I’ve been reading through Genesis again recently and noticed a phrase this week that I had missed on previous readings. Israel (Jacob) has just been told by his sons that his beloved son Joseph, whom he had presumed dead, is actually alive and he will soon see him again. God’s Word records that in response to this news “the spirit of their father Jacob revived” (Gen 45:27).
“They told him, saying, ‘Joseph is still alive, and indeed he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ But he was stunned, for he did not believe them. When they told him all the words of Joseph that he had spoken to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Then Israel said, ‘It is enough; my son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.'” Genesis 45:26-28 [NASB]
I believe Albert Barnes’ rightly commented on this text, “He is satisfied. His only thought is to go and see Joseph before he dies. A sorrow of twenty-two years’ standing has now been wiped away.” His love for his beloved Joseph had continued and the reviving of his spirit at the news that he would soon see him again testifies that his sorrow at Joseph’s absence had continued as well. In his spirit he had borne the weight of the sorrow of Joseph’s absence for 22 years.
Even after the reviving of his spirit and his reunion with Joseph, upon meeting Pharaoh he described the days of his life as having been unpleasant or, more literally translated, “evil” (Gen. 47:9). That description almost undoubtedly heavily shaped by the grief of his 22 year separation from Joseph, as well as that of the loss of his favored wife, Rachel, in childbirth.
“Pharaoh said to Jacob, ‘How many years have you lived?’ So Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning.” Genesis 47:8-9 [NASB]
It’s not uncommon to hear concerns expressed that someone may be “grieving too long.” I’ve been privy to several such conversations recently. The behavior that aroused concern in those instances was not a failure to function, such as staying in bed or not caring for themselves or their remaining family. The individuals being described were actively living life. The behavior that was cited as concerning was their continuing to speak about their loved one and their sharing that the sorrow of their loved one’s absence still remains. In each situation the conversation about grieving too long was concluded with the concerned individual imploring the need for the grieving person to “let it go” or “move on.”
Those disappointingly common statements beg the questions “how long is too long?” and “what exactly are they supposed to let go of or move on from?” What is the acceptable time frame to miss one’s loved one? Moving on can’t simply mean living life, because they are clearly doing that, so it must mean something more, but what? Moving on and letting go both carry the same implication of leaving behind, so is the expectation that they are to leave their loved one in the past? Could the expectation be that they should stop remembering and loving their loved one?
Regardless of how you define or clarify those statements, they invariably remain exceedingly peculiar, unrealistic and inappropriate expectations, particularly when the concerned individual is a professing follower of Jesus Christ.
For most, if not all, believers who have lost someone precious to them, the hope of seeing that loved one again is second only to their hope of seeing their God and Savior. My hope of being reunited with Sarah and spending eternity with our family once again intact is second only to my hope of seeing my Lord and God face to face and spending eternity with Him. With the same degree of certainty both will happen, and I am eagerly anticipating both. Until that day I will continue to long for Sarah’s presence and bear a weight of sorrow in her absence.
For we who have loved deeply and lost temporally, the longing for the presence of our loved one and the sorrow of their absence is grief. That longing and sorrow of grief is the weight that Israel had been bearing for 22 years. It was Israel’s grief that, upon hearing the news that he would soon see his beloved son again, was suddenly lifted resulting in the reviving of his spirit.
I often think of families with loved ones deployed, how our hearts ache for theirs as the days of their separation tick by. As days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months, and months turn to a year or perhaps even years, we agonize with them as they increasingly long for their reunion day. The same is true for we who believe and are separated by physical death from our loved ones. We are longing for that impending reunion day and that longing only increases with time. It does not decrease.
Unlike Israel, we have the profound blessing of living on this side of Calvary. We have the tremendous Hope of knowing death is defeated and will one day be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26; 55-58). We know through faith in Christ Jesus and His shed blood and resurrection that we have the Hope of eternity with our loved ones who also believe. Our spirits are revived in part now because we know with certainty that glorious reunion day is coming, but they will not be fully revived, or relieved of the weight of sorrow, until that day actually dawns.
Praise God that His Word makes it clear that there is no sin or shame in our ongoing sorrow at the painful ramifications of sin and death in our lives and this world (Ecc. 7:2; James 4:9-10). He doesn’t require us to muster a stiff upper lip and stifle or dry our own tears. There is no condemnation for our sorrow or our tears. To the contrary we are encouraged by His Word, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying [his] bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves [with him.]” (Psa 126:5-6).
What glorious encouragement that His Word does not say we should not grieve and it does not say there is a time limit for grief. We are only told that our grief should not be like those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13-14). We who grieve with Hope are called to wait eagerly with perseverance.
“But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” Romans 8:25 [NASB]
With eager expectation, we fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:13). Strengthened with all power according to His glorious might we are empowered to persevere in trusting, following and serving Him, with or without tear streaked faces, knowing that one day soon, in just a little while, with great compassion and loving kindness He personally will permanently wipe every tear from each of our eyes. (Col. 1:11; Rev. 21:3-5).
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be [any] death; there will no longer be [any] mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Revelation 21:3-5 [NASB]
Come, Lord Jesus.
Artwork: Sarah Harmening