Confident Expectation: No Turning Back. Genesis 22:20-24; 23:1-20
The focus of the last paragraph of chapter 22 down through chapter 23 is really on hope. It is on the hope that God provides for a future. Even though we are living in a world of unfulfilled expectations and unfulfilled promise there is a certain, sure hope. This the backdrop for what Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 where he draws a distinction between how the believer is to handle loss and death and grief versus that of the unbeliever. Another thing to note is that he recognizes the legitimacy of sorrow, the legitimacy of grief for a believer. The difference between the believer is that the knows that there is life beyond the grave, that at the point of death the believer is absent from the body and face to face with the Lord, and that there is a future hope, a confident expectation, and that this life is just the staging ground for eternity. That is developed in this episode at the end of Genesis chapter twenty-two and chapter twenty-three.
Doctrine is always practical. If we can't figure out how it applies it is not God's truth. God's truth is always practical. It changes the way we think, the way we act, we live, something along that nature, according to 2 Timothy 3:16, 17. So Abraham has certain doctrine that has been taught to him by God through the Abrahamic covenant, and throughout these tests that he went through from the time the covenant was given in Genesis 12, all the way up through chapter 21, God is testing Abraham to make sure he understands that God is going to fulfill the promise that He has made. And finally he gets it, so that when the big final exam comes in chapter 22 Abraham is completely relaxed as a part of grace orientation, he knows that God has supplied everything he needs. He has supplied the seed and whatever happens the seed isn't ever going to stop. There is going to be a future; there is a future orientation. This is because he has understood the doctrine, so that his thinking has been aligned to the teaching of God's plan. That is doctrinal orientation. We see that Abraham's thinking has been so orientated to doctrine an to the truths that are revealed in the Abrahamic covenant that when God said to go and sacrifice Isaac on the mountain of Moriah, instantly doctrine kicks in and he is thinking of resurrection and that if he actually kills Isaac God is going to raise him from the dead. Therefore he can be completely relaxed, trust God who is going to fulfill His promise, and he can move right through the test. So as we come through chapter 22 we see Abraham pass his final exam.
Having passed his final exam in chapter 22 the writer of Genesis doesn't spend any more time dealing with Abraham and his spiritual life. He has reached that point of maturity and given that evidence in his spiritual life and so the writer is now shifting from Abraham and Abraham's maturity to preparation for the future. That is indicated by the next five verses given at the end of the chapter. We need to think in terms of why God has put these verses here. What is He trying to communicate to us other than just this grocery list of names that are foreign to us and we are not very sure how it all fits together. There is this complete shift away from Abraham and his family, and anything related to the promise of the seed, to the descendants of Nahor, Abraham's brother.
Nahor is married to Milcah, and then he has a concubine, Reumah. Through Milcah he has eight sons—Huz, Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, Bethuel. Through Reumah he has four sons—Tebah, Gaham, Thahash, Maachah. This is significant because in the mind of the writer of Scripture under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is transitioning our thought from the present of what He is doing in Abraham to the future and how He is going to fulfill the promise to Abraham through Isaac. Since this genealogy given here focuses on Rebekah we might think that would have a more significant place at the end of chapter 23 or the beginning of chapter 24, which is where Abraham sends his servant back to the homeland to look for a bride for Isaac. We would think that it would fit there logically. But the writer puts it here for a purpose. He is going to focus our attention on the fact that God has already been working sovereignly in history to provide the wife for Isaac, and the future of the seed, and he puts it here because in chapter 23 we are going to be faced with the death of Sarah. So there is hope laid out before there is death. That is the focus, to remind us that God is working and there is a future secured for the seed before he goes to the negative which is the death of Sarah. God has
already provided for the future no matter what other circumstances take place. Apparently Abraham is not aware of what is going in that branch of the family. The emphasis here is on the future, that the promise of God will be fulfilled even after Abraham and Sarah have gone.
There is a secondary theme here that is also important. It is the idea that there is no going back. The principle in the ancient world at this time was that a person would go back to his homeland to be buried. But God has put their attention on the land of Canaan; this is where the future is. So instead of focusing on the past, looking at where they came from, and going back, Abraham is going to buy land here in the land of Canaan. And from this point on it will be this land where this family is going to bury their dead. It is a focus on the future. Too often believers don't understand this principle, and the application for us is that as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ once we are saved there is no going back. There is a radical change that takes place, as radical as what happens with Abraham. We have a new identity, a new future, and new focus. Unfortunately too many believers, once they are saved, keep turning around and going back. It is that doctrine of the dog returning to its vomit in 1 Peter chapter four. That is believers going back and putting all their attention on the world and the cosmic system, and the values of the cosmic system, and they are so concerned with living in this world that they forget that God has a destiny for us in the future, and part of growth and advance in the Christian life is for that reality to be more true for us than our present experience.
This is the way it was with Abraham and Sarah. Hebrews 11:13-16 comments on this. "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city."
This is the personal sense of destiny, recognizing that this world is not our home. Our citizenship is no longer here on this planet. We are living here as ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ but our homeland is elsewhere; it is heaven. So this changes our focus and orientation, just as it did with the Old Testament patriarchs. They understood that it wasn't this world that was the focus. They were strangers and pilgrims on the earth: "they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly." They weren't looking back, they were looking forward to what God was going to provide and the future destiny. If they thought about it they might have been enticed to go back but they were so focused on the future that it never occurred to them to go back. That is doctrinal orientation and also a personal sense of eternal destiny where God's promise for the future is so real that it changes the way we live today. We know that God has promised Abraham ownership in a land that is not his, therefore Abraham reaches a doctrinal conclusion as part of the faith-rest drill that the promise will be fulfilled in a resurrected state.
