Genesis 37:31-36 (Hebrew translation)
Then they took Joseph’s tunic and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in its blood. And they sent the tunic of various colours and brought it to their father and said, “We found this. Recognise whether or not it is the tunic of your son.” He recognised it and said, “It is the tunic of my son! A wild animal ate him! Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!” Jacob tore his garment and put sackcloth on his loins and moved to mourn over his son for many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and he said, “In mourning I shall go down to Sheol to my son.” And his father wept for him. Meanwhile, the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, a court official of Pharaoh, chief of the bodyguards.
We see two major things here: the extent of Jacob’s grief and Joseph’s brothers’ total disregard for their father as they plotted against Joseph. As with Reuben, we see the customary gesture again of tearing off one’s garments in grief, but this time with the addition of adding sackcloth to one’s loins (the hips and the small of the back). Jacob’s grief was far greater than Reuben’s, then.
A sackcloth was a loose garment or sack worn in times of mourning or humiliation, in this case mourning. Jacob was not merely mourning but also moving to practise their rites of mourning, which lasted for many days.
Thus, we see a twofold extent of Jacob’s mourning: the duration of time and Jacob’s own depression. “Many days” indicates Jacob mourned for several weeks, maybe even months. Mourning over the death of a loved one for several months (maybe even years) is even typical in our time. So, it’s not difficult to imagine this extent of Jacob’s grief. And Jacob’s depression is indicated in his saying, “In mourning I shall go down to Sheol to my son.” Sheol was the Hebrew word for death, i.e. the grave, in a very generic sense. It is not synonymous to Hell.
The next major thing: Joseph’s brothers’ total disregard for their father as they plotted against Joseph. They knew Joseph was their father’s favourite son. Whether or not it is right that Jacob showed favouritism doesn’t matter here. What matters is that Joseph’s brothers cared only for themselves—remember, they were envious and felt threatened by Joseph’s dreams—and did not care at all for how their father would feel if they killed Joseph.
There are two things that show the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers here: (1) They let Jacob believe Joseph was dead although he was still alive, and (2) they tried to comfort their father even though they knew Joseph was alive. Both of these show the extent of both their hypocrisy and wickedness. Even Reuben, whom we are prone to empathise with. If there was any moment for Reuben to confess what had happened to Joseph, now was as good a time as any, but he remained silent and went along with his brothers’ scheme.
Joseph’s brothers attempted to cover up their sin. In doing so, they only sinned even further by lying to their father and deceiving him in extreme hypocrisy as they attempted to comfort him. Covering up our sin only leads to further sin. We saw this first with Adam and Eve.
Adam, in trying to cover up his sin (and his shame), blamed God and his wife, which was itself a sin in putting the blame on others, especially God. This pattern of sin—trying to hide it—continues throughout all human history, which we have seen with Joseph’s brothers. In trying to cover up their sin, they sinned even further and in the process hurt someone very dear to them. In the end, their sin was found out by Jacob just as Adam and Eve’s sin was found out by God.
We, too, try to hide our own sin. I remember a time when my brother broke our mother’s favourite vase. In the attempt to hide his sin, he hid the broken pieces instead of confessing to our mother what had happened and apologising for being careless. (I don’t blame him. You fear the wrath of your mother when she’s Puerto Rican.) Of course, our mother noticed it was missing and she eventually found out what had happened, and which my brother was forced to confess. Thousands of years later, my brother committed the same pattern of sin as Adam and Eve.
We all try to hide such sin, but God our Father finds out. When we get caught in a lie, we lie even further to cover up that lie. When we do something wrong and someone points out our sin to us, we try to justify our sin. We even justify our sin by hiding in the open, such as homosexuality, justifying it in the name of “love” and “tolerance.” But God knows the truth of all our sins. He always finds out. Hiding our sins is like trying to hide a house with a twin-sized blanket.
We always try to hide our sins and we fail miserably. Yet thanks be to God that our sins become hidden in the blood of Jesus Christ! By faith, when the Holy Spirit brings us to believe Jesus died and rose for our sins, He covers our sins in His justifying blood and God the Father sees our sins no more, freeing us to live away from our sin. Every time we sin and come to repentance—confessing our sins and trusting in Christ—He covers our sins with His blood and frees us to sin no more, and God no longer sees our wrongs.