Bible Study on Hope for the Hopeless

By Staff
Dec 15, 2009

Bible Study Guide

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12

Teacher Notes

This is a suggested Bible study for any size group. The accompanying sermon notes (“Hope for the Hopeless”) serve as resources as you prepare to lead this Bible study. Answers are provided with the questions when appropriate, but do not be too quick to give the answers. Allow the participants time to talk about the questions among themselves and offer their own thoughts and reflections.

Bible Study Instruction

Before class: Write down the following Scripture passages on individual pieces of paper: Hebrews 6:19; Psalm 31:24; 33:18; 34:1-8, 17-18; 38:15; 62:5-6; and 130:1-8. Pass them out to class participants before class and ask them to be prepared to read the passage at the appropriate time.

Say: Listen to the following statistics regarding suicide based on the year 2002 (the latest available).

  • Almost 32,000 people commit suicide annually in the United States.
  • Suicide ranks #11 as a cause of death in the U.S. (Homicide, by comparison, is #14). More people kill themselves than kill each other.
  • The suicide rate for all ages combined is 10.7 per 100,000 people.
  • Suicide, on average, claims the life of one person every 18 minutes.
  • Men complete suicide 4.1 times more often than women. But women attempt suicide three times more often than men.
  • In the U.S., there are an estimated 730,000 suicide attempts each year.
  • The suicide rate among young people has tripled since the 1950s. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among teenagers.
  • Suicide is not an inheritable trait. However, the risk of suicide may be higher for family members. (See OS1)

Say: Since those figures are for 2002, the ones for this year will be slightly different. But whether they are up or down, they paint a devastating picture of the loss of life. They also call attention to the vast number of people—husbands, wives, fathers, brothers and sisters, children, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and close friends—who must deal with the devastating tragedy of losing a loved one to suicide.

Ask: Why do people commit suicide? (Write answers on the board.)

Say: There are many possible reasons given year after year by those who deal with this subject in an attempt to explain it: a terminal illness, a financial loss, substance abuse, etc. But underlying whatever the individual reason a person takes his or her life is a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that grows out of despair—a despair that believes things will never (or can never) change. (See OS2) The question is: “Is there any hope?” God says there is. He offers hope to those who are hopeless.

Ask: I just named three of the more common reasons that people commit suicide. Can you think of any others?

Say: Helplessness and hopelessness! Those are the underlying reasons behind almost all suicides. That being true, let’s investigate Proverbs 13:12 to see what we can learn about hope. The first thing we want to discuss is the perception of hope—that is, what does hope mean to different people?

Ask: Let’s brainstorm for a minute. What do you think non-believers think hope is? (Allow response time.) What about believers?

Say: The worldly perception of hope is based on a person’s own desires—what he or she wants to come true. It is hope that must come from within.

Ask: What are some examples of that kind of thinking? (Some examples are: hope for a raise in salary, hope that our favorite team will win the World Series—or the Final Four, etc.—or hope that our job will last, etc.)

Ask: Why do you think this idea of hope is faulty? (Possible answers are: this kind of hope may let a person down, things may not work out as we had planned, and there may be factors that we didn’t—or couldn’t—take into account. Note: Discuss these answers in more detail as time permits.)

Say: The biblical perception of hope is a fixed expectation based on the promises of God in His Word. It is hope that comes from outside of us. This kind of hope is not based on what we know or do; it is based on who we know—Christ. It is the guarantee that our expectations based on God’s promises will be fulfilled. (Call for Hebrews 6:19 to be read aloud.)

Say: This hope will endure. It is unshakable because it is based on the sure Word of God and the changelessness of God Himself. This hope must take into account God’s timetable, which is often different than ours.

Ask: Why is it important that we understand this difference in God’s timing and ours?

Say: The second thing to observe in Proverbs 13:12 is the postponement of hope. Hope may be delayed by a number of things.

