By Steve Warman
Men’s best successes come after their disappointments.
– Henry Ward Beecher
Somewhere beyond Beersheba, bunkered beneath the branches of a broom-like bush called a juniper tree, we find the prophet Elijah curled up and asking God to let him die.
As we look at this pitiful scene, the first thought that comes to mind is, “How could a man of God end up in a place like this? How can a prophet of this stature stoop so low as to want to end his life when God is not yet finished with him?”
To answer the question we only have to take a quick trip back in time.
Looking into the recent past of Elijah we see him as a man who had only known the thrill of living in victory and had experienced all the “highs” of human emotions. He had enjoyed the success of being a prophet who could speak boldly the Word of God and then watch as God performed what He promised.
Elijah had seen the hand of the Almighty at work and had been the benefactor of His blessing. It is obvious this prophet had the satisfaction of tremendous success.
Fed By Ravens
Think about his story. Elijah appeared on the scene almost out of nowhere. Then he opened his mouth at God’s command and declared, “It is not going to rain until I say so.”
And for approximately three years he did not say so—and no rain fell! (1 Kings 17:1).
While the land suffered through a terrible drought. Elijah was kept by the miraculous power of God. You see, he had gone to the brook called Cherith which provided for his thirst. It was there the Almighty sent the ravens with meat and bread every morning and night.
There he is, living it up! Drinking from the babbling brook and having meals on wings—room service every day!
But then, the brook dried up, as they are apt to do in times of devastating drought. It was of little concern for Elijah, however, because he had just received his next set of life sustaining instructions” “Arise, get thee to Zarephath” (v.9).
“One Last Meal”
At the gates of the city, Elijah meets a widow who was gathering sticks and, with a boldness that is almost unimaginable, calls out to her, “Go get me some water. And while you are at it, I’ll take some bread too.”
The woman responds to this request with an explanation that would have made anyone else stop in their tracks—and certainly the average person would have not asked again.
The widow replied, “Sir, I do not even have a cake. All I possess is a meager portion of meal in the bottom of my barrel and a little oil in my jar. I am just out here picking up these pieces of wood so I can make one last meal for me and my boy to eat before we starve to death.”
Elijah acted as if he had not even heard her words. The prophet said, “Make a cake for me and then make one for yourself and your son, because if you will scrape the bottom of the barrel and prepare a meal, you will never see the bottom of that barrel again!”
What faith! What absolute confidence!
Fire from Heaven
Follow Elijah to a day, some three years later, on Mount Carmel.
See the faith of this man of God as he challenges 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah to call on their gods to answer by fire (1 Kings 18:19-24).
Look at him mock these hapless men as they spend most of the day yelling, dancing, crying out, and even cutting themselves with knives. Witness the air of assurance as Elijah strolls up to the altar which has been water-soaked, and without screaming, jumping up and down, weeping or drawing blood, he prayed and God sent the fire which consumed the sacrifice.
What an unbelievable miracle!
See the boldness Elijah possessed when he told Ahab it is going to rain when all he had seen was one small cloud the size of a man’s hand way off in the horizon.
Watch him run with a burst of energy and speed that is uncommon to any natural man as he out-runs the chariots of Ahab to Jezreel (vv.45-46).
Was God Finished?
Then Elijah receives news that brings his world crashing down around him. Jezebel has sent a message which lets him know unequivocally she intends to kill him. And in that moment, when he receives this threatening word, Elijah loses his composure and takes off running like a scared rabbit.
It seems that after all he had been through; this man of God should have known Jezebel could not take his life—and the Lord was not finished with him. If he had only taken a moment to pause and reflect, he would have realized that everything was going to be alright. But he didn’t. As we say today, he “freaked out,” lost his perspective and fled.
Running From Himself
With every footstep toward the wilderness, Elijah is moving farther and farther away from the prophet he had been.
Every time his sandals pounded the cobblestones or the desert sand, he was distancing himself from the person who could proclaim the Word of the Lord with boldness, believing
God to back him up:
– He fled from the man of faith who drank from the brook at Cherith and ate what the ravens brought.
– He ran from the man, who was so confident in God as to tell the widow of Zarephath,
“Give me water,” when it was being measured out by the fraction of an inch. And “Make me a cake,” when she did not even have enough for herself. But he knew God would take care of her.
– He ran from the prophet who could, in one moment of “fire calling” on Mount Carmel, destroy the lives of the prophets of Baal as well as the credibility of their religion.
– He ran from the man who could see rain in his future.
– He ran from his faith, from his confidence and from his boldness.
Elijah wasn’t really fleeing from Jezebel’s threat, he was running from himself!
