GENESIS-SERIES NR 22
THEME: At my beloved’s grave
Scripture: Genesis 23
Can you believe it? This mighty man of faith – this man of God: In tears! Yes, beside an open grave and in tears. Because Sarah is dead. His princess. Because that is the meaning of her name. The woman with whom he had travelled many a mile and shared many a meal. The woman with whom Abraham had waited for decades upon the fulfillment of God’s promise. And then the child of the promise – Isaac – was born out of her. The miracle-child – because she was barren and beyond child-bearing age (Heb 11:11).
And now Sarah has died at the age of 127. Isaac was now 37 years old.
The death of a loved one has great impact on our lives. Because however you think about it: it is a moment of enforced separation. Therefore the bitter sorrow. We do not want to be separated from those with whom we have such a close relationship!
However, death also has a positive effect on the one left behind. You become once more aware of the miracle of life! It is as if life gets new meaning and quality. Your own life becomes precious again. Unconsciously, death makes one think about life and death: YOUR life and YOUR death!
When one reads Genesis 23, we immediately find ourselves in the middle of great human tragedy. Here is Abraham as a deeply grieving human – an ordinary man. Because death and sorrow do not spare anybody. Also not Abraham. He mourned and wept over her. He is not – only because he is the man of God – above human sorrow. It is not unbelief to weep because a loved one has died – as some religious groups would suggest! God’s people are not elevated above this pain. And we are aware – deep down – that the wailing over a death is wailing over sin. Because death is still the result of the Fall (Rom 5). Every time someone dies, it tells us something of the wretchedness that entered the world through sin. That may have been the cause of the Lord Jesus’ tears at the grave of His friend Lazarus (John 11).
I think it would actually have been a disappointment if Abraham did NOT weep over Sarah! Because then it would have placed him in a different category as a human! But just think about it: Now we can all – when we are in such a crisis – associate ourselves with the “father of all believers”.
Naturally the weeping of the Christian-believer is different than that of the world. The believer weeps to stop again – especially if it is leave-taking of a fellow-Christian – as in the case of Abraham.
The child of God certainly is heartbroken about the parting and about the devastation caused by sin, but also knows that the separation is not final and that the Lord Jesus has conquered sin. That is why the Christian weeps while his/her heart is focused on the day when God will wipe all the tears from our eyes (Rev 21). The believer knows about an open grave – Christ’s grave. With joy and through our faith-trust (which is built on the Scriptures) we can accept and know that death has lost its sting of destruction (1 Cor 15).
Abraham’s life suddenly became very narrow the day when his wife died. The full and rich life of togetherness and dreaming was at an end. Abraham was alone. And he wept. But then he rose from beside his dead wife, because he had arrangements that were to be to made.
We must understand that Abraham was in the promised land, but it did not belong to him. He was a stranger in the land which the Lord had promised him. A wanderer and a stranger who did not own anything in Hebron – not even a plot of land for a grave for Sarah. Now he had to go and negotiate for a grave – despite his pain. “I am an alien and a stranger among you” he tells the people of the Hittites. It is a significant confession. Because it is saying something of a believer’s situation in the world. Abraham’s true qualities come to the fore now that he is in affliction. Non-essential matters fade. Essential matters now come to the fore. And what is the essential matter? He is merely an alien and stranger on earth. That is a faith-perspective – of which the unsaved person naturally does not want to know anything about, because the fallen man (outside Christ) is an ambitious self-centred creature. He would much rather rule and possess than to be an alien. Abraham was clearly NOT unsaved. The Holy Spirit lived in him. Hence this faith-declaration.
In the OT, aliens and squatters were in the same social category as widows and orphans. They were social outcasts and dependant on other people’s charity and kindness. They were not settled. They were dependant upon other people. It was therefore not easy for Abraham to say those words. Yes, he was INDEED a stranger in Canaan, but at the grave of His wife he discovers also that the child of God always remains a stranger here on earth. This side of the grave the child of God has only a temporary dwelling, not a permanent home. Everything is temporal and transitory. Nothing is permanent. And when you realize that, then you look forward to the EVERlasting – the homeland – where the Father is. According to Heb 11:16 that was what Abraham was looking forward to. A BETTER homeland, a heavenly country.
We therefore learn from Abraham what a meaningful life is. It is to know that I do not have a permanent home on earth. And if you know that, then you automatically live accordingly. And you LIVE in a way for your life to begin to reflect something of the eternal home.
In a nutshell: At the grave of a loved one, the state of being an alien on earth becomes a reality to a child of God. That your citizenship is actually in heaven. That you are on route to a destination. Then you become less earthbound. And not so at home this side of the grave.
The people of Hebron wanted to give the cave of Machpelah to Abraham, but he refused to accept it and insisted to pay the full price for it. A believer has to be honourable – to the last breath! As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians centuries later: “We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you (2 Thess 3:7-8).
And to Timothy the Apostle says that widows should not be put on the church’s list of widows if they are still able to work (1 Tim 5:9-10). No one should be dependant on another because of laziness or wrong motives.
Abraham could gratefully have accepted the gift of the grave from the pagans, but he did not want to. He was determined to be transparently honest in everything he did, and the pagans took notice of it! Through the way he conducted himself, his lifestyle demanded respect.
What is truly wonderful, is a further glimpse on Abraham’s life seen from the pagans’ point of view. What impression did this alien and stranger make upon them? Well, listen how they address him: “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us” (verse 6).
A prince among us! A prince is someone who rules! Someone with status, who reigns. Someone who demands respect and honour.
But to the people of Hebron – unbelievers – Abraham is even MORE than a prince. He is a prince OF GOD! God’s prince and representative! Abraham represents heaven on earth. And the pagans can discern something of that!
A prince of God is not a ruler or king in own right. It is not someone who have the kingdoms of the earth and the riches of the world at his disposal. Because this prince of God is at the same time alien and stranger! His dominion is not of this world – where moth and rust destroy (Matt 6:19).
A prince of God is someone who acts in the interest of God. Someone who lives and works in absolute dependence on the Lord.
Do you see what kind of royalty we speak of here? A royal alien! An alien who represents the KING and who is on the way to an eternal kingdom where he/she will not be a stranger any longer.
Look, the worldly person MUST just take notice and discern something of this type of royalty in the Christian person. And inquire about it.
Naturally, this is a difficult matter! Because our human nature do not like what we see here in Abraham. Being human, we always want to claim our own plot here on earth. And be the boss ourselves. And accumulate. We want to say: “This is MINE”.
It is alongside the grave where we are sometimes brought to a standstill and realize: “I am NOT the boss. I cannot hold on to life and own it. And if I belong to the Lord, then I am on the way to an eternal city. And now my passion is that worldly people will get to know me as a prince OF GOD who have the Lord’s interests at heart. Not because I am so clever and know better than other people, but because by the grace of God, I am included with the Lord Jesus who is God’s actual heir. And in Him I am co-heir with Christ — as Scripture says”.
Translated by Marthie Wilson