Hope in the old testament*

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Tyndale Bulletin 34 (1983) 33-60.


By David A. Hubbard

All the prophets who have spoken, from

Samuel and those who came afterward, also

proclaimed these days (Acts 3:24).
Those words of Peter (cf. also 1 Pet. 1:10-12) remind us

that the first Christians understood the Old Testament as

promise and the New Testament as fulfilment. That note of

hope and promise, which guided the early believers, is the

centre of the observations that follow.
A. The Focus on the Prophets
This study has deliberately skirted the fertile soil of

apocalyptic literature in order to traverse more carefully

the terrain of the prophets. An occasional sidetrip,

however, has been taken into other parts of the Old

Testament, since the whole thing is a book of hope, a set

of writings tipped toward the future.

In tackling the great prophet themes, I must ignore the

rich vocabulary of hope, though W. Zimmerli,1 J. van der

Ploeg,2 and H. W. Wolff3 have treated it in ample measure

and handy form.

Further, because my aim has been to summarize and to some

extent schematize the prophetic teaching, I have here
* A paper read a the Decennial Meeting of the Institute for

Biblical Research in Dallas, Texas, 4th-5th November 1980.

The author wishes to express his indebtedness to Rev. Dr.

R. W. L. Moberly of Knowle, England, for many helpful

comments on an earlier draft of this article.

1. W. Zimmerli, Man and His Hope in the Old Testament (SBT,

second series 20) (London: SCM, 1971; Nashville,

Illinois: Allenson, 1971) 1-11.

2. J. van der Plo g, 'L’espérance dans l'Ancien Testament',

RB 61 (1954) 4:1-507.

3. H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, ET by M.

Kohl (London: SCM, 1974; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974)


deliberately avoided both detailed exegesis of the relevant

passages and extended engagement with the literature which

debates their meaning. Some oversimplification, therefore,

is unavoidable.
B. The Definition of Hope
Since the subject is hope, we can gratefully bypass a technical

discussion of what eschatology is with its debate over

narrower and broader definitions. I lean toward the broader

form, despite van der Ploeg's caveat that eschatology should be

restricted to the apocalyptic view of the end times.4 To be

preferred is P. R. Davies' recent definition. Eschatology

a 'dimension of belief—that history moves in a direction,

that this direction is set by God, and that God acts within

history to insure this direction.'5 In this perspective,

prophetic hope and eschatology mean about the same thing.
C. The Approach of this Paper
The two main sections give (1) a sketch of the dominant themes

which contribute to Old Testament hope and (2) a summary of

the common emphases. The look at the themes will highlight

the variety of strands braided together in the fabric of hope.

Further, it will suggest that hope is expressed through

images and thematic models not through 'firm doctrines and

fixed schemes'.6 The section on the common emphases speaks

to the unity that works in and through the biblical diversity,

while the conclusion looks at the implications of these two

approaches for the New Testament and the Christian church.
A. Exodus and Conquest
There may be some truth in J. Maag's thesis that nomadic

life - life on the move - influenced Israel's march to the
4. J. van der Ploeg, 'Eschatology in the Old Testament',

Oudtestamentische Studien 17 (1972) 93.

5. P. R. Davies, 'Eschatology in the Book of Daniel', JSOT 17

(1980) 38; cf. P. Hanson's definition cited by E. W.

Nicholson in Tradition and Interpretation, ed. by G. W.

Anderson (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979) 203.

6. R. E. Clements, Old Testament Theology: A Fresh Approach

(London: Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1978) 147; cf. his

'The Forms of Prophetic Hope', 144-147.

HUBBARD: Hope in the Old Testament 35
future.7 But it seems quite clear that it was Israel's

history more than social background that formed the basic

foundation of her hope.

1. The Exodus was clearly the ground of Hosea's expectations,

as it was the basis of so many of his accusations against his

fellow northerners (e.g. 9:10; 11:1-4; 13:4-5; cf. Am. 2:9-12).

His salvation promise takes Israel, back to her beginnings:

Therefore, behold, I will allure her,

and bring her into the wilderness,

and speak tenderly to her.

And there I will give her her vineyards,

and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.