Ask: We’ve already talked about the fact that things may not work out as we had planned or that there may be factors in a situation that we didn’t or couldn’t take into account. What are some other things that might cause what we hope for to be delayed? (Possible answers are: other people may not deliver on their promises and our expectations may not be based on reality.)

Say: If our hope is the worldly kind, that delay may lead to despair. Despair may give way to depression, which eventually leads to a sense of hopelessness. Since this kind of hope is not based on any real promises, there is nothing to hold onto until the answer comes. The person without the promises of God to hold onto is like a ship without an anchor in a stormy sea, which may eventually lead a person to give up on life and end it by his own hand.

Say: Now let’s look at the promise of hope. King David experienced many times when life was hard and it seemed outwardly that there was no hope. But David repeatedly placed his confidence in God and His ability to deliver him either out of or in the midst of his situation. (Ask class participants who have the following references to read the aloud: Psalm 31:24; 33:18; 34:1-8, 17-18; 38:15; 62:5-6; and 130:1-8).

Ask: Can you identify what seems to be a common theme running throughout these verses? (Answer: that God hears our cries for help and answers them)

Say: David is not the only one in the Bible who faced hard times with an expectation that God would provide for him.

Ask: Can you name some others?

Say: Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, conveys the promise of God to bring hope. (Ask a class participant to read Jeremiah 29:11.) Later, he recalls that promise as he experienced difficult times. (Ask someone to read Lamentations 3:19-24.)

Say: The Apostle Paul, who experienced much hardship, said that he did not lose hope. (Ask someone to read 2 Cor. 4:7-9.)

Ask: Can you think of a specific promise of our Lord to those who are crushed by the weight of despair? (Matt. 11:28-30). (Ask someone to read those verses aloud.)

Say: The promise of hope is a consistent theme throughout God’s Word.

Say: Last, we observe the power of hope in Proverbs 13:12. A true biblical understanding of hope will empower a person to have courage in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation. Like David, Jeremiah, and Paul, we may find ourselves in circumstances that seem hopeless.

Ask: Have any of you found yourself in what seemed like a hopeless situation and God provided for you? Share it with us if you can.

Say: Many years ago, a submarine was rammed by another ship off the New England coast and quickly sank. Although rescue was impossible at that depth, a diver was dispatched to determine if there was still life aboard the disabled vessel.

The diver placed his helmeted ear against the side of the submarine’s hull and heard a faint tapping sound. He made careful note of the dots and dashes and decoded the question: “Is—there—any—hope?” With great remorse, he slowly signaled back: “Hope—in—God—alone.”

You and I are not lying at the bottom of the ocean in a sunken vessel today. But in many ways, we seem to be engulfed in the despair of this world. And sometimes we, like those trapped inside the submarine, tap out on the sides of our ship of life: “Is—there—any—hope?”

Like the pealing of a bell across a valley, the message of God’s Word to those in despair rings out loud and clear: “Hope—in—God—alone.”

Say: Like David, Jeremiah, and Paul, if we hold onto the hope that our Lord offers and neither give up nor give in, a brighter day will eventually come. The last part of Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning.” When everything seems hopeless, God knows all about it and will bring joy out of it if we will wait patiently for Him.

What Can One Person Do?

  1. Become aware of local and national crisis intervention centers for potential suicides (see Help section of Fact Sheet).
  2. Familiarize yourself with the materials in the Fact Sheet so that you can be better prepared to intervene personally if someone you know talks about suicide.
  3. Never ignore a suicide threat from anyone. Take it seriously and get them help as soon as possible.
  4. Ask a competent local counselor to lead a seminar at your church that will help people understand suicide and offer help to survivors of suicide.
  5. If you are the survivor of a suicide, get help from a local Christian counselor. If one is not available, contact a suicide prevention hotline to ask for a recommendation.

