A Biblical Character Study
By Doug Redford
In the first part of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, entitled “Inferno” (Italian for Hell), Dante comes across the gates of Hell during his travels. There he sees these ominous words etched above the entrance to the underworld: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
But when one enters the world of the Bible and travels through the landscape of its contents, a far different message resounds throughout its pages. That message is, “Embrace hope, all ye who enter here.”
Paul’s words in Romans 15:4 affirm this invitation: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” When Paul wrote these words, the Scriptures covered primarily the contents of the Old Testament; but they most certainly include the New Testament and its message of the “living hope” provided through Jesus’ resurrection (1 Peter 1:3).
The God of Hope
We read only a few pages in our Bibles before we see the entrance of sin shattering the relationship between God and the couple made in his image. Yet even as God declared the punishment for both that couple and the serpent who tempted Eve, he announced the coming of the woman’s seed who will crush that serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). It is the first glimmer of messianic hope in the Bible.
Not long afterward, we find that death, the punishment God stated would “certainly” come upon the man and the woman for their disobedience (Genesis 2:17), did not touch faithful Enoch, whom God abruptly removed from this world (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5). The God whom Paul called the “God of hope” (Romans 15:13) has been so from the beginning.
Solomon, though renowned for his wisdom, had to admit, “Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7). Rather than reveal to us everything that is to come, whether in our personal lives or in the grand scheme of history, God calls on us to embrace hope that regardless of what happens in the present, his purpose and his promises remain steadfast. He does not lie (Titus 1:2).
Furthermore, we can follow in those same Scriptures cited by Paul in Romans 15:4 God’s record of faithfulness in keeping his word. Because of God’s faithfulness in the past, we choose to live obediently in the present and to commit the future to him. Consider examples from Scripture of those who chose to embrace hope.
A Patriarch: Abraham
The word hope does not appear in the Genesis record of Abraham’s life. But in Romans 4, Paul called attention to the part hope played in Abraham’s walk with God. Paul wrote, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Romans 4:18). Those words “against all hope” assess the possibility of Abraham and Sarah becoming parents at their advanced age. But Abraham “believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do” (Romans 4:18, The Message). Abraham embraced hope in God’s promise, and Isaac was born.
When God commanded the aged patriarch to offer that same son as a sacrifice, the writer of Hebrews explained what guided Abraham’s thinking as he prepared to obey: “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death” (Hebrews 11:19).
Why did Abraham reason that way? Because Abraham and Sarah had already experienced a resurrection with Isaac’s birth, since both of them were “dead” in their ability to become parents at their advanced age (Romans 4:19). Abraham once again embraced hope; in fact, his hope extended beyond blessings of this life. Hebrews 11:10 said that “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
A King (David) and a Book (Psalms)
The book of Psalms, of which David is the primary author, is brimming with hope. David expressed that hope in several passages (Psalm 25:21; 31:24; 37:9, 34; and 52:9, to name a few). Even where the word hope is not used, certain psalms exhibit a steadfast hope—the best example being Psalm 23. Those psalms not attributed to David or which have no author provided often speak of hope in the Lord and encourage others to find that same hope in him (Psalm 33:18, 20, 22; 42:5, 11; 71:5, 14).
Several psalms express a hope that anticipates the messianic hope associated later with the prophets. David, in Psalm 16, expressed his confidence that “you [the Lord] will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay” (v. 10). Peter quoted David’s words on the Day of Pentecost as fulfilled in Jesus, using the words “my body also will rest in hope” (Acts 2:26, from Psalm 16:9). Other noteworthy psalms in this category include Psalms 49, 110, and the hopeful words of Psalm 23, which concludes with forever.
A Nation and Its Prophets
In Deuteronomy, Moses was straightforward about the curses that awaited God’s covenant people should they turn away from the Lord and worship other gods (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). But he also encouraged the people that even though they experienced the judgment of God for their sin, they could still embrace hope. When the people became exiled to other nations because of their rebellion, if they returned to the Lord in sincere repentance, he would gather them and bring them back home (Deuteronomy 30:1-5).
