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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology


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Attempt to comfort someone who is in sorrow. The most frequently encountered Hebrew term is niham [ נַחוּם ]; parakaleo [ παρακαλέω ], paramutheomai [ παραμυθέομαι ] and other synonyms occur in Greek. In the English versions, "consolation" is practically interchangeable with "comfort."

Consolation for the Sorrowful . Consolation is the attendant to mourning (Job 29:25 ; Jeremiah 16:7 ), due perhaps to the loss of a close relative (2 Samuel 12:24 ; 1 Chronicles 7:22 ; John 11:19 ). Such comfort goes out to people who are distressed and alone (Psalm 77:2-3 ), who weep bitterly (Isaiah 22:4 ), or who are extremely anxious (Psalm 94:19 ). In extreme circumstances people may refuse to be comforted (Genesis 37:35 ; Jeremiah 31:15 ). When the ruined Jerusalem was figuratively in despair, she had "none to comfort her" (Lamentations 1:2,9 ; cf. Nahum 3:7 ).

Consolation normally requires a personal visit or perhaps a letter (2 Samuel 10:1-2 ). The thoughtful comforter does not forget to offer food and drink (Jeremiah 16:7 ) or financial help (Job 42:11 ). In postbiblical literature, the rabbis detail the correct procedures for consolation and underscore its worth.

Even though well-intended, consolation may at times do more harm than good. Job's friends agree to go and sympathize with him (Job 2:11 ), but Job calls them "miserable comforters": All they offer him are long-winded speeches (16:2-3; 21:34). Although the three imagine their wisdom is "God's consolations" (15:11), Job remains nearly disconsolate (but see 6:10).

Despite the value of human sympathy, it is God who ultimately eases our sorrows. The psalms overflow with prayer and thanksgiving for the comfort that comes from God (23:4; 42:11; 71:20-21; 86:16-17; 94:18-19; 103:13-14; 147:3) and his Word (119:49-50; cf. Romans 15:4 ). God intervenes even if all human help fails (Psalm 69:20 ). But supernatural comfort must be sought from God alone, not from idols or fortune-tellers (Zechariah 10:2 ).

The "Consolation of Israel." The return of the Jews from exile is the work of divine consolation ( Jeremiah 31:10-14 ; Zechariah 1:12-13 ; cf. Exodus 3:7-8 ). Isaiah in particular emphasizes both literal and spiritual restoration: "Comfort, comfort my people" (40:1-2; 51:3; 52:9; 66:13).

It is this prophetic language that underlies Luke 2:25 . Simeon is waiting for the "consolation of Israel." This phrase is linked with "the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38 ; 24:21 ) and "the kingdom of God" (Luke 23:51 ). This consolation involves the coming of the Messiah (Luke 2:26 ) and the revealing of salvation for all nations (Luke 2:29-32 ).

Consolation and the Kingdom of God . The New Testament assumes that the righteous will go to a place of comfort when they die (Luke 16:22,25 ). The Messiah announces the coming of the eschatological kingdom, where the afflicted will find consolation (Matthew 5:4 ; Revelation 7:15-17 ). Christians may comfort each other by reflecting on the future resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:18 ).

Christians also experience the comfort of God presently. Jesus does not leave his disciples "orphans" when he returns to heaven. The Holy Spirit will give comfort by communicating the love and power of the Father to his children (John 14:16-18 ).

Consolation as a Christian Duty . The New Testament gives no precise formula for consolation; it does direct Christians to "mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15 ; cf. Job 30:25 ). Because God constantly reassures his children, they are enabled to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ; 7:6-7,13 ). When Christians experience and then share the consolations of Christ, they are able to live together in unity (Philippians 2:1-2 ). Consolation was part of the apostolic ministry (Colossians 2:2 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12 ). Barnabas, Paul's traveling companion, must have been exemplary in this respect, since he was nicknamed "the son of consolation" (Acts 4:36 , ; KJV ).

Gary Steven Shogren

See also Comfort

Bibliography . G. Braumann, NIDNTT, 1:569-71; R. Martin, 2Corinthians ; O. Schmitz and G. Stä lin, TDNT, 5:773-814; G. Stä lin, TDNT, 5:816-23; M. R. Wilson, TWOT, 2:570-71.

Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Consolation'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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