Other Helpful Scriptures

Bible verses about Suicide:
Exodus 20:13; Judges 9:52-54; Judges 16:28-31; 1 Samuel 31:4-6; 2 Samuel 17:23; 1 Kings 16:18; Matthew 27:3-5; Acts 1:18

Bible verses about Delayed Hope:
Psalm 6:3, 6; Psalm 18:4-6; Psalm 18:4-6; Psalm 25:16-21; Psalm 42; Psalm 43; Psalm 73:1-9

Bible verses about Hope Fulfilled:
Psalm 31:24; Psalm 33:18, 20, 22; Psalm 34:1-8, 17-18; Psalm 38:15; Psalm 62:5-6; Psalm 119:81; Psalm 130; Psalm 146:5-6; Psalm 147:3; Proverbs 23:18; Jeremiah 29:11; Lamentations 3:19-24; Matthew 11:28-30; Romans 15:13; 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Word Studies (WS)

WS1 —hope—“This word may refer in two verses of Proverbs to a confidence in a future life. In Proverbs 10:28 the joyful tôhelet of the righteous is contrasted with the no hope (tiqwâ) of the wicked. The previous verse concerns long life and sudden death so the questions of eternity are in view. Proverbs 11:7 seems to support this idea; at death the hope of the wicked is gone. The words ’aḥărît and tiqwâ (q.v.) are open to similar interpretations in Proverbs 23:18; Proverbs 24:14, 20. There, the righteous man is said to have an ’aḥărît (NIV ‘future hope’) in contrast to the wicked who has none and whose lamp will be snuffed out. Solomon, like Job, found the resolution of the antimomies of this existence in the judgments of a future life” [Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 7 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)].

WS2 —delayed—“a primitive root; to draw, used in a great variety of applications (including to sow, to sound, to prolong, to develop, to march, to remove, to delay, to be tall, etc.) :- draw (along, out), continue, defer, extend, forbear, × give, handle, make (pro-, sound) long, × sow, scatter, stretch out” [Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 7 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)].

WS3 —delayed—“A verb meaning to draw off, to drag, to pull up, to prolong. It is used of pulling someone out of a location (Gen. 37:28; Jer. 38:13); to pull an object (Deut. 21:3); to pick out and retrieve something (Exod. 12:21). It means to draw out something, such as a trumpet sound (Exod. 19:13; Josh. 6:5). Used with the word for hand, it means to extend the hand (Hos. 7:5); with reference to a bow, it means to pull the bowstring (1 Kings 22:34; 2 Chron. 18:33). It takes on a figurative sense when used of dragging along iniquity or evil (Ps. 10:9; Isa. 5:18). It may refer to lovingly leading, drawing someone along (Jer. 31:3); of bearing with a person or being patient (Neh. 9:30); or, conversely, of maintaining, stretching out one’s anger (Ps. 85:5). It has the sense of a formal procession following someone in a funeral (Job 21:33). It has an idiomatic sense of sowing seed, pulling it from a pouch and dispersing it (Amos 9:13); and of marching, proceeding somewhere (Judg. 4:6). It describes drawing out a period of time (Ps. 36:10; Prov. 13:12; Isa. 13:22); or a delay of time (Ezek. 12:25, 28). It may carry the sense of titillating, drawing out the sensitivities of the flesh (Eccl. 2:3)” [The Complete Word Study Dictionary (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 7 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)].

WS4 —heart—“A masculine noun usually rendered as heart but whose range of meaning is extensive. It can denote the heart as a human physical organ (Exod. 28:29; 1 Sam. 25:37; 2 Kings 9:24); or an animal (Job 41:24). However, it usually refers to some aspect of the immaterial inner self or being since the heart is considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components. It can be used in a general sense (1 Kings 8:23; Ps. 84:2; Jer. 3:10); or it can be used of a specific aspect of personality: the mind (Gen. 6:5; Deut. 29:4; Neh. 6:8); the will (Exod. 35:5; 2 Chron. 12:14; Job 11:13); the emotions (Gen. 6:6 [Note that God is the subject]; 1 Sam. 24:5; 25:31). In addition, the word can also allude to the inside or middle (Exod. 15:8; Deut. 4:11)” [The Complete Word Study Dictionary (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 7 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)].