And there she shall answer as in the days

of her youth,

as at the time when she came out of the

land of Egypt (Ho. 2:14-15).
The rescue beyond the judgment recaptures the fellowship of

the desert and transforms the bitter experience of Achor,

where Achan was judged for his sin (Jos. 7), into an

opportunity of hope. In a few brief words the adventures of

exodus, wilderness, and conquest are both rehearsed and


Similarly, in chapter 11, where God's kindness is the ground

of his divine complaint (11:1-4), Hosea looks to a time when,

They shall go after the Lord,

he will roar like a lion;

yea, he will roar,

and his sons shall come trembling

from the west;

they shall come trembling like birds

from Egypt,

and like doves from the land of Assyria;

and I will return them to their homes,

says the Lord (Ho. 11:10-11).

The motivation for the rescue is precisely the motivation for

the Exodus: the unique holy love of God (11:8-9).
7. J. Maag, Malkut Jhwh (SVT, 7) (Leiden: Brill, 1960)


The Exodus theme is repeated and expanded in the latter

sections of Isaiah, especially chapters 40-55. The contrast

between Isaiah 52:12 and Exodus 12:11 shows that the prophet

does more than reminisce; he describes deliverance from

exile as even more extraordinary than the initial hurried


For you shall not go out in haste,

and you shall not go in flight,

for the Lord will go before you,

and the God of Israel will be your

rear guard (Is. 52:12).
The new thing (Is. 43:16, 19) that God proposes to do in

making 'a way in the sea' and 'a way in the wilderness and

rivers in the desert' is an example of what Zimmerli calls

‘an audacious stroke which dares to press forward in

contemporary history toward that which is unheard of.’8

2. The wilderness was not forgotten in the prophetic

expectation. Ezekiel saw it as the site of a new purging

a repetition of what happened to their fathers (Ezk. 20:33-39).

Yet God's new courtship will take place there (Ho. 2:14); his

relationship with a once murmuring and recalcitrant people is

transformed into a blossoming love affair. Even more, the

wilderness itself is transformed with the exalting of the

valleys, the levelling of the mountains and the smoothing of

the rough places (Is. 40:3-6; cf. 48:20-21). What

originally represented an ordeal for the people and a test

God's patience has become a centre of fellowship and blessing.

3. Sinai and the giving of the law framed the background for

the new promise of Jeremiah 31:31-32, even though the emphasis

there was on discontinuity - the new, different, covenant, no

like the one which they broke. J. Levenson has shown how

Sinai cast its shadow on Ezekiel's mount of the future where,

new offerings, will be presented and new regulations celebrate,

(Ezk. 20:40-44). According to Levenson, this Sinaitic theme

'prescribes (as did the first mountain) the kind of society

which Israel must build.'9
8. Zimmerli, Man and His Hope 126.

9. J. Levenson, Theology of the Program of Restoration of

Ezekiel 40-48 (Cambridge, Mass.: Published by Scholars

Press for the Harvard Semitic Museum, 1976) 44.

HUBBARD Hope in the Old Testament 37
4. Moses deserves special mention, because, as E. Jacob has

noted, 'reflection on the exodus had more than once led the

prophet (Second Isaiah) to meditate on the person of Moses.'10

He notes the following parallels between the description of

the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah and the premier servant of

the Exodus: both are called servant (Ex. 4:10; Nu. 11:11;

Dt. 3:24; cf. Is. 42:1); prophet (Dt. 18:18; cf. Is. 49:2);

man of the spirit (Nu. 11:25-29; cf. Is. 42:1);

intercessor (Ex. 3 :11-14; Dt. 9:18-29; cf. Is. 53:12);

giver of a covenant (Ex. 24:8; cf. Is. 42:6; 52:15);

teacher (Dt. 4:10; 5:5; cf. Is. 42:4; 53:11).

5. The conquest furnished prophetic thought with the theme

of rest: 'The Lord your God is providing you a place of

rest, and will give you this land' (Jos. 1:13; cf. 11:23,

where the promise is fulfilled: 'and the land had rest from

war.') That theme is picked up in 2 Samuel 7:1 as the

setting of the Davidic covenant. The note of rest in the

land as the gift of God is echoed and transformed in the

book of Isaiah (e.g. Is. 28:12; 30:15).

