After spending five weeks in Isaiah 40 for our Christmas series, we come back to the Book of Genesis. In September we began our sermon series “Beginning With Moses: Christ in Genesis.” We began in Luke 24 where Jesus walks along the road to Emmaus with two of his disciples teaching them about himself in all the Scriptures. We considered the creation of all things including mankind and the first marriage. We spent several months reviewing the increasing chaos and alienation from God and one another that takes place from the fall in chapter 3, climaxes with the flood from 6-9, and concludes with the Tower of Babel in chapter 11.
Beginning in chapter 12 we saw how the narrator transitions to focus on the patriarchs. We spent four week considering the life of Abraham and God’s promise to make him into a great nation, give him a great name, and provide him with land. God’s covenant promises have begun to unfold. The birth of Isaac has taken place which was the beginning of the fulfillment of innumerable descendants. And now we come to a section where the land promise becomes the focus of the story.
Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
Genesis 23:1-20; 25:1-11
1 Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 And Abraham rose up from before his dead and said to the Hittites, 4 “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” 5 The Hittites answered Abraham, 6 “Hear us, my lord; you are a prince of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will withhold from you his tomb to hinder you from burying your dead.” 7 Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land. 8 And he said to them, “If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me and entreat for me Ephron the son of Zohar, 9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as property for a burying place.”
10 Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, 11 “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the sight of the sons of my people I give it to you. Bury your dead.” 12 Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. 13 And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” 14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, listen to me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” 16 Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants.
17 So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over 18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.
25:1 Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 5 Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. 6 But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.
7 These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 9 Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.
This is the Word of the LORD.
Last year marked a lot of firsts for me, but one of the things I’m most grateful for are the opportunities I had to be a part of the most significant events in the lives of some friends. In February I was able to officiate over a wedding in Mississippi. And last month, I had the opportunity to officiate at a funeral for Jerry Martin’s uncle. Although the atmosphere at a wedding is joyful and exciting, were I forced to choose between the two, I would pick the funeral every time.
Death is not an easy subject to talk about. Losing a loved one is never easy. It is no use trying to sugarcoat the reality of death and the devastating pain it often causes. But it is important for you to know that death is an intrusion into God’s created design.
When God created the world he said it was “good”. After creating man and woman he said it was “very good”. Sin entered the world through our first parents, Adam and Eve. And when sin entered, it brought death along with it. The entrance of death was not a good thing.
Maybe some of you have felt angry or bitter at the loss of a loved one. In some ways, that is an understandable reaction. It is okay to feel like what happened is not the way it ought to be. That’s true. It isn’t.
Sin brought death into the world, but let’s consider from this passage what death brings into our lives. First, we will see that Death Brings Mourning. Second, we’ll see that Death Brings Responsibilities. And third, we will see that Death Brings Opportunities.
Death Brings Mourning (23:1-2; 25:7-8)
Grieving over the death of a loved one has many cultural commonalities. In these passages we see at least three aspects of mourning that are worth pointing out.
Mourning with Reflection
Chapter 23 opens with a very brief accounting of Sarah’s age. We see something similar with the account of Abraham’s death, but a little more information on the family is provided by the surrounding genealogies.
Sarah is the only woman in the Bible whose life span is given. She lived to be 127 which means she was married to Abraham for over 60 years. Despite their difficulties, which included three decades of barrenness, they stayed together “in sickness and in health…” The resilience of their marriage is an encouragement to us all.
We are never told to look to Mary as an example of a godly woman, but on two different occasions we are told to look to Sarah (Isa. 51:1-2; 1 Pt. 3:3-6). That doesn’t mean we have to turn a blind eye to her sin. Sarah wasn’t perfect and we aren’t supposed to act like she was. She gave Hagar to be Abraham’s wife (more on that later). She laughed in unbelief at the idea that she would have a child in her old age. But she was exemplary for her faith and character.
Mourning with Weeping
Mourning and weeping refer to the formal rites and customs of mourning of the dead (2 Sam. 1:12; Ezek. 24:16, 23). Mourning took place sitting on the ground, often with sackcloth and ashes (Job 2:8; Isa. 3:26; Lam. 2:10).
It is fully appropriate to mourn and be upset when the death of a loved one occurs. Sometimes we need permission to weep because we have a misguided idea that death is to be stoically endured.
Abraham wept. This is the only recorded instance of Abraham weeping. We aren’t told if he wept when he left his country and relatives. We aren’t told he wept when Lot was captured by invading armies. It doesn’t appear he wept when he was told to sacrifice his only son Isaac! But, we know that he wept when Sarah died.
