And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations; knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint . . .  Romans 5:3-5  NASB

Hope – Is your idea of hope based in Greek thought or Hebrew patterns?  How would you know the difference?  Certainly Paul uses this Greek word (elpis) from a Hebrew perspective, but I’m afraid that most of us in the West read it as if Plato wrote the verse.  Let’s see why.

The Greek idea of hope stems from Plato’s work Philebus.  In that document, Plato says that human existence is determined not only by acceptance of the present and memories of the past but also by expectation of the future.  Plato contends that hope is the subjective projection of our desires.  In this way, hope is present comfort even if it turns out to be deceptive and uncertain.  For the Greeks, hope is a psychological state that projects the good I desire into an uncertain future.  It is, in modern terms, a useful crutch that people lean on in times of trouble.  Its reality may be illusory, but it serves a useful purpose at the moment.

The Hebrew idea of hope is entirely different.  The Greek word elpis is paralleled in Hebrew by four words: batah, yahal, qawah and tiqwah.  The principle Hebrew term is batah, a word that we have often seen in the Hebrew context of “trust.”  We’ve investigated the other words too. We found that the Hebrew view of hope is directly tied to the promises of God.  Furthermore, the promises are given to the community of God’s people.  Individuals participate in these promises insofar as they participate in the community.  In other words, the future is not up to you alone.  It’s not even about your desires.  As long as you share in the community of God’s people, the expectations of God’s promises are secured.  And the guarantee of this future hope in God Himself.  Hebrew hope is not wish fulfillment (and disappointing actual results).  Hebrew hope is not located in your psychological state of mind.  It is grounded in God’s purposes for His community.  You get to decide if you are coming along for the ride or taking your own train, but you don’t get to decide how it’s going to turn out.

There is enormous freedom and relief in this view of hope.  I don’t have the weight of the world on my shoulders.  My future, and the fulfillment of my hope, is not up to me.  In fact, it isn’t even focused on me.  As long as I am in God’s community, He assures me that I will be transported to His destination.  I don’t even have to think about it.  All I have to do is stay onboard.  So Paul can claim that this hope does not disappoint.  Why?  Because there is nothing I can do to prevent its arrival.  There is nothing I can do to remove its fulfillment.  And, by the way, no one else can stop its coming either.

If I am living the Greek worldview, my future expectations may be dashed on the rocks of reality.  But if I am living the Hebrew worldview, I will never be disappointed.  The mere fact that I am living according to the Hebrew way of life assures me that God will bring me, and the rest of my brothers and sisters, to the final destination.  The next time things don’t work out the way you planned, asked yourself which paradigm told you to expect otherwise.

Topical Index:  hope, elpis, batach, tiqwah, qawah, future, Romans 5:5


  • Judi Baldwin March 21, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Outstanding reminder, Skip…thanks!!

  • Roy W Ludlow March 21, 2012 at 8:48 am

    This is one that I must remember as I do Biblical Counseling. I will remember it for myself and those I counsel will also be reminded that when they talk about hope, it has not so jmuch to do with their wants and desires but how they are involved within the commuity of God people. Thanks skip. This has been a refreshing reminder to me.

  • CYndee March 22, 2012 at 1:06 am

    “Hebrew hope is not wish fulfillment (and disappointing actual results). Hebrew hope is not located in your psychological state of mind.” 4 1/2 minutes. Over 5 million people have watched this video.

    “Bring the Rain” by Mercy Me

    I can count a million times
    People asking me how I
    Can praise You with all that I’ve gone through
    The question just amazes me
    Can circumstances possibly
    Change who I forever am in You
    Maybe since my life was changed
    Long before these rainy days
    It’s never really ever crossed my mind
    To turn my back on you, oh Lord
    My only shelter from the storm
    But instead I draw closer through these times
    So I pray

    Bring me joy, bring me peace
    Bring the chance to be free
    Bring me anything that brings You glory
    And I know there’ll be days
    When this life brings me pain
    But if that’s what it takes to praise You
    Jesus, bring the rain

    I am Yours regardless of
    The dark clouds that may loom above
    Because You are much greater than my pain
    You who made a way for me
    By suffering Your destiny
    So tell me what’s a little rain
    So I pray

    Holy, holy, holy
    Is the Lord God Almighty

  • Ian Clifford March 22, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Very grateful I stumbled across all of this. It’s changing the way I think and believe, it must now change the way I live. Great to hear about things being based on the community of God’s people rather than how this affects me individually.

  • Gabe March 22, 2012 at 11:48 am

    “The mere fact that I am living according to the Hebrew way of life assures me that God will bring me, and the rest of my brothers and sisters, to the final destination.”

    This comment makes me think of the importance of unity within the church — a belief that has morphed into: unity = ‘a uniform lack of expectations’. There are plenty of examples of pursuing unity through human means which have had disastrous consequences, but once again human effort failing in one direction has led to an opposite error.

  • Hylan March 23, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I really like this teaching on hope. As a messianic Jew, it is what I have taught for years. However, I don’t think we are totally divorced from responsibility in regard to hope’s outcome. I’m not so sure “I don’t even have to think about it.”

    Paul begins the verse with a number of things that are our responsibility. We are called to rejoice in our tribulations/trials. This rejoicing, or exultation, will result in perseverence or endurance, strengthening our ability to overcome in trial. This, then, produces proven character, which, again, is not independent of our desire to please God, worship God, praise God, obey God, etc. When our character is proven, we become conformed more into His image.

    It’s this progression of rejoicing, enduring and becoming more like God that produces hope, something we cannot control, but something we can definitely affect. It is faith that helps us rejoice and endure. Faith is an action based on an infinite, personal God who loves me and wants the best for me. I can believe/trust/have faith in this kind of God. Therefore faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Just a few quick thoughts.

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