I think I speak for all of us when I say that I am tired of waiting. Whether it’s election results, medical resolutions, righteous revival, or as-of-yet unrealized hopes, we are waiting on a lot in this season, both individually and communally.
If I learned anything in Bible college, it’s this: when all else fails, do a word study. Apparently, word studies don’t end with Bible college, because I was assigned one just this past week. From a semi-random list of Hebrew words, I chose qavah, which means… “to wait.” It seemed timely and, it turns out, an 8-minute word study equals approximately one blog post.
In Psalm 25, David writes primarily about the Lord’s actions; he reminds himself of the Lord’s past faithfulness, His mercy and love and guidance, and, based on that, David asks the Lord to act in his life again. David himself doesn’t do a whole lot in this psalm. The only verbs David gets are putting his trust in God, keeping his eyes on Him, and hoping in Him all day long. The word David uses for “hope” here is qavah.
The Hebrew word qavah appears in Psalm 25 three times to describe David’s patient, waiting hope. Qavah is used about 45 more times through the rest of the Old Testament, too. A few quick examples…
Psalm 40:1: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.”
Proverbs 20:22: “Do not say ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and he will avenge you.”
Isaiah 8:17: “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.”
And Lamentations 3:25-26: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
So to qavah is to wait or hope. There are a several words for hope in Hebrew, but qavah in particular describes what seems like a passive experience of waiting. Qavah-hope is a waiting that looks to the Lord to act rather than taking matters into its own hands. It acknowledges that He is the only one who can really accomplish His will and fulfill our hope.
The prophets in particular often communicate hope for things that are clearly lacking in their present experience, and they recognize that only the Lord will bring them.
In Jeremiah 14:19, the people say, “We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there is only terror.” And then in verse 22: “Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, Lord our God. Therefore, our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this.”
Whether He’s bringing judgment or fulfillment, it is always the Lord who acts, and always His people who wait for and hope in Him.
From the outside, qavah seems pretty passive, maybe to the point of being lazy. If we misunderstand it, it could look like absentmindedly sitting around and putting off responsibility. But qavah is not uninvolved or unemotional. There is an internal posture – an interior action – that is continually taken in hopeful waiting. Qavah means “wait,” but there are a couple other noteworthy ways it’s translated very actively.
In Genesis 49:18, Jacob prays “I look for [qavah] your deliverance, Lord.”
Isaiah 33:2 says “Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you.”
One of my favorites that I came across in this study was Psalm 130:5: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being [qavahs], and in his word I put my hope.”
A hope that involves our whole being cannot be passive. Qavah is the action of a spirit that is directed towards God through every circumstance, recognizing that He is the fulfillment of all our longing and hope. Rather than motivating us to strive for ourselves, this hope keeps us waiting on the Lord, fixing our eyes and hearts on Him.
We can place our hope in the Lord because He is sovereign and all-powerful and completely independent. Micah 5:7 highlights the truth that God’s plan for deliverance, “like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass,” does not qavah for any man. He doesn’t wait for us to work by our own power.
Interestingly, though, I did find one place where the Lord is the one qavah-ing.
Isaiah 5 begins with a parable/song about a vineyard, in which God is the gardener and Israel is the vineyard. Isaiah 5:2 says “[God] dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he [qavah-ed] for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”
In this instance, God is the one waiting on His people, but there’s an important difference: He already did the work to prepare the vineyard, and now is only waiting on them to respond in faith. He doesn’t expect His people to fulfill their own hopes or accomplish His ultimate plan of deliverance and salvation; He only qavahs for their faithful obedience. They are still kept waiting for the revelation of His grand plan.
For those of us today who are followers of Christ, we know that God accomplished His plan for salvation through Jesus, the Messiah that Israel was waiting for. Through the Spirit, He has empowered His people to obey faithfully where we couldn’t by our own power. But, as we know and continually experience in this world, we are still hoping. There is still something (or Someone) that our whole being is waiting for. And it’s not just us – Scripture says all creation is waiting eagerly for the Lord.
The first time qavah actually appears is in Genesis 1 with the creation story. God commands, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place.” It’s translated “gathered,” but the word is qavah. From the very beginning, creation is waiting hopefully for God to act through it according to His order and purpose. Even now, fast-forwarding to Romans 8, on the other side of the cross, “creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed…. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
So the story of all creation is bookended by qavah, and our lives as Christians are particularly marked by this expectant, frustrating, patient hope that God’s glory will be revealed in and through us. I think the encouragement of qavah for us today, especially in a weirdly protracted season of waiting, is to continue to “wait intentionally” with faithful obedience and to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the one to whose image we are being conformed. It may be exhausting sometimes, but as Isaiah wrote, “those who qavah in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.”