Prisoners of Hope
“Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope…” (Zechariah 9:12, NIV)
Of everything God has given the world through the Jewish people, I believe the greatest gift is the gift of Hope.
From Abraham to Moses to the prophets… to Queen Esther… to Jesus and His followers… to the persecution of Jews from the time of the Roman Empire through the Middle Ages… to Inquisitions, Pogroms, and the Holocaust… and to the re-birth of the State of Israel, the story is a continual story of Hope.
When the founders of the modern State of Israel re-settled and re-cultivated the land of their forefathers, they inaugurated a new chapter in the Hope of ages past: the dream of living (again) in the Promised Land given them by their God. A nation was born – in a day – as foretold by the prophets (Isaiah 66:8).
The national anthem of the nation, born out of the ashes of the Holocaust and into war against five surrounding Arab armies, was the hauntingly beautiful Hatikvah – “The Hope”. To this day, this Israeli anthem recounts the storied past and the bright future of God’s chosen people, grounded in a biblical Hope that speaks of God’s faithfulness to His promises.
Hope. One of the three greatest gifts mentioned by the Apostle Paul, alongside Love and Faith (1 Corinthians 13:13), Hope is an unseen fortitude that has the ability to weather life’s most dangerous storms. It is an often irrational expectation, given by God, for a brighter future and a new tomorrow.
When we walk in this Hope, we are empowered to envision and mystically participate in a time when the temporary sorrows of this world will be swallowed up by an eternal joy that is far greater (see Hebrews 11).
Have you ever been around someone with that kind of Hope? Hope has the ability to not only transform the individual, but also to positively and profoundly influence those around them.
Rabbi Gerald Meister, z”l, my early mentor, taught us: “Hope is remembering something that is still yet to be.”
Here are some reminders about Hope, to strengthen you on your journey.
Hope has the power to elevate us from depression.
Remember these words from the psalmist:
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God. (Psalm 42:11)
When life’s difficulties beat us down with a fury, Hope glimmers and lights a spark in our lives once again. The scripture above holds the key: we are to “hope in God” – not to hope in our own abilities, in other people, or in a fortuitous change of events. Hope in God’s character transcends all else. He Is. He Knows. He Sees. He is Good. If we stay in Him, He can and will turn the darkest night into the most glorious dawn.
Hope remembers that God’s plans for us are good.
When the people of Judah were taken into exile in Babylon, Jeremiah the prophet spoke this word from the Lord over His people:
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
This overly familiar scripture takes on a whole new level of meaning when we realize the actual circumstances of Judah’s captivity into which this word was delivered. This was one of the darkest moments of Israel’s history! There didn’t seem to be ANY future or ANY hope! But Hope reaches into the unseen realm when all around us looks extremely dark. Even when our own failures have brought negative consequences, as was the case in Judah – God’s plans for us are still good!
This revelation becomes a source of Hope for us – a weapon in our journey from glory to glory. The strength of this inner Hope bolsters our spirit once again as we remember that what we are experiencing is not the end of the story.
Hope is a heavenly gift, not an earthly one.
On an everyday level, we so often use the words “I hope” when referring to things like the weather (“I hope it doesn’t rain”), daily conveniences (“I hope the store is still open”), or preferences (“I hope they have rocky road ice cream!”). We also use it for earthly circumstances that are important but not always mixed with faith (“I hope we have enough money to pay the mortgage this month”).
But godly Hope is from above, triumphing over the frailty of earthly hope. Scripture says this of Abraham:
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations… (Romans 4:18, NIV).
Abraham’s hope did not make any sense when surveying his and Sarah’s own circumstances of old age. But Abraham’s hope did not have its source in anything from this world. It was based on the eternal Word of God, as the rest of the verse demonstrates:
…just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Just as in the example of Abraham, the weapon of God’s Hope is available to all who stretch out their hands to God with honesty of heart. God has already given us everything that we need to walk in His Hope – but like a child who stretches out its arms to its father or mother, our cries for help do not go unnoticed by God when our hope is waning.
Hope is a Decision.
Lifted up by the foundation of God’s unchanging nature, God gives each of us the power to make a decision… a personal choice: will we access the Hope provided to us by God? Or will we try to go it alone?
Hope is not a therapeutic wish for better times, or a psychological tactic to escape the hard realities of this world. It is a determined choice of the will, based on the foundation of God’s promises and track record. Hope is a decision to receive God’s breath in our lungs when there is no natural reason to go on.
God simply will not force us to have Hope – we must give our “yes”, however feeble – and allow God’s Hope to do its powerful work in our hearts. If we will travel but one step towards God, He will travel 10,000 miles to meet us.
Hope cooperates with Faith.
In Zechariah 9:12, God spoke to Israel:
Return to the stronghold,
You prisoners of hope.
Even today I declare
That I will restore double to you.
The reality is that in all situations as God’s people – in our most triumphant times and even in our darkest hour – in faith we live as prisoners of Hope because of what He has instituted in His covenant. “Freedom” in the way that we typically think of it is really an illusion, because you will always belong to someone or something. If we belong to the Lord, however, He has set us free to be “love slaves” to Him. God says to us, “Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope…” for He is getting ready to bring an increase of Hope where we would not have thought it to be possible.
In every situation that we face, there is an opportunity to say, “My Hope is in the Lord. It is not based on a bank account, a doctor’s report, or the opinions of man. My Hope is behind the veil!” (Hebrews 6:19). When we lay hold of that simple truth that God gives to us through His revelation in our hearts, we receive a supernatural Hope that cannot be shaken.
From that place, we can declare with confidence, “There is a victory right now that my God, the Greater One, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is alive in me!” You don’t belong in the neighborhood of discouragement – you belong in a high tower called Hope. Proverbs 18:10 dispels the doubts that plague us when it declares, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”
God knows everything you are going through, and if you will respond to Him with life and trust and Hope, you will be part of the house of the Lord made of living stones. Return to the fortress of Hope. Today. Now.
God invites us in our worst moments to remember again what He has spoken, and He assures us that His desires for us have not changed. May His Hope sustain you today and every day in every circumstance.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)