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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
 www.bethelurc.org
 
Title:Beneath the Broom Tree
Text:1 Kings 18.41 - 19:1-5a (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Desolation/Despair
 
Preached:2023-05-07
Added:2023-05-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

# 227
God’s Holy Law
Assurance of Pardon
Song of Response: “Lord, I Lift My Soul to Thee” # 25C:1-5,7,8

Congregational Prayer

Service of God’s Holy Word

Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 18.41 - 1 kings 19:1-4a

Sermon Title: “Under the Broom Tree”


* Song of Response: “Judge Me, God of My Salvation” # 43B

* Doxology: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” # 216:1,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beneath the Broom Tree

1 Kings 19:1-5a

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, when I first considered preaching this series on the ministry of Elijah, there were two accounts that really caught my attention and intrigued me. The first account was the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (which we already considered in chapter 18).

 

The other account (which is found just a bit later in this chapter) is when the Lord appeared to Elijah – not in the mighty wind, not in the powerful earthquake, and not in the fire sent from God – but in a gentle whisper, in a still small voice.    

 

But as you now know, sandwiched between those two amazing events is this somewhat surprising and disturbing account that we read this morning. Here we find Elijah, the prophet of God, sitting beneath the Broom Tree. He is seized with feelings of fear and panic and desperation. Those emotions and feelings are so overwhelming that he essentially wants to resign his calling and ministry and be done with this life.

 

(Skip this if no desired—it is ok to share however). On a personal note, in an unexpected twist, I found that during my recent health issues, it was this passage that actually gained my interest and attention even more than the others. It has now been just over a year since I had a series of panic attacks and had to take some time off.    

 

Looking back, I can say that I found myself in a very similar place to where Elijah was here -- both mentally and emotionally. I, too, was sitting beneath the broom tree -- overcome with feelings of stress and fear and panic and desperation. Among other things, I felt overwhelmed by all the duties and burdens of the ministry, and I felt trapped. There’s no way out. I can’t possibly keep up with all the demands, but there’s no way to escape it either.  

 

Thanks be to God, I am mostly recovered and restored. But as a result of that trial, I can say that I have a much better understanding of what Elijah went through. I can identify with his thoughts and feelings of dread and despair.

 

(Begin again here if you skip the personal note)

In fact, I think what he experienced – although it was a very weak moment and a very dark moment – it was also a very human moment. I think we can all relate to this – as we all have faced similar times in life – young and old, students and workers, parents, married couples, single adults, widows and widowers. I believe that (in some way, shape or form), we have all been there, we have all sat under the broom tree metaphorically speaking.

 

If you haven’t, then your day may yet be coming.  And the hope is that this account will help you to better understand what you are feeling and how to deal with it. But more than anything else, I believe this passage will help us to see and to better appreciate the wonderful and amazing Savior we have in Jesus Christ. So, let’s consider this passage together where Elijah Sits Beneath the Broom Tree

1. The Incredible Irony of this Scene

2. The Deep Despair that Overcame Elijah  

 

1. The Incredible Irony of this Scene

Now by irony I mean this – something that is not only an unexpected turn of events, but it is something that is completely contrary, completely opposite to what we have come to expect. To see, to find the irony here, we have to read and view the scene in our text in light of what we have just witnessed on Mt Carmel.

 

Turning back to 1 Kings 18:22, we saw that Elijah was the only prophet of the Lord who was left to stand against wicked King Ahab and the cult of Baal and Baal’s 450 prophets. All the other prophets of the Lord had been put to death by Jezebel, and the 100 prophets who were still alive were hidden away in caves where Jezebel’s soldiers could not find them.

 

Elijah was sent by God to confront and to challenge Ahab – to stand as one man against many. It proved the old adage that one man plus God, one woman, even one child plus God is an invincible army! As the rest of chapter 18 shows, Elijah boldly, courageously, fearlessly took on the prophets of Baal.

 

In that spiritual contest on the mountain, Elijah exposed Baal as a fraud, as a false god. For hours on end, the prophets of Baal danced and danced and called out to Baal and even cut themselves until their blood flowed – but still Baal did not answer. Baal did not, could not send down fire from heaven to consume the offering because Baal was not listening, because Baal was not God.

