In this new, abbreviated style of posting, I zero in on phrases or verses that move me and ponder them. Today I take up a verse from Isaiah 40:31.
Like you, I have always understood this verse to be translated in a certain way. But I have discovered there is a better way. That better way opens up an insight between Paul and Isaiah.
The verse is this:
“Those who wait upon the Lord … will soar on wings like eagles.” (Is. 40:31)
The Greek gives us a different perspective:
οἱ δὲ ὑπομένοντες τὸν Θεὸν … πτεροφυήσουιν ὡς ἀετοί,
Now I can’t verify this insight from the Hebrew, but the second Greek verb here, “pterophueo,” should make you think. You’ll recognize one of the roots: ptero, from pterux, meaning wing (hence, pterodactyl is a creature with wings-as-fingers).
Turns out pterophueo does not mean “soar on wings” according to the common translation. It means to “grow wings.” Thus the phrase should be translated:
“Those who wait upon the Lord … will grow wings like eagles; or will be winged like eagles.”
There is a difference.
To soar on wings like eagles suggests flight, but flight upon appendages that properly belong to eagles. But to grow wingslike eagles means to have wings! It means the soul, itself, develops the capacity of flight.
What is the analogue of flight for Isaiah? What is the analogue of wing? Those are questions to ponder.
For now, let’s restate: Is 40:31 is saying that the soul of one who waits upon the Lord will have wings, like an eagle, and can ascend through the air. The wing is now co-natural to the soul; flight is now a possibility; indeed, the soul is built for it.
Wing meets wind and the result is flight. A soul that waits on the Lord is winged, as Isaiah tells it, is capable of flight.
There’s a connection I want to draw here that may shed light on our earlier questions. In 1 Cor 2:16 Paul asks: “Who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” This is a direct citation of Isaiah 40:13, the beginning of the chapter from which we have drawn our verse.
Now it would be fair to say, would it not, that no one knows the mind of God? But Paul says in this text that the Christian, illuminated by the Spirit, can know the nous Christou, the mind of Christ. He writes, astonishingly: “But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Cor 2:16
How on earth can we gain access to the mind of Christ? Might this be what Isaiah means by flight?
Paul says access is given by a revelation of the Spirit: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,” this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” 1 Cor 2: 9-10
This God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
Is not Isaiah saying something similar? The growth of wings, wings of an eagle: what is this but poetic language for that faculty given by the Spirit whereby we fly; the spiritual faculty whereby we who before were clods upon the earth ascend to the mind of God?
Food for thought.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, my soul cannot soar to you. My heart, my feet are stuck upon the earth. Have mercy on me a sinner. Give me this gift of the soul of which Isaiah speaks, this gift of your Spirit that enables me to ascend to you, to know you, to have the light of your intelligence shine in mine. Father, give me wings to fly to you. Amen.