By Josh Vestal
Neatly tucked away in the 13th chapter of Proverbs we find a gem of wisdom. It is a verse that God has stamped into my mind over the past several weeks. I have written about it in my journal. A colleague and I have discussed the verse in passing several times over recent weeks. My father and I spent several hours a few nights ago discussing the verse and what it implies for the body of Christ. I preached a sermon this past Lord’s Day using it as my main text. I can’t get it off my mind. Proverbs 13:12 states, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” How poetic is this verse? It reads beautifully and is majestic in nature. The Word of God simply amazes me at times. Though the verse is eloquent in language, it is about as practical as it gets. Let’s take a few minutes to draw from this verse.
What is Hope?
It seems necessary to define the term hope before we go further. We use the termoften when utilizing our Christian vocabulary. What does it mean? Hope in Scripture is the confident expectation and desire for something good to come in the future, but not only that; it is a sure thing. Dr. R.C. Sproul notes, “Hope is not taking a deep breath and hoping things are going to turn out all right. It is assurance that God is going to do what he says he will do.” The words of Paul in Romans 8:24-25 also has bearing here, “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for what we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” The Reformation Heritage Study Bible commentators define hope as, “the sure expectation of unseen future good arising from faith in the divine testimony.” Hope, in essence, is not physically tangible; it is supernatural. It involves confidently expecting and believing that God is going to come through (within various situations) for you based on His promises and character. If we have faith, then we ought to have hope because they are interconnected.
Hope is Not Finger Crossing
Hope is not finger crossing. It isn’t something that we throw up in the wind when we are a bit iffy about how a situation is going to turn out. Hope is not a 50/50 chance mentality. We don’t just leave things up to “fate.” Wishful thinking and hope are not synonymous terminology. Wishful thinking and finger crossing are of a superstitious nature. Hope is supernatural; it is the spirit’s confident expectation that unseen good will come because of who God is. There are many verses in Scripture that detail this hope, but one of my favorite examples is found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. In 2nd Timothy 1:12 Paul states, “…I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Does this look like finger crossing? In no way. This is an example of hope, of confident expectation that some presently unseen future good will surely come based on the promises of God. Paul knows who God is. Because he knows who God is he is absolutely persuaded that God is able to keep that (his salvation, the salvation of others that Paul was instrumental in bringing about) which he committed unto him against that day (the day of death or the day of judgement).
Hope Does Not Put Us to Shame
Based on the testimony of the Word of God I can state with utmost certainty that all those who have come to Christ in saving faith have not and never will be ashamed. Never will a child of God enter Heaven’s domain only to find some sense of dissatisfaction within their glorified plight because of something from their prior life in a fallen world. Paul states, “hope maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:5). Christ will never disappoint those whom He has received in His beloved. He will not cast them aside. No prayer goes unheard. Paul continues in verse 5, “because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” This is a precious assurance in Scripture. The Christian’s hope cannot put to shame because this very hope rests upon love that is poured out and impressed upon by the Holy Spirit Himself. There are plenty other passages that plead this argument. It doesn’t get anymore sure than that.
It is my prayer that a plausible description of hope has been offered. With that lets shift back to our main text. Solomon begins this proverb by mentioning “hope deferred.” The term deferred means to “put off,” “put aside,” “drag out,” or “postpone.” I am sure there are other acceptable synonyms, but these will serve the purpose. Deferred hope is hope that is beaten up, if you will. It is hope that has been put through the ringer. Unfortunate circumstances may have put a strangle hold on this hope. It has been set aside because of cloudy and dark realities. If there was a volume that contained hope, there may only be a drop or two left in the cylinder. There seems to be no possible way that anything good is going to come.
There are many different situations that cause deferred hope. Family members and friends that are estranged from the Lord Jesus Christ cause me great grief. This is something that all believers should be able to agree with. We want to see our loved ones come to Christ, and there are times when it just does not appear that they will ever do so. We pray, pray, and pray seemingly to no avail. This causes deferred hope. Perhaps deferred hope is derived from job issues or financial strain. Broken relationships with friends and family often put a hamper on our hope. Perhaps there was some sort of fall out or disagreement that entirely wrecked the relationship, and there seems to be no hope for mending. Whatever the situation may be, we have all gone through seasons of deferred hope. Those seasons are sad and difficult, and often leave us feeling isolated from God. May it never be. We will look at this in more detail later.