6. The settlement contributed to the concept of saviour in

Israel's future expectation. Joshua's name and the

appearance of the Judges were both part of this: 'Thou

didst give them saviours who saved them from the hand of

their enemies' (Ne. 9:27). Obadiah's new saviours who go

up to Mount Zion to rule (Ob. 21) and the description in

Isaiah of God as Saviour (e.g. 43:3, 11) may also recall the

tradition of the Judges, as well as the deliverance of the


Israel's early history, then, shaped both the fact of her

hope and the language which framed it: 'Thus we find

promise and history in a process of transformation, in

which the traditional accounts of the promises took place

in the mastering of the new experiences of history, while

the new experience of history were understood as

transformations and expositions of the promises.'11
10. E. Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament, ET by A. W.

Heathcote and . J. Allcock (London: Hodder, 1958;

New York: Harper, 1958) 339; cf. also Levenson,

Restoration 38 ff.

11. J. Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the

Implications of a Christian Eschatology (London: SCM,

1967; New York: Harper, 1967). 111.

B. David and the Monarchy
1. Divine kingship is a theme almost uniformly recognized

a major motif in the so-called enthronement Psalms (47, 93

96-99). The prolonged discussion about their use and

meaning that began with H. Gunkel and proceeded with S.

Mowinckel, A. Weiser, C. Westermann, and H.-J. Kraus has been

reviewed recently by J. Gray12 and J. H. Eaton.13

My interpretation lies on the side of those who, with Martin

Buber, see God's kingship more as an expression of his

sovereignty in history both past and future than as a

reflection of a mythical ascent to the throne, patterned on

Near Eastern royal ideology.14 The tie with the Exodus

tradition in passages like Exodus 15, which ends with the

majestic affirmation, 'the Lord will reign forever and

ever,' encourages this interpretation. Th. C. Vriezen put

it this way: 'Eschatology is the expression of the belief

that God holds history in the hollow of his hand, and that

He will make the history of the world end in complete

communion between God and man so that He will come as King.’15

The theme of Divine kingship, rooted in history, celebrated

the cult, embodied (albeit imperfectly) in the monarchy, comes

to bright flower in the latter part of Isaiah, where God is

honoured as King (43:15, 44-6).

To the Chronicler, the idea of the real kingship of God was

cherished conviction. The theocracy was to be realized in

embodiment of Davidic ideals and the true worship in

post-exilic Israel (1 Ch. 17:14; 28:5; 29:23).

The elusive figure of the 'one like a son of man' (Dn. 7:13)

is probably best mentioned here. The lengthy history of
12. J. Gray, The Biblical Doctrine of the Reign of God

(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1979) 39-71.

13. J. H. Eaton, 'The Psalms and Israelite Worship' in

Tradition and Interpretation (ed. by G. W. Anderson)242-248.

14. M. Buber, Kingship of God (London: Allen & Unwin, 19673)


15. Th. C. Vriezen, An Outline of Old Testament Theology

(Oxford: Blackwell, 19792; Newton, Massachusetts:

Branford, 19702) 460.

HUBBARD: Hope in the Old Testament 39
interpretation is too tortuous a road for us to travel.

Enough to say that the throne-room scene, replete with the

accoutrements of royalty and the gift of a dominion not to

pass away, of a kingdom not to be destroyed, suggests that

this image does not derive from Isaiah's Servant songs but

is an extension of the divine kingship motif.16 It

captures in apocalyptic vision the true hope of Israel:

renovation of the whole of this earth into the kingdom of

God.'17 Far from being bound to mythic thinking, Israel

through hope of God's kingdom, 'gained the victory over

the myth of eternal repetition.'18

Divine kingship and its joyful expression in the Psalms may

well have made another contribution to Old Testament

eschatology: it encouraged the false optimism in regard to

the Day of the Lord that Amos (5:18-20) and Zephaniah

(1:7-18) had so roundly to decry.

2. Davidic kingship was a major source of Messianic hope,

in the technical sense of the phrase. We can sketch only

its basic contours here.

(a) The promises to Abraham were restated and, to some

extent, overshadowed in the Davidic covenant. The

parallels between the two covenants (Gn. 15 and 2 Sa. 7)

are well-known: David is promised a name like the great

ones of the earth, place where the people will be planted

in the land, and an offspring whose kingdom will be

established - an example of a promise in one era being

fulfilled in another and that fulfilment, in turn, becoming

the basis of future promise.19 This, incidentally, is one

of the relatively few places in which patriarchal events

become a source of future hope for the prophets (
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