Under the Juniper Tree
“And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. 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” (1 Kings 19:3-4)
“If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.” (Proverbs 24:10)
Up until this time, Elijah had shown magnificent courage in the face of tremendous odds. His eyes had been upon God and upon His promises. And remarkable answers to prayer had followed the faithfulness of the man of God. The power of Baal was dealt a serious setback. Three and a half years of drought had chastened Israel and hobbled the worldly prosperity of the wicked Ahab and his evil queen, Jezebel. Four hundred and fifty false prophets of the idol would speak no more.
But the powers of wickedness showed no inclination to roll over and die. Jezebel was as obdurate as ever. And Elijah made a mistake—a mistake that has proven fatal to many a child of God. He looked at the wrong thing and acted upon it: “And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life.” Like King David, he looked when he shouldn’t have looked. And with that look and consequent fleeing, he trod the path of discouragement.
Now this (as far as we have revealed to us) was new to Elijah. If he had taken a long, hard look at Jezebel and her threats before, Elijah would never have taken the steps of obedience to and faith in God that he had followed for over three and a half years. During that time, unmindful of self, heedless of his own physical safety, hidden in God, he had launched out in God. His testimony could have been:
“I know God is; I know His Word
Unfailing meets each test;
I calmly face a hostile world
With soul and mind at rest.”*
And he had proven God true to His Word. Fed by ravens, sustained by a cruse of oil that never was depleted and an handful of meal in a barrel that was constantly and miraculously renewed, he stayed himself upon the Lord God. The widow’s son was resurrected from the dead in the process of dealing with her soul, and all Israel was summoned to a showdown between a great crowd of false prophets and one of the prophets of the truth. The power of God was so manifest in that confrontation that the idolatrous Israelites fell on their faces and cried, “The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God,” (1 Kings 18:31) although they had been silently sullen beforehand. And then the prophet had wrestled in faith for the fulfilment of the promise to end deadly drought—and the rain had poured in abundance, while the prophet, inspired and filled with the power of God, outran the royal horses of the wicked king.
But now, a look at the wrong thing, and a departure from the path of faith and obedience well-nigh ruined the man of God. What a lesson the Bible has for us in the account of Elijah’s discouragement! We are warned: he was a man of “like passions as we are.” (James 5:17) He was a man of like passions in the triumphs and exploits wherein God blessed him, and he was a man of like passions in the path of discouragement that he pursued. God’s promises are given to men of the like passions of Elijah, such as you and I.
As Elijah departed from the path that God had marked out for him to follow, a self-centeredness came over him. This is one of the hallmarks of discouragement. He felt sorry for himself. He had taken his life into his own hands when he chose to run away. He took a suicide trip into the wilderness a full day’s journey without provisions (he came from rough country and knew the consequences); he was subconsciously thinking that he would not come back out of that wilderness alive. And when he finally arrived at a juniper tree, exhausted and debilitated, “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.” (1 Kings 19:4) As though he knew when it was enough! As though he knew when he should die! Such are the extremities to which discouragement can bring your soul and mine!
It was fortunate indeed that Elijah served the true God, who is a God of love and mercy. “For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) God is not just the God of triumphs and victories; He is still God when we cast away our confidence and cave in to the pressure. There is no need to do these things; it is our privilege to keep trusting and obeying; but if we follow Elijah to the juniper tree, God is still God. “God is [still] greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” (1 John 3:20) Man may fail, but God never fails.
He looked upon His discouraged, exhausted child beneath the juniper tree, and pitied him (Psa. 103:13). He disregarded the foolish prayer of discouragement and sent His angel to feed His worn-out servant. What was it like to feel the angel’s touch? Oh, discouraged soul, do you not perceive, even dimly, that God has sent an angel to touch you, to awaken you? God’s cake is baking; God’s cruse of water is waiting; for you. There is marvelous strength in the heavenly provision for you. There is a second helping for you. There is the second touch; there is the perceptive and loving insight from God, “Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.” (1 Kings 19:7)
“He Whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best—
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.”*
It is worthwhile to observe that God’s kindness and mercy to His faint-hearted servant did not cure him of his discouragement. He did not start down the path of discouragement because God had not blessed him, and God’s blessing did not take away his discouragement now. This is one of the mysteries which baffle disheartened souls. They keep begging God to have mercy on them, to heal them, to revive them; and He is doing all that is His place to do. They really need to come to grips with the fact that they have chosen to be discouraged, and they will have to choose not to be discouraged. God is not going to operate your will for you. That is your job. He will help you with it if you ask.
