“The soul of the people became very discouraged on the way.”
There are many people who are discouraged. Everything seems to go wrong. There are either unfortunate circumstances that cause calamities in life, or psychological setbacks, or both, and there seems to be no way out. So the soul becomes very discouraged. There is nothing as debilitating as discouragement, which easily leads to failure. The secret of failure or success often depends more on one’s inner attitude than on the outward circumstances.
Nowhere can we see this clearer than in spiritual things. Throughout the Bible, we are told that faith is the strength of the soul. True faith and discouragement cannot co-exist. Discouragement is the enemy of faith. Therefore, if discouragement gains the upper hand, the reverse side of that principle will also apply: It will happen to us – not according to our faith – but according to our lack of faith.
Just like optimism causes us to believe that things will turn out well, so discouragement gives us a negative picture. Optimism opens the door for good outcomes, and discouragement opens the way for failure.
Discouragement is from the evil one, not from God. The teaching of Jesus is one of faith, joy, courage, and hope that does not disappoint. Our human inclination tells us: “Fear because the world is full of temptation and sin.” But Jesus says: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In a world which Jesus has overcome, discouragement should not be allowed to get the upper hand.
No doubt there are many things that can cause discouragement. Because we are short-sighted, we think we have reason to be discouraged. The first and main cause lies in our ineptitude, which, in our minds, must strike us down.
Moses is a good example of this. The Lord called him and appointed him to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. Yet Moses looked at his deficiencies and weaknesses and lost courage. He tried to make excuses. He said to God: “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). He also says: “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice” (Exodus 4:1).
We might think that Moses had good reason to be discouraged, similar to how we hesitate from the tasks the Lord calls us to, because we lack the abilities we think we need. But look at the answer God gave Moses and gives you as well. He did not try to convince Moses. He merely held up to Moses the fact that He Himself, who created man’s mouth, would enable him to speak. The Lord spoke to him: “Who has made man’s mouth?. . . Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Exodus 4:11-12).
When the Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah and he was called to be a prophet, he felt he was too young and not able to handle so great a task. He said: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth” (Jeremiah 1:6). God answered him: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:7-8).
The story of Gideon is another example. The Lord called Gideon to deliver His people from the Midianites. He said: “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” (Judges 6:14) That should have been enough for Gideon, but he came from an impoverished background. His family did not come from the elite, and he felt he was not skilled enough to undertake such a great task. Looking at himself and his weakness, it was only natural that he was discouraged and asked: “How can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15). But what was God’s answer? “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16).
God wants to encourage us as well. “I am your Creator, your Savior, and your God. I will be with you. No enemy shall harm you. You will be safe, because I, Myself, will be your refuge and security.” Should such a promise not be good enough for us? If we let the Lord take care of our battles, then our inability becomes an advantage and not a detriment. We can only be strong in the Lord when we recognize how weak we are.
The example of the children of Israel serves us as a warning. The Lord had led them out of Egypt and brought them to the border of the Promised Land. Moses told the people: “Look, the LORD your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the LORD God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 1:21). Yet the circumstances seemed so discouraging, and the Israelites felt so helpless, that they could not believe that God would keep His promise.
In vain, Moses tried to remind them that God would fight for them. He reminded them of how God had helped them in the past, and he asked them if they did not remember “how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place” (Deuteronomy 1:31). Despite this, they remained too discouraged to believe him. The consequence was that not one of that “wicked generation” was allowed to see the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb were the exceptions because they believed God could and would give them success.
This story clearly teaches us the consequence of discouragement and the reward of steadfast faith. Do not forsake the rich blessings that follow trust in God and faith-filled courage!