Hope amidst Hopelessness
Now here's a little story about a man named Elimelech, a poor Hebrew farmer who barely kept his family fed. Then one day he was shootin' for some food and up from the ground came a bubblin' crude.
Ok, so not quite the same story. Elimelech does not load up the family truck for Beverly Hills and he doesn't meet movie stars or swim in cement ponds. His move, at first glance, seems like any rational response to a shortage of food. Go where the food is, right? However, three factors indicate more was going on here than that:
- Under the Old Covenant, famine was a sign of God's displeasure over Israel's sin (Deuteronomy 28:23-24) and a call for repentance.
- Moab (the place of Elimelech's sojourning) was home to hostile inhabitants. They resisted (Numbers 22), oppressed (Judges 3), and seduced Israel's people (Numbers 25).
- Most importantly, under the Old Covenant, God chose to make his presence known to his people in Israel. To leave that place was in essence to turn your back on God.
We can learn a lot about hope from Elimelech. Biblical hope is profoundly more than the pessimistic, wishful thinking we often hear when people say "hope" today. Modern hope is like saying, "I hope I win the lottery" when we know we have a 1 in a 1,000,000,000 chance of winning. Biblical hope, however is a confident expectation in the good God will do. In this way, hope and faith go hand-in-hand. Hope is faith's forward-looking focus (Hebrews 11:1).
Hope is only as good as its object. If your neighbor has a history of borrowing your stuff without returning it, then your "hope" of getting something back you just loaned out is shaky at best. If your boss always gives raises at the first of the year then your hope of receiving one this year is pretty good. That's how faith and hope work together. Faith that takes God at his word fuels hope. Because God is reliable and always keeps his word, hope in him will never let us down (Romans 5:5).
Elimelech and his family's hope for the good life in Moab is shallow. God uses Elimelech and his son's deaths as a means to bring Naomi (and her daughter-in-law, Ruth) back to Him. He will give her a new life and a new hope, one that is the anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19). Without this kind of hope, we are capable of almost anything. Hopeless people do desperate things.