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Juniper in the Desert

July 31, 2011

17 “The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst;
I, the LORD, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.
“I will open rivers on the bare heights and springs in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water.
“I will put the cedar in the wilderness, the acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree;
I will place the juniper in the desert together with the box tree and the cypress,
that they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well,
that the hand of the LORD has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Isaiah 40:17-20

Even though the literal junipers in the deserts that this passage references would have grown half a world away, far lower in elevation, many centuries removed in time, and were a different species, reading these verses remind me of my visits to the high country of Wyoming. It is a place of juniper in the dessert. The world seems to have more sky there, to be a little closer to heaven. The junipers are tough, drought-tolerant plants with lovely caesious berries.

[Caesious is an ashy blue color; in botany it can mean “having a waxy bluish-grey coating” such as is sometimes seen on fruits like blueberries and plums. Sometimes the botanical term is spelled without the a, which is a pity because there are not that many words that use all the vowels in order.]

But getting back on topic, the juniper has been associated with protection. I Kings 19:4, 5 reveals that Elijah sought rest by hiding under a juniper bush when Queen Jezebel was after him. It was there that an angel awoke him and told him to arise and eat. After two meals of angel cakes and another short nap, he “went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights.”

The Juniper is an evergreen, and the word’s etymology is in the Latin iuniperis, literally “youth-renewing” from iuuenis (young), and parere (to produce). (Ernest Parkin, 2003)

Some translations call this plant a broom tree. The broom tree is a specific species classified within the juniper genus. These produce white flowers during the late winter rainy season that are said to have a sweet honey-like fragrance. The juniper bushes I am familiar with smell like… juniper. Okay, that may not be too helpful. The scent is somewhat like cedar but a bit sharper and definitely not like a closet!

Both the North American and the Mid-Eastern juniper varieties can survive and carry on vital life processes such as photosynthesis in drought and near drought conditions. The Lord placed the juniper in the desert.

juniper & berries photos — wikimedia
broom tree — Jackie Chambers; Ramon Crater, Negev Desert, Israel

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