What does it mean to wait patiently on the LORD in our lives and on the coming of Messiah?
Of the three times patience is translated as such from the Tanakh it appears as three different Hebrew words. Each is rich with insight and instruction on how to wait patiently on the LORD.
1) Ecclesiastes 7:8. “The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.”
First, a little background to the book of Ecclesiastes. In Christian tradition, many believe Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon due to the description as a “son of David” in the first verse – albeit under the pseudonym Koheleth. In the Jewish tradition, this book is simply called Koheleth.
Koheleth (קֹהֶלֶת) means gatherer (of sentences) or preacher and is derived from the verb קָהַל meaning to gather together as an assembly or congregation.
In the Jewish tradition, between 8th and 10th century CE, this book was further placed in the sub-section of the Wisdom books called the five Megillot (scrolls) alongside Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs and Lamentations.
Koheleth is read on Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). At first this appears strange, as Sukkot is a time of joyous celebrations and wedding imagery. Yet Ecclesiastes/Koheleth is full of sombre conclusions on life. We will find out more about this dichotomy as we travel through this study.
The word patient here in Ecclesiastes/Koheleth is אֶֽרֶךְ and is the adjective for slow. It is derived from the verb אָרַךְ meaning to continue, delay, endure, lengthen, linger, make him slow, prolong, stick to, survive and be long but almost always on time.
This is a good description of how we might sometimes feel waiting on the LORD. It is also a gentle and appropriate description of how the bridegroom and bride feel as they wait for their wedding.
This is the first clue that we are living in a dichotomy – waiting on a joyous wedding feast, while enduring the tribulations of life.
2) Psalms/Tehilim 37:7 “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of people who prosper in their way, because of they who brings wicked schemes to pass.”
The author of this Psalm is King David, the king of Israel who wrote so prophetically and accurately regarding the coming Messiah. He – like us – waited for Him with deep love through many battles and troubles.
Here, the Hebrew verb to wait patiently is חוּל. It is written as an imperative, so is the command Wait Patiently! It is also expressed in the only Hebrew reflexive stem (Hit’pael) meaning we do this action to ourselves, much like King David encouraged Himself in the LORD.
חוּל means to writhe, whirl, twirl, dance and is used to describe childbirth. This is a perfect picture of the Messiah who came to save us through His own birth. This is a truly awe-striking reality – that the God Who creates all things transcended into human form to save us from ourselves for eternity.
This is one of the sticking points in the Jewish mind to the argument that Yeshua could be the Messiah, because the Hebrew Scriptures quite clearly say that God is One. “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one/שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד (Deuteronomy/דְּבָרִים 6:4)
Within the Jewish tradition, there is a daily prayer called Yigdal, which states “He has no image of body nor is He a body.” So how could God also be Yeshua? If God is One God, how can He also have an image and be seen? How can He be appearing on earth in some form yet still be in Heaven as the Divine God of Israel? And yet God had already appeared in two places at once before He appeared temporarily in human form, yet did not in any way forfeit His utter divinity and omnipresence. When? During one of the most pivotal moments in Jewish history, the giving of the Torah: “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire.” (Exodus/שְׁמוֹת 19:18) How could God be on Mount Sinai in the form of fire yet still be completely God in Heaven?
It is this God we wait for as the returning Messiah, fully God in Heaven, yet also our Bridegroom for His wedding feast. Meanwhile, as we wait patiently, we find life full of writhing, dancing and struggles, often similar to the pains of childbirth.
Indeed, Yeshua Himself expounded this very description with His talmidim (disciples) as He encouraged them - and us - to wait patiently for Him: “Your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:20-22)
3) Psalms 40:1 “I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me, And heard my cry.”
Again, a Davidic Psalm, the word for waited patiently here is a קָוָה and is usually translated as hope. But it also means to stretch and twist; again invoking images of childbirth, struggle and character growth as we wait for Messiah.
This verb קָוָה is the root of the word Hatikvah (הַתִּקְוָה), the Israeli national anthem. The words describe with beauty the longing for Zion and ultimately the Messianic age of peace from Jerusalem:
As long as within our hearts
The Jewish soul sings,
As long as forward to the East
To Zion, looks the eye –
Our hope is not yet lost,
A hope two thousand years old,
To be a free people in our land
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Ultimately this freedom is spiritual through Messiah as King of all Creation.
Interestingly, Hatikvah long predates the political re-establishment of the Jewish homeland. Its author Naftali Hertz Imber (1856-1909) was a Hebrew poet who settled in Israel (then occupied by the Ottomans) in 1882. There he worked, (much as I do in the UK) as a Hebrew tutor to an Englishman named Sir Laurence Oliphant (1829-1888), “an eccentric British author, politician, world traveller, and Christian Zionist. In the 1880s, Oliphant’s religious beliefs inspired him to launch various philanthropic efforts to encourage Jewish resettlement in the historic Land of Israel.” (My Jewish Learning) Imber dedicated his poem Hatikvah to Oliphant. Never underestimate the comfort we experience through the love of Christian believers.
Poetically, in Psalms 40:1 the words wait patiently are written in a verb form that does not appear in any other language. The infinitive absolute is a classic Hebraism and literally says: “Waiting I waitied on the LORD” קַוֺּה קִוִּיתִי יְהוָה
The verb is therefore repeated twice, to deeply intensify the meaning. But that is often lost in translation, and translated as only one verb with an adverb, such as 'patiently waiting' or 'clearly speaking' etc.
But in God’s language He repeats the action word. This is key to strengthening ourselves as we wait. We have to wait, and wait again. I think of Joseph here. Two pits. Two seasons in his life when others did not honour his dreams; his family and fellow prisoners. Two deceitful betrayals; by his brothers and Potiphar’s wife. Joseph is a classic example of a life lived within this linguistic Hebraism.
And so, as we wait on the LORD in our lives and for Messiah’s return what does patience develop in us?
• Patience is a fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22) Heavenly patience is not man-made. It is His Spirit living in us. Through patiently waiting on the LORD we grow more like Him. He has been waiting all this time for His wedding, for us to be ready. Through our waiting we may catch more of His feeling, and humbly grieve for - instead - keeping Him waiting.
• Through patience we receive God’s promises: “Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made a promise to Avraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” (Hebrews 6:12-14) Like our forefather Avraham, life is a journey and we may need to patiently walk far in faith and obedience from our “fathers house and idols.”
• Through patience we will receive indescribable relief and blessings: “Since you have kept My command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (Revelation 3:10)
So, with God, we often live in a fulcrum balance between two states. There is a well-known Jewish phrase: "on the other hand." While we wait patiently for the LORD, all the evil of the world is doomed to perish. Yet on the other hand, evil seems to rise for a season and there is grief and sometimes great long-suffering for the people of God. Yet, both Jewish people of faith and people of the Biblical Christian faith wait patiently together for Messiah, just as He waits patiently for us to be ready.