I hope I don’t shock you too much when I say that the Bible is not a particularly comforting book. I know the hope it gives is comforting. I know the relationship with God it offers is comforting. But one night, I was paging through the Bible looking for some comfort, and I wasn’t finding much. I wanted to read something to make me feel better, and I wasn’t finding it.
It was a moment of revelation, in a way. Don’t get me wrong, there are places in the Bible where I find great comfort, but the Bible is not a
feel-good book. It was after that, when I was doing some study in the prophets, that something else dawned on me: As far as I can tell, God never sent a prophet to people to tell them how well they were doing. So when a prophet showed up on the scene, it was generally bad news.
When King Ahab, for example, saw Elijah walking his way, he said,
Have you found me, O my enemy? Ahab had the picture, and it was confirmed by Elijah’s response:
I have found you, he answered,
because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free (1 Kings 21:20–21 NIV).
That is not especially comforting, even if you aren’t Ahab. Well, Ahab repented, at least after a fashion. He tore his garments, fasted, wore sackcloth and went softly around the palace. And God relented, somewhat. He said he would defer the terrible things prophesied until the next generation. Cold comfort, I suppose, but maybe better than none. Now there is a prophet who speaks of comfort.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins (Isaiah 40:1 2 KJV).
But this comes at the end of a long period of chastisement and correction. A people who have been battered and bruised are at last being comforted after having received of God’s hand double for her sins. So when you pick up your Bible to read, you aren’t picking up a short-term comfort. What comfort you find in the Bible (and you do find it) is long term.
If in this life only, cautioned Paul,
we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (1 Corinthians 15:19 KJV).