Under the Broom Tree

I have been a bit under the weather this week and have asked Pastor Dave to fill the pulpit this Sunday. Below is his blog to accompany this week’s sermon.  — Pastor Billy

 

Under the Broom Tree

1 King 19:1-8

1 Kings 19 has much to offer any Christian who has questioned if he or she is the last righteous person on earth. For anyone crushed in spirit, there is hope to be found in this story. For anyone who wonders, “Why should I go on in this dark world?” God has much to say from this passage. I would venture to say every one of us will encounter a friend or loved one, if not ourselves, who at one time or another will find themselves under the broom tree.

Our text opens with wicked Queen Jezebel threatening Elijah’s life. We read that Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. Now this is quite surprising when we recall what had happened just prior to this event. Elijah had just confronted King Ahab and asked him to assemble the nation of Israel along with 450 prophets of the Canaanite god Baal and 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:19). The prophets of Baal had called and called from morning to evening, but to no avail, even after hours of ritual bloodletting and prophesying. Then Elijah called the people to himself. He repaired the altar of I AM who I AM which had been torn down. He symbolically took 12 stones to build the altar, representing God’s original intent for a united kingdom. Then he dug that trench around the altar and called for as much water as could be found after a 3 year drought. Three times the 4 pitchers of water were poured on the altar until it soaked everything and filled the trench. Then Elijah prayed: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:36b-38) The people fell on their faces and cried, “The Lord—he is God. Yahweh, I AM—he is God!” (39). So back to our point: How is it that this man who prophesied that three-year drought, the man fed by ravens, the man whom God had used to raise the dead, the prophet God had used to display His great power here on Mount Carmel—how is it that we find this same man under a broom tree asking God to take his life?

 

Temporary Amnesia

Like you and me, even the greatest prophet of the Old Testament could forget the Lord’s power and doubt God’s timing. Can you imagine the exhilaration Elijah must have felt as his prayers brought down first drought, then fire, then water, from heaven? Can you envision how thrilled he must have been to see the entire nation bowing on their faces declaring that Yahweh was the one true God? Can you picture Elijah’s satisfaction at ordering the slaughter of the 400 false prophets who had deceived the nation and led them to their downfall? Can you imagine the excitement of running ahead of King Ahab’s chariot for the 25 odd miles from Mount Carmel to Jezreel in order to beat the thunderstorm (1 Kings 18:46)? Elijah must have been convinced that this was the moment of revival he had been waiting for. Ahab had seen the superiority of Yahweh over Baal. Now Ahab would destroy all the altars of Baal and Asherah and return to the covenant. Elijah would not have to live in hiding anymore. Ahab would no longer see him as the enemy. In fact, Ahab would probably promote him to a position of honor. Or if that didn’t happen, then God would surely judge Ahab. The people had seen the truth. They would not stand for a Baal-worshipper as a king. God would strike Ahab and Jezebel down and replace them with godly rulers. Either way, Elijah may have believed that his life as a fugitive was over. No more hiding away in foreign lands, no more fearing for his life, no more persecution. Now was the time for justice to roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream (Amos 5:24). Such may have been the thoughts of Elijah.

From his complaint in verse 10, it seems that Elijah had hoped that the miraculous occurrence at Mount Carmel would lead to the reform of the nation. But on the contrary, it seemed to have no effect whatsoever on the political situation. Jezebel remained on the throne and now she had ordered his death. In a moment of temporary amnesia, Elijah forgets the Lord’s Word. The word of Jezebel drowns out the word of the Lord. Fear of a person replaced fear of the Almighty God.

Before we pass judgment so quickly upon Elijah, let us remember to ask ourselves if we have ever suffered from temporary amnesia. Who or what are the Jezebels in your life? What people or things do you fear more than you fear God? Kids, is it the neighborhood bully? Grades? A desire to keep up with what you see on social media? Acceptance by your peers? Adults, is it your boss? The desire for a promotion? Your reputation of a being a perfect parent? The fear or memory of a failed marriage? Seniors, is it the deteriorating health of your spouse? School shootings or global terrorism? Guilt for not doing enough in a world of hurt that flashes on your TV and comes into your email box? Like Elijah, we will always battle between hearing God’s word more clearly than hearing a human’s word. We so easily fear people instead of fearing God alone. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25).

 

Hitting the Snooze Button

But it is at this point that we come to examine how the Lord dealt with Elijah under the broom tree, and it should prove a great comfort to us. The Lord had every right to rebuke Elijah, didn’t He? “Hey Elijah, you mean to tell me that you ran away from Jezebel all this way to save your life only now to ask me to take it away from you?” Fortunately, God himself measures, shapes, and gives to each of us exactly the gentleness or severity which each of us requires. Praise God for He is not slow in keeping his promises (2 Peter 3:9), though it may seem like it to us at times. His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts greater than our thoughts (Is. 55:9). How did God deal with Elijah? God provided Elijah with food and rest. The Lord sent an angel to minister to him in his time of need, even though he was undeserving. In case you were looking for some biblical justification for hitting the snooze button, verse 6 just might be your cup of noodles. Here we find that after Elijah ate and drank, he lay down for a second time! But just to be exegetically safe, in order to warrant such a luxury for yourself, you may have to call down drought, fire, and flood from heaven, and run a marathon first!

