Hebrew Word Study: What Does it Mean to Wait for the LORD?

What does it mean to “wait for the LORD?” Does it mean sitting back and doing nothing?

No one I know personally is waiting for insignificant things from God — I am not waiting for insignificant things from God! They are huge things with eternal significance:

…for someone to leave a physically abusive relationship
…for an infant to make it through one more infection to have a chance at beating cancer
…for someone to end an affair
…for a marriage to pull back together
…for someone to get help with a substance abuse problem
…for specific children in danger to be safe, in caring homes
…for teens to learn to accept love and begin making nondestructive choices

God’s intervention is desperately required!

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
…Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

(Isaiah 64:1,4)

The Hebrew language has almost 20 words for “wait” in the Old Testament (NASB).
I only picked one for this post — the most common word that is used for “waiting on the LORD.”

What exactly does waiting look like? What does it mean? Is it helpless?

waiting by clock

The first time “wait” appears in the Bible, Jacob is blessing his twelve sons. Right after making a disturbing statement that his son Dan will be “a serpent” — that evil and trouble is present — Jacob prays:

“For your salvation I wait, O LORD.” (Genesis 49:18)

This word “wait” comes from the Hebrew qavah“to wait, hope for, look, expect.”

The OT makes strong promises for those who qavah for the LORD:

“I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1)
“Wait for the LORD, and He will save you.” (Proverbs 20:22)
“This is the LORD for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9)
“Those who hopefully wait [qavah qavah] for Me will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 49:23)
“Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed.” (Psalm 25:3)
“The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.”
(Lamentations 3:25)

Even sometimes when we don’t succeed at waiting very hopefully…

“When You did awesome things which we did not expect [qavah], You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence.” (Isaiah 64:3)

Before Jacob’s blessing, there is one earlier appearance of qavah in the OT — but it isn’t translated “wait.”

“Then God said, ‘Let the waters below and the heavens be gathered [qavah] into one place, and let the dry land appear’; and it was so.” (Genesis 1:9)

qavah can mean “gathering” — especially gathering strength. (It can also mean binding or tying something strongly together.)

“Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.”
(Isaiah 40:31)

Wait for the LORD;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the LORD.”
(Psalm 27:14)

“O LORD, be gracious to us;
We have waited for You.
Be their strength every morning,
Our salvation also in the time of distress.”
(Isaiah 33:2)

“Waiting with steadfast endurance is a great expression of faith. It means enduring patiently in confident hope that God will decisively act for the salvation of his people… Those who wait in true faith are renewed with strength so that they can continue to serve the Lord while looking for his saving work.” (qavah, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament)

“Waiting for the LORD” does not mean sitting back helplessly.
It means to gather strength —
to be energized by the confident expectation that God is going to act.

References: www.blueletterbible.org, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament

3 Responses to “Hebrew Word Study: What Does it Mean to Wait for the LORD?”
  1. Emily says:

    really really love this post….and the beautiful promises of scripture to cling to.

  2. Krista says:

    These are exactly the words the Lord keeps speaking to me daily while I’ve been going through all these physical struggles and unknowns about so many things. Wait upon Me. Trust in Me. Lean on me and on My strength. Thank you Debbie for writing and letting God use you in this way! It’s really encouraging!!!

  3. Barbara Greenstein says:

    Good stuff Debbie! Love those scripture promises. Waiting sounds a lot like faith.

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