Jacob mourning Joseph

Joseph’s story is famous. I won’t recount it. But the other night I was profoundly affected by a couple sentences in the story of Joseph that I had never really thought about before.

Then the brothers killed a young goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in it’s blood. They sent the beautiful robe to their father with this message “Look at what we found. Doesn’t this robe belong to your son?” Their father recognized it immediately. “Yes,” he said, “it is my son’s robe. A wild animal must have eaten him. Joseph has clearly been torn to pieces!” Then Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap. He mourned deeply for his son for a long time.” -Genesis 37:31-34

For the first time, I really noticed Jacobs’ side of this story.

Poor Jacob.

I’d never really appreciated the awfulness of what Jacob’s older sons actually did to him. Genesis 37: 34-35 says, “He mourned deeply for his son for a long time. His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep.”

Jacob lived a big portion of his life believing his favorite son was dead. And even though this story ends on a high note, where Jacob is reunited with his beloved son, there is still the 20 years of grief that Jacob will never get back combined with the 20 years of betrayal that are seemingly never acknowledged.

I think my Sunday school upbringing did not do me many favors when it comes to the Old Testament. The crafts and puppets all seemed to indicate that all stories have a neat, tidy lesson. Joseph forgives, Jonah obeys, David waits, Sarah conceives, Noah finds land, etc. It set me up to expect resolution for everything. But as we all know- life is not like that.

And just like my life, here is a part of the story that seems grossly under explained. The “why” we are given is pretty macro: set up Joseph in Egypt so that the Israelites are ultimately preserved through a famine.

But what about the micro? What about Jacob’s grief and suffering? What about justice for the lies of his other sons? Why was that necessary? And why relocate a chosen people to Egypt when they will just turn into slaves there 400 years later?

Sometimes I think asking these questions makes Christians nervous. I know because they used to make me nervous. I thought that having faith meant that you had answers for everything.

But because of some recent suffering in my own life I see things differently. I no longer expect to have answers for suffering. In fact, I feel massive relief when people admit they don’t know. When friends sit in the question and the pain rather than try and tie it up into a positive story.

It is helpful for me to notice the parts of the famous Bible stories where there is no direct explanation. Not to “poke holes” in some kind of perfect narrative. But because it makes me more able to accept the unresolved parts of my own story. If God doesn’t explain himself to the patriarchs of the faith then why do I expect him to explain himself to me?  His reasons are not always clear, let alone satisfactory.

The fact is, Jacob suffers needlessly for a long time and his sons’ systematic betrayal never really gets its day in court. But Jacob still has faith in God.

I think faith isn’t actually faith without unresolved questions.

7 Responses to Jacob mourning Joseph

  1. Kathy August 19, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    Great reflection on faith, Nat. Similarly, Paul in Romans, gives us sound advice as to how we are to live: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:12-15 ESV)

  2. J August 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    I think certain things can only be understood when one experiences it. It is like asking why did God sent His beloved Son from heaven to this world to be spit, cursed, bitten, and nailed on the cross for someone else’s sin? Where is the justice of it? He foresaw everything and yet still went through with His plans. How fair is that?! But I think only those [Jacob] who lost their beloved child could understand our Heavenly Father’s heart — the depth of pain and ache He must have felt. I don’t know why we have to go through suffering… It doesn’t make any sense and I personally hate every bit of it! But I know one thing that when we go through suffering…God is there to comfort us…hold us. Our relationship with Him grows. I have come to know His love and faithfulness more personally. It is during those times of suffering when nothing goes right, makes sense, or the way I wanted, that I question many things… Can I trust God and His plans for me?

  3. Dad August 19, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    Profound. Very well expressed.


  4. Christina Quisumbing September 7, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    Sometimes when I try to comfort someone or encourage them, I say the wrong thing. I do this mostly when I have not experienced the suffering that they have. Maybe if I had, I would have simply understood and have wept with them.

  5. anonymous for this one to protect the guilty and innocent. LOL September 17, 2013 at 4:36 am #

    Reading your comments…I see that..”THE BROTHERS”…who lied…must have suffered watching their father SUFFER. Knowing the truth…I bet that ate some of them up to the core. Like when a spouse cheats and regrets it. They can’t tell as it would hurt the one they love even more. It pains them each time they hear the spouse say I love you. I went through something like what Jacob did. I was told my spouse cheated on me. He did something inappropriate but not to the point of what others accused him of. (this all happened in a church family) I forgave but the hurt never went away and it ate away at the marriage. The marriage ended. We moved away to even try to heal. 10 years later we ended it. 14 years after the marriage ended..(24 years i suffered with this) I went to visit these old friends(?) One of them confesses to me that the group made it more than what it was. 24 years i suffered and a beautiful marriage was destroyed out of jealous for the love they saw we had and they didn’t have that love from their spouses. At least I found out in the end. Jacob never did but i bet those brothers suffered wondering if joseph would tell and how it would hurt the father even more. I can’t look back and change a thing so i go on. God has provided for us both. We are friends and have found love again. I was angry with them and angry with myself that I could not see the truth of their jealousy. I got over it as when I returned from the visit, I saw God has really provided for me a better husband. I wrote my ex and told him what i had learned and asked for forgiveness of the years of hurt feelings. YOU have helped me deal with this pain today. I put it in a place bibically. I see where I can relate and rejoice. My mourning has been turned to JOY!! Keep drawing and commenting!! I’m sure you have helped many and they can’t write it out. I’m older now and don’t mind sharing if it can help others. LOL

    • nat September 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

      Wow! Thank you for taking the time to tell you story and share from your experiences. I’m so glad to hear that the Lord has brought you healing after so many years of suffering! That is amazing. Thanks for reading and commenting:)

  6. Melissa Joy December 3, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Yes, profound. Amen.
    And I love the artwork you have with it. Oh, how the Lord speaks through you, with your words and your art as His tools.
    Thank you.
    (JoyfulRedhead from HP)

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