We have been working our way through a study on the concept of hope. You can find the whole series – Hope as an Anchor: Creating a Season of Hope here, once it’s live. We’re learning what it is, where it comes from, and so much more about where we can find a hope worth having. Proverbs 13:12 says that hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life. Today, I want us to look at some stories of hope in the Bible to see if we can find the difference between the kind of hope that can make us heartsick, and the kind of hope that serves as a tree of life.
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Stories of Hope in the Bible – The Woman from Shunem
There is a beautiful little story tucked into the pages of 2 Kings that I believe demonstrates the unrelenting grace of God. It shows how He lavishes His kindness upon us, even though we so often miss the mark, even when we are sincerely trying to follow and honor Him. It is the story of a woman who demonstrates the kind of hope I believe so many of us find ourselves trapped in. It is a hope that constantly swings back and forth between heartsick disappointment and joyful celebration as the circumstances of our lives lead us from mountaintop to valley and then back again.
Let’s start by reading her story. It is found here in 2 Kings 4:8-37. Though I will summarize below, I highly recommend you read it for yourself before moving on.
Summary of the Woman from Shunem’s Story.
Long story short, there was a woman who lived in Shunem who felt called by God to offer her hospitality and kindness to the prophet Elisha. She obediently fed and sheltered this man of God whenever he came through her town. Wanting to return her kindness, Elisha discovered that this woman had no son, so he told her that within one years time, she would have a son. The woman’s response to the prophet was: “No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.” (2 Kings 4:16)
You see, the woman had learned to release that hope. Though it doesn’t exactly say this, I believe she had learned to be content with what God HAD given her, and though her heart desperately wanted a son, she had found peace in settling on the idea that this dream would go unfulfilled. What she could not handle was the idea that this hope might be re-kindled, only to have to deal with disappointment once again. I am CERTAIN that many of us can relate to that! I certainly can. (In fact, of all the stories of hope in the Bible, I see myself most in this one!)
But despite her reservation and fears the prophet’s promise was fulfilled and the woman did indeed have a son. Years passed, and then one day the boy was out working with his father in a field when he very suddenly got a terrible headache and later that day died on his mother’s lap. The woman didn’t waste one minute, but went right out to find Elisha. When she got to him she said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up?'” (2 Kings 4:28)
Now I don’t want you to misunderstand my point here, I am not suggesting that this was a terrible woman. Quite the contrary, I see a woman who earnestly seemed to seek and obey God. She was kind and tenderhearted and I see a gentle and quiet spirit in her, which 1 Peter tells us is so pleasing to God. But she speaks about hope here in a way I think so many of us can relate to. She speaks of a hope that is all wrapped up in the circumstances of this life.
She had hoped for a son, given up hoping for a son, had her hope restored when she was miraculously given a son, and then was devastated when that hope was stolen once again in the moment that son died. Her hope had everything to do with her son. Or, more accurately, her hope had everything to do with the circumstances of her life.
Now, I can’t speak for you, but I can tell you that I have experienced this same kind of hope myself, and it is a terrible roller coaster of emotion – heartsickness the only result. And I don’t believe it is the kind of hope God has called us to as His precious children.
Our Gracious God’s Response and the Ending of the Story
What thrills my heart as I read this and other stories of hope in the Bible, though, is that our God does not wait for us to be perfect to lavish His grace upon us. The woman from Shunem may have had her hope in the wrong thing, but she belonged to the High King of Heaven, and He is so faithful and kind to His daughters!
He did not look at her heartsickness and leave her there to learn her lesson about misplaced hope the hard way. Instead, He had compassion on her and sent Elisha, his servant, to miraculously bring that boy back from the dead. What a precious gift the woman received that day! And I’d be willing to bet she still learned her lesson and placed her hope in something better from that day on. Don’t you think?
But what will we do? How will these stories of hope in the Bible change the source of our own hope?
Stories of Hope in the Bible – David
Now I would like to look at another of the wonderful stories of hope in the Bible and place it in contrast to the first. Let’s look at the life of King David, specifically, the hope he had throughout his life.
Unlike the woman from Shunem, David’s is not a short story tucked neatly into one or two pages of Scripture. On the contrary, David shows up in 1 Samuel 16 and from there we find bits and pieces of his story peppered all the way through the Bible all the way through to Revelation! He was God’s chosen king, and the man the Bible says had a heart that beat in sync with the heart of His Lord and Savior. But like the Shunemite woman, David too was far from perfect.
The Source of David’s Hope
But that’s okay, because our point here is not to hold him up as some shining example of perfection, but to examine what his story can teach us about hope. Especially when placed next to other stories of hope in the Bible like that of the woman from Shunem. We can find many MANY examples of the hope (and consequently the faith) David had but let’s start with a few verses from some of the Psalms he wrote:
Psalm 25:4-5 – Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by Your truth and teach me, for You are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in You.