Weeping is appropriate because death is our enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). James Boice wrote, “To weep for a loved one is to show that we have been close, that the loss is keenly felt, that death is an enemy, and that sin has brought this sad punishment upon the human race.”1
Mourning with Hope
However, there is a difference when we are mourning over a believer as compared to an unbeliever. There is a hope that accompanies the mourning of those who have died in faith. Abraham knew that death would not separate Sarah from the love of God.
So mourning is a good and appropriate response to death, but we must also recognize that we cannot mourn indefinitely…
Death Brings Responsibilities (23:3-20; 25:9-10)
Even in the midst of mourning there are details and arrangements to attend to. With only two verses devoted to the mourning of Abraham for Sarah, it is apparent that the narrator is much more interested in the negotiation that takes place between Abraham and the Hittites over the burial.
Responsibilities for Burial
Abraham was responsible for securing a location to bury Sarah. It would have been proper to bury her in her homeland, Ur of the Chaldeans. The fact that Abraham desires to bury her in Hebron, once again, reveals his commitment to God’s promises.
Abraham was confident that, just as he had given him Isaac, he would give him the land of Canaan. Abraham is so confident in the promise of God that he is willing to purchase the property he knew the Lord would be giving him. James Smith points out that “Even in his hour of grief…his faith was being tested. Sixty years earlier he had received the promise that the land of Canaan would be his. Yet he did not own a plot of ground suitable to bury a loved one. Abraham was forced to purchase from a pagan, land that in reality already belonged to him.”2
He desires to purchase a plot of land that would be large enough to bury other patriarchs as well. This land would be passed down from one generation to another. This is the early stages of the fulfillment of the land promise.
We see the prophet Jeremiah doing something similar. The night before Judah would be taken captive by Babylon, Jeremiah buys a field “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (32:15).
A similar sentiment is behind Abraham’s purchase of this field. As John Sailhamer writes, “In this small purchase was embodied the hope in God’s promise that one day in the future it would all belong to him and his seed.”
Responsibilities for Negotiating
The negotiation takes place at the “gate of the city” (10, 18) which is the legal center of ANE cities. So the transaction, much like the deed transfer in Jeremiah 32, reveals the cultural practice of buying and selling property.
The negotiating takes place in 3 cycles:
- The First Cycle: Abraham requests property and the Hittites counter with an offer of any tomb. Abraham is called a “prince of God” revealing that they hold him in high esteem.
- The Second Cycle: Abraham requests to purchase the cave of Machpelah from Ephron for its full price. Ephron counters with an offer of the field and the cave. “Give” is not to be understood as being without cost. It is a courteous way of saying that he was willing to sell the field to Abraham. Ephron was willing to give Abraham the field, but he expected Abraham to give him something in return. Ephron wants to sell the field rather than just the cave.
- The Third Cycle: Abraham agrees to purchase the field. When Ephron lists the value of the field at 400 shekels it appears to be a bit excessive, but we can be sure. Jeremiah bought the entire field for 17 shekels (32:9). In 2 Samuel 24:24, David purchases the temple site for 50 shekels. Omni bought all of Samaria for 6,000 shekels. However, a similar price of 400 shekels has been found in at least 3 ancient documents.
Ephron probably expected Abraham to bargain, as was the custom, but haggling over the price did not interest Abraham. The language of “Rose/Made over” (vv.3, 7, 17, 20) signals the legal transfer as complete. This same site would eventually hold Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah.
Abraham calls himself a sojourner and foreigner in the land of the Hittites (v.4). He understood himself to be living between promise and fulfillment. Hebrews 11:39-40 reminds us that none of the Old Testament saints received the promise. But even we are living in between the age that was and the age that is to come.
Death brings mourning and sober responsibilities, but death also brings opportunities…
Death Brings Opportunities (25:11)
There are certain inevitable consequences to the reality of death and not all of them are bad. In fact, there are benefits to mourning. Whenever we attend the funeral of someone we know, between the moments of reflection and weeping, we face our own mortality.
Ecclesiastes 7:1 says, “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” That doesn’t mean dying is better than living, but that attending a funeral is better than attending a birthday party. When we attend funerals we are forced to face our mortality, consider the state of our lives, and ask life’s biggest questions.