Now we come to the point of Sarah's death in chapter twenty-three. Genesis 23:1-2 give us the basic report of Sarah's death and Abraham's grief. "And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her." Hebron is a name that is given much later in history. The Canaanite name was Kirjatharba. Two verbs are used here for "mourn" and "weep" to describe Abraham's grief. The first is the Hebrew word saphad, and the second is bakah. The first word has the idea of mourning, lamenting or wailing. In the ancient Near-Eastern world people were culturally much more expressive of their emotions. So part of this has to do with culture and we have to be careful how we respond to these. Sometimes when we are dealing with these people because sometimes what they are doing is more a part of their culture and it is not that they are becoming overly emotional. Abraham is not being controlled by his emotions but he is sorrowing. Then bakah is a strong word for weeping and the shedding of tears, and we see strong, strong grief taking place here.
Then Abraham stands up. He has to take care of her burial. What we see here in the next section is interesting. He makes a general proposal to the Hittites who live in the area to purchase some land, and we see his sense of propriety. In verse 3 he stood up and spoke, indicating something of the gravity of the situation. In verse 7 he stood up and bowed himself down and spoke. In verse 12 he bowed himself down and spoke. All of this description emphasizes the gravity, the seriousness, of the entire situation.
Genesis 23:3, he goes before the inhabitants of that part of Canaan: "And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke unto the sons of Heth, saying." The sons of Heth describe Hittites. The Hittite empire never descended this far south, so apparently these were Hittites who had immigrated from the Hittite empire and had bought land and had a settlement in this particular area.
Genesis 23:4, "I am a foreigner and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight." This is a general request.
Genesis 23:5, 6, "And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him, Hear us, my lord: you are a mighty prince among us: in the choicest of our sepulchres bury your dead; none of us shall withhold from you his sepulchre, but that you may bury your dead." This shows Abraham's reputation. He is a "mighty prince." He is one of the wealthiest men in the ancient world at this time. They are almost appalled at him that he should come to them and purchase some land to bury his wife.
Then Abraham responds. Unfortunately we just don't know enough about their customs. There are just some hints that have been picked up from archeological data which may indicate what is going on here, but it shows how careful Abraham is in his dealings. He then stood up and he bows down to them, showing tremendous respect for them and for their customs. The application for us is that in our dealings with others, especially unbelievers, should always be in the highest order. We should always show respect and honor and good manners so that there is no charge that they can lay against us.
Genesis 23:8, 9, "And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he has, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you." One thing is clear, he doesn't want to place himself in a position of obligation to the Hittites. He wants to have clear ownership of this land. There is another element of this that many scholars believe and it is probably what the background is. Due to the Hittite laws that have been discovered in Turkey is it known that there were certain feudal obligations to the ownership of any property. So the owner of property not only had something like a property tax but there were also obligations to the overlord of the great king, or whoever was the ruler of that land. Abraham didn't want to obligate himself to any overlord, he wanted full and complete ownership for himself. That is why he insisted in paying full price, not just a partial price.
Genesis 23:10, "And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying," – so there are witnesses. They had come together in a very solemn ceremony to establish the transfer of title deed. Genesis 23:11, "No, my lord, hear me: the field give I you, and the cave that is therein, I give it to you; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it to you: bury your dead." So he just wants to honor this mighty prince by giving him the land.
Genesis 23:12, 13, "And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land. And he spoke unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if you will give it, I pray you, hear me: I will give you money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there." Abraham is insistent that he pay for it.
Genesis 23: 14-16, "And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him, My lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and you? bury therefore your dead. And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant." What lies behind this? Abraham is still thinking in terms of the future. Where is God taking us in terms of the past promise of that future seed? So he doesn't want to obligate himself to the people who live in the land. He wants to maintain his separation and his independence. Bit notice how even his business dealings and what he is going to do in terms of purchasing this land for Sarah is all dictated by that personal sense of eternal destiny. Doctrine isn't something that just sort of hangs out there somewhere, it has implications for even the day to day business decisions that we make in terms of the ethics that we use, in terms of why we are entering into these obligations, and what we are doing with whatever resources that God gives us.
So the conclusion comes in verses 17-20: "And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city. And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan. And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth."
When Abraham dies the only thing he possesses is a grave site. There is this emphasis on death. In fact, the word is used about eight or nine times in the chapter, and that is a reminder to us that where we are today is not where God is taking us. And we are still living in the devil's world, a fallen environment, and our orientation needs to be, as the writer of Hebrews says, on the future destiny that God has for us; that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
What we learn from this is that by the purchase of this land and having this possession Abraham is turning from his past, his family roots, his family heritage, and is putting the focus on the future and where his future generations will turn. Second, we see that Canaan is now the land that his descendants will inherit. This is where they will be buried. When we come to the end of Genesis the descendants are no longer living in the land of Canaan, they are in Egypt. But when Isaac dies he is taken back to this same location, and when Joseph dies he tells his brothers to make sure that when they finally leave the land that he, too, will have his body taken back to be buried there. We learn also that Abraham and Sarah have not exhausted God's promise or His provision. That happens in our lives. We can't exhaust and we can't outspend the grace of God. We have to keep our focus on he future and that personal sense of our eternal destiny because that gives us the proper perspective for whatever we face on earth today. The fourth thing we learn is that the promise of the land is to Israel. By analogy heaven is our future destiny. As the Jews in the Old Testament kept their focus on the land and God's provision of the land, and preparation for the land, culminating in the Ezekiel prophecy concerning the future temple, all of which gives Israel that future focus, so for us as believers our focus is on where God is taking us in terms of the kingdom of priests, our rule with Him in the Millennial kingdom, and on into heaven.