There is a lesson of grace here, isn’t there? While it should not be taken as model behavior, yet here we find the greatest of the OT prophets complaining to God. If you find yourself under the broom tree, God can handle your dirt. He wants to sweep you clean, but he can handle your dirt. The Lord is not surprised by our complaints, our fears, our sadness. Jesus taught us that our Father knows what we need before we ask him! (Matthew 6:8). God can even handle it if our assurance of salvation wavers. “The assurance true believers have of their salvation may be shaken, lessened, or interrupted for various reasons: from neglecting to preserve it; from committing some particular sin, which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; from some sudden or strong temptation; or from God’s withdrawing the sense of his presence and allowing them to walk in darkness.” (Westminster Confession of Faith 18.4 in Modern English). I find it a comfort that the prophet Elijah himself had this period of doubt. When we find ourselves weary and burdened, physically exhausted from the trials of life, we can find the God of Elijah ready to grant us rest. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-9). You may be under the broom tree, but God can handle your dirt.

 

Breakfast in Bed

But the Lord’s provision for Elijah did not stop with rest. He got breakfast in bed: a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water! The Lord knows how to feed our hunger and quench our thirst. What did Jesus say to His disciples? “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (Jn. 6:35). Elijah may have enjoyed a cake and a jar of water, but you and I have the greater privilege of feeding on the Bread of Heaven Himself, Jesus Christ. When you despair of life, brothers and sisters, remember this passage. Jesus longs to refresh us. That is why he died on the cross, to give his very body to be our living, spiritual food. Jesus invites all who repent of their sin to receive and rest in Him alone, but also to feed on him. He said, “…my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55). Elijah’s meal was only a foretaste of the greater one we can enjoy. Child of God, are you weary and hungry? Don’t make a foolish request for the Lord to end your life. Those who receive Christ “are never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God as keeps them from sinking into utter despair” (Westminster Larger Catechism 81). Remember that he sometimes provides us with breakfast in bed. What cakes or jars of water has the Lord given you? Maybe an unexpected act of kindness, a meal cooked by someone who normally isn’t the chef of the house, a song, a sunrise, a nugget of Scripture that jumps out at us, a visit during a time of illness, a ride to an appointment, an unexpected gift. The Lord delights to feed and nourish us like a good father does with his children.

 

A New Mission

But God’s provision for Elijah did not stop with just rest and food. He renewed Elijah’s mission. Elijah still did not get it. He still wanted the Lord to bring immediate judgment on Israel. It is likely that he went to Mount Horeb was for this very reason. Mount Horeb, you remember, was that holy mountain where God first revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, that same mountain on which God spoke the 10 commandments with thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud (Exodus 19:16). There on the top of Mount Horeb the appearance of the glory of the Lord had been like a devouring fire (Exodus 24:17). There Elijah may have gone to ask God to judge Jezebel and Ahab. Elijah wanted a speedy judgment on the nation. He wanted God to be in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. He wanted God to be quick to anger. But God instead appeared in a gentle whisper, a still small voice.

What did God tell Elijah there on the mountain? He assured Elijah that justice in fact would take place…not immediately, but soon. Elijah’s task was not done. God gave him a new mission. Under the broom tree, Elijah assumed his useful life was over. Ahab had not repented. All the miracles and power of God had done nothing to change Ahab’s heart. What more could Elijah possibly do? The answer came on Mount Horeb, as we read in verses 15-18. Elijah was to anoint three figures who would bring God’s judgment down upon Ahab and the nation of Israel. The foreign king Hazael would inflict serious losses upon the army of Israel. Jehu would wipe out Ahab’s line. And Elisha would predict a 7 year famine upon the land. Elijah’s desire for immediate judgment was not in character with Yahweh’s mercy. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Not only did God give Elijah rest and food, the Lord also gave Elijah a new mission.

Are you in the desert today under the broom tree? Are you despairing because of financial burdens, a broken relationship, sickness, the death of a loved one? Do you want to ask God to end your life? Then remember God’s provision to his servant Elijah. Are you tired? Hear Jesus’ words, “Come to me…and I will give you rest.” Are you hungry? Hear Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life.” Are you in need of a new mission? Hear Jesus’ words, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). Rest in Christ, feed on Him, and await a new mission.

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did Elijah run? What had he hoped Mount Carmel would accomplish?
  2. Have you ever forgotten God’s power after a spiritual high?
  3. Who or what are the Jezebels in your life?
  4. Do you believe God can handle your dirt? Do you feel free to share your disappointment with the Lord?
  5. What cakes and jars of water has God provided you on your journey to the new Jerusalem?
  6. Are you listening for the Lord’s voice to know of any new missions he has for you?
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