I have been reading The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport. It is a marvelous biography of the daughters of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia. I was struck by one of the people in the book, perhaps because of her Dutch last name was unexpected in a member of the Russian nobility. Baroness Sophie (Iza) Buxhoeveden, was a lady in waiting to Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna Romanova. She was one of the most loyal members of her entourage, only being separated from the Tsarina by force shortly before the royal family was murdered. And what is a Lady in Waiting? It is a personal assistant to a woman of high estate, such as an empress, queen, or princess. This may have involved many duties, but was often more of a companion, secretary, and advisor than a servant. This was certainly true of Baroness Sophie.
The Hebrew word that is translated “wait” in some of the psalms carries a similar meaning. It is the meaning that we have carried over so that servers (I once had one tell me, “I will be your servant today”) are called the wait-staff. In non-gender-neutral terms, they were called waiters and waitresses.
“Because of his strength will I wait upon thee: for God is my defence.” (Ps 59:9) The word in this verse is not the same as in Isaiah 40:31.
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
This latter verse talks about waiting upon God as if they are anticipating God, or expecting something from him. In the verse in Psalm 59 the word more appropriately means to wait upon the Lord as the person in the restaurant waits upon you. Depending on the restaurant, they are not just sitting around anticipating your arrival. Instead, they serve you. And that is what we should be doing for God.
That is not to say that God lacks anything, and for that reason requires our service. Most people can prepare their own meals, and don’t need someone to wait on them. But isn’t it nice when someone does? So God also appreciates, and sometimes even asks, that we wait on him. How can we serve a God that really needs nothing? Perhaps it would help to see how else this word is translated.
In the King James Version, the word is most often (over 300 times) translated “keep.” Frequently the Israelites were told to “keep” God’s laws. That is how they were to wait upon God. Obedience. As we wait upon God he expects our obedience. After all, what would happen if the server in the restaurant brought you the wrong meal, or it wasn’t served to your specifications (red and green chile)? Would you consider that person not to have waited on you properly?
Interestingly, we are to wait upon God, but He also waits upon us. Again, the word may also be translated “keep.”
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand. (Ps 121:3-5)
Using the translation of Psalm 59, this says that he that waits upon you won’t sleep. The Lord waits upon you; he does so by being your shade.
We wait upon the Lord, while he waits upon us. Paul says that is part of a demonstration of brotherly love.
Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. (Rom 12:10-13)
If I put you ahead of my interests (prefer you, in this translation), and you do the same to me, then we are waiting upon each other. God honors us as we honor him. That is waiting upon each other. The next time you go to a restaurant, find a way to wait upon your waiter/waitress. That’s being like God. And how surprised they will be!