WS5 —desire—“from (‘avah) (abbreviated); a longing; by implication a delight (subjective satisfaction, objective a charm):- dainty, desire, × exceedingly, × greedily, lust (-ing), pleasant” [Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 7 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)].

WS6 —desire—“A feminine noun meaning desire, delight, bounty; craving, greed. It indicates something that is attractive and delightful to the eyes, desirable (Gen. 3:6). It refers to the abundant fertility and produce of mountainous land (Gen. 49:26). It describes food that is choice (NIV, Gen. 49:26), dainty (KJV), favored (NASB). It indicates the longings of a person’s heart, its cravings (Ps. 10:3; 21:2); or the longings of a humble person (Ps. 10:17). It is the opposite of revulsion (Ps. 38:9). The righteous will have their desires realized (Prov. 10:24; 11:23). When a desire is realized, it invigorates a person (Prov. 13:12, 19). For the prophet, the Lord’s name and the remembrance of His deeds are His desires (Isa. 26:8)” [The Complete Word Study Dictionary (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 7 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)].

WS7 —fulfilled—“a primitive root; to go or come (in a wide variety of applications) :- abide, apply, attain, × be, befall, + besiege, bring (forth, in, into, to pass), call, carry, × certainly, (cause, let, thing for) to come (against, in, out, upon, to pass), depart, × doubtless again, + eat, + employ, (cause to) enter (in, into, -tering, -trance, -try), be fallen, fetch, + follow, get, give, go (down, in, to war), grant, + have, × indeed, [in]vade, lead, lift [up], mention, pull in, put, resort, run (down), send, set, × (well) stricken [in age], × surely, take (in), way” [Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 7 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)].

WS8 —fulfilled—“A verb meaning to come, to go, to bring. This word is used often and takes on many nuances of meaning: concerning physical location, it means to go, to come, to bring to a location (Gen. 6:19; 12:11; Josh. 6:1; Judg. 18:18); to a group or person (Exod. 18:19; Esth. 2:12). It is used with the preposition ’el to mean to have intercourse (Gen. 6:4; 16:2; Deut. 22:13). It bears the meaning of coming or arriving (Gen. 19:22; Prov. 18:3) physically or temporally, such as harvest time (Lev. 25:22). It means to take place, to happen (1 Sam. 9:6). Used with the preposition be and others, it can take on the idea of having dealings with (Josh. 23:7; Ps. 26:4; Prov. 22:24). It has several idiomatic uses: followed by bedāmīym, it indicates involvement in bloodguilt (1 Sam. 25:26). With the word ‘after,’ it means to be in pursuit of someone or something (Exod. 14:17).

“It is used in a causative way to bring something, e.g., an army (2 Sam. 5:1-3) from the battleground, to gather in something (2 Sam. 9:10). It is used idiomatically in several short phrases all headed by hēbiy’, to bring: to bring justice (Eccl. 11:9); to bring legal cases (Exod. 18:19); to take something away (hēbīy + mē’aḥar, Ps. 78:71); to apply one’s heart (Prov. 23:12); to understand. In a passive sense, it means to be brought, to be offered or burned, be put into (Gen. 33:11; 43:18; Lev. 6:30; 11:32). In its participial forms, the words may refer to the near future (2 Kings 20:17; Isa. 39:6; Jer. 7:32) or to future things to come to pass (Isa. 27:6; 41:22)” [The Complete Word Study Dictionary (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 7 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)].

