OUR DECISIONS AND INVESTMENTS MUST REFLECT FAITH IN GOD’S PROMISES – ESPECIALLY WHEN DEALING WITH DEATH
Do we really live like we believe the promises of God? God’s promises primarily impact our future reality. At present we live in hope, not having received the fulfillment of many of God’s promises. The very nature of faith is described as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
1 Thess. 4:13 instructs believers not to “grieve as the rest who have no hope.” The context in that passage is the certain promise of the Lord’s return providing hope for believers as they deal with the loss of a loved one. Here in our passage today, we see that lesson played out in the life of Abraham as his wife of 60 years has just died. Abraham can hardly remember life before Sarah. They have certainly had a roller coaster ride in their spiritual journey of faith, but now Abraham finds himself bereft of the companionship of Sarah.
He serves as our example of what it looks like to grieve as one who lives for eternity; as one who knows that death is only the passageway to the other side; as one who looks forward to God fulfilling all of His glorious future promises. Certainly, Abraham does not “grieve as the rest who have no hope.”
To understand why Moses spends so much time writing here about the purchase of this burial plot in the land of Canaan, you must understand the unique challenges that the people of Israel faced under Moses’ leadership as they prepared to invade the Promised Land. Moses was writing to a people grappling with fear of the reported giants of the land. They knew that 10 of the 12 spies sent to inspect the land of Canaan had come back with disturbing reports advising against the invasion. Only Joshua and Caleb understood that the great blessings of the land would truly be theirs through faith in the promise of God. How could Moses instruct the people of God to take ownership of the promises of God?
Deffinbaugh: None other than Caleb was given the privilege of taking the land which Abraham had purchased as an “earnest of his inheritance” (cf. Joshua 14:13). What motivation this story must have provided for t
Ownership of this promised land was so critical to the people of Israel. And in our passage today we see Abraham lawfully acquiring that small portion – a simple field with one burial cave – a purchase that would speak volumes about the Lord ultimately fulfilling His promise to give His people the entire land.
I. (:1-2) THE DEATH OF SARAH –
DEALING WITH DEATH TRIGGERS DEEP EMOTIONAL REACTIONS THAT COULD UNDERMINE OUR FAITH IN GOD’S PROMISES
A. (:1) Summary of Sarah’s Life – Memories of a Full Life and the Faithfulness of God
“Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years;
these were the years of the life of Sarah.”
Seems like a long time … but eternity puts one’s life in proper perspective
Abraham is 137 and Isaac is 37 years old
They had probably been together for almost 100 years if they got married when Sarah was in her 20’s
Is. 51:1-2 – look to Sarah – godly woman
Heb. 11:10, 16
The “sacrifice” of Isaac on Mount Moriah (previous chapter – 22) brought Abraham to a firm faith in God’s power to raise the dead (cf. Hebrews 11:19)
1 Peter speaks to the issue of living in light of eternity: outline of first 2 chapters:
Live for Eternity: 3 Living Realities Associated With Our Salvation:
a. Focusing on Our Living Hope (1:3 – 1:21)
Joy in Suffering — Our Guaranteed Future Spurs Overflowing Joy
Despite Fiery Trials
b. Feeding on the Living Word (1:22 – 2:3)
Living for Eternity Requires Feeding On the Living and Abiding Word
of God in Order to Aggressively Love One Another
c. Functioning as Living Stones (2:4-10)
The Living Stone in Fulfillment of OT Prophecy Elevates the
Privileges and Worship of God’s People in the Church
S. Lewis Johnson: as far as Abraham was concerned, the fact that Sarah had died did not mean that she was not going to inherit the promises. Now he was certain of that and he wanted her to have a place in that land so that from that spot, there may be the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises.
B. (:2a) Location of Sarah’s Death – Reminder of God’s Land Promise
“And Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan;”
No matter how long we live, unless the Lord returns first, all of us will die.
If we are trusting in the Lord that death ushers us into His glorious presence.
But for those we leave behind, our death is a reality that must be faced.
Here we have the simple, terse recording of the life of Sarah coming to its inevitable end.
What is highlighted is the location of her death.
Keith Krell: Kiriah Arba was its original name, named after Arba, the greatest man of the Anakites, a scary group of warriors (Josh 14:15).
Parunak: Moses emphasizes to us that Hebron is “in the land of Canaan,” a point that he picks up at the end of the chapter as well (19). This reference ties us back to the divine promises.
• Canaan was the objective of his pilgrimage ever since his family first left Ur, 11:31.
• The name marks their first arrival: 12:5,6.
• When Lot chooses Sodom, Abraham remains in Canaan, 13:12
• This is the land that God promises him for a possession, 17:8.
C. (:2b) Grief of Abraham – Deep Emotional Reaction
“and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.”
24:67 – Isaac needed to be comforted as well
S. Lewis Johnson: One of these words is a word that speaks of very strong expressions of mourning, the kind of outward weeping and wailing that the Easterners do and did, and the other, well the quieter kind of weeping and crying that is familiar to us in the West.