A Miserable Place
Elijah fled past Beersheba, past the well of water, all the way to the wilderness—and on his arrival, found a juniper tree to lie under and await his death.
According to historians, juniper trees were abundant in this territory. So when Elijah was frightened, trying to find a place to end it all, there were plenty of choices. That’s just the way the devil plans things. When we lose hope and are tempted to give up, he always makes sure there are many places available for us to surrender—even if they are miserable.
The juniper tree was not really much of a tree at all; it was more like a bush—and a scrawny one at that! These trees are described as broom-like with twiggy, nearly leafless, branches, which offer very little protection from the sun and oppressive heat. However, I think most people would agree that when we are fragile and want to give up, human nature causes us to look for the most miserable location possible.
It really is true: “misery loves company.” I know that when I am down in the dumps I want people to commiserate with me!
Elijah found such a wretched place to end his life.
“Touched by an Angel”
It’s hard to fathom, but there he was, God’s man of faith and power, laying down, defeated.
Yet the Almighty would not let Elijah die. He sent an angel to touch him.
A few years ago, Hollywood provided us with the hit television series, “Touched by an Angel,” but this was something Elijah personally experienced thousands of years before.
It is thrilling to know that even during the prophet’s fear and frustration, the Lord still cared enough to send an angel to provide heavenly sustenance for him.
You see Elijah had said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; fort am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).
However, God had a different agenda and declared, “It’s not enough.” Remember, it’s never over until the never over until the Almighty says so!
The Creator Understands You
Scripture tells us, “He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). The Hebrew word for frame is “yetser,” which means mind or imagination. So this is telling us God knows our thoughts and discerns our imagination.
I’m so glad I have a God. who understands all of me. He realizes there are times my mind may plays tricks and cause me to think in ways I shouldn’t. And the Lord sees that sometimes my imagination can run wild and conjure up all sorts of weird thoughts which could result in my defeat instead of the victory He has intended.
So, even when I run or attempt to quit, He doesn’t forget or give up on me. The Creator made me—and remembers I came from dust. He understands just how weak I am, so instead of letting me die, He graciously touches my life one more time.
More than “Comfort Food”
Elijah turned his head to see the angel who told him, “Arise and eat” (I Kings 19:5).
When the prophet looked up there was a jar of water by his head and a cake baking on the coals. I had read this scripture many times and thought, “Well, isn’t that wonderful. God knew Elijah was discouraged so He made him a cake”—comfort food.
I know from personal experience how a slice of homemade cake always makes me feel better! Psychologists tell us we often eat based on our emotions with some people tending to over-eat when they are upset or under a great deal of stress, while others eat when they are happy.
Me? Whether I am in a good mood or sad, carefree or stressed—it doesn’t matter. I eat!
The Root of your Despair
Then I wondered, “If a cake was baking on the coals, where did the coals come from?”
I know God can do anything and He certainly could create coals in the wilderness. Nevertheless, in my study of these scriptures I learned that the roots of the juniper tree were used in the making of charcoal.
Amazing! The cake which gave Elijah strength to walk forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb was baked on the coals provided from the root of the juniper tree.
Not only was Elijah watched over and protected in his lowest moment, he was also given strength for the days ahead.
This is good news! Your Heavenly Father is able to take the very root of your despair—the source of your problem—and give you exactly what you need.
If you have lost all hope and thought, “There’s no reason to continue on,” realize that God has greater days ahead for you.
Below Rock Bottom
At the very spot which represents the deepest valley in your life He will provide the strength you need for a glorious future.
Moses declared, “The Eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
The Hebrew word for underneath is “tachath,” which means bottom. Moses is saying that God is not only residing above to reward those who are on top of the world, but He is also underneath, to catch those who have hit their lowest point.
You’ve probably heard someone say, “When you are at rock bottom, look up and you will see the hand of the Lord extended to you.”
Let me change that slightly: “When you reach the bottom, look down, because underneath you are God’s everlasting arms waiting to catch you.”
Yes, you may fall but God is there to make sure you don’t descend too far. Your help is not only over you, He is under you!
Something Good in the Oven!
I don’t pretend to know how everything operates in God’s celestial city, but if heaven has a kitchen I can just imagine the sounds and aromas emerging from that room. Pots and pans clanging together, cabinet doors opening and shutting—eggshells on the counter, flower and sugar spilled over into the sink.
And I smell something mouth-watering, cooking in the oven. Go ahead and look. You will find heaven has a cake with your name on it—one God has prepared just for you!
The article “There’s a Cake Baking for You” written by Steve Warman was excerpted from “The Second Try: Your Best is Yet to Come”, 2006.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”