Your Silence is Golden (And Comforting)

April 3, 2024

Picture this. Your child comes home from school, and they have failed – and I mean big time failed – on a test they had studied very hard for. You know how much work they put into it. You know how much of a blow this must be for them. Or, depending on how old your children are, this might be a situation where they’ve been fired from a dream job or had their heart broken by a significant other – where life has given them lemons big time, and there’s no lemonade in sight. 

As a parent or perhaps a close friend, what are you supposed to say? Is there such a thing as the perfect expression of sympathy that’ll work in all tricky situations? 

While I wish there was a magic word to make the pain go away, I recently came across this quote from Mark Twain: “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” 

This reminds me of the sequence of events in the Bible, following Nadab and Abihu’s untimely deaths, consumed by God’s fire after attempting to bring an unauthorized sacrifice.

 In the wake of that tragedy, Moses tries to comfort their father, Aharon. As the Bible relates, however, Aharon’s response is to  “stay silent.”This silence, of course, seems like the opposite of what I’d imagine his response would be! Where are the words of self-care and comfort?  Is there something we’re supposed to learn from this?  Well, it’s the Bible – of course we are. Indeed, looking closely,  Aharon’s response is full of meaning and sheds light on a powerful way to cope with personal tragedy. 

Let’s time travel for a second to a different spot in the Bible: the Book of Job. Get out your tissues while you’re at it – for the Book of Job is well known for being a very sad book. In essence, it’s a chronicle of Job’s suffering – the hardships that he’s encountered, the misfortune he’s had –  and, ultimately, his continued faith that God will save him. At some point in his grieving process, Job’s three friends come to pay him a visit:

But listen to how they actually comforted him!

Job’s friends remained quiet. Not immune to his suffering but instead present with his pain. 

This is the first example of what silence means in the Bible. It means sitting with someone – and through your non-intrusive way, giving them the space to feel their emotions, knowing they are not alone.

There’s another spot in the Hebrew Bible where silence is an effective response to something that happened. But not necessarily in response to grief, like the story of Nadab and Abihu or the story of Job. Let’s get back into our Bible time machine and jump into the Book of Kings. Kings 1, to be specific, where we’ll be landing right in the middle of the story of Elijah. Elijah was a zealot for God. And precisely because of his zealousness – he felt very alone. So alone, in fact that he asked for God to kill him – to take away the pain he felt, surrounded by people who weren’t listening to him. So God calls Elijah to come up onto the mountain of Horeb and there, God speaks to him. 

Here’s how God’s response to Elijah went:  First, there was a mighty wind, but God’s voice was not in the wind. Then, there was an earthquake, but God’s voice did not come to Elijah in the earthquake. And finally, there was a fire – and as you guessed it, God’s words to Elijah were not found in the fire. Lastly, there was a quiet murmur. And with his hand cupped behind his ear so he could listen attentively – at least as I picture it – Elijah heard the voice of God. God’s voice was in the silence, not in cinematic special effects. 

Are you ready to have your mind blown? The same Hebrew word that is used to describe the silence that Aharon experienced, “va-yi-DOM” carries the same grammatical root – da’mam – as the word to describe the silence in the story of Elijah “d’-MA-mah”. The two silences are connected.

Here’s the purpose of silence in the Bible. It’s about moments of presence – real and meaningful presence – where you accept that there are things and plans and events that are larger than yourself, and in that acknowledgement, find comfort. These moments of silence are a response when there are no words that can possibly do justice, like with Job and his friends, or Elijah’s experience with God, and yes – like with Aharon in the wake of his sons’ death.  Silence goes beyond all the tired Hallmark platitudes and expensive Holywood pyrotechnics. 

Now I want to make it clear. Silence is not to be confused with indifference. I love chatting, and sharing ideas, and speaking up for the good. And that’s a good thing! But This Biblical silence that Aharon, Job, and Elijah experience is the acknowledgement that in our lives, we cannot always be in control of what will happen to us. Aharon could not bring his sons back to life, Job’s friends couldn’t snap their fingers and make Job’s tragic life become suddenly happy. And no amount of miracles would change how the people around Elijah viewed God. 

You cannot turn a failing grade into an A, repair your child’s broken heart, or land them their dream job. But what you can do is take a moment of loving silence with your special people. Be with them in their pain, and allow your presence to send a powerful message of acknowledgement and togetherness.

God is with you, and you will be okay. 


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Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

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