Here we see the real life grief and mourning of faithful Abraham. He does not over-spiritualize the situation. We don’t see him in some weird prophetic ecstasy spouting off some spiritual platitudes. We see him fully engaged in the normal emotional
Keith Krell: in addition to the crying he went through the traditional mourning customs of his day: tearing clothes, cutting his beard, spreading dust on his head, and fasting.https://bible.org/seriespage/29-piece-promise-genesis-231-20 – P13_6293 This was all done in the presence of the body. The Jews had a very elaborate and intense process that they went through when someone died. Genesis 50 tells us about Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. When he died there was a period of 40 days that his family was at hand. As he was being embalmed, the family had a time of grieving and then he was buried. After he was buried, for another seven days they continued to grieve. . .
It is remarkable that this is the only time we are ever told that Abraham wept. He had been through so many bitter disappointments and heartaches in his life: He was disappointed when Lot left him (13:5-12). He was heartbroken when he sent Ishmael away (21:9-14). He was devastated when he had to offer Isaac (22:1-10). But the only time the Scriptures reveal that he wept was when Sarah died. This reveals the depth of his grief and love for this woman. I would also add that a willingness to put Isaac to death enabled Abraham to accept the passing of his wife, Sarah. God used the offering of Isaac to prepare Abraham for the death of his wife.
II. (:3-18) THE PURCHASE OF THE BURIAL SITE FOR SARAH IN THE PROMISED LAND –
DEALING WITH DEATH REVEALS OUR PERSPECTIVE TOWARDS ETERNITY AND THE PROMISES OF GOD
A. (:3-6) Exchange #1 – Initiation of Request for Ownership of a Burial Site
1. (:3-4) Request – Need to Possess a Burial Site
“Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’”
Hughes: By owning a part of the land he was prophesying its ultimate ownership. . . His beloved wife’s body entombed in Hebron, the center of the land, was his public stake in God’s promise – against all appearances.
Do we have the mindset of Abraham that we are but pilgrims and sojourners in this journey on earth? Do we truly believe that this world and all that is in it is passing away? Or are we rooted in some type of materialistic bondage to the things of this present age?
Not a property owner so he needed a burial plot to be provided
2. (:5-6) Response – Offer to Use a Burial Site
“And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’”
Look at the reputation that Abraham had earned from the unbelievers who observed his life.
That is why one of the primary qualifications for spiritual leadership in the church is that an elder must be a man of good reputation. We are not talking about power and possessions but about evidence that the hand of God is upon your life.
Keith Krell: In 23:6, the sons of Heth offer to “loan” Abraham any tomb he desires, but Abraham clarifies that he wishes to purchase a tomb at “full price” and therefore “own” the land (23:7-9). This is important. Abraham could have saved a lot of money by borrowing a burial site. Why did he insist on purchasing a tomb? Because when we borrow something it is only temporarily ours and must be returned, but when we own something it is a permanent possession. Abraham wished to express that the land of Canaan was to be his home and not merely a stopping-off place. This was an act of faith in the future fulfillment of God’s promises. Abraham’s planning demonstrated his faith! We too are to live with the same certainty of God’s promises being accomplished despite how impossible and distant they may seem at the present. We are to have a faith for the future because God’s promises to us are primarily future realities.
Bob Deffinbaugh: Most often when a burial plot is purchased for the first partner another is bought alongside for the surviving partner, and frequently a whole family plot is secured simultaneously. When Abraham decided upon the burial place for Sarah, he also determined the place of his burial and of his descendants. . .
If Abraham wished the use of a burial place, anyone would gladly loan him the best they had. However, a borrowed grave was not acceptable to Abraham. There is really nothing wrong with a borrowed grave; our Lord was buried in one you recall (Matthew 27:60), but our Lord only needed His grave for three days, whereas Abraham needed his site for posterity (Genesis 25:9; 50:13). Nothing less than a permanent possession would satisfy Abraham.
B. (:7-11) Exchange #2 – Expansion of the Offer to Include Both Land and Cave
1. (:7) Respect Shown by Abraham in the Negotiations
“So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.”
2. (:8-9) Request to Purchase a Specific Site from a Specific Individual
“And he spoke with them, saying, ‘If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.’”
Parunak: Abraham again insists on a “possession,” v.9, and makes clear that he wants to purchase it for money, not just gain the use of it. Ephron returns to the original Hittite proposal that he give Abraham the use of it: “bury thy dead.” But this would leave Abraham still as a guest in the land, owing obligations to Ephron.
3. (:10-11) Repackaging the Offer to Include the Field as Well as the Cave
“Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.’”
Deffinbaugh: it was not an insincere offer so much as one which no one would accept with honor.
Steven Cole: In offering to throw in the field along with the cave, Ephron wasn’t being generous. Under Hittite law, if he retained ownership of the field, in modern parlance, he would have to pay the taxes on it. But if he sold the larger portion with the cave, the obligation passed on to the new owner. Abraham agreed to this extended package, so all that is left is establishing the price.
