It is no surprise that the people of the Bible viewed deserts as a place where death was always near. There were two tourists who went on a desert hike right from their hotel. They brought water with them, but they turned around too late. They died literally less than a mile from their hotel; a common situation that is called, “out walking your water.”
The writers of the Psalms used rocks as metaphors for life. No matter what path you take, you will run into rocks, or the bad things in life. You will encounter small rocks: there is someone you don’t get along with at work, or your carefully laid out plans have to change. You will also run into huge rocks: cancer, hospitals, and death. These are the rocks you encounter and you cry out that you can’t go another step.
There is a tree that grows in the desert, which resembles more of a bush. It is called a broom tree and it literally resembles the bristles of an overgrown, upside-down broom. When Abraham sent out Hagar and Ishmael into the desert, they ran out of water. So Hagar laid Ishmael under a broom tree and walked to another one, far enough way that she wouldn’t be able to hear him die; there she wept and prayed to God (Genesis 21). Likewise, the discouraged Elijah sits under a broom tree and prays, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life” (1 Kings 19).
In the shade of the broom tree, God heard their cries and sent replenishment. Hagar looked up and there was a well, she filled her water jug and gave it to Ishmael. Elijah looked up and there was bread baking on a hot stone with a jar of water.
Psalm 121 doesn’t promise that the rocks from our path in life will be cleared. What God does promise is that He will be there and He will not let our foot be moved. When life hits you and you feel like you cannot go one more step, hold out your right hand. God is as far as your right hand away from you, offering you just enough shade to give you the energy to take one more step.
Ever-present God, when I stumble, when I fall, when I reach my hand out, grab it. Help me into your shade, where I can find comfort and relief. Amen.