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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

January 27, 2016

Genesis 23:1-20

  1. Verses 1-2. For the last few weeks in Abraham's story, we focused mostly on the birth of his son Isaac. We were mostly anticipating a birth, but this week we will focus on the death of his wife. At some point death becomes part of the equation of life. It is naive to think that death won't invade your circle. From the moment we were conceived we had a date with death. The text says that Sarah lived to be 127 years old, but she died. Her life was long, but she still died. There was no way around it. Death is inevitable, so we must learn how to accept it, and move on. When we realize that life is precious and that time is not guaranteed, we can learn to appreciate all the time we get with our loved ones. The problem is that we normally take for granted the lives of those around us until it is too late. The text says that Abraham mourned and wept for her. This means that he did the customary mourning of those days. It was not uncommon for people to set aside some time to mourn. As much as 30 days in some cases. The ancient Hebrews had a very elaborate and intense process that they went through when someone died. Genesis 50 tells us about Jacob, Abraham's grandson. When he died there was a period of 40 days that his family was at hand. As he was being embalmed, the family had a time of grieving and then he was buried. After he was buried, for another seven days they continued to grieve. This is important because it reminds us that people need time to mourn. The process in those days allowed for people to go through the full range of emotions in a healthy way. I often remind people that it takes a lot of time to get over some deaths. And time is the only thing that makes it better in many cases.

  2. Verses 3-6. But I don't think that the death of Sarah is the main point of this passage. The main point of the text is not so much about the death of Sarah, but to begin to show you how Abraham began to establish more permanent roots in the land of Canaan. God promised Abraham a land for his people, yet Abraham didn't own so much as an acre. He was living in tents and moving from place to place. The focus of this story is that Sarah was buried “in Canaan” (23:2, 19), and that Abraham went to great lengths and cost to make this a certainty. This demonstrates how Abraham’s actions reflect a faith for the future. Abraham arises from Sarah's side and speaks to the Hittites who own land where he was. Abraham asked for a place to buy so he could bury his wife. The Hittites responded by stating that he could use any one of their tombs. The practice of using borrowed tombs was not uncommon in those days. Partly because people would often take the bones of their loved ones if they moved on. We actually see that with respect to Joseph in the later part of Genesis. He requested that his bones be taken to the promise land (Genesis 50:25, Exodus 13:19, Joshua 24:32). Abraham decides he is going to purchase a burial place. Abraham, in faith, wishes to “stake his claim” in the Promised Land by buying a cave which was used traditionally as a tomb. The sons of Heth are currently in control of this area of Canaan so Abraham proceeds to make the request of them. Again, this is a reminder of how little of the promises of God that Abraham had actually received to this point. He did not own even enough land to bury his wife, but rather he had to buy it. This was a sign that he felt his people would live in this area for a long time. Up to this point we only think Abraham was only renting temporary places. The death of Sarah turns Abraham from a renter to an owner. Abraham had no intentions of moving Sarah's remains. This is vital to the story. This teaches us that he was extremely confident that even after his death, his people would live in the land.

  3. Verses 7-9. The sons of Heth offer to “loan” Abraham any tomb he desires, but Abraham clarifies that he wishes to purchase a tomb at “full price” and therefore “own” the land. This is important. Abraham could have saved a lot of money by borrowing a burial site. Why did he insist on purchasing a tomb? Because when we borrow something it is only temporarily ours and must be returned, but when we own something it is a permanent possession. Abraham wished to express that the land of Canaan was to be his home and not merely a stopping-off place. This was an act of faith in the future fulfillment of God's promises. Abraham's planning demonstrated his faith! We too are to live with the same certainty of God's promises being accomplished despite how impossible and distant they may seem at the present. We are to have a faith for the future because God's promises to us are primarily future realities.

  4. Verses 10-14. The owner of the land Ephron that Abraham spoke of, offered to give the land to Abraham, but Abraham insisted that he pay for it. The point here is that Abraham owned the field free and clear. If he only had rights as a renter, his descendants would not have any claim on the land. This is like establishing a chain of title. Ephron tells Abraham that the land is worth 400 pieces of silver. This is a very expensive price. Ephron knew Abraham was rich so he remarks that this is nothing between rich people. This entire transaction was to help the ancient Hebrews know where their ancestral land actually was when they returned from Egypt 450 years later. Remember Genesis was probably written during the exodus for the returning Hebrews.

  5. Verses 15-20. Twice we see the term “deeded.” This is to serve as a direct connection to Abraham and his descendants that would return years later.

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