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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Grief and Mourning

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Practices and emotions associated with the experience of the death of a loved one or of other catastrophe or tragedy. The Bible tells us of life and death. When it mentions death, the Bible frequently relates the experience of the participants. So we are told of the mourning of Abraham for Sarah (Genesis 23:2 ). Jacob mourned for Joseph, thinking he was dead. “And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days;b3he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him” (Genesis 37:34-45 ). The Egyptians mourned for Jacob 70 days (Genesis 50:3 ). Leaders were mourned, often for 30 days: Aaron (Numbers 20:29 ), Moses (Deuteronomy 34:8 ), and Samuel (1 Samuel 25:1 ). David led the people as they mourned Abner (2 Samuel 3:31-32 ). Mary and Martha wept over their brother Lazarus (John 11:31 ). After Jesus watched Mary and her friends weeping, we are told, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35 ).

Mourning was expressed in three major ways:

Weeping was then, as now, the primary indication of grief. Tears are repeatedly mentioned, “My tears have been my meat day and night” (Psalm 42:3 ). “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle” (Psalm 56:8 ). We have already noted Mary's tears and even those of Jesus. The loud lamentation was also a feature of mourning. The Egyptians lifted up their voices, “There was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead” (Exodus 12:30 ). Not only did the actual relatives mourn, but they hired professional mourners, “because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets” (Ecclesiastes 12:5 ). “Consider ye, and call for the mourning women” (Jeremiah 9:17 ). In this same verse they are also referred to as “cunning women,” which suggests that there were certain techniques which these women practiced with unusual skill. Jesus went to Jairus's house to heal his daughter and “saw the minstrels and the people making a noise” (Matthew 9:23 ).

Yet another feature was personal disfigurement which was probably done to convince onlookers that the person was really grieving. Sometimes they tore their garments, “Reuben;b3rent his clothes” (Genesis 37:29 ). On others they wore sackcloth, “And David said;b3Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn” (2 Samuel 3:31 ). The women wore black or somber material, “feign thyself to be a mourner, and put on now mourning apparel, and anoint not thyself with oil, but be as a women that had a long time mourned for the dead” (2 Samuel 14:2 ). Mourners covered their heads, “David; wept; and had his head covered,” and all people that was with him covered every man his head” (2 Samuel 15:30 ).

Job's friends came to help him, “So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great” (Job 2:13 ). From this and other statements we can learn ways in which we can minister to grief-stricken people:

1) Realize the gift of presence. Just calling and being there can be of value.

2) Do not overtalk the grieving person. Provide the awesome power of the listening ear.

3) Let them know it is alright for them to grieve. Even Jesus wept over the death of His friend Lazarus.

4) Be ready to minister to the griever for a long time. It sometimes takes as much as two years to work through a grief experience.

5) Tactfully remind the griever of Him who said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25 ), and invoke His blessing.

John W. Drakeford

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Grief and Mourning'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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