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Comfort My People — Nacham

April 11, 2012

by: Charleeda Sprinkle, Assistant Editor

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In the King James Version of Judges 2:18, God is described as “repenting”: “…for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.” The New King James Version says the Lord was “moved to pity.” When the Lord “repents,” He changes His mind out of pity and compassion for His people and dispenses mercy, which brings relief and comfort. On an individual level, we can see that when we repent, we change our mind concerning our behavior; we are then relieved of the heavy weight of guilt and comforted by God’s love and forgiveness.

More specifically, nacham means to “draw the breath forcibly, to pant, to groan.” One online author wrote that it’s a word picture of a “victim who is under crushing weight that has restricted his lungs and caused him not to be able to catch his breath and is graciously relieved.” This picture emphasizes the degree of distress involved in the one needing comfort. It gives us the feeling of how much a comforting word or deed means to one feeling crushed—it helps them breathe again.

Nacham is most used in Jeremiah (14 times) and Isaiah (13). Both prophets grieved over the ruinous sinful state of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. By the time Isaiah 40 was written, Jerusalem was desolate and the Israelites were captives in Babylon. It was a time of no comfort. The psalmist wrote of this time, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows…” (Ps. 137:1–2a). Five times in the first chapter of Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations, he bemoans the fact that there is no one to comfort Jerusalem. “Who can heal?” he asks (2:13). “There is no hand to help her!” he cries (4:6).

How God Comforts

How does God answer His brokenhearted people? Some of Scripture’s most beautiful passages are found in Isaiah 40–66. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended that her iniquity is pardoned” (Isa. 40:2). What is more comforting than knowing that your sin is forgiven? He tells them they are still His chosen and He hasn’t “cast them away” (41:9). He promises that He will prevail against their enemies (42:13), that He will restore all the land’s waste places (51:3), that He will be their intercessor (59:16), that they will return to the land (60:4), and that Jerusalem will be gloriously restored (60:13).

But these are not just words. They are GOD’s words, words that are backed up by the power to fulfill: “Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it” (Isa. 46:11b). He does not just speak but acts on His words.

When we comfort another, we sometimes grope for the right words to say or write. We may say, “Call me anytime you need anything,” but it’s so much better to put feet to such words. I remember a time when I visited a friend who had lost a loved one. I felt a bit awkward because the house was filled with relatives I did not know, but I noticed that the kitchen was in disarray. My way of comforting that day was washing dishes and serving food. Sometimes hugs and shared tears speak louder than words, or perhaps just being present.

This is how we comfort Israel today. When we stand with the Jewish people, when we love them, when we stick with them in hard times, we are relieving some of the crushing weight of those who sometimes can barely take another breath because of the heavy sorrow they bare. And if they ask why we care, we can tell them that we believe God’s promises, that we know their story doesn’t end with terrorism but with a glorious future.

A Jewish Perspective

On www.aish.com, Rabbi Yisrael Rutman tells how Jews comfort people after the death of a loved one with this prayer: “May the Omnipresent comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” He explains that we ask God to comfort because our comfort is not sufficient. Only God knows the depth of another’s pain. So one of the things we can do to comfort Israel is ask the Comforter to comfort them.

He goes on to explain why “Omnipresent”—one of God’s name (HaMakom, “the place” in Hebrew)—is so comforting: “God is everywhere, true. But a person who has lost a loved one often feels that he has been abandoned by God; that there is no God where he is. We say to the mourner, therefore, that HaMakom should comfort him: We pray that he be blessed by a renewed awareness of God’s presence, even in the grief-stricken place in which he now finds himself―for that place, too, is HaMakom, the place of God.”

Often the people of Israel feel abandoned. When we faithfully stand with them, not just in the good times but during the hard times, they know that they are not alone and that their place of suffering is our place too.

Photo Credit: www.israelimages.com and Isranet

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