When trial after trial hits, each trial compounding on the previous one, it becomes very easy for a whirlwind of anxiety, frustration, and depression to sweep you away. In the midst of all the chaos, you realize what you long for is comfort—to feel a calm to the storm within and around you if even for a moment long enough to reassure you that somehow everything will be okay.
Again and again throughout Scripture and still today, God comforts His people. In the Greek and Hebrew languages, the word “comfort” takes on various meanings from compassion to consolation and ease. In the Old Testament, “comfort” appears when His people are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or afraid.
“In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.” ~Psalm 94:19
God comforts us and gives us support, encouragement, and mercy when our thoughts and circumstances seem to consume us. In Psalm 94:19, the Hebrew word for “multitude” is “rôb,” meaning “abundance.” The Hebrew word for “comforts” is “tanchûm tanchûm tanchûmâh” and means “compassion, solace, and consolation.” “Delight” translates into “shâ‛a‛,” or shaw-ah’,” which means “in good acceptation; to look upon with complacency, please, or amuse.” As a person who tends to overthink, it is far too easy for negative thoughts to overwhelm me, but as the psalmist said, in the middle of all my fear and doubt and anxiety, His compassion pleases my soul.
Three verses later, the psalmist declared in Psalm 94:22, “But the LORD is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge.” “Defence” here comes from the Hebrew word “miώgâb,” or “mis-gawb’,” which means “a refuge or a place in Moab that was a high fort or tower,” and “rock” comes from the Hebrew “tsûr tsûr,” or “tsoor tsoor,” which indicates a rock or defense that is sharp, mighty, and strong. “Refuge” comes from the Hebrew “machăseh machseh,” or “makh-as-eh’ makh-seh’,” and means “shelter, hope, place of refuge, and trust.” God is literally our strong and mighty tower—the place of refuge where we find hope, shelter, and trust. With both of these verses in account, not only does God comfort us and give us encouragement and mercy when we war with the thoughts in our mind, but He also goes to war for us and gives us a place in His Presence where we can find shelter from the overwhelming battle and where we can find hope and learn to trust in Him.
Looking at the chapters before and after Psalm 94 helps us understand the context of this chapter’s message. The heading for Psalm 94 in my Apostolic Study Bible says, “God avenges His people.” Psalm 93 discusses the “supremacy of the Lord” and how He is clothed with majesty and strength. The three psalms immediately following Psalm 94 express praise, worship, and celebration of God as our Great King and Creator Who eternally reigns over all the universe. If we look at these chapters collectively, we understand that we must praise God for His greatness and majesty because of who He is—He is everlasting and mighty, and He fights for us and is merciful to us as the Judge of the earth. He is our Creator, after all. It is comforting to know and understand that our Creator truly cares and has compassion for us.
God’s Word associates comfort with praise again in Isaiah 49:13:
“Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.”
The prophet Isaiah is instructing God’s creation to sing for joy and triumph because God consoles His people and gives mercy to those who are depressed and poor. “Sing” here comes from the Hebrew word “rânan,” which means “to shout or cry aloud for joy or to rejoice for triumph.” “Comforted” is from the Hebrew word “nâcham,” meaning “to console or to ease,” and “afflicted” comes from the Hebrew “‛ânîy,” or “aw-nee’,” which means “depressed in mind or circumstances, lowly, needy, or poor.” Here, we see again how great our God is and that He is always there to comfort us and care for our needs, showing us mercy and compassion and love. But it is not enough to merely give this instruction once or remind God’s people only one time of His comfort and mercy. In Isaiah 52:9, we see yet another command to praise:
“Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.”
We often have good reason behind our despair, for life often comes with an abundance of pain, loss, and suffering. But Isaiah understood that God’s people should praise Him even when we’re in those low places of sorrow. We sing praises to Him, and He comforts and redeems us. We may be desolate waste places, but God has bought us with His Blood and delivered us from all sin and sorrow. Our world is unfair and filled with strife and darkness, but God has overcome the world and given us His Presence and Word to be our comfort.
I hope this brief analysis of comfort in the Old Testament has blessed you. Stay tuned for part two on studying comfort in the Old Testament in which we’ll cover more of Psalms and Isaiah and how we can find comfort in God’s strength and provision. For an encouraging song to remind you of the Lord’s greatness and comfort in the meantime, check out “The Isaiah Song” by The Urshan College Choir.
“Sing, sing! O barren land,
Water is coming to the thirsty.
Though you are empty, I am the Well.
Draw from me; I will provide.”
~The Isaiah Song