When Faith Faces Death

It was a Sunday morning. I am almost certain it was a Sunday morning and I was eight years old. And I heard a noise that I had never heard before. Someone was crying, but I had never heard anyone cry quite like this. I heard my Mom crying and then I saw my Mom crying. She was distraught and heartbroken. She had received a phone call that her grandmother had died. Grandma Adams was eighty-eight years old. I can remember thinking, “I never want to see anything like this ever again.” But I did; I did see something just like this again. It was my wife. She cried just like this when her dad died. I had no idea what to say. The only thing that I could think to do was to hug her and hold her and let her weep.

And Sarah Died

Abraham’s wife Sarah had died. This is Genesis 23. And when Abraham’s wife Sarah had died, Abraham mourned for her and wept for her (Genesis 23:2). This is the strongest language used to describe a broken heart. The word mourn means to wail. It is an audible word, but it is also intense. The word describes a person pulling at their own hair and beating their chest. Of course, the word weep means to cry; it involves tears. When Abraham’s wife Sarah died, Abraham pulled at his hair, beat his chest, and he wept. Why did Abraham cry like this?

Remembering Sarah

Note carefully Genesis 23:1. “Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” The word-for-word translation of the Hebrew text reads, “And Sarah was a hundred years old and twenty years and seven years.” The emphasis of this introductory verse is that these were the years of the life of Sarah. The really intriguing part of it all is that Sarah is the only woman in the Bible that is given this kind of attention upon her death.

Listen to Isaiah 51:1-2. “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and Sarah who bore you…” You who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord, there is a really simple command which follows: look. Look simply means to stop and pause and take time to think and consider. Look to the rock from which you were hewn. Look to Abraham and do not only look and think and consider the life of Abraham. Look and think and consider the life of Sarah.

I love how the Bible considers the life of Sarah. Remember how Abraham described his wife as a woman beautiful in appearance (Genesis 12:11-12)? In 1 Peter 3:4-6, Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty. It was that of a gentle and quiet spirit. Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty, a beauty of submission. She was submissive to her husband. She was at hand for every pinnacle of Abraham’s life and also there for every one of his failures.[1] Lisa and I are in our eighteenth year of marriage. But this week, it was Tuesday evening, she said the most precious thing to me in our eighteen years. She said, “You do not know this, but I bear your anxieties.” Those words in that moment meant more to me than “I love you.” And it was a moment that I gained a greater understanding of imperishable beauty and submissiveness and what it means to be on hand for the pinnacles and the failures. I bear your anxieties.

Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty, a beauty of doing good. Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty, a beauty that does not fear anything that is frightening. Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty, a beauty of a holy woman who hopes in God. Hebrews 11:11 further remembered Sarah as a woman who lived by faith. What does it mean to live by faith? “She considered him faithful who had promised.” Therefore, Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty, a beauty that considers God faithful.

It is a beauty that the Bible calls very precious in God’s sight (1 Peter 3:4). This was Abraham’s wife. And so, why did Abraham cry like this? Could it be that he is simply remembering his beautiful wife?

Keep considering Genesis 23:1. And be sure to note carefully Genesis 23:1.  Be sure to note carefully that Sarah is the only woman in the Bible that is given this emphasis: Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of Sarah’s life. Sarah died when she was 127 years old. We do not know how many years of marriage Abraham and Sarah celebrated. It must had been nearly a hundred years, maybe even more. But we do know something more important than their wedding anniversary. We know when their journey began.

Genesis 12 was sixty-two years ago. Abraham was seventy-five years old. Sarah was ten years younger than Abraham, which means in Genesis 12 she was sixty-five years old. Genesis 12 is when their journey began. It was when God called out to Abraham to leave his father’s house to a land that God would show him. So, Abraham went not knowing where he was going, and his wife went with him. Genesis 12 was the beginning of their journey of faith together. It was more important than their wedding anniversary.

I was recently talking with a couple that has been married for a little more than thirty years. The wife said that it has been the last seven though which have been the sweetest. I asked why that was, why she felt that way. She said, “It is because these last seven years are the years we have grown in our walk with God together.” Why was Abraham crying like this? Could it be simply that he was remembering his beautiful wife and perhaps how the last sixty-two years had been the sweetest? One of the last words ever recorded of Sarah is: God has prepared laughter for me. And maybe it was the last thirty-seven that had been the sweetest of all.