Opportunities to Repent
As we consider the state of our own lives, we should be driven to repent. We’ve already acknowledged the sins in Sarah’s life, but Abraham had his struggle with sin as well. Both them are examples of faith, but neither of them were perfect.
In 25:1-6 we face one of those dark spots in the life of Abraham. We can’t always avoid difficult topics. Even though I’m skipping along Genesis I’m not trying to ignore the hard passages. Here we are introduced to Keturah. Verse 1 calls her a “wife” and verse 6 refers to her as a “concubine”.
There are basically three options for interpretation:
- Keturah became Abraham’s wife after Sarah’s death. That would mean, at the earliest, Abraham married Keturah when he was 137. The biggest hurdle for this option is the fact that Abraham would’ve had to father another 6 children while Isaac was in his late thirties and forties. Four decades after his miracle son, he gives birth to six more sons, but it is largely ignored in the rest of Scripture. Another issue is the reference to her as a “concubine”. Concubines are sometimes called wives (Hagar Gen. 16:3; Bilhah 30:4, Zilpah 30:9; A Levite’s concubine Judg 19:1-3; 29), but wives are never called concubines.
- Keturah is another name for Hagar. While this might minimize our problem, it has absolutely no textual support.
- Keturah was Abraham’s wife/concubine (v.6; 1 Chron. 1:32) after Hagar. In my opinion, this option seems the most likely. Abraham probably married Keturah before Sarah’s death, maybe after divorcing Hagar. We see the same problem with Jacob (30:4, 9).
The Bible clearly forbids gathering many wives (Deut. 17:17; 1 Kings 11:3), but it only regulates rather than outright condemn polygamy (Exodus 21:10). The same thing can be said of slavery in the Bible. But to regulate something certainly doesn’t condone it. In fact, it gives it a decidedly negative outlook.
We have to remember God’s original intention. His design for marriage is best represented by Adam and Eve. Before sin ever entered the picture, God established the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman. When Jesus discouraged divorce considered God’s design for marriage in the creation account (Matt. 19:1-9). Elders and deacons are to be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2, 12).
At the end of Abraham’s life he had plenty of blessings to be thankful for, but he also had some things to repent of. Repentance is the primary way we can prepare for our own death.
Opportunities to Trust
Abraham was “gathered to his people.” The concept is to be united with relatives in the grave, but also in the afterlife. The concept of heaven is in seed form here. Calvin states, “Scripture, in speaking thus, shows that another state of life remains after death, so that a departure out of the world is not the destruction of the whole man.”3
The promise given to Abraham in Genesis 15:15—that he would die in peace at a “good old age”—is the only promise fully fulfilled for him. Abraham tasted the promises, but for the most part, he only experienced a partial fulfillment. He saw the land, but never inherited it. Of the innumerable stars that would represent his descendants he only saw one, Isaac.
All of us have an opportunity to consider how prepared we are for death. James 4:14 says, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Death will not wait until you are ready. Just like Abraham, we too must live in between promise and fulfillment. Ross and Oswalt write,
“The point is that God’s promises to people in this life are not exhausted within their lifespans, for God makes promises that demand a resurrection. The time of death is a time of great mourning, but it should also be the time of the greatest demonstration of faith, for the recipients of God’s promises have hope beyond the grave.”4
Are you ready to face death? Are you prepared for the death of your loved ones? If you are a believer, your citizenship is in heaven and from it you await a Savior. We see the beginning stages of our reward, but much of it still waits in our future.
Are you ready for His return?
Robert Hawker comments,
“It is said, that by faith the Patriarch [Abraham], when he was called of God to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed and went out, not knowing whither he went? and do we not from hence call to mind, the obedience of the Son of God, who left the realms of bliss, and came down a stranger in this strange land, that all his people might afterwards, through Him, receive the gift of an eternal inheritance!5”
Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
Christ’s afflictions were many, reaching to the depths of physical and emotional despair. He is near to the brokenhearted because he knows precisely what it is like to be brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. Jesus sympathizes with you in your grief. He knows what it feels like to lose a loved one. As Moses wept over Sarah so Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus.
It is in Christ, that the believer has victory over death:
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
1 Boice, James Montgomery. Genesis: Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books 2002.
2 Smith, James E. The Pentateuch. 2nd ed. Old Testament Survey Series. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1993.
3 Calvin, John, and John King. Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.
4 Ross and Oswalt Genesis, Exodus (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary)
5 Hawker, Robert. Poor Man’s Commentary (Complete and Unabridged). Vol. 1. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2013.