Our tour of virtues has taken us to meekness and then repentance. In this post we come to hope.
Some people may be surprised to see hope included in a list of virtues. We often consider a person’s level of hope to be a dimension of personality. Some people are naturally optimistic; others more pessimistic. But, as Proverbs shows us, that’s a shallow view of hope. There’s more to hope than temperament, and the Bible certainly doesn’t endorse a Pollyannaish approach to life.
Proverbs teaches us that true hope is grounded in virtue! It also indicates that the hope of some people, the wicked in particular, is false. They may feel optimistic, but their hope is groundless because it is rooted in the ignorance and folly of rebellion against God.
Webster’s 1828 defines hope as “confidence in a future event; the highest degree of well-founded expectation of good; as a hope founded on God’s gracious promises … A well-founded scriptural hope is, in our religion, the source of ineffable happiness.”
But, like many words, hope is variously defined in everyday use. To say “I hope I win the lottery” has little in common with the way hope is generally used in the Bible.
Here’s a quick review of what Proverbs indicates about hope.
|The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish. 10:28||
Everybody has hopes. Hope is universal. But it doesn’t turn out the same for everyone. This verse indicates a different trajectory for the righteous and the wicked. For one, the hope leads to fulfillment; for the other, to despair.
|When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes, too. 11:7||
Hope lasts only for a lifetime. At that point one either receives what he was hoping for (“Who hopes for what he already has?” Rom 8:24 NIV) or, per this verse, dies without that fulfillment. His hope dies with him.
|Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. 13:12||
But during one’s lifetime, hope leads us on toward the future. And it’s such a powerful element in the human heart that it builds expectations. When those expectations are not met, when the object of hope recedes into the future, this delay produces a sickness of spirit.
|Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death. 19:18||
Discipline is the “correction which results in education.” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) Note the implication: if a person does not learn the disciplines of life, she may eventually come to the point where it’s too late. Part of the responsibility of parents toward their children is to correct the behaviors that accompany fallen human nature so that they learn to walk in wisdom and prosper. If these corrections are not made, their path will “go down to death” (5:5).
|Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off. 23:17-18||
God has promised to care for His children. When we live in the fear of God, He guards our future. This exercise of hope in the future is a cure for the common problem of envy toward those who seem to have no regard for God and yet prosper.
|My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off. 24:13-14||
“Why did God make honey so tasty and sweet? So that we would have some idea of what wisdom is like (at least, that’s one reason).” (Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth, p. 71) The sweetness of wisdom assures one that God is real, and we can trust Him for a good future.
|Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. 26:12 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. 29:20||
This pair of observations evoke 19:18 above. A young person without discipline—here, a fool—has little reason for hope, because only a disciplined life of wisdom leads to a better future. And yet, such a fool has more reason for hope than does: 1) “That man who thinks he’s so smart” (The Message), or 2) “The people who always talk before they think” The Message).
Proverbs’ teaching about hope fits into a larger redemptive story. The Bible’s 160+ references to hope include …
- The ancient reflection of Job: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” Job 13:15
- The reassuring promise to Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jer 29:11
- The ultimate prospect of the Christian: “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:13
– Gary Brumbelow
(Scripture references from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.)