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Genesis Chapter 23 - Aliens, Strangers, and Death - Part 1
The last three we covered Chapter 22 and we dealt with the Lord asking Abraham to sacrifice his son. In this we saw a striking picture of Jesus’ sacrifice. That was obviously a very hard thing for Abraham to go through, and now he is going to go through another hard thing in life.
So here in Ch. 23 we will now see the father of the faith deal with one of the most difficult issues facing us in this lifetime, and that is the death of a loved one. How does faith react when one very close to us passes away? And how is a Christian supposed to respond when we lose one close to us? And how is it that we ourselves are to look upon our own death before us?
We all go through these kinds of experiences. Some of us recently, and some of us in past years. And most of us at one time or another have experienced the death of a loved one. Last time I looked, the death rate among all of us is still floating at 100%, so we WILL face that ourselves. The Bible has alot to say about death as we will see later.
So let’s dig into the text:
Vs. 1-2 - “Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.”
This word “Mourn” in the Hebrew us a very strong word which meant to “beat on your chest” or “pull your hair, “ so he’s mourning in a very emotional way.
Just because you're a person of faith does not mean you're somehow to be stoic and not show any kind of emotion or loss. Just because we believe in the resurrection and life hereafter does not mean we aren’t going to feel a real sense of loss. It’s human and natural for us to express our sorrow and grief in this way.
Having lost someone very close to him, Abraham is, no doubt, also beginning to think about his own death as we will see in Ch. 24. But before he can deal with his own death he has to ask himself - “Where am I going to bury my wife?” And for him, that meant - “Where do I want to be buried?” because he wants to be buried with his wife.
So this thought comes - “Where do I want to be buried” in:
Vs. 3-20 - “Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”
The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”
Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. He said to them, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.”
Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. “No, my lord,” he said. “Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.”
Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”
Ephron answered Abraham, “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.
So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.”
Get the picture of what just happened here. This Ephron is no one’s fool. Here’s Abraham, we don’t know how long this took to negotiate, but essentially Abraham goes to the Hittites and says: “Guys, I need to bury my dead and I need to buy a piece of property.” Of course he has in his mind where he wants to bury his wife. He found a great spot, this cave at the end of this field over here that Ephron owns and I’m going to bury my dead there.
“So, can you guys be the middle men and go to Ephron and use your influence to get him to sell me this cave?”
And Ephron just happens to be there. Now, remember, all Abraham wants to do is buy the cave.
But this guy Ephron steps up and says: “You know, if you're going to get the cave, you really need the field too. The cave, the field, you know, they really kinda go together. But hey, we're friends here, I’ll give you the field and the cave, even though its probably, I don’t know, worth 400 sheckles, but even though it's worth that I’m just going to give it to you.”
Here’s Abraham, he doesn’t want it given to him and he stated that. He realizes in his integrity he has to buy it for a possession. Now here’s Ephron who offered him the field and the cave for nothing, yet he’s also stated the retail price for them. And the people who study these things tell us it’s 4x the market value of this property.
This Ephron guy is slick! He gives us a great picture of the world, because here he is selling Abraham twice as much as he wants for 4x the value of the property! Of course he knows he has a wealthy man of integrity grieving.
Abraham, when he’s not suffering a lapse of faith, he is a great picture of integrity. He doesn’t want anything from anybody. Remember Gen. 14 when he turned down the offer from the King of Sodom? So, here’s Abraham, a man in his grief, he just wants to get it over with - “So fine, I’ll just pay whatever it’s worth.” So he buys the field and cave.
Now again, because he just lost his wife, and whenever you’ve lost someone, particularly when they're about the same age, one of the thoughts that we sometimes have is: “If they went, how much longer do I have?” So maybe Abe is thinking along these lines. “My wife just passed away, I’m no spring chicken, in fact I’m older than she is, so maybe my number’s going to be coming up soon.” And I believe this is the mental state Abe is in to set up ch. 24.
Now, there’s a few lessons here. Even though we don’t feel like it, though we want to run into a corner and process our grief alone, we’ve gotta allow ourselves to allow our friends and loved ones to come near us in such a time as this. Even though they may say some of the stupidest, most insensitive things to us, we need to surround ourselves by those who love and care for us.
As a side note - When you are with a brother or sister who has just gone through an incredible loss like this, close your mouth! Just be with them and mourn with them and hang out with them. Don’t try to offer them any theological advice - “Well, God just gained another angel...” They don’t want to hear that.
This is really one of the lessons the book of Job puts forward for us. Just BE with the grieving. There’s a time, down the road, to talk about legitimate theological ramifications of that, but right away ya just gotta be discerning and just be there for them.
Anyway, here we see Abraham, and of course we’ve seen this in previous messages, this guy has a small city following him. We discovered he has 318 personal trained soldiers and just all these people at the Abrahamic compound, and yet not one person is recorded here anywhere near him in this scene.
Abraham is showing us a very positive thing in that its ok to mourn very emotionally, but he’s also allowed himself to be isolated - not good - and because he got isolated, he was vulnerable and the world took him for a ride and he got ripped off.
At the end of the day we learn from Abraham a couple of things concerning how it is we are to deal with death as Christians.
- We don’t have to be superheroes. It’s ok and its good and it's healthy to grieve - God has designed us in such a way to go through this grieving process. There is an emotional purging that is to take place that is both healthy and necessary in order for us to move forward.
- We don’t do it alone! We don’t isolate ourselves, we surround ourselves with loved ones, we allow them to minister to us, we allow the Body of Christ to BE what she is supposed to be at such a time as this. We are free to be weak.
But yet, the Bible does tell us in 1 Thess. 4:13 that we don’t grieve as those without hope. So for the Christian there are multiple points in the grieving process where the reality of the Gospel holds out to us just tremendous hope that those without Christ do not have.
As for ourselves and how we are to look at our own death, there are over 50 verses in Scripture that speak to, characterize, and refer to death as “sleep.” So the Bible, over and over again, both Testaments, calls death “sleep,” and that’s very deliberate for 2 reasons.
First, when you go to bed tonight, you go to bed with the expectation of waking up. Even as, when the Christian goes through the death process, we fully expect to wake up in the presence of the Lord - 2 Cor. 5:8 - “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
Secondly, most of us really look forward to a good night’s sleep! It’s something that is comforting. So the Bible is laying out that death for us is to be a comforting process because of what we know is on the other side of the Resurrection!
Next week we continue in this chapter and will be looking at what it means to be an alien and a stranger in this world. Blessings to you all.