Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
Hope is a precious and wonderful thing! Here is a glorious and important proverb, if you will consider it carefully at length. Without hope, men get desperate and will do most anything to escape their hopelessness. With it, men can endure most anything, no matter how desperate their conditions become. Wise men will appreciate the great value of hope.
Here are several lessons about hope. Do you know where to find it? How to keep it? Do you know how painful it is when others lose it? Do you know how to give it to others? Will you get it for yourself and give it to others? Wisdom is the power of right judgment – knowing what to do in any situation. Wisdom includes these crucial lessons about hope.
Hope is expectation of something desired. If the thing you desire is not obtained in the time expected, your heart and soul are grieved and pained by the delay. But when the desired thing finally arrives, it is a tree of life: your heart and soul are encouraged and revived. These two aspects of hope are true in all matters, both spiritual and natural.
Hope can be a pleasant thought, if you are confident of your desires being fulfilled on time. But it can also be a painful reminder, if you are disappointed with delays or difficulties in obtaining your desires. Hunger is an example. It makes food delightful, when you eat on time. But it can be quite torturous, if you are kept from eating on time.
Hopelessness is one of the most destructive and painful feelings in the human experience. It must be avoided at all costs, because it will destroy a man’s outlook and performance. A wise man sets his hope on sure things, and he avoids any desires or expectations for the vain things of this world that lead to despair or frustration. He understands human frailty, avoids setting expectations too high, and learns contentment (Ps 146:3-5; Heb 13:5-6).
Since hopelessness is so destructive and painful, a good man will work to keep those around him full of hope, like his wife, children, employees, and friends (I Sam 23:16; Ps 123:2; Eccl 4:9-12; II Cor 2:2,6-11; Col 4:1; I Thess 5:11). Training his son for the throne, Solomon taught the wisdom of keeping citizens filled with hope, lest they become discouraged and desperate enough to revolt (Pr 16:15; 19:6,12; 20:28; 28:16; 29:14).
If you love proverbs, here is a classic. Identify Solomon’s three metonyms and one metaphor in this proverb. First, hope is a metonym for the things hoped for; hope itself is not deferred, or delayed; rather the objects of hope do not arrive on time. Second, desire is a metonym for the things desired, because the desire for the things was already there; it is the desired objects that finally come and bring great joy to the heart. This is metonymy.
There is a third metonym, the heart. It is substituted for the feelings and joys of the heart: the substitution uses the seat of your affections for the affections themselves. And there is a metaphor, where desires being realized are compared to a tree of life, which can energize and rejuvenate the soul with its fruit, though a fulfilled desire is not a real tree.
This proverb is an observation by Solomon, and the lessons are to be carefully searched for within it. While many proverbs give the lesson more directly, basic observations like this one must be explored and applied to learn the wisdom being taught. What can you learn about hope from this proverb in order to be wiser with God and men? Remember, God’s words are exceeding broad and may convey many varied lessons (Ps 119:96).
Those in authority must learn more about hope than others, for those under their rule can easily be broken and reduced to despair, if they are not given enough expectation for the future. Continually pressing duties without expectation of a reward destroys hope. In contrast, a person filled with hope will cheerfully fulfill duties. Wise men learn this lesson and often measure the hope of those under them to be more excellent managers.
A woman gives up much as a wife (Ge 3:16; I Co 11:9). “A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” How can she bear it? A critical, unaffectionate, or inattentive husband can steal her hope and reduce her to despair, no matter how hopeful she was when she married him. This marital abuse is common. God commands husbands in many scriptures to be considerate, forgiving, patient, and romantic to encourage their wives (De 24:5; Pr 5:19; Ec 9:9; Eph 5:28-29; Col 3:19; I Pet 3:7; etc.).
Children come into a family by God’s choice, not theirs. Critical, overbearing, harsh, or overly-restrictive fathers (or mothers) can discourage them by stealing their hope and leaving them without any expectation for the future. The excitement and vitality of youth can be sucked from their hearts and minds by such abuse. It is shocking that some parents think their children should submit indefinitely without reward. God commands fathers (and mothers) to not destroy the hope of their children (Ps 103:13-14; Eph 6:4; Col 3:21).
The God of the Bible, the LORD Jehovah, carefully protected hope for the lowest men and even beasts. Bless Him! Christian nations have always had the most hope, because they worshipped the only God of hope. Day laborers were to be paid daily, lest their hope for some cash be destroyed (De 24:14-15)! Oxen were not to be muzzled while crushing grain (De 25:4)! Arranged marriages required a one-year honeymoon (De 24:5)! Every seventh year in Israel was a year-long vacation, even for servants (Le 25:1-7,20-22)!
The wicked have little hope (Eph 2:12; I Thess 4:13). Their expectations always end in frustration, for they chase the lying delusions of Satan, who is the god of hopelessness (Eph 2:1-3; II Cor 2:6-11). He knows his days are numbered and his coming torment great (Matt 8:29; Rev 12:12). He wants his dupes hopeless with him. All things in this world are disappointing and temporal, which hurt those who pursue them (I Jn 2:15-17).
