“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). That verse was written to a group of people who lived in the midst of chaos, struggle, and persecution. To hope in something or someone means that I live in expectation that something I desire or long for will happen. To hope means I trust that there is something more than I can see, touch, or feel. To hope means I don’t give up, even when I can’t see what’s ahead. To have hope results in the belief that my life is not worthless, because God put me on earth to be worthwhile, and one of the ways I do that is to add meaning and richness to the lives of others.
In English, hope is a somewhat abstract idea of expectation. The word for hope in Hebrew (Tikvah), however, is more concrete. In Hebrew, the word means expectation—and it also means cord or rope, which comes from a root word that means to bind or to wait for or upon. Tikvah is a rope that we can hang onto when the world seems out of control or when we don't know how to make it through a difficult season in life, like the promise given to the Israelites in captivity in a foreign land. “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope [tikvah]” (Jeremiah 29:11). Is it possible that a rope can give me hope? I can cling to God and cry out with the psalmist, “For thou art my hope [tikvah], O Lord God; thou art my trust from my youth" (Psalm 71:5).
Tikvah is used in the biblical story found in the book of Joshua. As Joshua prepares to lead the Israelites into the promise land, he sends out two spies who come to the house of Rahab, a prostitute. The king of Jericho hears about the two spies and orders Rahab to turn them over, but instead, she hides them on the roof and deceives the king. Rahab is in a vulnerable place and tells the spies, "I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you” (Joshua 2:9). This sounds like a hopeless situation.
She asks the spies to swear an oath that when Jericho is conquered, they will let Rahab and her family live. The spies say to Rahab, “We shall be free from this oath unless when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread [tikvah] in the window through which you let us down and gather into the house your father, mother and your brothers and all your father’s household” (Joshua 2:17-18). The spies keep their word and spare Rahab and her family. The scarlet cord was used here in a literal sense, but it gives us a picture of what hope looks like. The cord was Rahab’s only guarantee that her household would be spared by the Israelites. Though the physical cord had been tied to the window to ensure their safety, Rahab still had to wait for the realization of the spies’ promise. One of the most difficult things to remember is that "hope is rooted in waiting", a concept K. Gallagher beautifully details in her blog (graceintorah.net). I imagine Rahab walked through the steps laid out in Romans 12:12—being joyful in the hope that her family would be rescued, patient in the uncertainty, and praying to the one true God that she didn't even know, but hoped would be her salvation.
How do we cling to hope and keep waiting? How do we keep doubt from overwhelming us? In my experience, the answer is rooted in the vital relationships with God, ourselves, and others. The spies needed Rahab in order to leave a dangerous situation; Rahab needed the spies to follow through with their promise to protect her family; Rahab needed to wait and trust the one true God; and Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, needed assurance from God and the people who told him, “Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:18).
A connected relationship with God is like grasping onto a strong rope. We can cling to and depend on Him even when we can’t see the next right step. I need to rest in God, trusting that the issues I'm facing are part of what God is using to transform me. And, like Rahab and the spies, I need to risk allowing other people into my life. God really is in control, and when I relinquish my anxiety over to Him, I will find the hope that I long for in the midst of chaos.