was a man of faith. So much so, that in the previous chapter we see the record of Elijah telling his servant to go seven times – God’s number – to see and believe in rain forming (1 Kings 18:43), advising Ahab to go down the mountain before the rain started to pour down (v 44), and with the hand of the Lord upon him, Elijah overtaking Ahab’s chariot to the entrance of Jezreel to prudently observe on the reaction of Jezebel (v 46). For Elijah, it’s evident, knew, what God had told him that He would do. (1 Kings 18:36)
Then, we know, it was not, as commonly to be mistaken for, Jezebel’s dignified threat (19:1-2) that placed Elijah in the pool of depression, as above, in the first place.
What, then, could have caused it?
WHEN KNOWING DOESN’T HELP
Recall how the fire from the sky burning the sacrifice and predicting the rainfall afterwards, Elijah didn’t forget to mention that he had directly heard God telling him so, (1 Kings 18:1, 36-37, 41) and if we see this, it is here where we find Elijah falling into endless depression; this time, however, quite frankly, he didn’t and couldn’t hear God’s message, and worse, he had found himself God letting Jezebel to do what she had bowed to do. Elijah, being a realist, knew well that she could really (1 Kings 19:10, 14) – so he arose, ran for life, left his servant to Beersheeba and went alone into the wilderness (1 Kings 19:3-4) which basically meant, in those times, waiting to die as hopes were abandoned in that God’s work, at least he thought, through him was coming to an “end” in a worst-case scenario possible.
And then an angel touching, waking and offering Elijah to eat (v 5) was, in fact, met by Elijah’s rather inattentive attitude. What now? A heavenly being miraculously appearing out of blue, to offer food and drink, all this as means to give consolation, not helping at all? Bread cake and water, in, what seemed to be in, absence of God’s words, are only to be met by another round of sleep (v 6) in despair indeed – another oxymoronic proof it was God’s work that concerned Elijah the most.
Perhaps it was better, when ravens had brought him the bread and meat
(1 Kings 17:6), for God Himself had revealed the plans and directed such so. (For at least he had not reacted in indifference then) The prophet also had people around him then too. Here, then, hints the tiny mistakes that Elijah had made which led him to the broom tree – Elijah had not realised that the same God who can inform him of what lies ahead and actualise such, can also lead Elijah to wilderness in “silence” and instead send angel to inform him the other way around – Elijah only knew Him as the One Who has to inform him first, not the otherwise and reasons of it – and that, most importantly, to do His work by walking with Him, it has to be, and always, lonely and of solitude. (Matt 10:38)
Elijah’s sleepy reaction, thus, prompted the same angel to wake Elijah once more. This time, however, with a hint of twist: by offering why Elijah had to arise, eat and drink once more altogether (1 Kings 19:7-8). Elijah, being practical, reacted differently this time.
YET, WHY KNOWING HELPS
Let us expand. Why the grounds for angel’s consolation, noted at the second round, made Elijah to react differently?
That fine differentiating fact that a journey was planned ahead, so much so that enough nourishment was essential in order to sustain it, signalled that it wasn’t the end for Elijah after all.
If it weren’t so, then Elijah, who, in moments ago, wished his life to be taken away, would not have geared up for 40 days and 40 nights in the first place.
Bread and water are thus essential, and so is living, not because they are essential in their own rights, but as they are essential part of process in reaching the end.
And knowing that He has prepared something, and He always does and it often takes silent moments in despair for us to realise that in the end He always had and does, indeed became the seed of hope that started to lead Elijah out of his darkest hours.
What dramatic change that a tiniest hint from God can bring about!
WHAT LEADS TO A JOURNEY OF SOLITUDE?
Why did Elijah appear next to our Lord at the Transfiguration? What did Moses, Elijah and our Lord had in common? Wasn’t it they all went through that 40 days in proving how intimate they each all were with Him which, after all, is all that matters first? And it is in the wilderness – muted, isolated, desperate and barren that nothing can be relied on – where we build that intimacy as no interruptions can be made.
Forty days and forty nights of unpredicted journey that eventually led to God’s response to Elijah for reaffirmation, sparked by sitting hopelessly under a broom tree, was thus in fact the most intimate time between, and for, God and Elijah that neither Jezebel nor Satan could have disturbed.
And it seemed that God was silent all along, but in reality, the moment He, through His messenger, had hinted there was a journey planned exclusively for him, it was already a hand-in-hand invitation for Elijah.
What, then, do we see?
Before our lives stand our duty given, and before our duty given lies – the most important and incomparable – our relationship with Him.
TO SIT UNDER THAT BROOM TREE…
God, after all, went beyond in just letting Elijah to live and had revealed to him on what are to come, how He was going to pay Jezebel and Ahab back, and even pointed out the successor of the duty that Elijah had thought about giving up for a moment. (vv 15-17)
He also corrected that Elijah was not the only one left. (v 18)
And by doing so, God, yet once again, reaffirmed to Elijah on why he will and has to live and accompany Him (Psalm 16:8-11). No wonder, then, God had asked Elijah on ‘what he was doing at Mount Horeb’ as means to awaken him.
Granted. He who can raise up children of Abraham out of stones (Matt 3:9 & its parallel) or make them to cry out in proclaiming who Messiah is (Luke 19:40), does not, quite frankly, require us to make His Kingdom or His will work. Nevertheless, as much as that is true, it is also true that He wants us to be part of that work (Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:4-16; et al) “for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3)
In the course of it, we, inevitably will be met with trials and tribulations, no matter how ordinary they may be and how such often are not even commensurable with what Elijah had faced, to each own, to an extent where we may fall asleep in despair just like the prophet had. Still, in the midst, God will wake us up, will provide sustenance and along with it, will elucidate on why one has to live by taking that provision and on why it, thus, can never fail as a bundle as well.
To be led to our own ‘broom tree’ moments, then, may often seem to be painful. We, however, still need those moments not because to resolve the afflictions we face (even if the source of affliction is for God as seen with Elijah), but rather to reflect and redefine our relationships with God, in which resilient hints to help the process are always abound. And once found, one must arise to complete that journey through the wilderness yet again, with the difference of the journey this time being even more up-close and personal, with Him for He will invite and lead us through it.
And at the end of the journey, afflictions or problems we had may no longer be as such. For, by then, we would have been affirmed on His perfect plans, individually customised, for us. God does not fail. Nor does His plans.
May this be the reminder, however, that if one fails to recognise why and for Whom one has to exist in the first place and only ends up in parroting what Elijah, in despair under the broom tree, had cried out in a different context, one’s time underneath one’s own broom tree has to be excruciatingly longer. What may seem to be a deadly silence from God will also prolong. Of course, the fact that we now know that’s not what He intends is truly a blessing in another spectrum.