Comfort- nacham (Strong’s 5162)
Sounds like: na-kham
Today is a solemn day for the Jewish people. It is a day of remembrance, a day to recall the destruction of the Temple. Today is the 9th day of the Jewish month Av, known as T’isha B’Av (literally 9th of Av). It’s the day the Babylonians destroyed the Temple. On the same day about 500 years later the Romans destroyed the rebuilt temple. Both temples destroyed on the same day! Not only that but it’s also the day Pope Urban II declared the first crusade, killing over 10,000 Jews in the process. It’s the day, in the year 1290, that the Jews were expelled out of England. It’s the day that the Warsaw Ghetto was cleared out and sent to Treblinka concentration camp. History has not been kind to the Jews on this day… and this is only a tiny portion of a much bigger list of horrible happenings on the 9th of Av. It is no wonder that many Jewish people face this day with trepidation! One thing that they can hold onto is that YHWH, their God and ours, is a God that comforts.
I find some comfort in the study of history. I love diving into the past and trying to understand humans within their own era. My education led me in this very path. I’m a medievalist. I am a trained historian and received my Master of Arts in Early Medieval Studies from the University of York, in England. I’m particularly fascinated by how the medieval mind perceived God. Hildegard de Bingen (1098-1179), a Benedictine abbess from Germany, saw the relationship between humanity and God as one of divine compassion and physical comfort. She said:
“God hugs you. You are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God.”
There really is nothing more comforting than a good hug. It offers feelings of protection, safety… for a brief moment someone else is taking on your worries, freeing you from the burdens you’re weighed down by. For that brief moment, you’re free. That is comfort. That is rest.
Actually, in Hebrew, the word comfort and rest come from the same root. The Hebrew name Noah נֹ֖חַ (or, Noakh, in Hebrew) meant rest. That is why we read this:
When Lamech was 182 years old, he had a son. And he named him Noah, saying, “May this one comfort us (יְנַחֲמֵ֤נוּ y’nacham-enu) in the labor and toil of our hands caused by the ground that YHWH has cursed.”
This is actually the first instance we see the word comfort in the Tenakh (Old Testament). In this passage the Hebrew people are hoping for comfort, or rest, from the pain of hard work. Lamech hopes that his son will bring this kind of comfort. And in a way he does. Everyone gets “freed” from their burden… because everyone else gets wiped out by the flood! Only Noah (“rest”) and his immediate family survive… and really they are saved as a result of Noah’s hard work of building the Ark. So as time passes the comfort that is needed comes not from the exhaustion of physical work, but rather the emotional exhaustion of pain and loss.
After Noah, the real call out for comfort comes from the emotional pain of those who had suffered great loss. And the greatest loss to the Hebrew people, Biblically, is the devastation, death and destruction that comes at the hands of the Babylonians. The book, Lamentation, is a direct response to the Babylonian destruction. In the book Jerusalem is seen as a defeated widowed queen, with no one to comfort her, and no one to give her rest:
How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!
How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.
Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers there is no one to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.
After affliction and harsh labor, Judah has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress.
But YHWH does not let this defeat lasts forever:
“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her forced labor has been completed, her iniquity has been pardoned;
for she has received from the hand of YHWH double for all her sins.”
A voice of one calling:
“Prepare the way for YHWH in the wilderness;
make a straight highway for our God in the desert.
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low;
the uneven ground will become smooth, and the rugged land a plain.
And the glory of YHWH will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of YHWH has spoken.”
We often connect comfort and compassion together. But keep in mind, compassion is a feeling, comfort is an action. So God gives comfort… But the kind of comfort YHWH gives isn’t just a pat on the back. His comfort is like the most pure and perfect example of comfort- a mother’s comfort:
For this is what YHWH says:
I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flowing stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm, and bounced upon her knees.
As a mother comforts her son, so I will comfort you,
and you will be consoled over Jerusalem.
When you see, you will rejoice, and you will flourish like grass;
then the hand of YHWH will be revealed to His servants,
but His wrath will be shown to His enemies.
And the people certainly do rejoice over God’s comfort. They respond to His comfort with joyful song:
Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth;
break into joyful song, O mountains!
For YHWH has comforted (nicham) His people,
and He will have compassion on His afflicted ones.
Paul the Apostle dissects this theme of comfort for us:
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
Okay Paul tosses around the word comfort a lot… but let’s break down what he is sharing here. Yes God comforts, but he does not comfort to the point of taking our pain and suffering away entirely. In fact, Paul says, we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ! Why? Because both pain and suffering are part of the human experience… Jesus could not have been human without it. We cannot experience the fullness of our humanity without it either. In fact, Paul tells us, suffering produces patient endurance. Jesus, certainly, is the best example of patient endurance. Arguably we could say this is one of humanity’s greatest callings… to patiently endure, and work and live through this life that we have been given, so that we can comfort others with the healing power of our Messiah. We are to truly live for YHWH… to live out our lives with wonderment, and adventure, and praise to the One who gave us this life in the first place. There is an even greater adventure waiting for us, but until then we live, somewhat broken and not yet fully complete. But the grace of God gives comfort to help us through… so that one day we will experience full peace… a life fulfilled (or fully-filled). We are all familiar with the phrase “May they rest in peace”… Rest is a full feeling of comfort. Peace is wholeness. God gives us comfort in this life so that we can be fully at rest and be fully at peace in the hereafter with YHWH.
Jesus knew it and preached it in His infamous Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Jesus preached God’s comfort from the beginning. Near the start of His ministry, entered the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, opened the scroll and reads part of this in front of all his neighbours:
Isaiah 61:2-3a (Luke 4:18-19)
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
After He finished reading the passage (which Luke quotes as only the first two verses), Yeshua shocked His neighbours:
Then He rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him, and He began by saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
What is Jesus saying here? It was He who was sent to comfort us. This is YHWH taking physical action. He doesn’t just FEEL compassion for us, He physically takes action and comforts us by sending Himself through Yeshua, His Son. But not only that, Yeshua was also sent to anoints us. We should be bowing in His presence but He anoints us! He anoints us with a crown of beauty, oil of joy and a garment of praise, so that we can also proclaim the Good News. This is the comfort Jesus brings. This is the comfort leading us home to eternal peace.
Next week: sweet