Genesis 23: Sarah's Death and Grave
After many decades of marriage, Abraham is separated from his beloved wife.
Have you ever lost a loved one?
In this chapter, we learn of the death of Sarah, and Abraham’s faith being expressed in the purchase of a burial ground.
vv. 1–2 - After a long, challenging, but happy marriage, Sarah dies in Kirjath-arba, west of the Dead Sea at 127 years of age.
vv. 3–16 - the sons of Heth, or Hittites, were Canaanites (Gen. 10:15). They offer one of their burial sites to Abraham. v. 6 shows that they viewed him as mighty prince, and a man to be respected and served. It literally means, “prince of God.” But Abraham is a separated man, representing a separated people. The grave could not be mixed among Canaanite graves, so he requests the cave of Machpelah, belonging to Ephron. Abraham just wants the cave, but Ephron must sell him the field it is located in. The deal is completed publicly for an amount of 400 shekels of silver,
vv. 17–20 - there is a repeated phrase “were made sure” concerning the property. Some think that Abraham’s purchase of the land was a claim to Canaan. While that’s not the case, his purchase of the land was a) a testimony of his faith in God’s promises to give his posterity this land, b) a sermon to his believing posterity that they should expect to be buried in this land, c) an expression of his belief in a resurrection. For if bodies are not resurrected, why take such care of them? Burial is a matter of stewardship, and belief that the body belongs to God and it will be raised one day. This is why we discourage cremation. It doesn’t determine heaven or hell, but it denies Christ’s Lordship over the body and removes the message of victory which is stated through burial.
God is sovereign unto and including our death. The language of v. 2 seems to imply Abraham’s absence when Sarah passed away. This can be a painful experience. Abraham could allow himself to be angry because he wasn’t present for her passing. If you have been there, don’t blame God or yourself either. God does all things well.
We never read of Abraham weeping leaving Ur, or sending away Ishmael, or taking Isaac to Moriah, but he weeps here. Mourning and sorrow is right and proper when one dies. I say this because, in some circles, funerals have turned into a celebration of life. This language, whether intentional or not, seems to rebuke any sense of mourning. Paul says to Christians that weep at the passing of other believers, that they sorrow, but not as others who have no hope. Note also that Abraham, although he grieved, he continued to live his life in the world. No matter who we lose in this world, God calls us to keep living for Him while we breathe in this life.
Believers are not to view this world as their only home. Abraham, underlining his own temporary state in this world, acknowledges himself to be a stranger and sojourner (v. 4). David identifies with this language in Psalm 39. This is true for us all. Believer, you are in this world, but not of it. Maintain biblical priorities.
Once again, Abraham exemplifies a powerful testimony. Could men call you a prince of God? Or to use a more common term, can they refer to you as a man or woman of God? If not, does that not expose our half-hearted Christian living?
It is right for Christians to show humility, even before unbelievers. Abraham bowed himself (v. 7). This humility governs much of the New Testament instruction to wives, children, and servants. Sometimes believing wives think they know more than their unbelieving husbands, and they violate the counsel given in 1 Peter 3. Christian, be clothed with humility in every station in life. Even when you are as powerful as Abraham.
There are a number of economic lessons here. Pay an honest price. Deliver what you promise. Use witnesses to establish contracts. Secure your own property so people know it is yours. Abraham was honest in all his business dealings. Your religion is empty if it does govern how you do business.
Remember, young people, no one mourns because you were beautiful, they mourn because you were graceful. Physical beauty fades, but character can be constantly improved. Abraham tells them that he must bury Sarah “out of my sight.” What a striking reminder of the awfulness of death. This women had been stunningly beautiful most of her life, but now she must be put out of sight. It comes to all men sooner or later. Make sure we live in such a way that others have reason to mourn us. We do this by a life full of the Holy Spirit, bringing Christ to the lives of others.
Praise God, that though our bodies rot in the grave, our covenant relationship with Jesus does not. It’s wonderful to think that He loves the very ashes of His people. The apostle says of the old saints, “these all died in faith.” May it be true of you and me also.
“O daughters of Sarah, do well and be not afraid with any amazement! And so, if you should be called to some stern duty; if you should be bound to do what you feel you cannot do, remember that anybody can do what he can do. It is the believing man who does what he cannot do. We achieve impossibilities by the power of the Almighty God. Be not afraid, then, of any duty, but believe that you will be able to do it, for grace will be sufficient for you.” — Charles Spurgeon