Pastor Jim Jackson, Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church.
The Juniper or Broom tree is one that grows in the deserts of the ancient Bible lands.
The secret of its existence in the wilderness is its deep roots, reaching down to a source of life-giving moisture.
The tree is spoken of in several Old Testament passages—Job, Psalms, Genesis, and I Kings.
As noted, it is also called a broom tree, probably because it has been used in making brooms.
The I Kings passage, I Kings 19:4, is the one I have in mind today. Elijah the prophet had won a tremendous battle over the prophets of Baal. King Ahab and his wife Jezebel were anything but happy, thus she swore to take away Elijah’s life. Interestingly the prophet who had shown such courage in facing the prophets of Baal, suddenly was in a panic. He ran a day’s journey into the wilderness and found refuge under a juniper tree. Catching his breath, he offered this despairing prayer to God: “O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers.”
So it is that the Juniper tree has come to be a symbol of despair, hopelessness. I hardly need to mention them, but many negatives the world over have fallen over our lives in recent years. Many people are in despair, seeking shade, refuge, wherever it may be found. Abuse of various substances and debauchery have become temporary cover for too many. Some go so far as to choose suicide, a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The bridge connecting Brunswick and Jekyll Island has become a favored choice for some who choose to end it all.
Not far from our family’s mountain retreat in North Carolina, I witnessed a man building a small house near the Toe River. It had the dimensions of a typical pre-made storage shed. But instead it was actually a small house with a front porch occupied by two rocking chairs. But there were no windows. Perpetual darkness embraced its inside.
I inquired of the builder: “What is this?” He replied, “It’s a pout house.” Say what? Yea, it’s something like a modern Juniper tree. A place of apparent hopelessness, where one turns inward, possibly despairing of life as it appears to be.
Strange isn’t it? Right in front of that pout house flows the beautiful, clear, life-giving Toe River, Likewise under every living Juniper tree in the wilderness, there is life-giving water. The Apostle Paul witnessed to the Athenians about our God: “In him we live and move, and have our being.”
God, through an angel, met Elijah at the Juniper tree. and offered him an alternative, providing him with both nourishment and a mission.
In the face of all the modern day threats, there are Juniper trees and pout houses, meant for only temporary residence. Vent those negative feelings, feel sorry for yourself if you must, but for only a little while. Beautiful rivers flow all around us, there’s water in the desert, and our loving God is inescapable, providing nurture and purpose for living.