3And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah. 4And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. -Numbers 21:3, 4
The other day I was at my son’s house and I saw his cat drinking from an old flowerpot, which was filled with rainwater. The water looked rancid and distasteful. I suggested he provide his poor old cat with some fresh water instead. I hope that he did. As I thought about this I considered how being discouraged is like drinking from a foul and polluted water source. We get nothing out of being discouraged except feeling bad, overwhelmed, and tired in spirit. This has never been, nor is it God’s plan for us. Yet, how many of us suffer from discouragement? All of us do at some point. If we do not take steps to overcome, we will find ourselves spiritually defeated rather than walking in spiritual victory.
Numbers 21 is a powerful picture of what happens when discouragement takes over. The people of Israel were getting close to the Promised Land, and God allowed them a great victory. They fought a battle against overwhelming odds and won. This was cause for celebration! “Hey, we won a victory! Let us be thankful and attune our hearts to God and walk forward in faith.” Instead of taking this approach, they became discouraged. The Scripture says as they journeyed the soul of the people became discouraged. Their discouragement became so widespread you could hardly find an Israelite in the camp who wasn’t down and out, overwhelmed, and ready to give up. This was right on the heels of a great victory. Discouragement such as this can happen to believers today and the Word shows us their experience as a warning to us.
Like Israel, it is during our moment of triumph we are most likely to let our guard down. When the ministries of the church are going well, the people are being blessed, and folks are coming together in fellowship, then beware, for the devil is about to strike. He hates it when the church comes together in unity and he will use every tool at his disposal to try to drive us apart. If the devil can get folks discouraged, then he is on his way to bringing us down. We must be on our guard at all times especially when the church is being blessed and the people are walking in faith and victory. The devil hates that. Back to the Israelites. They gave into discouragement right after a great victory. Why was this? Here are a few possibilities:
They were physically exhausted. They were journeying and traveling and it looked like their journey would never end. Have you ever felt this way? Followers of Christ have long confused activity with spiriutuality. Having our schedules full can be good, yet we can easily become overwhelmed. Be careful about trying to do too much. I have had to learn this the hard way and I still learning. Recently I was studying Exodus 18 where Moses received godly council from his father-in-law. The words of Jethro must have stung when he said to Moses, “What you are doing is not good…you cannot handle it alone.” Pastors have to learn these lessons as well as all followers of Christ. We cannot carry all the burdens alone. This is why we have the Holy Spirit and it is why we have the church, the Body of Christ.
They were emotionally drained. Again, you can probably relate. Life and all of its problems take a terrible emotional toll on us. We need the power of the Holy Spirit each day to keep us going, and we need the encouragement of others to help us as well. You know you are discouraged when there is a spiritual heaviness which seems to be upon you. It goes beyond just being fatigued. This describes the Israelites in this passage. What was needed was a fresh wind of God’s Spirit. The Lord is always willing to provide encouragement when we seek Him.
They allowed negativity to guide their thoughts and their words. If we allow discouragement to set in we are liable to lose control of our words. When this happens what we say changes from the positive to the negative. The Word of God challenges us to speak words of encouragement to each other, yet we all sometimes fall short of this. God’s people were given to discouragement and they began to give into a negative and complaining spirit.
The Bible says the people paid a terrible price for allowing discouragement to rule them. In verse 5 they complained: “Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.” We are really starting to hate this manna, Moses. We need something better to eat. How about poisonous snakes? They went through a painful process of coming back to God, and in their redemption we see a picture of what the Lord Jesus would one day provide for all people.