Elijah under the Broom Tree

Retama raetam, NKThe story of Elijah is told in 1 Kings with the specific story of Elijah and the broom tree in 1 Kings Chapter’s 18 and 19.

The Northern Kingdom had eight kings in its first 58 years as a nation.  This story about the great prophet Elijah occurred during the reign (874-853 B.C.) of King Ahab.  Ahab married Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon, who worshiped Baal.  Ahab built a temple to Baal and consecrated priests to serve Baal.

In an encounter between Elijah and King Ahab, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal.  The challenge was to see which god — Baal or God — would answer his prophet(s).  Ahab took the challenge, gathered 450 Baal prophets, and met Elijah on Mount Carmel.  Many Israelites were present to watch the outcome.  Baal’s prophets placed a cut up bull on an altar of wood dedicated to Baal; the prophets called to Baal to ignite the sacrifice.  Despite entreating Baal from morning until evening and slashing themselves, the sacrifice to Baal did not catch on fire.

Elijah repaired God’s altar on Mount Carmel which had fall apart from disuse and neglect.  He arranged wood on the altar, cut a bull in pieces, and placed the pieces on the altar.  Massive amounts of water were poured over the bull and altar.  Elijah prayed naming God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.  He asked God to light the fire so a) the people would know that he did these things at God’s direction and b) to let the people know that the Lord was God.  Immediately, fire consumed Elijah’s sacrifice.  The people fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord – he is God!  The Lord – he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39).  Elijah commanded the people to seize the Baal’s prophets; they were taken to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered.

When King Ahab reported what happened to Queen Jezebel, she sent a messenger to Elijah that she would have him killed by that time tomorrow.  Instead of a day of triumph for Elijah, it became a day of terror.  He fled Samaria and ran over 100 miles to an area south of Beersheba in Judah.  Elijah came to a broom tree, sat down under it, and prayed that he would die.  Elijah was completely disheartened; finally he fell asleep.

While he was sleeping, an angel touched Elijah, and directed him to get up and eat.  Looking around, Elijah saw a cake of bread baked over embers and a jar of water.  Elijah ate and drank, then lay down again.  The angel came back a second time, touched Elijah and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you” (1 King 19:7).  Elijah rose, ate, and drank.  Strengthened by the food, Elijah traveled 40 days and nights until he reached Mount Horab, where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.

In Biblical Israel, the white broom tree was used for kindling in cooking stoves and coals were made from its roots, trunks, and branches (Job 30:4).  Broom embers retain their heat for long periods after they appear to be dead ashes.  An ancient Israelite reading that on awakening Elijah saw bread baked on embers would have assumed the embers retained fire from an earlier traveler and were blown into heat to bake the bread.  Desert travelers have reported forming a layer of broom embers to suit their size. They covered the embers with a 2–4 inch layer of sand or fine soil.  The sand-cover embers provided a warm mattress during the cold desert night.  Perhaps Elijah had such a mattress as he slept under the broom tree.

The Broom Tree

The broom tree that Elijah rested under in the Negev was the Retama raetam, also known as the white broom and the white weeping broom tree).  The broom tree is thought to be indigenous to the Middle East, North Africa, and possibly Sicily.  In Israel, it is widespread in deserts including extreme deserts, shrub steppes, and Mediterranean woodlands.  Although called a tree, it is a shrub with a broad canopy. In Israel, the white broom tree is most beautiful between January and April when it is covered with a myriad of white flowers.  Flowers  emit a honey fragrance. At times seeds remain viable in the soil for several years until the seed coat wears down.  Mass germination can occur after a fire that destroys seed coats.  In Israel rabbits consume pods and have been known to disperse seeds up to 6.2 miles from parent plants.  Seeds can survive soil being mulched or composted.

Symbolism: Renewal

The symbolism of the broom tree is renewal.  With renewal comes a restoration of vigor and a new freshness; what is faded or disintegrated is made  whole. When Elijah arrived at the bloom tree, he was exhausted, depressed, and ready to die.  What was to be a victory for God and Elijah over Baal and his prophets turned into Elijah fleeing for his life from Jezebel and her henchmen.  If anyone needed to be renewed, it was Elijah.  The broom tree provided this renewal for Elijah.  If the shrub was blooming, Elijah would have seen thousands of tiny white blooms and smelled their soothing scent.  Sinking below the tree’s canopy, Elijah fell asleep on a soft bed of broom leaves. Warm embers under the sand may have helped maintain his warmth in the cool desert night.  The broom tree’s embers were used to bake a cake of bread for Elijah; and God provided Elijah water in the desert.