 

And then when it was Elijah’s turn to offer up the sacrifice to God – he prayed a simple prayer and God sent down fire from heaven which consumed not only the sacrifice but also (vs. 38) the wood, the stones, the soil, and also licked up all the water that was in the trench around the altar!

 

After that Elijah put the prophets of Baal to death. Then Elijah once more called upon God in prayer, pleading with God to end the 3-year drought as God had promised to do, and to send rain. Elijah prayed 7 times and God finally answered his prayer and sent the rain.

 

Then we read of the curious way that chapter 18 closed – as Elijah, empowered by the Spirit of the Lord, tucked his cloak into his belt and ran ahead of Ahab’s horse and chariot, some 18 miles, all the way back to Jezreel.

 

In that chapter, Elijah appears to be something of a spiritual giant. His faith and trust in the power and protection of God is clearly evident in everything that he does. He stands in the face of overwhelming odds, he defies death, he prays with fervency and confidence and his prayers proved to be both powerful and effective (as James 5:16 promises).

 

But…this doesn’t seem to be the same spiritual giant we meet in I Kings 19, does it? In fact, if you are visiting here today and you never knew what had transpired in chapter 18, you might think this fellow Elijah was just an ordinary, frightened man who was doing what anyone else would do in that situation. He was running for his life – and for good reason.

 

As chapter 19 begins, we see that King Ahab told Jezebel everything that Elijah had done, how Elijah had killed all the prophets of Baal, and Queen Jezebel was furious. She was enraged. *Isn’t it interesting to see Ahab’s perspective on all this? Ahab was an eyewitness to everything that happened on Mt Carmel, yet, in the blindness of unbelief, he attributes everything to Elijah. Just as he blamed the drought on Elijah, so too this was all Elijah 's doing.

 

And Jezebel is furious. She swore on oath that Elijah was a dead man: by this time tomorrow, Elijah, you will be as dead as the prophets you struck down! Verse 3 tells us all we need to know. Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. The NIV and the ESV state that he was afraid; other versions say: when he saw that (when he saw the queen’s anger and her murderous intent), he arose and fled for his life. It means the same thing.

 

In a moment of weakness, Elijah took his eyes off God – and all that God is, and all that God had just done -- and he focused on himself and his own perilous predicament. It's similar to what happened to Peter in Matthew 14. When Peter saw Jesus walking on the waves, he asked Jesus to call out to him so that he might walk to Jesus. So, Jesus called out to him.  Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk to Jesus, but boys and girls, do you recall what happened? Vs. 30 -- But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

 

This is what happened to Elijah. He took his eyes off God. We get a firsthand look at what happens when we walk by sight, and not by faith; when we let the circumstances of life, the troubles, the burdens, all the things we cannot control, we let that sit at the forefront of our mind’s eye, it’s all we can think about and meanwhile god fades into the background/distance.   

 

The contrast between Elijah the man of faith in chapter 18 and Elijah the man of no faith in chapter 19 is shocking and almost unbelievable. Commentator A.W. Pink points this out so well in his commentary. He says: “In passing from I Kings 18 to I Kings 19 we meet with a sudden and strange transition. It is though the sun was shining brilliantly out of a clear sky and the next moment without any warning, black clouds drape the heavens and crashes of thunder shake the earth. The contrasts presented by these chapters are sharp and startling. At the close of the one ‘the hand of the Lord was on Elijah’ as he ran before Ahab's chariot: at the beginning of the other he is occupied with self and (ran) for his life. In the former we behold the prophet at his best: and the latter we see him at his worst. There he was strong in faith and the helper of his people: here he is filled with fear and is the deserter of his nation...”

 

Essentially, this stunning contrast shows us the weakness and frailty of our sinful human nature.

It is a humbling scene, isn’t it? It reminds us of the truth of 1 Corinthians 10: 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands (firm) take heed (lest he what?) Lest he fall.

 

How often doesn’t it happen where we go from the mountain top, like Elijah on Mt Carmel, where we feel a sense of accomplishment perhaps, a sense of confidence, maybe even a hint of pride at who we are, or at what we have done, or how we have prevailed in the face of some trial or hardship (perhaps even where others have failed and fallen). But then, the next moment, we find ourselves flat on our face, broken, humbled by our own sinful failure, or humiliated and shattered by the failure of someone close to us. We never thought this could happen to us! But why is that? Why would we ever think that? Are we greater than Elijah? Better than others?   

