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1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15

1 Kings 19 is likely a familiar Old Testament passage if you’ve been preaching for any length of time. There is a great contrast between the Elijah in chapter 18 and 19. In one instance the prophet Elijah is directly confronting all the prophets of Baal and calling down fire from heaven, and the next thing we see is Elijah fleeing for his life and asking to die. At the outset it may seem odd or irregular. However I think the whole narrative is quite natural to the human experience. Each one of our stories are made up of highs and lows; top of our game all the way to burn out. In chapter 19 Elijah is spent. He has given everything he had to give and he has nothing left. Yet as we will continue to see, just as it wasn’t through his efforts or power that confronted the prophets of Baal, but through the LORD, Elijah again will find his sustenance and shelter in God. This is something we all should understand though, being at the end of our ropes, done, toast, nothing left to offer. Everyone has been at this point at one time or another. In our time, there are more people experiencing anxiety and depression than ever previously recorded. What might be hopeful in this text for such a person?

Elijah here in this text seems to be ultimately depressed. This broom tree moment serves as a beautiful image of collapse. (Something many of us have done on a Sunday afternoon maybe after calling down fire from heaven!) Some broom trees were known to get large enough to provide shelter and the text insinuates it must have been larger and isolated. Broom trees latch even onto rocks and the roots run deep and become the perfect thing for making embers and coal. Travelers would often stop at a tree like this for shelter, cooking, and heat during the cold nights. The broom tree coals would last for hours and travelers could often just rekindle the embers that were left by the last person, often spreading them out and covering with a blankets of sand for a warm place to rest at night. This broom tree was truly a place of refuge for the burnt out Elijah.

Another interesting point is this angelic food source. One wonders here, was it a passerby who saw the prophet and left some bread on the embers and some water? Was it a divine encounter? Could it have been both? Through the broom tree and the bread and water we are reassured that God continually chooses His creation to aid in the miraculous process of healing. Who hasn’t at some point been brought back from the brink of collapse by extensive cycles of sleeping, eating, and sleeping again!? The prophet of God gains enough strength to make a 40 day journey to his next divine encounter on the sacred Mt. Horeb.

Here is that familiar moment of hearing God not in the chaos and noise that surrounds but in the sound of shear silence. I find an interesting parallel here with how popular meditation has now become in the west. Our hearts cry out for a refuge of sheer silence. It’s coincidental that it is in the silence we often fear, especially in our day and age of screens and technological noise, that we are finally about to hear the word of the Lord. As we preach to a people who increasingly experience anxiety and depression this narrative speaks of a God who is with us, rescues us, gives us time for a healing journey, and places us on a new coarse. Often it feels as if we are left for dead in the battles this life puts forth. We go by stages, from broom tree to silence on the mountain, through bouts of doubt and anxiousness, and find still that God has never left us. In fact, in the end, it turns out we aren’t the last prophet after all.