Lesson 3 – God is with Us in Our Discouragement
Discouragement and Encouragement in the face of History
The author speaks of discouragement as losing heart. She also lists a number of reasons for people to lose heart, especially when closing a congregation or facing a great task such as crossing the Jordan or rebuilding the Temple. Yet God has a way of encouraging the people through the lens of history; through what God has already done. In that sense, God prepares people for their impossible tasks by reminding them of what God has already done.
Joshua and the Crossing
Joshua was given the daunting task of leading the people from the east side of the Jordan (what is today the nation of Jordan) to the west side, which was already occupied by a wide variety of people, namely groups such as the Canaanites, Amorites and Jebusites. Many of these people dwelt in small, but fortified cities and had bronze weapons (which the Israelites probably did not possess). The thought of this kind of invasion had been so intimidating that 40 years before, the people refused to go. They were afraid of the “giants” in the land. However much had changed with the people of Israel since then. Here are some of things that could encourage them:
Haggai and the Temple
The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians occurred in 582/581 BCE. Most of the cities leaders that were not killed or executed were sent into exile in Babylon. About 70% of the people in the countryside and some from Jerusalem were left. They were at the mercy of their neighbors and according to the returning exiles, had intermarried within the nations around them and had begun to worship some of their Gods. The return of exiles began around 539 BCE. The returning exiles were disheartened by the conditions they found; poverty, intermarriage and syncretic worship. Rather than rebuilding the Temple, they rebuilt their own homes. Haggai is not happy about this and calls upon them to work on God’s house. The people and their leaders respond to this call and the Temple, at least a Temple, is rebuilt. Evidently the Temple is a shadow of its former self. This again is disheartening. But even then, there are reasons for courage:
The gift of the past is that it can encourage us in the present. As people of God we don’t come to the present with a blank slate, but we have the entire history of God’s mighty acts to give us courage. These stories and others were the source of hope for the early church as it faced persecution. These can also be stories of hope for us as well.