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Covenant Father 15: Burying Sarah - Genesis 23

The God who made heaven and earth wants you to hear the record of a business transaction between an ancient sojourning prince and a tribe of Hittites. Why is that in the Bible? God’s goal isn’t to equip you to make deals with the Hittites in your life. What makes this transaction important is what it means for the fulfillment of God’s covenant, and what it reveals about Abraham’s future hope.

The end of Genesis 22 and the opening verses of chapter 23 set up a stark contrast between the abundant fruitfulness of Abraham’s brother Nahor and his wife and the solitary son and deceased wife of Abraham. Abraham had left everything to follow God on the basis of promises of land and a large family, but it seems that Nahor didn’t have to give up anything to get the same result back home. Is Nahor’s path better than Abraham’s?

In light of his trial of faith in chapter 22, Abraham is able to see beyond the appearances. His faith is not in what he has, but in God and what God will do. Nahor may have many sons and a wonderful wife, but Abraham has one son, no wife, and God. And that changes everything, because God has a great future planned for Abraham’s family.

And so Abraham’s actions in Genesis 23 are a testimony of Abraham’s faith in God’s future promises. In chapter 22, we saw that Abraham believes that not even death can stop God’s promises from coming true. Now he applies the lesson he learned with Isaac to his wife Sarah. The business transaction between Abraham and the Hittites is significant because Sarah is going to be the first “resurrection seed” planted in the Promised Land.

For that to happen, though, Abraham needs a piece of the Promised Land to call his own, and so he starts bargaining with the Hittites in order to buy a cave to entomb his wife. He’s a sojourner in a foreign land, and must get special permission to own land and pass it down to his children as an inheritance. The Hittites honor Abraham as a prince of God, but they’d rather he bury Sarah as a guest in a Hittite tomb than sell him a piece of Canaan.

But Abraham presses further, and asks the people of the land to plead his case with Ephron, who owns the Cave of Machpelah. Ephron likewise honors Abraham, and offers him the cave and the adjoining field as a gift. But Abraham will not let the Hittites give him the Promised Land; the God who made Abraham rich must be the one to give it to him. Abraham pays Ephron’s asking price for the cave and the field, and the deal is completed in the sight of all at the city gate.

Abraham then buries his wife in the cave in the Promised Land. By planting Sarah’s body as a resurrection seed in the land of Canaan, Abraham puts his faith in God that one day Sarah would rise to see everything come true. Later, she will be joined by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as Leah and Rebekah. The Covenant Family will wait together in the cave of Machpelah for the redemption of their bodies at the return of Christ.

Here are the three lessons that we learn from burying Sarah: first, burial is the way that Christians honor the body in the face of death. In 1 Cor. 15, Paul uses the image of the body as a seed sown in the ground in hope of a future harvest. By placing a body (not cremated remains) in the ground (not casually discarding it or perversely displaying it), we are bearing witness to the goodness of creation, the tragedy of death, and our tear-stained hope in a God who raises the dead.

Second, mourning and weeping are appropriate responses to death. Death is a destructive enemy that tears a person apart, ripping their soul from their body, and taking them out of the land of the living. Because of the goodness of God’s gift of life, we should weep over every death as a tragic consequence of sin.

And third, death leads to blessing. Death itself is an enemy, but God leads His people through the valley of the shadow of death into green pastures and beside still waters. Though it is painful and occasions much sorrow, death leads to blessing because of the bright hope of the promised resurrection that waits for all who trust in Christ.

Because Abraham believed these things, he would not rest until Sarah was buried in the Promised Land, because Abraham wanted to bear witness that God would bless the world by overcoming death, so that all His covenant promises would come true.

Posted on Wednesday, August 02, 2017 by CJ Bowen