I’ve stood on the corner of 7th Street and 13th Avenue many times, waiting to cross the road from my office to Bethlehem’s main building. I like to call it ‘sanctification corner’ since I sometimes stare for several minutes at the glowing red hand across the street and hear the command “WAIT” repeat over and over. It is hard to stand there. It’s hard to be patient for the crosswalk signal, especially if it’s cold and snowing or if I’m hurrying to get to class or a meeting.
Yet, waiting is a constant reality in our lives, even though our society offers fast-food, high-speed internet, real-time breaking news, and on-demand entertainment. It’s easy to grow impatient, anxious, or distracted when we’re waiting in line or stuck in traffic or hoping for something we’ve not yet received. I remember the sense of urgency—the longing ache—in our hearts after we received a match with our adoptive son. And yet we still needed to wait months to secure travel approval so that we could meet him and bring him home.
The Bible has much to say about waiting, and one of the most remarkable and surprising waiting passages is Isaiah 30:18:
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
The Lord repeatedly calls his people to wait for and hope in him, and they repeatedly fail to do so. Isaiah 30 begins with a rebuke of the stubborn and rebellious children who carry out their own plans, make alliances, and take refuge in the protection of a foreign king without asking for God’s direction or attending to his designs. Isaiah 31:1 continues this theme. The Lord corrects those who trust in horses and chariots “but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!” And he urges Israel to return to him and find strength “in quietness and in trust,” but they are unwilling to seek rest and salvation in him (Isaiah 30:15).
This brings us to the truly shocking part of Isaiah 30:18: “The Lord waits to be gracious to you.” The Hebrew verb hkh, translated as “wait,” occurs fourteen times in the Hebrew Old Testament, including two other times in Isaiah:
I will wait for the Lord,
who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob,
and I will hope in him. (Isaiah 8:17)
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)
But only Isaiah 30:18 says that God himself waits. He is “a God of justice” and so would be fully justified in punishing his people for their reckless rebellion and their refusal to seek refuge in Him alone. Yet he waits, putting off the day of judgment to extend grace instead. Remarkably, the dual-purpose statements “to be gracious to you” and “to show mercy to you” allude to God’s self-disclosure to Moses as, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).
How do we respond to the God who waits to show grace? By waiting for him and experiencing his everlasting blessing. We wait for the Lord by seeking to dwell with him in Zion, by crying out to him in prayer, by walking in his ways, and by accepting no substitutes for the one true God (Isaiah 30:19–22). God waits as the supreme sovereign who delays giving us what we deserve so that he can lavish us with undeserved favor. We wait as humble, needy, dependent people who bank our lives on the living God, who is wholly trustworthy and who alone can rescue us from our sins and give our weary souls rest (Isaiah 30:15).
The call of the waiting God in Isaiah 30:18 offers us a preview of Christ’s staggering invitation in Matthew 11:28–30: “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.”
We wait for many things, big and small, in this life — for a flight to board, a wedding day, an adoption approval, an offer letter, or a family vacation. Each of these experiences of waiting serves as a reminder that we are made to wait on the Lord with confident trust as he waits to show grace to us. Blessed are all who wait for him.
Brian Tabb, Ph.D.
- Pray that the Lord would grow our trust in him as we wait.
- Pray that the Lord would bring and encourage the pastors who attend Serious Joy: The 35th Bethlehem Conference for Pastors.
- Pray that our students and faculty would enjoy a restful end to the Christmas break and return ready for the spring semester.
- Pray for the students considering where God would have them attend school.