Solomon continues to state that hope deferred “maketh the heart sick.” This is true. In Scripture, the heart often represents the inner man, the soul and spirit. Man’s nature and intent flows from the heart. The prophet Jeremiah states, “”The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” (Jer. 17:9, KJV)? Prior to Noah building the ark the Scripture states in Genesis 6:5, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself addressed the heart:
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man (Matt. 15:18-20).
The heart in Scripture is not always represented as a harbor of wickedness. After all, the word of God states that we are to believe in our hearts that God raised Christ from the dead. Paul states, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Rom. 10:10a). Scripture speaks of a changed or regenerate heart (Ez. 11:19, 36:25-27). In the New Testament, it is the circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit that separates us unto God. It is very important to understand the heart in God’s word.
The Sickness of the Heart
Oh, how we can relate to this. The proverb states that hope deferred makes the heart sick. One translation of the first half of this verse reads, “when hope is crushed, the heart is crushed” (GNT). This translation works well here. Failed expectations often lead to spiritual and emotional sickness of different degrees. Giving up is a terrifying idea. There are many situations in which we may have come close, or have, indeed, given up in a certain situation. I believe that hopelessness is one of the scariest words in the dictionary. Let it be far from us. If we have Christ, we have all, and more. On another note, sickness of the heart can cause us to lay down our spiritual weaponry. In this state we become more vulnerable to the wiles of Satan. In this state the serpent has a better chance to deliver blows of oppression and worry. We must not fall prey to his strategies. There is also evidence in the medical field that spiritual/emotional distress can put stress on the heart and cause physical decline. Hope deferred truly makes the heart sick.
The Desire Fulfilled is a Tree of Life
Solomon continues, “but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” This is a beautiful phrase. In other words, when the thing hoped for is realized or fulfilled, it is a tree of life. When the expectation manifests, it makes us happy. There is a deep release, a deep breath. The burden is lifted. The demons are chased away. Beautiful apprehensions of God’s love and providential care bubble up inside of your Spirit, and you know that you are renewed and cared for. The tree of life in this passage refers to renewal of life, refreshment, and a sigh of relief. How encouraging is it when we know that God has fulfilled our desires? We could spend an insane amount of time quoting the verses in God’s Word that encourages believers to go to the Lord in prayer with a confident expectation that He will not only hear us but will also answer us.
The question inevitably presents itself: what about when the desire doesn’t come? Or in other words, what about when God does not seem to fulfill that which was hoped for? I believe that Scripture is clear that a believer’s prayer will never go unanswered. With that being said, we may not always like the answer that God gives. It may be a yes. It may be a no. It may be “hold on a little bit longer.” Remember that God deals with His people as a father deals with children. He is truly for us. We do not always understand why things happen as they do, but we must never for a second think that any ill that befalls us or afflicts us comes from an angry or mad Heavenly Father. If we are in the Lord Jesus, there is now no condemnation for us (Rom. 8:1). We are no longer at enmity with Him. His wrath and anger have been appeased.
I think of the words of Charles Spurgeon when pondering these things. He said, “If we cannot trace God’s hand, we can trust His heart.” He delights in us. He loves us. He desires us. He is simply passionate about His children. Any suffering or misery that befalls us in this life is working for us an eternal weight of glory that we will receive in heaven. There is a reward for it. Paul exhorts believers to not look at what is temporally seen, but rather to look at things which are not seen, that are eternal (2 Cor. 4:17-18). Somehow, and we may not understand, it is working together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Lastly, Moses states that the secret things belong to the Lord (Deut. 29:29). Let us look to Jesus, and not lose heart. His sovereignty is a pillow upon which we can rest our heads.
I want to leave you with two psalms and a brief word of encouragement. First, listen to the words of the psalmist in 42:5, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” Second, meditate upon the phrase in Psalm 126:5, “they that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Our Hope is seated at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ our Lord. Our blessed hope is that one day He will return to receive us unto Himself, and we will be with Him forever. If you are going through a season of deferred hope, please hold on. Trust in the Lord. He will see you through. May the Lord Jesus bless you mightily according to His riches in glory.