Juniper Tree Junkets

By Paul R. VanGorder

King Ahab raced the 18 miles to the palace in Jezreel to the waiting Jezebel. His wife had received no word from Mount Carmel all day. Perhaps the first question she asked was, “Where are my priests?” It was met by Ahab’s laconic reply, “Dead!” As he related to her the entire story, Ahab saw Jezebel’s rage mount until she dispatched a letter to Elijah promising his immediate death. She sought to drive the prophet out of the country because she was really afraid of him. If ever he was needed at the scene of action, it was then. But instead, Elijah fled.

After the striking triumph on Carmel’s heights, climaxed by the slaughter of the prophets of Baal, Elijah headed for the “low country.” What a lesson to us as Christian workers! How often great victories are followed by failure; mountaintop experiences by juniper tree junkets. Little did Elijah suspect as he stood triumphant on Mount Carmel that the next day he would be running into the desert, so exhausted by debilitating fear that he would beg God to let him die.

Some servant of the Lord may be reading these pages this very day who is a refugee from a shattering situation. The desert of discouragement and disillusionment is all around you, and you’re about to sing the juniper tree blues. It might be helpful to look at what contributed to Elijah’s defection and despair.

Elijah was overtaxed physically. For days, possibly weeks, he had been hounded by the hatred of the king’s family. And surely the great spiritual and emo­tional strain of the confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Carmel had taken its toll. Many of us have found that nothing is more taxing than spiritual warfare. And often the physical and spiritual are closely interwoven. F. B. Meyer said, “Ofttimes we send for a spiritual advisor when we should send for the family physician.” Elijah succumbed to the intolerable strain, and sat depressed under the juniper tree.

He felt a great sense of loneliness. Oh, indeed, Elijah had entertained an exaggerated idea of his own importance when he said, “I alone am left ... “ (1 Kings 19:10). That, coupled with an undue occupation with his service and the lack of the results he had anticipated, increased his feelings of loneliness. A soldier who fights valiantly with comrades in the battle may not take the pressure of guard duty at night alone. Elijah needed the touch of a hand of someone who understood.

The prophet looked at his circumstances instead of looking to God. First Kings 19:3 records, “And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life.” When he received the pronouncement from Jezebel that she was going to kill him, Elijah fled. The prophet looked around instead of looking up. Sound familiar? Describe your present circumstances? Peter started walking by faith on the waters, but when he diverted his attention to the waves and took his eyes off Christ, he sank. Was Christ not there? Oh yes, but circumstances had displaced the Savior in Peter’s gaze.

Just suppose God had granted Elijah’s request to die. He never would have heard the still, small voice. He never would have founded the school of the prophets nor commissioned Elisha. He never would have gone up into heaven in a whirlwind. And he probably would have missed the meeting on the Mount of Transfiguration. What mercy God shows in not answering all of our prayers and not granting our wishes in the hour of despondency! Enough of the juniper tree, my friend. “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10,11).

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