Translations frequently suffer from the fact that words in different languages do not always have exact parallels to the language into which it is being translated. Translators must often choose close approximations, which capture the general meaning but may lose the specific nuances of the originals. Such is the case with the words translated as hope.

People usually think of hope as a vague feeling of desire. Our hope tends to be that which we wish to happen but not necessarily what we expect. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” This is antithetical to the definition of hope as we find it in the Bible.

There are actually about ten different Hebrew words rendered as hope in the Old Testament depending on the translation. We only have space to consider a few of most common examples. “Tiqvah” literally means a cord or attachment. It was a scarlet “tiqvah” that Rahab tied in her window as a sign of the promise that she would be spared in the conquest of Jericho. (Joshua 2:17–21)

“Tiqvah” comes from the root word “qavah”, which is also commonly translated as hope. This word originally carried the sense of something strengthened by being bound together, such as a rope. This rope or cord endures when tested and stretched. The concept of hope as symbolically represented by these words is the trust placed in an unbreakable promise.

Another common Hebrew word translated as hope is “yachal”, which means to wait expectantly. It is to patiently endure because of the assurance of what is coming. “For in You, O Lord, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God.” Psalm 38:15.

In contrast to the plethora of Hebrew words, there are only two Greek words for hope in the New Testament. “Elpis” is an expectation or confidence, and its verb form, “elpizo”, is the act of expecting or trusting. They also include the idea of waiting for the object of our trust. “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Romans 8:24–25.

The biblical definition of hope has nothing to do with a personal wish or vague desire. Rather, our hope is an absolute assurance. We are to have unwavering confidence in Jesus, who is our Hope, as we patiently wait for His return. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23.

Big idea: Our hope in Jesus is an absolute assurance.

What to pray: Ask God to help you show “diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end” Hebrews 6:11.