Zechariah on Having Faith When the Future Looks Bleak (Part 1 of 2)
By Nathan Jones
There are many stories of stalwart, faithful people who risk their lives making perilous treks to a new land for the purpose of building a better life. One such story began in the early 1600s AD, when a highly devout congregation of Christians decided they must separate from the Church of England.
Just as the Jews feared being corrupted by Babylon, so too did this congregation fear their children would also become corrupted by bad theology. Their pious decision to separate from the State Church came at a terrible price, for by 1618 AD King James of England exiled them from his realm. These now homeless “Separatists” or “Puritans,” as they were mockingly called, where hounded and bullied in every new European country they tried to settle. For years the Puritans remained strangers in strange lands, ever looking for a place to call home.
When all options seemed to have run out, news of a fresh and untamed world called America beckoned from across the Atlantic Ocean, and with it the hope of a new life. The Puritans prayed earnestly to God for direction, and in response they believed He had provided His answer. The Puritans were now set on becoming pilgrims to a brave New World. Little did they realize it would be a trip to hell through high water.
The hardships associated with venturing on a journey so few had ever made before immediately descended upon them. The Puritans turned Pilgrims gave up every scrap of money they owned to a financier named Thomas Weston who indentured them in exchange for passage expenses across the Atlantic. Their leader, William Bradford, secured two boats, but before they even set out the leaky Speedwell had to be left behind. Some 102 Pilgrims now had to “cram into a space equal to a volleyball court” on a little ship called the Mayflower.1
The never-ending Atlantic storms battered the little boat, even cracking the huge cross-beam that supported the main mast. For safety, the captain ordered the travelers to stay penned up below deck for the duration of their voyage. Down in the belly of the ship, the Pilgrims suffered from a lack of light and fresh air, gagging at the ever-present stench of the bilge. For 66 days the Mayflower battled headwinds that dragged the voyage out a whole month longer than it should have lasted. The food stores of dried goods were running dangerously low, and the lack of vitamins caused quite a number to come down with scurvy. Historians described the living conditions as, “It added up to seven weeks of the hell of an ill-lighted, rolling, pitching, stinking inferno.”2
On November 9, 1620, to everyone’s joy the watchmen finally yelled, “Land Ho!” But, the Pilgrims’ problems were still far from over. It wasn’t long before the navigator realized they’d been blown 100 miles north off course, far from Virginia where they were supposed to have settled. Weather conditions prevented the ship from traversing south, so the Pilgrims had little choice but to disembark in the sandy and untamed wilderness of what today is Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
A harsh winter had set in, causing food to become scarce. Starvation and sickness followed. Consumption and pneumonia killed off the Pilgrims at a rate of 2-3 people per day as what they called the General Sickness took their lives. “They were falling like casualties on a battlefield,” where at one point only five people were well enough to take care of everybody else and still keep a watch out for more Indian raids.3 By the time the General Sickness had run its course, 47 Pilgrims had died, leaving only a scant three families unbroken.
More than half of the Pilgrims had given their lives that winter in the pursuit of building better lives for themselves. The hardships and miseries were so severe that what remained of the sickly crew of the Mayflower begged the Pilgrims to return with them back to Europe. The captain was sure if the Pilgrims stayed any longer they would all be doomed. No supply ships would be coming. The last link to their old lives would be severed as the Mayflower pulled out of harbor on April 21, 1621. And yet, even though the future looked nothing but bleak and deadly, the Pilgrims remained faithful to God’s calling and stayed.
How do we then, like the Pilgrims, maintain faith in God when the future looks bleak? The answer can be found in what is considered the “major” of the Minor Prophets—the 14 chapter Old Testament book written by the Prophet Zechariah.
I believe if you read the following excerpt from my new book, co-authored with Steve Howell, titled 12 Faith Journeys of the Minor Prophets (available on our website and on Kindle and Nook), you will marvel at the similarities between the people of Israel in the Prophet Zechariah’s time and God’s people today when asking that very same question.
In the second segment, we’ll begin with an introductory story, an elaborations on Scripture, an imaged scenario that the text hints at but doesn’t necessarily describe. We ask that you take this story as intended—as historical fiction to illustrate historical fact. Then we’ll dive directly into the book of Zechariah and learn what the prophet has to teach us concerning having faith when the future looks bleak.