 

Brothers and sisters, we have to remember that our life in this world is a testing ground, it is a training ground for our faith. God takes our weak faith, and he places it in the fiery furnace so that there it will undergo the necessary process of purification, the burning away and purging of all that is sinful, of all that is impure -- the dross of pride, and self-confidence and high mindedness (where we think of ourselves more highly than we ought).   

 

We also have to remember and realize that the so called “spiritual giants” in the Bible, and the Heroes of the Faith listed in Hebrews 11 (people such as Abraham, Moses, and David, Sarah, Rahab and Naomi), all of them are only human. They are sinners just like us. They all fell short just as we fall short.

 

Finally, this passage reminds us once more that the Bible is true and divinely inspired by God. It never seeks to hide or conceal the shameful and embarrassing faults and failings of the characters we meet on every page of Scripture. Books written by men tend to magnify man’s greatness and downplay his weaknesses and shortcomings.

 

But God gave us the Bible to expose our weakness and shortcomings, and to magnify His glory and greatness – so that by being frank and honest about man and his failings – like Elijah and his crisis of faith -- we would not look to other men for our hope and salvation, but that we would look to God and God alone for our salvation -- so that we would put our faith, hope and trust in the one true Spiritual Giant, the one true Hero of the Faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Although Jesus was tempted at various times to give in to fear and panic and despair – and even though he was tempted not go all the way to the cross and drink the cup of God’s wrath, yet Jesus never gave in to his fear. He never gave up. He overcame all his fears and even the dread of the cross – so that we, through Him, could not only be victorious, but that we could be more than conquerors.        

 

2. The Deep Despair that Overcame Elijah

We will speak more about Christ and his triumphs in a few moments, but let’s first take a closer look at the Deep Despair that Overcame Elijah. We already made the point that when he took his eyes off God, and all that God had done, he ran for his life.

 

And when he ran, he ran a long, long way. He was in Jezreel, which was in the northern region of Samaria, in the northern kingdom of Israel, and he ran south, to the southern kingdom of Judah. Technically, once he made it to the border of Judah, he was safe. But Elijah did not stop there. He was so filled with fear that he kept on running – as far south as one could possibly go in Judah – to Beersheba and then he went another day’s journey beyond that into the wilderness.  

 

Philip Ryken writes that in doing so “he ran away from Jezebel, away from the people of God, away from the prophetic calling he received from God – he ran away from it all. And now, upon coming to Beersheba, he also wants to run away from life itself.”

 

Verse 3 says when he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die: “I have had enough Lord, take my life; I am no better than my ancestors. Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.  

 

You see, this is what made Elijah’s fear and his subsequent flight so sinful and shameful. Being afraid is not necessarily a sinful thing. King David was often afraid. Nor is running away from danger necessarily a sinful thing. It can be a wise thing. A smart thing. At times David fled to save his life. He fled from king Saul. He also fled from his son Absolom.

 

But what makes Elijah’s situation different is his special place and calling as a prophet of the Most High God. God. As the author Van’t Veer points out, Elijah represented the person and the power of God and the Word of God. Elijah represented one half of the antithesis (the seed of the woman), and Ahab and Jezebel represented the seed of the serpent. Van’t Veer put it this way:

 

In Elijah the Lord revealed the divine powers of his Kingdom; in Elijah the majesty of his revelation shown in grace and judgment. The word of the Lord was so interwoven with Elijah's life that his victory over Jezebel and the worshippers of Baal was a victory of the Lord’s Kingdom over Satan’s Kingdom.

 

No one had such power at his disposal as Elijah. The forces of God's Kingdom were bound to his servant Elijah. For a time and for the sake of the name of the Lord, his enemies could not be allowed to kill Elijah; the Lord had bound up his name with the life and calling and work of his prophet. His sin was that he sought to save his life by fleeing (excerpts from p. 333).

 

And we see where that gets him. It’s another ironic twist. He flees for his life from Jezebel. But then once he makes it safely away from her, Elijah asks for the Lord to take his life. Here we witness the downward spiral of sin and despair and the darkness that often follows.