And Abraham Rose Up

Sarah lived. Sarah died. Abraham mourned and wept and then he rose up (23:3). He rose up seeking to now bury his wife. Notice quickly verse two. “And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is Hebron) in the land of Canaan.” Note this verse and we will come back to it.  But the point is that Sarah died in the land of Canaan, a part of the land that is inhabited by the Hittites or probably more accurately the sons of Heth or Hethites. And in this land Abraham is a sojourner and a foreigner. Specifically, Abraham legally, in the eyes of the land, had no ownership rights. He owned no land. And he sought a place to bury his deceased wife.

This is the majority of the rest of the chapter. Abraham bartered with the inhabitants of the land for a burial spot. These inhabitants were more than happy to accommodate Abraham’s need, but it seems that they did not understand what Abraham was seeking. It seems that the inhabitants of the land were more than happy and more than willing to loan a burial spot to Abraham. In their minds, there was no reason to withhold a gravesite to this man whom they admired and respected (Genesis 23:4-6).

But Abraham sought to purchase a grave, a cave. He sought to purchase a cave in the sight of the inhabitants of the land so that there would be no confusion. Abraham a sojourner and a foreigner owns this burial spot. And he had the spot in mind – the cave of Machpelah, owned by a man called Ephron (23:7-9). And Abraham was willing to pay full price.

This man called Ephron seems to be present when Abraham announced his desire for this cave. And it seems that Ephron as kindly and as compassionate as can be, took full advantage of this opportunity. He was willing to sell, but not just the cave. He was willing to sell the field with the cave that was in it, including all the trees of the field too. And he was willing to sell for four hundred shekels of silver (ten pounds of silver). Of which Ephron said, “What is that between friends?” (23:15).

This was all done in the presence of witnesses. I want us to notice verse seventeen and verse twenty. This cave in this field with all the trees was “made over” or deeded to Abraham as his legal possession. For the first time in sixty-two years, Abraham owned a piece of land. And where did he own this piece of land? Listen to verse nineteen. “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.”

When Faith Faces Death

Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the land of Canaan and in a particular place in the land of Canaan – Hebron. Go back to verse one. Where did Sarah die? “And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.” Why did she die in the land of Canaan at Hebron?

Kiriath-arba means “the city of four” and there are many educated guesses as to why it is called Kiriath-arba. But Moses takes the time to let the reader know that this is also known as Hebron in the land of Canaan. The last mention of Hebron was the first mention of Hebron – Genesis 13:18. After living at Hebron for some time, Abraham moved. We do not know exactly why he moved, but he moved and his wife with him. He moved sometime after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He looked at the destruction of those cities and moved toward the territory of the Negeb and sojourned in Gerar. There he lived and there he told a lie. There his and Sarah’s son Isaac was born. There Isaac had his first birthday party. From there Hagar and Abraham’s son Ishmael were sent packing. There Abraham dug a well for himself. There that same well was taken from him. There that same well was returned to him as legally his well. From there Abraham would offer Isaac as a sacrifice on one of the mountains of Moriah, knowing that God would provide. And from there Abraham, Sarah and Isaac would live at a place not called Hebron, but called Beersheba.

But at some point, and for some reason, Sarah died not in a place called Beersheba, but in Hebron. These two places are separated by about thirty miles. Why did this family end up back at Hebron? Why did they apparently move again?

Last week we completely ignored Genesis 21:15-18. It was something God said to Abraham following the offering of Isaac. God reiterated the promise to Abraham that began in Genesis 12 and was stated again in Genesis 15 and again in Genesis 18. It was about Abraham’s offspring, his descendants. Abraham would one day have so many descendants that they would number the sand of the seashore. Where would Abraham have these descendants? In the land of Canaan. Abraham heard this promise from God one last time and eventually moved back to Hebron. It was here that Abraham would bury his wife. It was in the heart of the land of promise.

The Bible states that by faith Sarah died not receiving the promises. She did not see all of these promised descendants. She died not seeing the fulfillment of even possessing the land of the promise. She died owning nothing. So, what was the point of buying that cave? Why was Abraham so adamant that he have that cave? It is called what to do when your faith faces death. You consider God faithful who promised. Abraham buried his wife in the promises of God. When Job in faith faced suffering and the possibility of death, he too considered God faithful who promised. Job said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (19:25-26). And it is all because of Christ Jesus, “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

When faith faces death, consider God faithful who promised.

The biggest question for me in this passage though was, where was Isaac? His mom died. Where was he? I do not think he was absent. I just think he is not mentioned. And it struck me for one reason: Isaac was 37 years old when his mom died. I am 37 years old. This is not to say that I think my Mom will die anytime soon. But I just tend think that Isaac at 37 years old was watching his mom and dad as their faith faced death. And this 37-year-old, me, needed this week to watch how faith faces death and really for just one reason, and it is not only when facing death, but when you are facing whether or not to carry on. Consider God faithful who promised.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 307.


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