They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as Eagles. They shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31
This was one of the verses read in our church service this past week. It is a very popular verse that most Christians can quote and many even claim as their “life verse.” And why not! It is both a comforting verse during times of weakness or depression and it is powerful verse when we are about to undertake something great. Who wouldn’t want to bask in the idea that if we just wait on God, then we will soar like the eagles soar. We will work hard for God without ever growing worry or even tired. Instead of forging ahead under our own strength and our own timing, we simply have to wait on God to give the word and then we go.
This week in my small group, we briefly discussed this verse and what it means to “wait upon the Lord.” Most agre edthat waiting on God has to do with resting in His presence and not allowing the cares of the world to bother us. For the record, I do believe it has a lot to do with that. With that said, I did bring up an interpretation of Isaish 40:31 that I once heard in sermon that said that waiting on God did not mean sitting back, relaxing, and waiting on Him to do something. The word wait had more to do with what a waiter does at a restaurant. They wait on people. They serve them. When I heard that sermon, I remember thinking that there were some great spiritual applications to that interpretation of the verse. When we wait on God, when we serve Him, that is when we are strengthened. However, even though the spiritual applications for that interpretation were wonderful, I remembered thinking then that before I bought into that interpretation of the verse, I would have to research into the Hebrew word that many English translations write as wait. But I never did the research.
However, after the brief discussion in my small group over Isaiah 40:31, I couldn’t shake it out of my mind. Funny thing is, earlier in the small group discussion, I mentioned that my biggest challenge of resting is not so much physical resting, but mental resting. I sometimes simply cannot turn off my mind to let it rest. Following the small group discussion, my mind would not rest until I sought God, both in prayer and studying the passage in order to see what it was that God was actually saying in this verse.
The first thing I did was look into numerous translations of the verse. Many said basically the same thing, using the words wait on the Lord. Others said things like, Those whose hope is in the Lord or Those who trust is in the Lord. To me, each of those words have slightly different connotations in the English language. Yes, they are similar in some degree and all can work together, but they are still different. Let’s look at the dictionary definition of the words, wait, hope, and trust
Wait – to remain inactive or in a state of repose, as until something expected happens; to be available or in readiness; to postpone or delay something or to be postponed or delayed; to look forward to eagerly
Hope – the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best; a person or thing in which expectations are centered; to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence
Trust – a person on whom or thing on which one relies; confident expectation of something; to believe.
When closely examining the definition of each of these English words, I can see how, using any one of these definitions, some very nice and practical sermons can be preached. However, even though they all made somewhat sense to me, I still knew I had to dig a little bit deeper because something just wasn’t sitting right deep inside me. There was something within the context of this passage that left me unsatisfied as to what Isaiah really meant by using the word wait (or whatever other word our Bible translations might have used).
The first thing I looked at was the overall message of this passage. What was its central theme? What one main thought was God, through Isaiah, trying to convey. Once I read it again in the context of the verses surrounding this verse, looking for the main idea or theme, the meaning of this passage began to come together.
This passage is focusing on strength. It talks about renewing our strength. It implies that eagles wings have strength. It mentions the strength needed to run without getting tired and to walk without becoming faint. It is the kind of strength we all need to effectively live our Christian life.
I think probably everyone reading this passage agrees with this theme. However, the question arises as to how we are to renew that strength. How are we to mount up with wings like an eagle? What do we need to do to run through our lives and not grow weary or to walk in God’s ways without growing faint? Most Christians don’t just automatically live in that kind of strength so we must have to do something in order to gain that strength.
Those who know this verse will quickly give the easy answer. They that WAIT upon the Lord will renew their strength. But again, I was not satisfied with the English word wait. I knew it could not just mean to sit back and relax and wait for God to do something. That just didn’t seem to agree with the rest of the Scriptures. It is then that I decided to do what I should have done years ago when the concept of wait was first brought to my attention. I went to the original Hebrew word that many of our Bibles translated as wait.
The Hebrew word qavah is used in this passage and it has both a literal and figurative meaning. The literal definition of the word qavah is “to bind together like a cord.” This is not the same word that is used when tying something together with a cord. It literally is a picture of making a rope where you weave and bind different strands together to make a strong rope. A single strand, or string, does not have much strength. However, when several strands are woven together, it becomes a rope with a lot of strength. No one string bears the burden because that would cause the string to snap. Instead, all strings bind tightly together to give the rope strength.
The literal definition of the word qavah implies that there is strength in the number of strands that we bind ourselves to. It is very easy then to see that if we take the literal definition of qavah that if we bind ourselves with God and other spiritual strands that He has placed in our lives (the Word, the Church, etc.) that our strength will be renewed.
Now let’s look at the figurative definition of qavah. When used in a figurative sense, it means “to wait, hope, or expect. That is more in the line of what most people normally think of when they read Isaiah 40:31. To renew our strength, we should wait and hope expectantly on God. In the original Hebrew, it figuratively implies a certain amount of anticipation. It is the anticipation of something exciting that you have been looking forward to.