 

Elijah first lost sight of God and God’s divine power. He then gave into his fear so much so that he ran away, as far as he could, so as never to be found by Jezebel. But what’s so interesting boys and girls, is that while Elijah was able to run from his earthly enemy, queen Jezebel, Elijah could not run away from his spiritual enemy – from Satan himself.

 

Satan pursued him relentlessly – even into the isolation of the wilderness. Satan will now tempt Elijah in the wilderness (just as he had tempted Israel in the wilderness, and just as he would later tempt Jesus, God’s own Son, in the wilderness).

 

Notice Satan’s clever strategy. He leverages, he ‘plays on’ one sinful failure so as to lead us to the next. Elijah is so overwhelmed by his fear and failure and running away, and forsaking his office, that he entertains suicidal thoughts.

 

It may surprise you, but this is not unusual for those in service to God. In Numbers 11:14-15 after the people complain to him, Moses said to the Lord, I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now – if I have found favor in your eyes -- and do not let me face my own ruin.

 

Think of Job who wished he had never been born. Or Jonah, who after the city of Nineveh repented also made a similar petition to the Lord as did Elijah. Jonah 4:8 he wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live”.

 

Beloved, this is not at all to suggest that these thoughts are “normal” for God’s people and somehow acceptable in God’s sight. That’s not true. Each of the accounts I cited were occasions of sin and despair and faithless fear in the heart and life of a believer. Suicidal thoughts or wishing we were never born are thoughts that comes from Satan, not from God. 

 

And let us also remember this: as Christians, as believers, while God does watch over us and keep us, He does not shield us or insulate us from every single trial and tribulations in life. In this world we will have troubles. Our difficulty does not lie in the existence of trials and tribulations. No. Our difficulty lies in the fact that we often take our eyes off the Lord in the midst of those trials. We look at ourselves and naturally -- all we can see are our own limitations and weaknesses and inabilities and failures. That is why we are filled with fear and panic and dread.

 

We, like Moses, say: how am I ever going to do this? How can I possibly go on? Elijah may have thought, if Ahab wasn’t convinced and converted by the amazing display of the power of God then all my prayers, all my effort, my entire ministry is a failure. What good is it if the people, if the King himself, is not going to believe or change.  

 

Parents can feel that way about their children – after all I have taught you, after all you have learned, how could you do this! We begin to despair. This is also a common sentiment felt by those in the ministry – even by elders as they exercise spiritual oversight in their district and encourage God’s people in their Christian walk, and to come to church.

 

But when God’s people do not listen, when they ignore our sermons and our encouragements and admonitions, it’s easy to get disappointed, to want to quit, to want to run away. Many spiritual leaders have even entertained thoughts of ending it all – of wishing they were dead.

 

For any of us -- that’s the easy way out, isn’t it? To flee our life and calling as parents, teachers, young people, etc. We can leave this all behind; we can be done carrying these heavy burdens; we can be finished with all the heartache and sorrow and hurt of this life, as well as the grief of dealing with sin in our own lives and in the lives of God’s own people.

 

But those are ungodly thoughts. Let us instead think of Jesus our Savior, our Messiah. When Jesus was led out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, he did not run away. Instead, he faced his spiritual enemy, and each time he was tempted, Jesus responded in obedience, with the timeless, unchangeable truths of God’s Word.

 

And in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was temped to run away from the awful burden of bearing our sin, and drinking the cup of God’s wrath, Jesus the Son, our Savior prevailed by humbly and obediently submitting his will to that of His father -- not my will but Thine by done!

              

And on the cross, Jesus faced with the mocking insults of the soldiers and the chief priests and the people – who said: He saved others, let him save himself! Yet Jesus did not save himself. Instead, Jesus gave himself up on the cross to save us from our sins. No, Jesus did not take his own life, but rather, he humbly, willingly, lovingly, graciously laid his life down for us, in an act of unparalleled love, mercy and grace!

 

That is the example set before us – and since Jesus died and rose again, and since His Holy Spirit has been poured out in our hearts and souls, we possess the power of the Gospel – the power to face our foes. The power to overcome Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh. The power to not give up, to not give in to fear, to not seek to run away from our calling but to face our calling in the strength and grace and confidence and peace that God provides! Amen.  




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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