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Lessons for Today From the Old Testament: Dealing With Despair

Johan has a Diploma from the SA Bible College, a BA and B.Ed. from the University of SA and a MA from Abilene Christian University in Texas


Many are facing a time of deep despair at present. Is there help?

Life can be somewhat like a rollercoaster ride with its ups and downs. For some people however, life seems like a continuous joy ride and to others an ongoing nightmare. As the Old Testament describes the history of Israel the nation and of individuals, it is clear that for everyone there are certainly ups and downs.

Looking out into the world today there seem to be very many people really battling with life, even to the level of despair. The trouble is however, that even in the most blessed life problems are often just a heartbeat away. The death of a loved one, the loss of income, the loss of house and possessions, serious illness, often lurks just around the corner. The daily news shows us this truth and then suddenly it also becomes our reality.

Looking at the lives of some of the individuals in the Old Testament there seems to be a common factor which is that bad things come to just about everyone. Joseph lived a happy life until his brothers sold him into slavery. Saul became king and after a while fell on his own sword after having been wounded in battle. Hannah was heartbroken because she could not produce a son for her husband. David followed Saul as king and seemed to have it all until he fell to temptation and then suffered the terrible agony of losing his son. Jeremiah preached the message and ended up in a muddy pit. Job enjoyed the good life until Satan destroyed everything he had.

There can be no doubt that life does not seem fair. This theme that flows through the Old Testament shows that clearly. So what then can individuals do to protect themselves from disaster and despair? Often is even seems to be that people who reject God have a better life than those that follow His way. The writer of Ps 73, Asaph, certainly believed that: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet almost slipped; I nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong” (Psalm 73:1-3 – NIV translation, used with permission).

Here are the feelings of a man close to despair as he looks into the world and sees everything that is happening there. As poverty and hunger plague a huge majority of the world population, many must feel that way. But it is not only the poor who battle with despair. David, in Psalm 86:1, calls out to God: “Hear, O Lord, and answer me for I am poor and needy.” When his son was dying after his sin with Bathsheba, he pleaded with God for the life of his child and he lay in his room refusing to eat for seven days (2 Samuel 12:16). Here is someone who felt grief and despair yet that same person is to write the beautiful Psalm 23 that says: “The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want.” Go with Job onto the rubbish dump and scratch the sores on your body with a piece of broken pottery and you will experience what despair is all about.

So what then is the answer when despair comes knocking at our door as it almost certainly will?

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Firstly: It is all a matter of trusting in God even in times that are really difficult. It is easy to have faith when the going is good but sometimes it is that faith that takes one also through the difficult times. This faith has to be nurtured and developed in good times so that when life’s disasters arrive, a person is ready to respond in faith.

Secondly: Asaph finds the answer to his questions and doubts when he finds the answer in a visit to the house of the Lord (Psalm 73:17). He continues in verses 21-24: “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant: I was a brute before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.”

David, in Psalm 34:7, writes: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him”. In verse 11 he continues: “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace”.

Job, in his life that was a disaster that lead to complete despair, eventually found the answer and was restored to his previously blessed life. In the closing chapter Job exclaims: “My ears have heard you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).

Thirdly: God does not leave us to fight life’s battles alone. The Holy Spirit, called the comforter, is always available to help us. John records the words of Jesus when he says: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.... the spirit of truth (John 14:16, 16).

Conclusion: One thing is certain; life will throw many a curve ball at every individual. Often it will seem unfair and that is what living in Adam’s world is all about. But there is a better life for those who trust God and keep close to him, even in the difficult times. In the book of Hebrews, Chapter 11, the writer describes the lives of God’s heroes and argues for faith as the answer. But God’s promises are not only for tomorrow but also for today. Paul describes it as a “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7). David finds in his life a God who will lead him to still waters, who restores his soul. Here even the deepest despair can find healing.

References: Scriptures taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of the International Bible Society.

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