It is true that most Bible translators have chosen to translate qavah in its figurative and not its literal sense. Perhaps because they can convey this idea by using one simple word like wait. Had they chosen to use the literal definition, to bind together like a cord, it would have been much more difficult to convey the meaning. I cannot possibly pretend to be a better Bible translator than those scholars that translated the original Hebrew into some of our more modern translations, but in this case I have to ask whether or not they chose the best word in this case.
Remember what the main idea of this passage was. To renew our strength. To be able to mount up on wings as eagles. To run and not grow weary and to walk and not faint. All of those are active words. Where the concept of waiting is passive. However, if we use the literal definition of qavah, it is very active. What does waiting have to do with strength? On the other hand, what does binding together like a cord have to do with strength? Which one implies growing in strength?
To help further illustrate why I believe it makes more sense to go with the literal definition of qavah, let’s continue to look at this passage to see what it says following the word qavah.
They will mount up with wings as eagles. This is one of those examples where the figurative translation of qavah holds up. When we see an eagle soaring through the skies, it often seems so effortless as he rarely even flaps his wings, but just soars with his open wings through the sky. The reason the eagle does not have to flap his wings that often is that instead of flapping hard to fly, he waited for the thermal winds to blow by and carry him effortlessly across the sky. Those who cling to the figurative definition of qavah will point out that if we don’t try to flap our spiritual wings trying to take flight, but instead wait for God to bring His thermal winds by us, then we too can soar spiritually as if on spiritual wings of eagles. There are great spiritual lessons that we can learn from this concept. However, is it truly what this passage was talking about?
If we adhere more to the literal interpretation of qavah then there are spiritual lessons we can learn there as well. If we are weak and in need of strength, then we should bind ourselves together with God and those things He has put in our lives (the Bible, the Church, prayer, fellowship with others, etc.) and then the spiritual flight we take will not be characterized by the hard work of wing flapping, but instead will be more akin to effortless soaring. Why? Because there is a strength that comes from this kind of binding together with God and the things of God.
They shall run and not grow weary. Whereas soaring in the skies might be likened to where we are in our relationship with God, in that we can see things from God’s perspective from high on top of the world, I like to think of running as those big life altering things that God puts in our paths. It could be a ministry He puts before you or it could be a certain area of your life that He has called you into (work, ministry, family, etc.) I have tried hard to see how by simply waiting, we will gain the strength to run without tiring. As a basketball coach, if I had my teams just sit around and wait for the game without any training, then they would not last more than a couple of minutes before their bodies and therefore their play would grow tired and weary. God, through Isaiah, chose the analogy of running for a reason and everyone knows that if you are going to run and not get tired, you need to work ahead of time to get in shape. Sitting back and waiting never does any good. However, as a coach, I know that if you work to get in shape then you can run your race without growing tired. If an athlete binds together all the essential elements needed (working out, eating right, proper equipment, proper rest, etc.) then he or she can run without growing weary or tired. This makes much more sense to me than simply sitting by and waiting expectantly on something to happen to so that I can run.
They shall walk and not faint. Whereas it may be said that flying and running are things we do that is not part of our daily life, but reserved for those times when God is going to do something special in or through us, walking is something most of us do every single day. It is the day to day walk, or even sometimes a grind, of the Christian life. It is those spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, and fellowship with others (the binding together as a cord) that we can walk through the day to day living without growing tired of the daily grind. It is through that binding together that we can continue to minister to others, to pour out our lives into those around us, without growing faint. The more we pour the Holy Spirit into the world around us, the more He fills us up. We cannot minister to others in our daily lives by simply waiting for it to happen. While on earth, Jesus went around to people looking for people to minister to. He wants us to do the same. Therefore, I believe that if we are going to have the strength to walk through the daily grind of life ministering to people in our paths, then we need to bind ourselves with God and the tools and resources that God gives us. I know for me, each time I bind myself together within the fellowship, Bible study, prayer, and encouragemnt of my small group that I leave their strengthened for the week at hand.
With all that said, in my opinion, a more accurate, yet more wordy translation of what the original Hebrew verse was trying to convey would be more like They that have their lives bound together and intertwined with God and His resources that He provides, much like the strands of a rope intertwine and bind together to form strength, will exchange their weakness of a single strand for the strength of the rope as a whole. With that binding, they will be able to soar like the eagle when bound to God on those spiritual thermals. They will train in such a way that when God gives them a job to do that takes endurance, they will be able to run through it without growing tired. Even in the day to day grind of their lives, when they are bound together with God and the resources He provides, they will be able to walk through life without fainting.
I am not negating that we have to take time to rest nor am I implying that there are not times that we need to simply sit back and wait for God to do something. However, those are not the normal things we should be doing as a Christian. And I do not believe that is the message of Isaiah 40:31. As a follower of Christ, we should be daily be strengthening ourselves by doing the works that God has called us to do and by taking advantages of the spiritual strengthening resources He provides for us. If we use the figurative definition of qavah, it implies that if we want to gain strength, we need to simply wait. The logical conclusion then would be that if we want to continue to gain strength, we should continue to wait. I don’t know about you, but I believe that God wants to use us more than He wants to see us simply waiting.
Bind yourself together like a cord with God and His resources. That is how you get stronger. That is how you spiritually soar like an eagle. That is how you will run through those assignments God puts before you without growing weary. That is how you walk through the daily life without faining.