The meaning of Isaiah 40:31 has to do with God giving strength to those who are weak because of dark and difficult seasons in life. When Isaiah declared “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength”, he was speaking to people in a particular situation. Today, many of us find ourselves in very similar circumstances. Waiting is not what you think it means. In this post, we will explore what it means to wait on God and what it looks like to mount up on eagles wings.
Context of Isaiah 40:31 meaning
The book of Isaiah is primarily a book of prophecy. It’s named after the prophet who delivered the majority of the prophecies recorded in the book. Isaiah was called to be a prophet to the Jews living in Judah and Jerusalem.
In the first part of the book, Isaiah’s prophecies are filled with messages of judgment and destruction.
The Jewish people had strayed from God. They were committing terrible sins. God was trying to use Isaiah to call them back to holiness and righteousness. They utterly refused to repent and return to God.
So what did God decide to do?
God decided to send them into captivity in Babylon.
This was not going to be the end of their story though. Yes, they would be exiled in Babylon. Yes, they would experience discomfort for a very long while. And yes, they would experience many unpleasant things as a result of their sins.
But their situation would be turned when God allowed them to be released from Babylon and returned home.
Here’s an important detail to remember: Isaiah 40:31 is being spoken to them during the time they are actually in Babylon under captivity. Isaiah sent the message in a letter to them.
God described what their lives would be like after their release. For the most part, this is what Isaiah 40 is about. It tells of their lives after God’s favor has been restored.
But towards the end of the chapter, Isaiah gives them some encouragement for the current situation they find themselves in.
Isaiah 40:31 is a powerful promise to a people enduring the consequences of sin and bad decisions.
Now that we have a picture of who wrote this and why, let’s explore the verses.
Isaiah 40:28-31 meaning
Keeping in mind that this message is being given to people in capacity, let’s pick up the study in Isaiah 40:27:
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? (ESV)
In this verse, Isaiah is voicing out loud what is on the minds of the people in Babylon. The people were losing hope in God’s justice. They questioned the presence of God.
They began to wonder if God was at all seeing them and their plight. Doubt was creeping in and their faith began to shake.
Isaiah 40:28-31 is Isaiah’s response to what they were thinking and feeling.
Isaiah 40:28 meaning of “Have you not known? Have you not heard?”
Isaiah is responding to questions in the hearts of the people by asking questions:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 40:28a, ESV).
In much of Isaiah 40, Isaiah describes God’s power in creation. He is pointing the people to visible things that express God’s might and glory and greatness.
Isaiah is trying to draw their attention from the darkness of their situation to look at something and someone bigger and grander…something they had forgotten.
For so long the people had been worshiping idols made with their own hands that they had forgotten what they had learned about the God who created them:
Have you not been paying attention? Have you not been listening? Haven’t you heard these stories all your life? Don’t you understand the foundation of all things? God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants. He stretches out the skies like a canvas — yes, like a tent canvas to live under. Isaiah 40:21-22 (MSG)
He reminds the Jewish exiles that it is this everlasting God who they’ve known about for forever, who is still in charge of their lives.
They had not been forgotten and God wasn’t ignoring them.
Isaiah 40:28b-30 meaning
Isaiah goes on to describe God and His power to help them in their situation. This description goes from the second part of verse 28 to verse 31.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted (Isaiah 40:28b – 30 ESV)
Meaning of Isaiah 40:30 Even youths shall faint and be weary
Notice the different words used to describe the condition of the youths. For us to truly get the power of verse 29 and verse 31, we need to understand these words.
So, let’s do a little breakdown.
Shall faint comes from the Hebrew word yaap which means to get tired and worn out because of running away from someone or something or because of heavy physical labor.
Be weary comes from the Hebrew word yaga. It means to gasp in a way that indicates complete and utter exhaustion. This is referring more to the hardness of life and how we become emotionally and spiritually worn out. In other words, when you’re tired and sick of being tired.
Shall fall exhausted comes from the Hebrew word kasal and it is referring to physical collapse because of weaknesses in the ankles and knees.
This weakness and collapse is due to lack of strength. Picture someone staggering and reeling until they topple over.
Notice that the prophet is using these words to describe youth.
As these words have been explained, can you relate to any of them? Do you ever feel like this in life? Just so worn out that you want to collapse? So tired you could just burst into tears?
This was the state and condition of the Jews in Babylonian exile. Being under the thumb of Babylon wore them out.
Between the enslavement and being completely out of place and being forced to give up their religion, they were just…tired of living the way they were.