Every sin, movie, song, or thought of the world ends with the same result – there is no hope, there is only despair (I Co 15:32; Re 9:11). They try to ease the pain with activities, comedies and jokes, alcohol and drugs, movies for fantasy escapism, mind-numbing music, extreme sports for thrills, and even suicide. Then they die and discover in hell that their hopelessness was right (Pr 11:7; Job 8:13-14; 11:20; 27:8; Mark 9:43-48)!
Consider riches. Wealth does not satisfy, for when you achieve one level, you will covet another (Eccl 5:10). Those taking your wealth are always increasing (Eccl 5:11), and the rich cannot sleep peacefully (Eccl 5:12). Riches disappear by many factors (Matt 6:19), and you will not take one cent with you at death (Luke 12:15-21; I Tim 6:7). The more you make, the more the government takes. Why set your hope on the illusion (Pr 23:4-5)? You are only going to be disappointed, frustrated, and vexed by the effort (I Tim 6:6-10).
Every child of God that seeks happiness in this world will be just as miserable, or worse, for he has set his expectations on things that cannot satisfy. Solomon, the writer here, found everything in this world to be vanity and vexation of spirit (Eccl 1:14; 2:11,17). Godliness with contentment is great gain, for such a man has his hope in God and heaven, which is the certain hope of prosperous saints (Gen 15:1; I Tim 6:6; Ps 73:25-26).
It is your wisdom to not hope for much from this world, but rather hope for much from the next (II Cor 4:16 – 5:9; Col 3:1-4). Therefore, you should be able to pray with Agur against riches (Pr 30:7-9). You should be able to be content with little and righteousness (Pr 16:8; Ps 37:16; Phil 4:11-13; Heb 13:5-6). You can avoid disappointment and keep on dancing, if you do not put your hope in things of this world (Job 1:20-22; Hab 3:17-19).
When a believer is discouraged, he has a simple remedy unknown to the world. He can remind himself to hope in God, just as David showed you (Ps 42:5,11; 43:5). The God of hope can give perpetual hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:13). Even at the hour of his death, he can be filled with joyful and peaceful hope, for he knows about heaven and the resurrection of the dead, the blessed hope (Pr 10:28; 14:32; I Cor 15:19). The believer has hope, which the unbeliever will never have – confident waiting on God.
If you use the word of God to build your hope (Rom 15:4), others will ask a reason for it, since they have little to none (I Pet 3:15). When hope is deferred, you can hope against hope through faith in an omnipotent God (Job 13:15; Lam 3:24-26; Rom 4:18-20). And you can know you have the superior definition for hope – patient waiting, for the greatest expectation of the Christian will certainly come to pass (Rom 8:23-25; Heb 10:36-37).
Believers never give up, as long as they have life, for a living dog is better than a dead lion (Eccl 9:4-10)! Until God removes all hope, there is still hope, and even then there is hope! David prayed fervently for his sick son, and gave up praying when the child died, yet he knew he would see him again. He had hope, even after death (II Sam 12:15-23)! Paul was sure he would die at Ephesus, but hoped in a resurrecting God (II Cor 1:8-10)!
The Bible is filled with glorious examples of simple believers who put their expectation and hope in the Lord. Did Sarah give birth and nurse with a smile long after menopause (Gen 21:5-8; Heb 11:11)? How much was Joseph a tree of life to Jacob, when he discovered him alive and on Egypt’s throne (Gen 45:25-28)? How many children did Hannah have for loaning her long-desired son to the LORD (I Sam 1:19-28; 2:19-21)? And Israel was like them that dream after being recovered from captivity (Ps 126:1-3)!
Yet there is a greater illustration of fulfilled hope! For 4,000 long years, the sons of God waited for the arrival of the Seed of the woman to deliver them from sin, death, and hell. The desire of all nations did come. The angels shook the countryside with the announcement. Simeon rejoiced to see Him before His death. And His disciples believed not for joy, when He had risen gloriously from the dead. Christian, hope in God today.
Reader, if you are committed by faith to Jesus Christ, then you have a blessed hope, an impregnable hope, a glorious hope. You will be raised from the dead to an incorruptible inheritance in heaven, where it is reserved for you (I Pet 1:3-9; Acts 23:6; 24:15, 26:6-7; 28:11,20). Believest thou this? If you have this hope, it will purify and sanctify your life (I John 3:3). And it will be an anchor for your soul in the storms of life (Heb 6:18-19). None that put their trust in Him shall be ashamed or confounded (Rom 10:11; I Pet 2:6)!
Children can be taught to hope in the Lord when they are very young (I Sam 1:28; Ps 22:9; Eccl 12:1). By building a foundation for their lives on the ability and faithfulness of God, they will never be driven to depression or despair about life (Ps 27:13-14; 37:7; 42:5,11; 43:5; 71:14). How is this accomplished? By building faith and hope through constant instruction from the word of God (Ps 78:1-8; 119:81,114; Rom 15:4).
True love comforts others by building hope and taking away despair. Since hopelessness is one of life’s greatest evils, you should be faithful in all your dealings to keep others from losing their hope. God specifically commands you not to discourage those under you (Col 3:19,21; I Pet 3:7; II Cor 2:6-11). After edifying others by your faithfulness, you should then comfort them with the blessed hope of the gospel (I Thess 4:13-18; 5:11).