Psalm 33:20-22 – We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy Name. Let Your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in You alone.
Psalm 39:6-7 – We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You.
There are many more verses like these which flowed from David’s pen, but I think these are sufficient for us to see that David boldly asserted his hope was in God alone. He was not a man who was trying to find hope in the circumstances of his life, but rather, was looking only to God for that security and strength. He seemed to understand that all the striving and the business of life spent in pursuit of the things humans tend to look to for security offer no real hope or stability. While the unfailing love of the Lord God Almighty brought with it the confident hope of salvation!
So what we need to know as we look at this example of stories of hope in the Bible is, how did David’s hope in God play out in his life? Did it leave a mark worthy of note? Did it make a difference? Well, my simple answer is yes. I believe it made a HUGE difference.
How David’s Hope Played Out in His Life
I mean, David was the young man who hearing the taunts of Goliath, the giant who had left the entire army of Israel quaking in their boots and paralyzed on the battlefield, responded with righteous indignation. He was not afraid of that terrifying man but instead demanded how he could be allowed to defy the God of Heaven in such a way. He is the teenager who boldly went out to face that giant equipped only with a slingshot, a few smooth stones, and his hope in the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies! (1 Samuel 17)
This is the man who, having been anointed as the next king of Israel by the prophet Samuel, waited patiently for many years for God to accomplish His will. David did not feel the need to take matters into his own hands. He was willing to serve King Saul and work for his good, he was willing to run for his life when Saul turned against him, and he was willing to leave his case in the hands of God even when it seemed as though Saul had been delivered right into his hands – twice. But his hope wasn’t in being king. It was in God, and His purposes and plans. So he waited for God to act. (1 Samuel 18-26)
Now don’t get me wrong. David went through times of deep discouragement. His life was not an easy one, and he had to work through some very painful situations. We’ve already mentioned running from Saul, which included the added side effects of being separated from his very best friend who happened to be Saul’s son, and his wife who happened to be Saul’s daughter. He would also endure the pain of losing an infant son as a consequence of his own sin, and then later, he would have to deal with the pain of rebellious children including the horror of seeing one of his daughters raped by one of his sons, and then that son being murdered by another son. He’d see that same murderous son try to abdicate the throne out from under him, wickedly take some of David’s concubines as his own, and then declare war on David. Even when this son, Absalom, was defeated, it only meant that David had lost another child to death. David faced dissension and revolt from others in his kingdom as well, and then he had to work through the consequences of a plague which was the result of his own sin once again. Finally, at the very end of his life, David had to wrestle through one final battle as one of his sons tried to claim the throne over the son God had anointed as the next king, Solomon. (2 Samuel 11-24 & 1 Kings 1)
But the beauty of hope in God is that it is not born out of a painless life. In fact, the circumstances of life have absolutely NOTHING to do with this kind of hope. It is a hope that does not waver through trial or storm. It is a hope anchored to the sure and steady rock of the God of Heaven. And even when our human hearts might lose sight of that hope for just a moment, as certainly happened to David every now and then, it is quickly remembered. On more than one occasion we find David crying out in his anguish with renewed hope in the God who saves.
Psalm 94:17-19 – Unless the Lord had helped me, I would soon have settled in the silence of the grave. I cried out, “I am slipping!” but Your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, Your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.
Psalm 42:5 (42:11 & 43:5) – Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again – my Savior and my God!
How these Stories of Hope in the Bible Change Our Hopes
Here’s the thing about David’s hope. As far as I know and could find, there is only one man in Scripture who God called a man after His own heart, and that was David. Even though he was a very flawed man, a sinner like all the rest of us, there was something about David that still earned him that distinction. There was something about his heart that kept it in sync with the heart of God.
Psalm 147:11 – The Lord’s delights is in those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His unfailing love.
I assert that it had more than a little to do with where David had placed his hope. The Bible tells us God delights in those who put their hope in Him and His love. He is pleased by those of us who fear Him. (Wanna know more about how to walk in the fear of the Lord? Check this article out!) Perhaps, the beat of our hearts finds its tempo largely in where we’ve placed our hope! I think we can take it to the bank that if we can be like David, and confidently put our hope in the unfailing love of the Lord, our hearts too will sync up to His, and we will find ourselves becoming men and women after His own heart as well.
So let’s look to David’s example and faithfully follow in his footsteps. Here are a few things he tells us about how to have the kind of hope he had:
Psalm 119:147 – I rise early, before the sun is up; I cry out for help and put my hope in Your Words.
Psalm 78:7 – So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting His glorious miracles and obeying His commands.
And if you come back next week, we’ll dive even deeper into what it looks like to have a hope anchored in Jesus!
*How about you? What are your favorite stories of hope in the Bible? How do these stories of hope in the Bible help you as you distinguish between the sources of hope available to us? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.