For a long time now, I’ve asked myself this question:
What is hope, really?
As I’ve grappled with different challenges or circumstances that seem insurmountable—as does every human being on the planet, to varying degrees—hope has sometimes felt elusive. Like just a word, and not something we can hold onto with certainty.
As children, hope might feel like an expectation with results that are assured. We might have hoped we would become astronauts, or famous actresses, or novelists. We might have hoped we would get a new mountain bike for Christmas, or that mom would buy Oreos at the supermarket, or that we would become athletic stars on the playground.
As we get a little older—and we didn’t make the GPA to join NASA, we didn’t get the mountain bike, and we got picked last for kickball every. single. time.—we might still hold on to hope, though it may look different and grasp for different things. But hope may remain resilient, tireless into our teen years.
But what does hope look like after years or even decades of feeling let down?
We get worn down, by life circumstances like:
- The “dream job” has proved disappointing.
- Despite pursuing multiple avenues of healing, we’re dealing with an ongoing health issue.
- The perfect guy doesn’t seem to exist.
- We’re still struggling in our family relationships.
We’re all wired differently, some naturally more optimistic than others. Unfortunately, as we experience more knocks and disappointments, we begin to alter our expectations of what’s possible, what will happen. Subtly, slowly, we begin to tweak our perspectives from hope-filled to cynical.
Here’s the problem. That’s not the life God has called us to.
The bible describes hope this way:
We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)*
We wait for what we hope for with patience and confidence.
Catch that? Confidence. We’re not meant to remain in a place of expectation based on what we’ve already seen, experienced, or know to be true.
Hope we can hold in our hands.
In the book of Joshua, an interesting story is told about a woman with this sort of radical, unashamed, confident hope.
Before Israel enters the Promise Land, their leader Joshua sends ahead two spies to scope out the territory they essentially want to come in and take over. The spies enter the land and are hidden by a prostitute named Rahab (a woman who eventually marries, and has a child who has another child and so forth—all the way until Jesus.)
That’s right, a prostitute in the lineage of Jesus.
If anyone has ever needed hope, it was probably this woman.
Look what she says here to the spies:
Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. “I know the LORD has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. For we have heard how the LORD made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the LORD your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. “Now swear to me by the LORD that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.
Think of it this way: Rahab had heard about this God, who delivered the Israelites from Egypt through raw, soul-shaking displays of His power. She didn’t know this God herself—but she had heard enough to believe He was very, very real.
Rahab must have known how these men, who knew this God, might view her: used and unholy. Why would they protect her? But she was confident that her act of kindness to these men would ultimately ensure her safety.
Here’s where hope enters the story in a very real, tangible way.
Then, since Rahab’s house was built into the town wall, she let them down by a rope through the window. “Escape to the hill country,” she told them. “Hide there for three days from the men searching for you. Then, when they have returned, you can go on your way.”
Before they left, the men told her, “We will be bound by the oath we have taken only if you follow these instructions. When we come into the land, you must leave this scarlet rope (tiqvah) hanging from the window through which you let us down. And all your family members—your father, mother, brothers, and all your relatives—must be here inside the house. If they go out into the street and are killed, it will not be our fault. But if anyone lays a hand on people inside this house, we will accept the responsibility for their death. (Joshua 2:15-19)
The word here used for rope or cord in Hebrew is tiqvah, which can mean two things:
- A cord, rope, thread
- Hope, expectation, thing that I long for
This scarlet thread- or cord- or tiqvah– would signify to the invading Israelites not to touch the family. A scarlet thread of hope that ensures their lives and lineage are preserved.
It is the assurance of the thing that they long for, the confident display that they will be saved.
We now know how the story ends. Rahab’s family is saved, and ultimately, she is acknowledged and honored for her faith in the book of Hebrews, written centuries and centuries later.* And—most significantly, she is an ancestor of Jesus.
I love this idea of hope as a cord, as something we can hold onto or tie to something else. We can grasp it, feel it in our hands, rest assured that it will confidently display that we will receive the thing we long for the most. It’s a hope that brings assurance and confidence in the midst of uncertainty, trouble, and invasion. A hope that is unashamed of its audacity, its unwavering belief in a God who delivers us from trouble and into His promises.