After Elijah withstood the 850 prophets of the temples of Baal and of the groves (altars dedicated to idolatrous worship, surrounded by small copses of trees sacred to the pagan deity) on Mount Carmel, Elijah had all those false prophets slain. Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, returned home and told his evil wife Jezebel what had happened. Infuriated by the slaughter of her prophets (the Scripture reveals that they ate at her table), she sent a message to Elijah, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time.”
Hearing this, Elijah immediately arose, the account continues, and went “for his life.” Hastily, he journeyed from Mount Carmel to Beersheba, some miles to the south. Leaving his servant there, he went into the wilderness about a day’s journey and sat down under a juniper tree, asking the Lord to just let him die. “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. ”
Elijah is very discouraged at this point. Even though he had been used of God just a few hours prior to overcome a seemingly unbeatable united front of pagan priests and an ungodly king. He was not just taking on the government; he was taking on the religious establishment as well! If ever there was a time for a man to feel inadequate, this would have been it. Yet Elijah never faltered. There is no record in the text of any hesitation, any fear, any doubt on his part. The righteous indignation of this man of God was kindled, and he was as bold as a lion in declaring the truth of God before the corrupt priests, the dissolute king, and the confused and wavering populace. Elijah stood tall and declared that the time for halting between two opinions was over, and the time to decide once and for all who was God in Israel was now. In a stunning display of the might of God the Creator, fire fell from Heaven and devoured Elijah’s sacrifice, the wood, the stones of which his altar was constructed, and the water in the trench round the base of it. The account is amazing because after hours of listening to the false prophets wail, call, and beg their god to send fire (uttering no doubt thousands of words in the process), Elijah stills them, repairs the altar, drenches it with twelve barrels of water, and prays a short prayer of 63 words which brings immediate results: the fire of God, the text emphasizes, falls.
Just a few hours later, Elijah is sitting under a juniper tree, wishing he could die, and even praying to God–who sent fire at his last request–to take his life, because there’s nothing more he can do on Earth. Why the sudden swing in outlook? Why the gloomy outlook? It would seem that there are two reasons for Elijah’s sudden mood change:
- He was convinced that he was all alone, and that Jezebel’s men would have no trouble finding him, effectively cutting off the means God had in place of communicating His messages to the people.
- Elijah focused on himself. Even though God had just used him in a mighty way, Elijah still managed to get his focus off God and what He could do through a man surrendered to Him, and started focusing on himself and his problems. He refused to trust the Lord, but instead tried to figure things out in his own strength.
Despite being frustrated, lonely, and frightened, Elijah managed to fall into a sleep, which I would imagine was fitful at best. Let us continue by looking into the text, for the words there recorded cannot be improved upon:
And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.
And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.
— 1 Kings 19:5-8
At the Bible college I attended for three years, the faculty ate their meals in the same dining common as the students. One day–it was a Wednesday or Thursday–I was standing in line to get my meal when one of my professors, Pastor Deatrick, walked up to the counter as well. He greeted me, and then asked how I was. When I answered that I was a bit weary, and was planning to take a short nap that afternoon, he nodded approvingly. Then he said something that I’ve never forgotten. Smiling, he pointed out, “You know, David, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is go take a nap. Make sure you eat a good meal, and then go take a nap.” Then I only saw that statement as an odd departure from the party line; now, I realize that he was pointing out this important principle to me. Incidentally, that was also the day he became my favorite teacher!
As Elijah learned, real spiritual refreshment can come from a brief pause to tend to the needs of the body. Even the Lord Jesus, seeing his disciples returning from being sent out in His name to heal and cast out demons, told them, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while…” Jesus saw that these men, fresh from a circuit of itinerant ministry, were weary, and had no time for themselves, as the text declares, “…for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” (above quotes from Luke 6:31) Have you ever felt that busy? The Lord was illustrating to these men, and through them to us, the importance of the principle: make time to come apart (away from others), or you will come apart (fall to pieces). More on this in a future post. 🙂
From Elijah to the Lord Jesus, the historical precedent is clear: time apart is a necessary part of a balanced life, and it will aid your spiritual production in the long run.
How about you? Have you “sat under a juniper tree” lately? Give it a try sometime…you might find it to be a refreshing pause. 🙂
Something to think about,