Jacob Refused to Be Comforted

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Mankind has a tricky relationship with grief.

On the one hand, anyone who has experienced a deep sense of grief understands that it’s a feeling you never want to have ever again. Whether it’s loss, failure, betrayal, or something else that causes us pain, we will do just about anything to avoid it in the future.

But we also realize it’s necessary. 

People who refuse to engage with their grief will often find those unresolved emotions bubble up at some inopportune time. They may lash out at others, cry at otherwise happy times, or be unwilling to move on. Facing our pain head on is the only way we can effectively move on.

I’m not sure that’s what’s happening here in Genesis 37:35, though. The verses before detail how Joseph’s death was staged by his brothers — how they sold him to Midianite traitors and dipped his multi-colored robe in blood to simulate an animal attack.

When he finds out about it, Jacob says that he will “go down to Sheol in mourning for [his] son.” He wept for Joseph and then, curiously enough, refuted all attempts by his family to be comforted.

Why did he do this? Was he a masochist that enjoyed grieving for his son? Even if he wanted to confront his grief, refusing help seems like a curious step, and in my opinion, signals something else happening.

When we’re comforted at a funeral, it’s because the death is very real. The “evidence” of the death, after all, is right in front of us.

There was no body in Joseph’s case. A tattered robe dipped in blood is hardly enough evidence to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Joseph was actually dead.

Old Testament Law actually backs this up. In Exodus 22:13, if an animal is loaned to someone else and is then killed, the one who borrowed the animal must provide evidence (A.K.A. pieces of the animal) of what happened.

Jacob didn’t have evidence, so it’s very possible that, in his mind, he didn’t believe Joseph was actually dead.

This is such a great lesson for us all. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul says that Christians don’t grieve as those who “have no hope.” Since we have hope that our Christian loved ones are still alive in God, we have faith that we’ll see them again. People separate from God don’t have that hope.

I’m not implying that you should refuse to be comforted in your periods of grief. Not at all. 

What I am saying is that your grief should be measured. There are very real times to be sad, but our grief shouldn’t match those who have lost all hope. We know we’ll see them again, and for that reason, don’t have the same grief as those who have lost them forever.