Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The multifarious verb נחם (naham), may mean to be sorry in the sense of being compassionate (Jeremiah 15:6), to be sorry in the sense of being regretful (Exodus 13:17), or it may mean to comfort oneself (Genesis 38:12), depending on the context.
That this root came to denote such a wide array of meanings may have to do with its origin, which, according to HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, was to reflect the idea of breathing deeply. When the verb means to repent, the subject is most often God! This word is used in such enigmatic statements as Genesis 6:6-7 (God regrets having made man), Exodus 32:14 (God changes his mind upon Moses' plea) or 1 Samuel 15:11 (God regrets having made Saul king).
"Repent" is probably not even a very accurate word but for lack of a better one, it serves. Perhaps there is only one action to the verb נחם (naham) but two perspectives. The second perspective then is that of how humans perceive this action: comfort. Our verb occurs most famously in Isaiah 40:1, "Comfort, O comfort my people . . .," and in Psalm 23:4, "your rod and your staff, they comfort me".
Derivations of the verb נחם (naham) are:
- The masculine noun נחם (noham), meaning sorrow or repentance (Hosea 13:14 only).
- The masculine noun נחום (nihum), meaning comfort (Isaiah 57:18) or compassion (Hosea 11:8).
- The feminine noun נחמה (nehama), meaning comfort (Psalm 119:50, Job 6:10 only).
- The masculine noun תנחום (tanhum), meaning consolation. This noun occurs only in the plural form (Jeremiah 16:7, Psalm 94:19).