WS9 —tree of life—“In reading the description of the righteous in Psalm 1:1-3, the reader, especially if he is from a forested area, must not miss the emotional ‘wallop’ in the image of the tree, with its splendid emblematic parallelism. A tree in Palestine, particularly in the southern areas, was something rather special. It is fitting that one remember that Eden was characterized by the plenitude of its trees (Genesis 3:9). An oasis in the desert of southern Palestine was a haven from oppressive heat, a place of rest and refreshment; but also it was a grim reminder of a well-watered and heavily forested garden lost through human sin. In that garden of God there were two trees of paramount import, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We agree with Kidner that respecting these two trees, ‘there is much to commend the literal sense, naive though it may seem.’ The trees were not magical, but were the means of confronting man with God’s will, giving ‘man a decisive Yes or No to say with his whole being’ (Genesis, p. 62). It is morally significant that God fenced these two trees not with a wall but with his word!

“It is no accident that human sin which began at the foot of a tree, the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Genesis 2:9ff.), found its resolution on another tree, the cross of Calvary. There is a poetic justice in the use of trees in the Heilsgeschichte, the redemptive directedness, of biblical theology. Satan’s victory over the woman (and the man!) beneath the branches of that primal tree led to his own defeat beneath the crossed beams of another tree on which the Prince of Glory and the embodiment of wisdom died. Henceforth there is another tree, the ‘tree of life’ of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:2), transplanted, as it were, from Eden (Genesis 3:9, 22, 24), and made available for the inhabitants of the coming new world” [Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 7 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)].

Commentary Citations (CC)

CC1 —“When once a good is discovered, want of it felt, strong desire for the possession excited, and the promise of attainment made on grounds unsuspected, so that the reality of the thing and the certainty of the promise are manifest, hope posts forward to realize the blessing. Delay in the gratification pains the mind; the increase of the delay prostrates and sickens the heart; and if delay sickens the heart, ultimate disappointment kills it” [Adam Clarke’s Commentary (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 7 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)].

CC2 —“If we would enjoy happiness, we must labour dili¬gently to keep our passions and desires under restraint; for they produce, when not duly regulated, disappoint¬ment and misery. If we indulge ardent desires, and confident hopes of obtaining a thing, the hope pro¬duces a borrowed pleasure, for which, if our hope are disappointed, we repay a high interest. What stings did the hopes of Absalom and Adonijah leave in their minds, when they failed in their attempts to obtain the kingdom of their father! When the object of hope is deferred, the heart languishes and pines. When hope is destroyed, the heart dies outright” [George Lawson, Exposition of Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980), 263].

CC3 —“A person cannot live without hope, but we suffer greatly even when our hopes are delayed. Hope is deferred when a promise is put off, standing unfulfilled for a long time. God often works more slowly than we wish, and our heart can be sick with disappointment if we fail to remember that fact” [Max Anders, ed., Proverbs in Holman Old Testament Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 338].

CC4 —“The psychology of expectation was well understood by the sages. They knew the need for hope . . . They understand that ‘hope’ is the strong line that pulls us out of the pit of boredom or despair. We can cope with the emptiness or anguish of today because we know that better things will come our way in due season. We are willing to work hard and live frugally during days as college students or newlyweds because we know that our sacrifice will be rewarded with promotion and prosperity down the line. When that hope is not rewarded on some reasonable schedule, we become sick of heart. Depression moves in and brings its roommate along—hopelessness” [David A. Hubbard, Proverbs (Dallas: Word Books, Publisher, 1989), 197].

CC5 —“Those who are wise understand how deadly delay can be to the soul (13:19; 25:13). Because they also understand the virtue of diligence and of fulfilling their obligations, and because they wish others well, they strive to encourage and strengthen them by meeting their responsibilities as quickly and as well as they can. Those who think only or primarily of themselves, of course, feel no such obligation, and so are a constant source of irri¬tation to those who entrust them with responsibili¬ties (10:26; 26:6). Knowing the truth of this verse in one’s own life becomes a motivation to do good to others (cf. Luke 6:31)” [Frederic Clarke Putnam, Proverbs (Springfield, MO: World Library Press, 1998), 119].

