Isaiah 40:31

Posted: 22nd April 2007 by ElShaddai Edwards in Translation

This entry touches on a favorite “inspirational” verse. Mostly because it reminds me of my late mother and her strength in Christ, but also because it reminds me of growing up in Homer, Alaska where it was a very common sight to see eagles in all manners of flight (as well as in all their scavenging unglory*).

NLTse: “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

REB: “But those who look to the LORD will win new strength, they will soar as on eagles’ wings; they will run and not feel faint, march on and not grow weary.”

HCSB: “But those who trust 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 faint.”

TNIV: “But those who hope 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.”

The first translation point to consider is whether the subject is to “trust in the Lord” (NLTse, HCSB), “look to the Lord” (REB) or “hope in the Lord” (TNIV); all of which depart from the older NASB/ESV tradition, which used “wait for the Lord” (“hope in” is noted as an alternate translation in the NASB). If the older translation is understood to mean something along the lines of “those who wait for the Lord [to accomplish His work according to His plan] will gain new strength”, then the NLTse, REB and HCSB can all be viewed as updating the language while retaining the sense of placing confidence in the Lord. The TNIV’s choice to use the alternate “hope” perhaps adds an element of expectation and desire to the wait.

(The overall language carries us forward to Hebrews 11:1 and the definition of faith: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (NLTse) Perhaps a New Testament rendering of this verse would read “But those who have faith in Christ will renew their strength and soar on wings like eagles” or “Christ will renew the strength of those who put their faith in Him and they will soar on wings like eagles”.)

Both the Jewish Study Bible and my old New English Bible Study Edition have a note that this verse and Psalm 103:5 make reference to a popular belief that eagles regained their youth when they molt. If true, there would seem to be a nuance that the strength mentioned is strength that existed once before and is now being renewed. Both the HCSB and TNIV pick this up with their choice of “renew their strength” rather than “find new strength” (NLTse) or “win new strength” (REB), which seem to imply something added.

The rest of the verse doesn’t have as much to discuss in terms of translational differences, but there are a few points to niggle at, mostly around choices made in the REB. First, the NLTse adds the adjective “high” after “soar”, but I’m not sure this is needed. Soaring is naturally done high in the sky as birds use the air currents and the lift of their wings to fly with minimal effort. The REB places the simile earlier in this same phrase so that it’s clear that the behavior being compared is soaring, not what type of bird our wings (!) resemble.

It’s interesting to note that the Jewish Study Bible doesn’t include this phrase, choosing instead a simile that carries forward the molting comment mentioned above.

“But they who trust in the Lord shall renew their strength
As eagles grow new plumes:
They shall run and not grow weary,
They shall march and not grow faint.”

This approach also appears in the NEB text (“…win new strength, they will grow wings like eagles;”) and as an alternate rendering in the NASB notes as well and probably better fits the overall contemporary meaning understood by the original recipients, so we’re probably looking at a text source issue.

Second, in another change from the NEB, the REB reverses the ending verbs used in the run/walk phrases. I do like that the REB maintains a parallel verb structure: “run and not feel faint/march on and not grow weary”. Only the TNIV uses something similar: “run and not grow weary/walk and not be faint”. I think that small addition greatly enhances the readability and resonance of the text. (The JSB uses the verb grow in both phrases.)

In the end, for me, this verse comparison comes down to the TNIV and HCSB. While I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the TNIV’s choice of “hope” over “trust” in the first phrase, I also have to note that, like the ESV, the HCSB has chosen to sit on the fence with regards to overall sentence structure, awkwardly separating each phrase with semi-colons instead of breaking it into smaller sentences or combining phrases to make the text more naturally readable. Even the NASB used commas to provide some guideposts to their sentence structure! Add in the extra verb from the last phrase and the TNIV simply reads more naturally, making it my qualified choice in this round.

* Lest anyone’s view of bald eagles be only of the pure and majestic bird depicted on our national emblems, I offer this anecdote from my youth: As a family, we did a tremendous amount of fishing, both for salmon and halibut. After one particular trip, we had finished cleaning and filleting some halibut carcasses and had set them next to the compost bin where they would decompose and provide organic nutrients for the garden. I believe we went into the house to get cleaned up and have something to eat; in that space of time, an eagle cruised in and begin tearing at the remains. Whether he followed us home from the boat harbor, we’ll never know, but he was anything but majestic as he climbed over the fish pile in search of a free meal…

  1. […] to the safety of shore? Or do you soberly take your bearings, pray that you would be filled with God’s renewing strength, and bend your will to restoring your relationship with his […]

  2. Peter Kirk says:

    the behavior being compared is soaring, not what type of bird our wings (!) resemble.

    Indeed, and this should be clear in NLT, HCSB and TNIV as well. Note the lack of an apostrophe after “eagles” in these translations. The comparison is not that our wings are like eagles’ wings, but that we can soar as eagles soar. In fact I think REB makes this less clear rather than more, for readers literate enough to notice apostrophes. But I must say I realised only recently that there is no apostrophe there. And a good Bible is fully understandable when read aloud, which is an issue here.

    I didn’t get many hits for my post based in part on this verse, perhaps because the mention was right at the end. Perhaps this link from a well read post will generate more traffic for me!

  3. Ahem! Uh, yes, well… I must have missed that detail. That just goes to show how our critical reading can be colored by another source, in this case the song “On Eagles’ Wings”, which I discussed here, and which has the chorus:

    And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
    Bear you on the breath of dawn,
    Make you to shine like the sun,
    And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

    “I didn’t get many hits for my post based in part on this verse, perhaps because the mention was right at the end. Perhaps this link from a well read post will generate more traffic for me!”

    You are too kind!

  4. […] SoD: “Everlasting God” Thanks to Peter Kirk for the pointer to this song from Chris Tomlin, another take on Isaiah 40:28-31. […]