The Scripture expressions ‘waiting on’, ‘waiting upon’, and ‘waiting for’ almost always mean the same thing, namely awaiting someone or something expectantly. (‘To wait on’ someone or something is an expression still heard in some parts of the English-speaking world: for example, in Scotland.) When any of these expressions is used in the Old Testament in connection with God, for example, “wait on the Lord”, they generally describe someone patiently waiting for God to fulfil a previously given promise or revealed purpose. However, the wait is often long, and the attendant circumstances are frequently testing. Such waiting therefore requires faith to believe that God can be completely trusted as to the timing of His promised action, and also that He will then do what is for the genuine spiritual good of the one waiting, as well as that which is for His greater glory.
We live in days when we expect instant replies to our communications, with little or no waiting. Similarly, in our prayer lives, we are often like the psalmist who pleaded for God to act “speedily” (Pss 31.2; 69.17; 102.2; 143.7). We find the same thing elsewhere in the Psalms, where we read the question “how long O Lord” at least eight times (6.3; 13.1; 35.17; 79.5; 80.4; 89.46; 90.13; 94.3). However, God’s answer might not come immediately and if, in His sovereign will, He chooses not to answer swiftly, then we have to “wait on [upon, for] the Lord”. For us today this might be in times of recovering from illness, looking for employment, waiting for doors to open for Gospel opportunity, or many other different circumstances. Of course, by not answering immediately, and making us wait, God is thereby ensuring that we can enjoy the fulness of the blessing promised in James 1.4: “let [patient] endurance have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (JND1).
Below we will gather together the “comfort of the scriptures” (Rom 15.4) in the matter of waiting, which helps believers live under the often-testing circumstances of patiently waiting on the Lord. At such times there is, on the one hand, the possibility of becoming despondent or, on the other, the temptation to act hastily to try to solve the problem independently, without waiting for God to act.
In the Old Testament, the original waiter for the Lord is the previously impatient, scheming Jacob who, towards the end of his life, exclaimed “I wait for thy salvation, O Jehovah” (Gen 49.18, JND). He was predicting the future of each of his sons and their descendants and, having just said some sad things about the prospects of Dan, he was about to say something similar concerning Gad when he unexpectedly interjected this remarkable statement of faith! Albert Barnes commented “The patriarch, contemplating the power of the adversaries of his future people, breaks forth into the expression of his longing desire and hope of that salvation of the Almighty by which alone they can be delivered” (Notes on the Old Testament, Blackie & Son: London, 1884).
Not surprisingly, most of the other Old Testament quotations are subsequently found in the Psalms, especially those written by David, but we also find a good number in Isaiah, and a few elsewhere in Scripture.
Statements About Those Who Waited On The Lord
Psalm 33 begins by instructing the righteous to “Rejoice in the Lord … praise the Lord … sing unto him” (vv 1-2). The reasons given for this instruction are that “the word of the Lord is right; and all his works are done in truth. He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. By the word of the Lord were the heavens made” (vv 4-6). Having assured themselves that “the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine” (vv 18-19), the faithful are then happily able to say “Our soul waiteth for the Lord: he is our help and our shield” (v 20). No circumstances are outside the control of such a God, so the future can be happily committed to Him!
There are two interesting illustrations in the Psalms about waiting, the first concerning servants: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us’ (123.2). Secondly, concerning those Levites on duty in the Tabernacle, whose job was to look for and announce the break of day, so that the new sacrifice could be offered: “I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning” (130.5-6). The Levites, “servants of the Lord, which by night stand in the house of the Lord” (134.1) were watching and waiting with eager expectation for the dawn of a new day.
Isaiah often had waiting on his mind when delivering his great prophecy about the Babylonian Captivity and beyond, following the failures of the tribe of Judah. Whether for himself, or when by the Spirit he projected his thoughts to the coming days of the Tribulation, “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30.7), he wrote “I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him” (Isa 8.17). Isaiah had been faithful in recording his prophecy and, although surrounded by unfaithfulness, he would wait for the Lord to fulfil His previously revealed purposes. When the answer came, it brought forth the happy exclamation “It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (25.9). The complete fulfilment of this verse will be seen in the experience of Israel at the end of the Tribulation. Then they will say “Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee” (26.8): so, God’s name, and the remembrance of Him, will be uppermost in their thoughts.
Similarly, in Isaiah 30.18 we have “A picture of the blessings reserved for the faithful remnant in the Messianic dispensation” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges), when we read “therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.” Then the waiters will enjoy the promised blessing: “the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more: he will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee” (v 19).
In the final days of the Tribulation, just before the establishment of the Kingdom, the armies of the nations will assemble against Jerusalem, but they will be utterly destroyed. The faithful remnant in Israel will be looking on and praying “O Lord, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble” (Isa 33.2).
Hosea warned the nation of Judah that their Jacob-like character would bring the Lord’s discipline: “The Lord hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him” (Hos 12.2). The answer to this was “Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually” (v 6).
(To be continued …)
¹ J N Darby, The Holy Scriptures - A New Translation from the Original Languages