To those who are experiencing this level of tiredness, God’s promise in verses 29 and 31 are sure.
So here comes verse 31.
Isaiah 40:31 explained
Notice that verse 31 starts with a tiny three letter word but. When this word appears in Scripture, look for a complete contrast to follow. Whatever was said before, the opposite will come after the word but.
So, in verse 30, all we saw was weariness, fainting, and collapsing. In verse 31 we see flying, running, walking.
Let’s dig in.
Meaning of the word wait in Isaiah 40:31
The word wait comes from the Hebrew qavah
It means to expect or look for with eagerness. This word carries the idea of hope and patience and resting and trusting. It also paints the picture of a continuous, sustained relationship in which you abide or dwell patiently.
Let’s remember that Isaiah is writing this to people who are in Babylonian captivity because they were wayward. The idea here is that God made a promise. They already knew that God had promised deliverance.
But they were growing weary of waiting for the fulfillment of the promise.
Isaiah was trying to encourage them to continue believing that God would deliver them just as He had promised.
The act of waiting is living in expectation of seeing that promise fulfilled. Living in the belief that it will happen just as God said it would. Living in complete confidence and trust in God’s word. Living in complete dependence on God.
This verse is describing a spiritual attitude while you experience something difficult, whether because of consequences due to bad decisions or just because of a season of life.
It’s not about looking for every possible way of getting out of the situation. It’s about settling into it because you are exactly where you need to be because God has orchestrated and ordained it to be so.
It’s about giving up your will and embracing this season as God’s will. It’s about getting comfortable in this season that God has placed you in.
How do we renew our strength in the Lord?
The next part of the verse says that those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. Other versions read will gain new strength.
The secret to renewed strength is waiting on God. That’s what the passage says.
But don’t miss this detail: it is not you who renew your strength. It is God who does the renewing.
The Hebrew word for renew used here is chalaph. It means to change but specifically refers to changing your clothes and carries the idea of taking off old clothes and putting on new clothes.
Isaiah uses this word figuratively to describe the idea that for those who wait on God, they get to have their weaknesses exchanged for His strength.
This is why Isaiah says in verse 29:
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Isaiah 40:29 ESV
The words power and might in verse 29 are directly connected to the words faint, weary, and exhausted that we defined in verse 28.
It is to the weary and faint that power and might is given. And God gives it through the process of renewing. He exchanges our weariness for strength and our fainting for energy galore.
To tap into this renewing power, we must wait on God.
What does it mean to mount up with wings as eagles?
Here, Isaiah uses the metaphor of an eagle to tell the Jews about the benefits of waiting on God.
…they shall mount up with wings like eagles.
Now, to get what this means, you have to know a little something about eagles.
I’m a little bit of a nerd so I watch Discovery and National Geography for fun. I’ve learned that eagles can fly as high as 10, 000 feet in the air.
In fact, if a thunderstorm begins, they can break through the clouds and fly above those storm clouds in the beauty and warmth of sunshine.
This can take their flight higher than 10,000 feet. At that height, soaring above the clouds does not require much effort. They just need to keep their wings spread out and the wind carries them, allowing them to glide without effort.
Isaiah was painting this picture in the minds of Jewish friends enduring captivity.
Can you see the eagle moving through the air, from the trees to the sky to above the clouds?
In Hebrew the word for mount up is alah. It means to move from a lower place to a higher place.
To do this kind of movement takes some power and energy. Isaiah is talking to people who are overwhelmed and overcome with weariness and exhaustion.
They don’t have this power on their own. But He reminds them that they serve a God who is all powerful and is never running low on energy.
Isaiah tells them to wait on this God who will exchange their weariness for energy so they can soar like eagles.
You see, where they were in their minds and spirits was a very low place. The sadness, the depression, the discomfort of being enslaved and exiled sapped their emotional, physical and spiritual strength.
In hard times, we don’t seem to have the energy to do anything. Like the Jews in captivity, we become weary and fall.
But God will infuse us with His strength so we can soar like an eagle. God can cause us to move from a low place to a higher place where our circumstances do not make you weary and faint.
They shall run and not be weary
Isaiah goes back to the ideas he used in verse 30 and connects the last bit of verse 31.
He says although the youth shall faint they shall walk and faint.
Although the youth shall be weary they will run and not be weary.
And all this is possible because they wait on God and He renews their strength. With renewed power, they can walk and run.
This walking and running is both literal and figurative.
The Jews would experience an incredible amount of stress as a result of being exiled. Many of them would be involved in a lot of physical labor.
