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A New Year's Paradigm Shift -- Soaring not Struggling (Isaiah 40:28-31)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (8:03)

Griffon VultureThis day before the New Year, I spent an hour at our local CrossFit gym. I think I'm the oldest guy who comes to this gym. The men all seem buff and strong. The barbells they lift are loaded up with weights. My weights are light. They ran 800 meters today, which I can't do, so I used the rowing machine. You get the picture. Weak vs. strong.

So Isaiah 40:28-30 speaks to me. It shows the striking contrasts between strength and weakness, power and faltering. Verses 28-29 compare Yahweh's strength to human strength.

"Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint[1] or grow weary;[2]
his understanding is unsearchable." (Isaiah 40:28)

Yahweh has no limitations. Time doesn't faze him -- he is everlasting.[3] Chronological time means something to us, but isn't important in God's frame of reference. He isn't diminished by getting old. He creates, he knows everything, his energy never diminishes.

This morning, part my workout was to do 50 push presses, lifting the barbell over my head 50 times. I could only do 10 to 15 at a time; then I had to rest. If weights were any heavier, I wouldn't get to 50 at all. My strength gives out.

But our passage goes on to say that Yahweh transfers his limitless strength to us.

"He gives power[4] to the faint,[5]
and to him who has no might[6] he increases strength."[7] (Isaiah 40:29)

The text says that even the buff men and women in the gym will get to the point where their strength is utterly spent. They'll reach their limit.

"Even youths shall faint[8] and be weary,[9]
and young men shall fall exhausted."[10] (Isaiah 40:30)

But here comes the promise that doesn't depend upon my age or relative strength or endurance.

"They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;[11]
they shall mount up with wings[12] like eagles;
they shall run[13] and not be weary;[14]
they shall walk and not faint.[15] (Isaiah 40:31, ESV)

They who "wait upon the Lord" will find their strength renewed. "Hope in" (NIV) or "wait for" (NRSV, ESV), "wait upon" is qāwâ, "wait, look for, hope." The root means "to wait or to look for with eager expectation." Waiting with perseverance expresses our faith that God will save his people.[16]

As we turn our faith towards him, he strengthens us. "Renew" is ḥālap, which in the Hiphil stem has the idea of "change, exchange, replace."[17] There is a sense in which we exchange our weakness for his strength as we wait expectantly for him to act.

The promise is that in the Lord we will renew our strength, just as David "strengthened himself in the Lord his God" (1 Samuel 18:6b, NRSV). The prophet gives us wonderful images of soaring, running, and walking effortlessly. Praise the Lord!

Verse 31 shows us an eagle soaring. If you've ever watched eagles or vultures with their great wings, they hardly have to flap their wings. They just move their wings ever so slightly to catch the wind. They can stay up for hours. In the gym, the only way to gain altitude is to climb a rope. The heavier you are, the harder it is to climb. Imagine climbing up to the 500 feet or higher where eagles soar. Unless you have extreme upper body strength, you'll never make it.

But Isaiah is offering a completely different paradigm. Instead of the physical strength of young people in their prime, he suggests taking off flying like a bird. The secrets of aerodynamics are designed into a bird's wing or an aircraft's lifting capability. It's counterintuitive. You move forward along the ground and are lifted up in the process.

God's offer of strength here is also counterintuitive. You wait on him in faith, you trust him, and his strength is transferred to you. Your weakness is replaced by his strength.

Jesus invites us to enjoy this phenomenon of replacing our weakness with his limitlessness.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

He contrasts the heavy yoke that you're currently struggling with, to a yoke that is surprisingly light. It is a paradigm shift. When we try to do it ourselves, we are overwhelmed. But when we turn it over to him, we experience something amazing -- his strength!

"Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you." (Psalm 55:22a)

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

Is not having enough for food or clothing or shelter your burden? Jesus' answer is:

"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)

The world says that there is no real hope or help from God. It's all in your mind. It's foolishness. But God says, "They who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength."

Jesus says, "Seek first my kingdom and I'll give you what you need."

The Psalmist says: ""Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you"

In this New Year, I choose to trust the Lord. I choose to wait on him and let him exchange my strength for his. I choose to soar like the eagle, rather than try to claw my way up to the heights by my own faltering strength.

This is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). This is how I choose to walk in this New Year, by his grace. Soaring, not Struggling. Amen.



[1] "Faint" (ESV, NRSV, KJV), "grow tired" (NIV) is yāʿēp, "be weary, faint" (in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament ("TWOT"; Moody Press, 1980), #885).

[2] "Grow weary" is yāgaʿ, "toil, labor, grow or be weary" The primary meaning is "to work until one is tired and exhausted." The two synonyms yāʿēp and lāʾâ tend to stress the nuance of "weariness." (Ralph H. Alexander, TWOT #842).

[3] ʿÔlām, "forever, ever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, old, ancient" (TWOT #1631a).

[4] "Power" (ESV), "strength" (NIV, NRSV, KJV) is noun kōaḥ, "strength, power," used of "human strength, vigor," then "ability," as well as God's strength (Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament ("BDB"; Clarendon Press: Oxford, originally published 1907, reprinted with corrections 1953), p. 471).

[5] "The faint" (ESV, NRSV, KJV), "the weary" (NIV) is the noun yāʿēp, "weary, faint" (TWOT #885a),  from the verb yāʿēp, "be weary, faint."

[6] "No might" (ESV, KJV), "the weak" (NIV), "the powerless" (NRSV) is the negative particle and the noun ʾôn, "vigor, wealth" (G. Herbert Livingston, TWOT, #49a).

[7] "Increases strength" (ESV, KJV), "increases the power" (NIV), "strengthens" (NRSV)" is two words, the noun ʿoṣmâ, "strength, abundance" from the noun ʿāṣōm, "to be strong, mighty, great, increases" (Ronald B. Allen, TWOT #1673b); and the verb rābâ, "be(come) great, many, much, numerous" (TWOT #2103).

[8] Yāʿēp, see endnote 1 for verse 28.

[9] Yāgaʿ, see endnote 2 for verse 28.

[10] "Fall exhausted" (ESV, NRSV), "stumble and fall" (NIV), "utterly fall" (KJV) is kāshal, "stumble, totter, stagger" (usually from weakness or weariness, or in flight from attackers) (R. Laird Harris, TWOT #1050). This syntax here is the infinitive absolute of the verb, where the verb occurs twice, intensifying the idea of stumbling, which is picked up in the KJV word "utterly."

[11] Kōaḥ, as in endnote 3, verse 29.

[12] "Mount up with wings" (ESV, NRSV, KJV), "soar on wings" (NIV) is verb ʿālâ, "go up, climb, ascend," specifically, in the Hiphil stem, "make high, bring high up, make something go up" (William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, based on the Lexical work of Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans / Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988), p. 273, 3).

[13] "Run" is rûṣ, "run, make haste by running" (William White, TWOT #2137).

[14] Yāgaʿ, "toil, labor, grow or be weary" (TWOT #842), as in verse 28 and 30.

[15] Yāʿēp, "be weary, faint" (TWOT #885).

[16] John E. Hartley, qāwâ, TWOT #1994.

[17] R. Laird Harris, ḥālap, TWOT #666.

Copyright © 2020, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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