God commissioned prophets to echo these themes of judgment and hope to his people. Isaiah’s prophetic ministry came during the years when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (Israel) as God’s instrument of judgment against it and threatened to do the same to the southern kingdom (Judah). Yet Isaiah encouraged the people to embrace hope: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Jeremiah carried out his prophetic ministry in Jerusalem at the very time the Babylonians were besieging the city. Prior to the beginning of that siege, they had already exiled some of the residents of Judah to Babylon. The prophet dispatched a letter to those captives, which included one of the classic affirmations of biblical hope: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). But that hope must be accompanied by a seeking after God (v. 13).
Jeremiah, who is often termed the “weeping prophet,” most likely wrote the book of Lamentations, in which he expressed his deep sorrow over the plight of God’s people. But Jeremiah also chose to embrace hope. “Yet this I call to mind,” he wrote, “and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23). The prophet added, in a challenge to all to embrace hope, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him” (v. 25).
God told the prophet Habakkuk of his intent to use the Babylonians to carry out his judgment against Judah, which troubled the prophet because of how cruel the Babylonians were. This minor prophet, however, came to a place where he too embraced hope and concluded his brief message with a major statement of hope: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). The modern reader must replace Habakkuk’s thoughs with more contemporary scenarios: high gas prices, inflation, potential bank failures, etc. Can we hold on to joy, to hope, even amid all of those thoughs?
A major thrust of the Old Testament prophets’ message of hope included prophecies of a special kind of ruler over God’s people, a king whose dominion would include the nations far beyond Israel. Isaiah is a primary source of such messages of hope—messages that the messy world of which he was a part would be eclipsed by a messianic age of blessings to be imparted to peoples far and wide (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:1-10; 49:1-6; 55:3-5).
The Christ of Hope
The Jewish people in the time of Christ lived in hope of a Messiah—one who would end the dominance of the Romans and restore Israel to a time of greatness like what they had known under King David. And Jesus certainly came to bring hope, but it was not the kind anticipated by most in his day.
The men on the road to Emmaus expressed the bitter disappointment about Jesus to the traveler who joined them: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). By day’s end, the two men came to realize that their hopes were not dashed; the one to whom they were talking was the one who had indeed brought redemption, not only to Israel but to all humanity. The disciples in Jerusalem, who had hidden in fear of what might happen to them, now waited in great anticipation until the promised Holy Spirit came and empowered them for the great work they would begin to do.
We often think of Christian hope as something that sustains us when a believer dies. Without question, our hope in Christ is probably most precious to us whenever we face those times of loss. We understand that those who have faithfully followed and served Jesus in this life are in “sleep mode.” Thus we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We embrace hope from Jesus’ words: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).
Paul wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). But because he is alive, we can embrace hope in this life, even when circumstances become especially trying. Peter wrote his first Epistle at a time when the persecution of Christians was intensifying. This is perhaps why Peter included more than one reference to hope in his letter (1 Peter 1:3, 13, 21; 3:15). The last reference is where Peter encouraged Christians to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Our hope in Christ should not be reserved for occasions at a funeral home; it should be demonstrated in our everyday home, and in ways that generate questions from curious, searching-for-hope onlookers.
The writer of Hebrews noted how some champions of faith were empowered to do amazing acts of triumph, even miraculous acts (Hebrews 11:32-35a). For others, however, their faith-life was excruciatingly painful and humiliating (vv. 35b-38). All of these, however, await the “something better” that awaits all followers of Jesus (vv. 39-40). That will come at the event Paul called the “blessed hope,” the triumphant return of Jesus (Titus 2:13). That hope is still the anchor for our souls, as “firm and secure” as ever (Hebrews 6:18-19). It is still intended to “overflow” within us, even in the overwhelming times around us (Romans 15:13).
Embrace hope: from the Scriptures, the examples they provide, and from “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Doug Redford has served in the preaching ministry, as an editor of adult Sunday school curriculum, and as a Bible college professor. Now retired, he continues to write and speak as opportunities come.