So what would Elijah do now after receiving such divine impartation of strength? He went deeper down the path of discouragement. He went (miraculously) forty days and forty nights down a path of his choosing, and ended up at Horeb, the mount of God. As most of us do on our own, he went back to his roots. And there he found a cave and decided to live there. By all natural reasoning, he should have been dead. The journey was indeed too great for him. But God had made it possible for him to travel over a month into the wilderness to the place where the truth (in the Old Testament) had been given, even Mount Sinai (Horeb). Many another discouraged soul has made this torturous pilgrimage in mind and heart. How did I get here? Did I miss something from the start? As did the discouraged two on the road to Emmaus: “But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel.” (Luke 24:21) We crawl into a cave, and there we would abide, did not the Almighty take pity on us and speak to us.
God did not leave His prophet to brood in the cave. “Behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9)
It was a good question, was it not? As Sister Hannah said in her prayer, “The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.” (1 Samuel 2:3) God knew what was wrong; He knew that the key to the solution was in Elijah’s willingness to take action in the right direction, rather than in the direction (discouragement) that he had been choosing. Consider: could not Elijah have chosen to return to Israel in the strength of the angelic food, instead of proceeding to Horeb? When Brother Ananias came to Brother Saul (and he but a brother in Christ for only about three days), Brother Ananias said, “And now why tarriest thou?” (Acts 22:16) When Brother Joshua lay on his face, bewailing the defeat at Ai and picturing gloomy vision for the morrow, God said to him, “Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow.” (Joshua 7:13) There is a time to sit still and know that God is God, but that is not the answer to the discouraged state. People get in and proceed in the discouraged path by their own efforts, and they must exert themselves in the name of God to get out of that path.
When God asked the depressed man of God what he was doing there, all the bitterness, the self-centeredness, the utter disconnect with the promises of God, and the self-perceived hopelessness of the prophet burst out. “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:10) You may search this reply for faith in God, but you will not find it. Discouragement is utterly fatal to faith in God.
God did not argue with His child. God proceeded to set up a demonstration of what He could do, but the important part of the demonstration was not what God could do, but whether or not the prophet would be willing to forsake his own path and follow the pathway of God’s choosing. The crucial thing was that when God said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord,” (1 Kings 19:11) Elijah obeyed. We can obey without feelings. We can obey without much more faith than it takes just to do what we know God wants us to do. This was the first step to the reversal of the discouragement.
The still, small Voice came, and with it came recognition and remembrance in the heart of the man of God. Here was something else to look at than that which he had been looking at since he first took the detour of casting away his confidence. And again, relentlessly, came the Voice of God, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13) And again came the outburst of self-pity, but I expect that it did not have exactly the same tone as before; I believe it was weakening. I believe this because of what followed.
Then God laid out a path of obedience and trust. “This is My will for you,” so to speak. Only at the last of these instructions was the rebuke given, “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18) As with all of God’s rebukes, it was profound, and it furnished much food for thought for Elijah, probably to the very end of his life. We would expect Elijah to have taken courage from the hundred prophets hidden in caves, of which Obadiah had spoken, but here we see that there were many times that hundred who had never bowed the knee or kissed the filthy idol. In other words, there was no foundation to the discouragement. There never is in God. Could Elijah have taken courage and never taken the disheartened excursion? Yes. Were there grounds for him to take courage, especially to deal with that deadly dart, “I, even I, am the only one left”? Yes. He could have chosen to ask God to encourage him. He could have done, as David, who “encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” (1 Samuel 30:6)
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”*
Now to trust and obey, it is necessary to cast all of our cares on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7). We dare not retain even one care; they must be given to God, or we will find that they hinder complete trust and obedience. To trust and obey God is the only way to avoid ending up under the juniper tree, and it is the only way to escape the way of discouragement. Trust and obey.