Ephron is subtle in this matter as well. He persists as if he is willing to give the property to Abraham, but he attaches a market value to his “gift.” This allows Ephron to mention the value of the land as he sees it, and it implies that if Ephron is so generous as to give Abraham this land, how could Abraham be so petty as to dicker over the price? Abraham accepts the price, pays the money, and the transaction is legally witnessed (23:16-18, 20).
C. (:12-16) Exchange #3 – Terms of the Purchase Price
1. (:12-13) Insistence on Payment
“And Abraham bowed before the people of the land.
And he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying,
‘If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field,
accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.’”
2. (:14-15) Proposal of Payment Price
“Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.’”
Keith Krell: Even though Ephron offers to give Abraham the land free of charge, he places a value on the “gift” that is offered. . . Ephron was certainly not being generous to a grieving man. In fact the price and terms of the sale indicate that Ephron was greedy and unfair. This Gentile “gentiled” Abraham out of some money, but Abraham regarded the land as priceless because of what it meant to him spiritually. He now had a part of the land promised to him. First, Ephron insists that the cave and the field be sold to Abraham. Abraham only needed the cave at the end of the field (23:9) but Ephron gives Abraham a raw deal. Secondly, the price Ephron asks for the field is exorbitant. Many centuries later Jeremiah buys a field for only seventeen sheckles of silver (Jer 32:9). David paid only one-eighth that amount—50 shekels of silver—for the purchase of the temple site from Araunah (2 Sam 24:24). Nevertheless Abraham bought the field according to those extremely unfair terms and price.
3. (:16) Payment Transacted Publicly Without Any Haggling Over Price
“And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard.”
In their culture, unthinkable that you would not haggle over the purchase price; the original offer was usually just the starting point for negotiations
D. (:17-18) Lawful Possession of the Land
“So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.”
Parunak: The epilogue consists of two paragraphs, stating two actions by Abraham. Each action is followed by a statement that Abraham now has “possession” of the tomb (17-18, 20). Finally he holds full legal title to at least some portion of the land of promise. The first action (16) is to pay Ephron the price he has named. To those acquainted with middle eastern haggling, it is unthinkable to pay the asking price without question. But Abraham wants there to be no question that he has cheated Ephron, or that his title is in any way in question. The second action (19) is to bury Sarah. Once again we are reminded that this property is “in the land of Canaan,” the land of promise.
Trees marked out the boundaries of the whole field; could not be moved like boundary stones;
III. (:19-20) THE BURIAL OF SARAH IN THE PIECE OF THE PROMISED LAND NOW LAWFULLY POSSESSED BY ABRAHAM –
DEALING WITH DEATH PROVIDES OPPORTUNITY TO REINFORCE OUR HOPE IN GOD’S PROMISES
A. (:19) Burial Respectfully Accomplished
“And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.”
Keith Krell: Abraham buried Sarah facing “Mamre” (cf. 23:17). Mamre was where Abraham built an altar and worshipped God (13:18). It was where the Lord appeared to him and repeated the promise of a son (18:1).
All the patriarchs used this burial site:
– Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham there with Sarah (Gen. 25:9)
– Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried there by Jacob and Esau (Gen. 35:29; Gen. 49:29-33)
– Jacob (Israel) requests to be buried there – where he buried Leah (Gen. 49:29-33)
– Jacob, who died in Egypt, was buried in the cave which Abraham purchased (Genesis 50:1-14).
– Genesis ends with Joseph dying in Egypt, outside of the boundaries of the promised land; instructs his sons to take his bones back for reburial when God fulfills His promise to give them the land
B. (:20) Land Lawfully Possessed
“So the field, and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth.”
Keith Krell: This seems strange appearing after 23:19, which would have been a reasonable note on which to conclude. Its placement here points out that the crucial element in this chapter is not Sarah’s death, but Abraham’s acquisition of land from outsiders. As such, it is an indication of things to come.
[Holy Spirit as the down payment, the earnest, the guarantee of our future inheritance]
The way you demonstrate faith in God’s promises for your future is by investing in those promises; by making decisions in light of those promises; by living for eternity even in the face of death.
– Paul writes to Philemon: “Prepare me a lodging” or a “guest-room” (NIV, Phlm 22). He is in prison but his hope is that prayer will be answered and he will be freed. Preparing the room is an investment in the promise.
– Maybe you’re looking for a job. As you search and wait, invest in the promise. Take some symbolic action that shows you believe God will provide that job. Buy a new briefcase or calendar or something that symbolizes a piece of the promise.
– Every believing loved-one whose body you put into the ground is a piece of the promise. Each one is a seed of the resurrection, demonstrating that because Jesus lives, they also live. Through your tears of sorrow and loss take comfort that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
Deffinbaugh: Jeremiah expressed a similar faith when he purchased the field of Anathoth (Jer 32:6ff). While God was to judge His people for their sins by driving them out of the promised land, so He would bring them back when they repented. The purchase of the field of Anathoth evidenced Jeremiah’s conviction that God would do as He had promised (Jeremiah 32:9-15).