Posted by: mattcolvin | August 18, 2013

“Consolation” and Covenant History in Corinth

2 Cor 1:3-7 uses the word “comfort” or “consolation” and its cognate verbs 10 times in 5 verses:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (θεὸς πάσης παρακλήσεως), who comforts us (ὁ παρακαλῶν ἡμᾶς) in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort (παρακαλεῖν) those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted (διὰ τῆς παρακλήσεως ἧς παρακαλούμεθα) by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation (παράκλησις) also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation (ὑπὲρ τῆς ὑμῶν παρακλήσεως καὶ σωτηρίας), which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted (παρακαλούμεθα), it is for your consolation (ὑπὲρ τῆς ὑμῶν παρακλήσεως καὶ σωτηρίας) and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation (οὕτως καὶ τῆς παρακλήσεως). (II Corinthians 1:3-7 NKJV)

So it is obvious what word Paul is stressing here. But I wonder if we have got the necessary background. It isn’t a matter of pats on the back and “There, there!” In Isaiah, “comfort” (LXX παράκλησις) is nearly a terminus technicus for the end of Israel’s long national exile and chastisement by YHWH:

“Comfort, yes, comfort My people (LXX: Παρακαλεῖτε παρακαλεῖτε τὸν λαόν μου)!” Says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord ’s hand Double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1, 2 NKJV)

Isaiah 66 uses this language of comfort in connection with the end of exile and the glory of Israel:

“Rejoice with Jerusalem,
And be glad with her, all you who love her;
Rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her;
That you may feed and be satisfied
With the consolation (LXX: παρακλήσεως) of her bosom,
That you may drink deeply and be delighted
With the abundance of her glory.” For thus says the Lord :
“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
And the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream.
Then you shall feed;
On her sides shall you be carried,
And be dandled on her knees (LXX, surprisingly: ἐπὶ γονάτων παρακληθήσονται).
As one whom his mother comforts (παρακαλέσει),
So I will comfort (παρακαλέσω) you;
And you shall be comforted (παρακληθήσεσθε) in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66:10-13 NKJV)

The image of the mother with the child on her knees is an interesting one. I am probably overreading here, indulging my inner James B. Jordan, but I wonder if there is a faint echo of the closing scene of the book of Ruth, where Obed the child of promise is placed on the lap of the hitherto childless Naomi (Ruth 4:16-17). (The preceding verses, Isaiah 66:7-9, speak of the end of Israel’s punishment under the figure of a child being born to a woman.)

It is this comfort, involving the end of Israel’s national shame and punishment, that Luke 2 associates with the coming of the Messiah:

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel (παράκλησιν τοῦ Ἰσραήλ), and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25, 26, 28, 29, 31, 32 NKJV)

Ultimately, it is this comfort, the wonderful end of Israel’s history’s of sin and exile, that differentiates the Church from the world. For the consolation of Israel is not an abstract set of events, but a person: the consolation of Israel is the Child whom Simeon awaited. He is His people’s peace. And only the Church shares in Him by the Spirit, the Parakletes, the Comforter. That is why she is able to suffer joyfully. All the particular consolations of her particular sufferings are parts of this greater comfort, because the Church is the conclusion of Israel’s story, and we have known since Genesis 3 that that story must have a happy ending. That is why Paul can endure, and can encourage the Corinthian church to endure: his life and theirs are understood to be συμμόρφοι to Christ’s life.

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