CC6 —“But when the thing desired, hoped for, and expected comes, it is a tree of life . . . ets chaiyim, ‘the tree of lives;’ it comforts and invigorates both body and soul. To the tree of lives, in the midst of the gardens of paradise, how frequent are the allusions in the writings of Solomon, and in other parts of the Holy Scriptures! What deep, and perhaps yet unknown, mysteries were in this tree” [Adam Clarke’s Commentary (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 7 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)].

CC7 —“But when the desire cometh, the heart is revived and gladdened as with the fruits of a tree of life. But this is not the case if the desire was irregular and unlawful. Amnon enjoyed no pleasure by the gratification of his desire after Tamar, which was succeeded by remorse and vexation. Desires of lawful things, when they are crowned by enjoyment, impart pleasure to the mind, but that pleasure is for the most part soon followed by weariness; and this proverb is verified chiefly in the righteous, whose desire is only good, and whose en¬joyments far exceed their most sanguine hopes. Bless¬ed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the fruits of the tree of life, which grows in the midst of the paradise of God; and they shall hunger and thirst no more, neither shall the sun light upon them, nor any heat” [George Lawson, Exposition of Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980), 264].

CC8 —“When our longing is finally fufilled, our soul is revived. Like a life-¬giving tree, the answer refreshes us. It is sweet to our soul. The second half of verse 19 may seem disconnected from the rest of the verse, but it may imply that the fool who detests turning from evil or his sin should not expect God to fulfill his hopes” [Max Anders, ed., Proverbs in Holman Old Testament Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 338].

CC9 —“But the second half of the proverb is also true. The ‘desire’ is the good things longed for, the hope whose postponement brought such agony. When it ‘comes’ it brings complete revitalization. Ac¬ceptance to medical school, a positive answer from a sweetheart who had been previously indecisive, an extraordinary return on an investment, a loved one restored to health when all seemed bleak—these all are expressions of desire come true, with its life-giving powers. Nothing about us is more human than our ability to imag¬ine the future and to be distressed or blessed by its outcome. One of the great gifts of the gospel is its hope which never lets us down (Rom. 5:5)” [David A. Hubbard, Proverbs (Dallas: Word Books, Publisher, 1989), 197-198].

Other Sources (OS)

OS1 —suicide statistics

  • Almost 32,000 people commit suicide annually in the United States.
  • Suicide ranks No. 11 as a cause of death in the U.S. (Homicide, by comparison, is No. 14). More people kill themselves than kill each other.
  • The suicide rate for all ages combined is 10.7 per 100,000 people.
  • Suicide, on average, claims the life of one person every 18 minutes.
  • Men commit suicide 4.1 times more often than women. But women attempt suicide three times more often than men.
  • In the U.S., there are an estimated 730,000 suicide attempts each year.
  • The suicide rate among young people has tripled since the 1950s. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among teenagers.
  • Suicide is not an inheritable trait. However, the risk of suicide may be higher for family members of those who have committed suicide.

Adapted from “Suicide Is a Leading Killer in America,” http://www.sccenter.org/facts.html (Suicide & Crisis Center) [Accessed April 18, 2006]

OS2 —“When I analyze the question, Why suicide? Two words sum up the attitude of the suicidal person: hopelessness and helplessness. The suicidal person feels locked in a situation that is without hope and beyond help. Looking at the problem, the individual is convinced there is no way out.
No hope.
No possible solution.
No way that anything can be really ‘normal’ again.
No way to ever really love again.
No way to succeed in life.
No way.”
Jerry Johnston, Why Suicide? (Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1987), 121.

OS3 —hope—“the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best . . . to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence . . . to feel that something desired may happen” [www.infoplease.com/ipd/A0479415.html (InfoPlease) [Accessed April 24, 2006]

OS4 —hope—“something good that you want to happen in the future, or a confident feeling about what will happen in the future” [http://dictionary.cambridge.org/define.asp?key=37879&dict=CALD (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary) [Accessed April 24, 2006]

Further Learning

Learn more about: Life, Suicide,

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