Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Word and the Verse

You may remember from this time last year that our family gathers on New Year's Eve to play games, eat, sing, laugh, reminisce ... and the highlight of the evening, the reason we count down to midnight, is because we get to draw our verse for the year.

This has been our tradition since we were little: Dad used to type up literally HUNDREDS of verses on ribbons or paper bookmarks (depending on finances, I suspect ...) in time for the "Watchnight Service" at the College; and just after midnight each student and each guest at the service would come up and choose a ribbon upon which would be a verse of encouragement to take into the new year.

This year the celebration was somewhat bitter-sweet - no nephews for the first time since there have been nephews!- but the nine of us who gathered revelled in each other's company and in the magical atmosphere of the TH at her finest.

In the few quiet moments scattered throughout my week between Christmas and New Year's Eve I had started thinking about the word that might take on significance for me in 2012. I was drawn to this idea of choosing a word from my friend Kimberley, a brave woman who has known more than her share of grief and pain and yet still looks to God as her source of all things good. My Kimberley waits quietly for a word from God; and then throughout the rest of the year, no matter what might appear to be crumbling around her, she clings to the promise contained in her New Year's word and turns to God for strength and comfort and direction.

As I pondered the last year and the lessons learnt, one word stood out to me in stark relief: NACHAM. I first became aware of this word in a course I am taking from Prof. Rick Love at Ambrose; assignment #4 brought it to my attention and I spent several hours reading up on it, studying it, trying to burn it on my heart.

According to Strong's Concordance, the word nacham carries with it the following meanings:

nacham: to be sorry, console oneself
Original Word: נָחַם
Transliteration: nacham
Phonetic Spelling: (naw-kham')
Short Definition: comfort

comfort self, ease one's self, repent

A primitive root; properly, to sigh, i.e. Breathe strongly; by implication, to be sorry, i.e. (in a favorable sense) to pity, console or (reflexively) rue ...

The King James Version of the Bible translates this word as follows:

comfort (57), repent (41), comforter (9), ease (1) (Brown, Driver, Briggs and Gesenius. "Hebrew Lexicon entry for Nacham". The KJV Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon.) 

The New American Standard Bible translates it like this:

am sorry (1), appeased (1), become a consolation (1), change mind (6), change minds (1), changed mind (4), comfort (30), comforted (18), comforter (2), comforters (4), comforts (2), console (3), consolers (1), consoling (1), give rest (1), have compassion (2), moved to pity (1), regret (1), regretted (1), relent (5), relented (4), relenting (3), relents (1), relieved (1), repent (3), repented (2), sorry (6), think better (1), when the time of mourning was ended (2). (NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries Copyright © 1981, 1998 by The Lockman Foundation All rights reserved Lockman.org)

As I studied this word I thought back to last year's word, ruach, meaning breath. This new word, nacham, wove the thought of breath into it as well - to sigh, to breathe deeply in sorrow and in comfort.

And I thought of an anecdote my Dad had told us in one of our studies not long ago. There was a little girl who had sustained a very minor injury to herself in the course of her playing. She went running to her daddy, who immediately shifted into top gear trying to determine the extent of the injury, to treat the scrape or bump, and to instruct her on what to do to prevent a similar injury in the future.

When he was finished she went to her mother, who was in another room, and told her what had happened. Her mother wrapped her arms around her tiny daughter and consoled her. Then in a little while, when she found out the child had gone first to her father, she asked her daughter, "Well, what did Daddy say and do?"

"He didn't say anything," the little girl replied mournfully. "He didn't even say 'Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ...' "

Sometimes what we are looking for is simply "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," just a breath of comfort, an acknowledgment of our distress. Sometimes anything greater than the slightest whisper is too heavy for us to bear in that moment of sorrow or pain.

This is what nacham signifies for me. It tells me that God understands, that God knows the degree of consolation I need. God is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities"; He "sympathizes with our weaknesses," as Hebrews 4:15 says, translated first in the King James Version and next in both the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version.

Indeed, Romans chapter 8 and verse 26 comforts us with the thought that when we are at the point where we don't even know how to pray for what we need, God the Holy Spirit "intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."

"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ..."

As the clock crept toward the moment that would turn Saturday 2011 into Sunday 2012, I looked at the beautiful antique platter of Mum's that Dad had so lovingly arranged this year's promises on - at present covered with a hand-embroidered cloth that said, in part, "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength ..." - and I breathed a prayer that God would give me a verse to hold onto, a verse that would let me know He would wrap His arms around me no matter what happens in the coming year.
When it came my turn to draw a ribbon I selected a green one. And on this ribbon was typed the verse that is Nahum chapter 1 and verse 7:

"The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him."

The name Nahum itself? It means comforter.

The Lord is good, someone to hold onto and someone who will hold onto me in times of trouble. He knows me. He will comfort me should that day arise.



  1. Taking promises is my favorite part of the watchnight service. My verse for this year was..."He givith power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength." Isaiah 40:29 Have a Happy New Year! Aunty Karyn!
    Love, Chloe

  2. I remember one year a ribbon finding its way to our home through your brother. I was so touched by the thoughtfulness of your father for whom I have so much love and respect. Even though at this particular moment I can't bring to mind what the verse was, what I DO remember is the kindness shown to us through this wonderful gift. I recall that it was something we really needed at that time.

    Happy New Year, dearest Karyn. You have truly been "NACHAM" to me on more than one occasion. I love you so much.


  3. i *love* this. a lot. just wishing that we could sit down over a cup of tea and share it all in person. i *miss* you, dear karyn. what i wouldn't give to find myself in one of those purple chairs this evening. so much love to you. ♥

  4. Our Daddy always said "Ohhhh" and kissed it better! I pray that for you, for always, dearest Karyn. xxx


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