Just as God renewed Elijah using attributes of the broom tree, God’s renews us.  We are made new when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior; however, God knew that after our new birth, we would need to be refreshed and restored to vigor from time-to-time.  For just these times, God had Isaiah write, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. (Isaiah 40:31 2002).  When we hope in the Lord, we have confidence in him.  Having confidence in God can renew us so we can walk, run, and soar without collapsing from the weight of the world’s challenges.

Paul told Christians another way they could be renewed was to stop conforming to the patterns of this world (Roman 12:2).  Patterns of this world include being politically correct and not talking about God and religion, using Sunday morning to play golf or grocery shop without crowds rather than attending worship service, or believing that marriage is not a sacrament from God and divorce is a viable alternative to working through tough times.  In The Message, Peterson (2003, p. 343) puts renewal this way, “don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking”  instead fix your eyes on God and he will change you from the inside out.

Reflection:  God, I want so badly to be renewed, to be changed from the inside out.  I want to be different from this culture I live in.  Why should I feel comfortable in this society when my true home is heaven?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright April 15, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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30 responses to “Elijah under the Broom Tree

  1. Thanks for this! I was just curious about what the broom tree looked like when I stumbled upon this article, and it has given me much more to think about when it comes to this plant than just it’s looks!

  2. Shalom Carolyn, i love your heart and interest in Biblical plants. Do you live in Israel? Shana Tova – Jase Wilson

  3. Hi, I just want to remind you that the mention of the broom tree in Job 30:4 does NOT refer to its branches and roots being used as firewood. Rather, it is saying that the roots (along with other desert plants) are eaten by (social?) outcasts that have escaped to the desert. The mention is “They pull up salt plants in the desert and eat the roots from the broom tree”, from the Easy-to-Read Version (ERV). Hope this helps.

    • In Job 30:4, the plant was not a broom tree but the Atriplex halimus according to most Israeli botanists. The broom tree was the tree Elijah rested under. Blessings.

  4. David Gillespie

    I was so blessed and encouraged by your insights into the broom tree.
    I can safely say that after the day I’ve had I feel renewed by your words 🙂
    Be Blessed

    • David, it sounds like you may have had an Elijah day; one that should have been a victory but turned into anything but. I’ve had those days and when I do, I remember that God was with Elijah during them.

  5. we are studying Elijah in Bible School and wanted to decorate as close to possible the “broom tree”. thanks

  6. Elijah named God before asking him to light the fire. Why don’t you use Gods name, everyone knows his name is Jehovah, yet no one says it. Acts 15:4 talks about God choosing a people for his name. Who are the only ones who sanctify his name and use it to preach the whole world over. Matthew 24:14

  7. Thank you for more details and insight it will greatly help me with my sermon tomorrow Pastor Mitchell Vann Sr

  8. pastor Lawrence

    That’s a wonderful insight from your post,I ve really been put through on the symbolism of broom tree.the broom tree in East Africa is different from that which you talked about.

  9. Today’s gospel was this same passage about Elijah. This is describing me. My mom passed away last year suddenly and I am so broken. I try not to show it anymore but my heart is truly broken. Her death caused me to question my faith. My mind knows God/Jesus exists but my heart is arguing that He doesn’t because of the way she died. I never feel her around me as many say they do after a loved one dies. I feel empty and that she’s just gone. I decided that I would take a deeper look into my religion and see if I couldn’t get some hope back. It’s taking a long time and with the help of my mom’s best friend I’m trying really hard to understand and trust God and not give up. I feel like I’m like Elijah. God keeps telling me to get up and eat. Keep going. I had my doubts after my mom’s death if God even existed. But as I look around my world I ask myself “Can all these people be wrong and I am right? Or are all of these people right and I’m wrong?” I believe I’m wrong.

    • Hello, I hope you are feeling better now.
      You know, Elijah was attacked (spirit) and
      suffered from that – though he could have over-
      come it – but that was not easy back then, or
      now, but there are more resources now.
      If your mom is with The Lord – isn’t that
      what really counts? Remember Samuel told
      Saul “tomorrow you and your sons will be with
      me” (even Saul – after all the bad he did)
      So just carry on – knowing your mom and the
      Lord would want you to do good. Think of a
      scripture to comfort you whenever you feel down.

  10. Loved reading this……thank you. The broom tree was mentioned in An Introduction to Solitude and Silence…….a book I am reading. I was so curious to find out more about the tree.

    If I can’t find a broom tree here, I might just have to get an old fashioned broom……for display….Lol…….to remind me God renews continually……..

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