In this verse, God promised that they would receive the physical strength they needed to stay up to the demands of the tasks they would need to do each day.
But the emotional, spiritual and psychological stress would also be real. And God also promised that they would receive the kind of mental strength they would need to face everything that life has to throw their way.
What is the message of Isaiah 40:31
Those who wait on God, putting their complete hope and trust in Him, they are strengthened in every way to run the race of life. The God who never grows weary or gets tired promises to share His regenerating and reinvigorating power.
Those who bind themselves to God will be given His attributes to face the challenges of life. The same energy that keeps God will become theirs. But the condition is clear: stay hooked to God. Wait on God.
Lessons from Isaiah 40:31
God has not forgotten you
It is very tempting to believe, when we face trials, that God has forgotten us. This was the primary complaint of the Jews against God in Isaiah 40.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? (Isaiah 40:31).
But the truth is it was they who had forgotten God. The situation they were was God’s way of calling their attention back to Him.
Because sometimes when life is comfortable, we become self-sufficient and stubborn and have no need of God.
God has to remind us that we need Him more than we realize. And whatever it takes, God will protect us from ourselves.
The affliction of being exiled in Babylon was God’s season of both disciplining the Jews and rebuilding His relationship with Him.
Although it was going to be a hard season, He was going to be with them through it all because of His goal to turn their hearts back to Himself.
Whatever your season looks like right now, know that God has not abandoned you. On the contrary, He’s experiencing this season with you.
Whether you are in it because of your own waywardness, as was the case with the Jews, God is still faithful to be with you.
There is no condemnation on His part.
In this chapter, Isaiah goes on and on about how God’s power is manifested in the natural world. When you feel forgotten by God, spend some time in nature.
Slow down and take in everything around you. I promise this: God will remind you that He’s not nearly as far away as you think He is.
Waiting does not mean sitting still
Earlier we talked about what waiting means in the context of Isaiah 40:31.
It’s about hopeful expectations and abiding trust.
All that seems very internal and passive, right?
Maybe it is.
That’s why in seasons of waiting on God, He will give an assignment.
God didn’t expect the Jews to sit in Babylon and mope for the period of time they would be there.
Here’s what God told them to do:
Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:5-7
God told them to live full lives.
God needed them to bloom where they had been planted.
Are you in a season of waiting on God? There are things you need to accomplish. Growth that needs to happen. Purpose to be pursued.
Maybe you’re supposed to be committing yourself fully to your marriage. Perhaps start a business that you’ve been putting off? How about a book God placed on your heart?
If you are truly expecting God to do great things when this season is over, then you must make wise use of this season.
God says this is a season of increase, not decrease. Even in a season of exile, God is present to bless your obedience.
What’s your assignment for your waiting season?
Accept the strength God gives
One of the reasons the Jews had ended up in exile was because they had strayed from God. The nation had become quite prosperous and so God no longer took first place.
The sin of self-sufficiency took over.
But now in exile, they were jolted back to the reality of how fickle and vulnerable life is. The spiritual and emotional struggle they faced in exile caused them to feel and face their own weaknesses.
They had strayed so far they had forgotten who God was. They had forgotten that God does not get weak or weary like they do.
They needed to remember this so that they would know to open themselves to power and strength that God made available to them.
As I mentioned in the previous point, they had plenty to do in their waiting season. It was going to take alot of physical energy as well as emotional, spiritual, and psychological capital to live a full life in a foreign land where they were uncomfortable.
If their season of waiting was going to be at all pleasant or fruitful, they needed God’s power and strength.
They had 70 years of waiting to do!
If you find yourself in a season of waiting, know that God doesn’t expect you to do it in your own strength. He is ready to pour into you and empower you to live a full life while you wait.
You can receive this strength by trusting God moment by moment,
…by going deeper in the Word
…by increased time in prayer
…by keeping track of His movements in this season through journaling
…by constantly looking forward in expectation, keeping your inner voice positive and hopeful
…by deliberately watching how God is slowly orchestrating the pieces of your life,
…by believing that even when you cannot see His movements, He’s still at work in the background because He promised that He would.
Final words on the meaning of Isaiah 40:31
God is always in the business of drawing us close to Him. Whether we make mistakes or not, He shows up for us anyway.
In fact, the more mistakes we make, the more He shows up. God will show up to give us the strength we need so we do not grow faint or fall.
If you get nothing else from this study, know this: you are not alone. God stands with you. God is holding you up. It doesn’t matter that you have strayed.
You belong to Him. He owns you, flaws and all. And you are His to sustain through this and every season. Will you allow yourself to be kept by God?
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