Enoch “Refuses to be Comforted”

After reading that there was mourning ritual associated with Job’s and Jacob/Israel’s “refus[al] to be comforted”, I noticed that Enoch says the same thing after he sees the destruction wrought by the Flood: “And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted…” (Moses 7:44).

The idea of refusing comfort in the wake of a disaster is a common Hebrew part of mourning. Something terrible happens and the victim (or parent, or whoever) “refuses to be comforted” during his or her mourning. James Kugel, in How to Read the Bible, says:

There was a certain ritual practiced in the ancient Near East by anyone who had endured a severe loss–for example, the death of a parent or other close relative. The person would be visited by friends and family, who would seek to reconcile him or her to what had happened. But the normal, expected posture of the sufferer in such circumstances was to “refuse to be comforted,” at least for a time. This ritual of mourning called for sufferers to reject all such efforts for a while and remain plunged in grief, tearing their clothes, putting ashes on their heads, and wearing sackcloth… (639)

This is what’s going on in most of the Book of Job. For a time, his friends come to attempt to comfort him. But, as I said, this phrase also appears after Enoch foresees the destruction of humanity by the Flood. I think it’s profound that Enoch is so stricken by this destruction, as the language suggests that Enoch viewed these people as close enough that their death would elicit such a strong, mournful response. It might also be that he was shocked by the extent of the destruction. I think it’s interesting that we have such distance from many biblical stories that we aren’t stricken by how profoundly terrible many of them are. Yes, the people in the days of the Flood were wicked, but still, that’s a lot of death. We pass over it pretty lightly. In the same way, I think we do this when we read the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac (see here and here for some additional thoughts along these lines).

Second, I think it’s interesting that God’s immediate response to Enoch’s heartbreak is to comfort him, in line with the tradition, and tell him of the Messiah to come. Much of the rest of Enoch’s vision is Enoch trying to understand how God’s promise will be fulfilled. He is finally satisfied when God tells him, “Then [at the second coming of Christ] shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other…” (Moses 7:62).

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2 thoughts on “Enoch “Refuses to be Comforted”

  1. I actually struggle quite a bit with the apparent callousness toward life found in the Old Testament. I think it suggests something profound about how God must view mortal existence.

    I also struggle reading actual scriptures with my daughter. They can be pretty violent! I find myself skipping large segments because of how violent it is. We just got to Alma…we may do an abridged Alma.

    • Hey Ryan-
      Sorry I’ve been away from the blog for a while. I completely understand. There are scripture stories that I start to tell our oldest, but then stop once I realize how the story ends. Of course, I’ve been known to try to tell her the story of Dune and Paul Atreides, but gave up on that one too once I realized how difficult to sanitize it was.

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