One of the things I really appreciate about the Bible is that the writers don’t sugar coat the human condition. Even the greatest heroes of the Bible get discouraged, make mistakes, and are insecure. The greatest prophet of the Old Testament was Elijah. In the story about Elijah in 1 Kings 19, Elijah was running for his life from a very angry Queen Jezebel. When preachers and teachers talk about this story, they often focus on Elijah’s experience with God at the cave on Mt. Horeb where he looks for God in a storm, an earthquake, and a fire, but finds God in the quiet stillness. I want to focus on Elijah’s experience earlier in the story when he went into the desert and sat down under a broom tree and cried out his anguish to God. With all of his accomplishments, he still got so depressed and hopeless that he wanted to die. He sat under a solitary broom tree and there God cared for him.
Bible stories are so rich in symbolism. I was curious about the broom tree and surprised to discover that we have the same broom trees in Arizona. In fact, many people consider them a weed and pull them out as quickly as they find them. In Bible stories, the broom tree provided shade in the desert. It’s not a lot of shade but as Arizonans and southern Nevadans, we know that even squeezing into a little shade can make you significantly more comfortable in the desert heat. You don’t stand in the shade of a broom tree they are too short; you have to hunker down in it. It is just enough to get some relief and then move on. And broom trees spring up everywhere. Biblical historian, Ray Vander Laan explains the image on his Walking with God in the Desert DVD, “In my pain, God has joined me with just enough of himself to keep me going.” Under the shade of that solitary broom tree, God’s messengers provided Elijah nourishment and Elijah was able to sleep and regain his strength.
The lesson of the broom tree is that sometimes when God meets us in the desert times of our lives, God gives us relief like a broom tree. The shade is not enough to last us forever, but enough to help us take the next steps. It is enough for us to sit under for a few minutes to draw strength for the next step and then the next step. The journey is not always short, sometimes it takes a long time to get through it. Elijah’s journey took over a month to go from Judah to Mt. Horeb in the Egyptian desert. When he met God at Mt. Horeb, he was still struggling, still searching for a solution to his problem. God did not make his circumstances magically disappear. In this story, God did not even give him a lot of sympathy. God did give Elijah direction, sustenance for the road, a renewed purpose and later, in that same chapter in 1 Kings, a companion on the road—all things that kept Elijah going.
The broom tree also offers us an image for our mission and ministry. We, like broom trees, spring up in all kinds of places. We can be shade for those in need of encouragement and sustenance. Some will come and stay and plant roots in our shade and become part of the plant that offers even a little more shade. Others may only stay for a moment, just long enough to get the energy to take the next step. Remember, though, even if it seems a small, a momentary relief, it may be just what God uses to help someone take the next step. So, look for people who are being scorched by hard times and difficult circumstances and be like the broom tree. And if you are in a desert place yourself, look around for God is with you.
Grace and Peace,