An attitude toward the future, an assurance that God's promises will be kept, a confidence that what is bad will pass and that what is good will be preserved. Hope is a theme in many places in the Bible, even when specific words for hope are not used.
In the Hebrew Bible, a number of words are translated into English as hope. As in English, hope can be a verb or a noun—the act of hoping, the thing hoped for or the person or thing in whom one hopes. There is no single root word that carries the major responsibility for conveying this concept. Each word provides a slightly different nuance to the process of hoping, though we may not be able to identify each subtle distinction. The related words qāwâ (verb) and tiqwâ (noun) may be connected with meanings like “twist,” “cord,” or “rope,” possibly referring to the tension of a time of hoping or the rope to which one clings when in need of hope. The root of the words yāḥal (verb) and tôḥelet (noun) may mean simply “to wait,” being neutral about what will happen at the end of the waiting. Similarly, the verb śābar means “to watch,” “wait,” “expect” (e.g., Ps. 104.27); it becomes hope when one waits with a positive expectation about what will come.
Two words sometimes translated as hope show the relational quality of hope. The verb ḥāsâ can mean “to flee for protection,” “to take refuge,” “to put trust.” The word bāṭaḥ is usually translated as “trust,” but it can be understood as “hope,” as the Septuagint often does.
In the New Testament, the noun elpis and the verb elpizein are virtually the only words translated as hope. They are used widely in the epistles, rarely in the Gospels, and not at all in the book of Revelation. This shows clearly that hope may be expressed by a text (such as in the words of Jesus or in Revelation) even when the specific word for hope is not present.
Hope has both an objective and subjective aspect. There are promises from God to which one clings as one faces the unknown and often forbidding future. But as suggested by a word like bāṭaḥ, hope is also an inner sense of confidence in God, a serenity despite terrible present circumstances. Whatever strengthens faith will also increase hope. Experiences that bring on a crisis of faith, like the exile or persecution of the early Christians, will also make hope more difficult.
God's promises form the basis for the content of biblical hope. From the objective side, hope is dependent on the confidence that God will provide: (1) The necessities of life—food, water, land. Without food and water, there is no hope even for life. Land plays an important part in biblical hope—it is promised, given, removed, and promised again (see Promised Land). (2) Protection from danger—both as a community called by God and as individuals. God sends leaders—judges, kings—to protect the nation. When the nation falls, God promises a new and better king from the line of David, one who will outdo his illustrious ancestor (messianic promises in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and elsewhere). God will also protect individuals from all that can hurt them (Pss. 4.8; 27.1, 5). (3) Justice—the good will be rewarded and the wicked will be restrained and punished. (4) Community—the assurance that God will never abandon the people he has chosen, and that they will live in peace and love with other human beings.
Generally speaking, there is in the Bible a growing pessimism that God's promises will be kept within historical time; this is most clearly seen in apocalyptic writings. Confidence in God remains and hope as relationship survives, but language that had been used to articulate hope for this world is now projected into a world beyond human experience: the land becomes a heavenly home, food and water become heavenly food and the water of life; the Messiah becomes a divine being; heaven and hell are the final solution to the problem of justice; communities broken by death and tragedy and sin can be restored in heaven. In spite of the failures and disillusionments of this life, however, there is still hope. God will win the heavenly battle. There will be a resurrection, life after death, and a new age where God reigns.
See also Afterlife and Immortality.
Daniel J. Simundson