In 2014 I laid to rest both of my parents within a month of one another. It was a really hard time for my family. The passing of the generational torch is difficult. As a younger person, you don’t think much about death and dying. The concepts seem somewhat ethereal and unreal. It is not until you get into your middle age that you start to really see the impact of losing loved ones. By the time you are middle-aged, your parents begin to wane in their years and often you find that you are attending funerals more frequently. Generation after generation the mantle of the patriarchs and matriarchs is passed down to the successive generation. This is what we see happening in my devotional today, as we come to Genesis 23 and see the passing of Sarah.
[Gen 23:1 NKJV] Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.
Sarah must have been an amazing woman, for this is the only time we find the record of the age of a woman when she dies. Sarah had lived an amazing life and is immortalized in the pages of Scripture.
[Gen 23:2 NKJV] So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that [is], Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.
What a sweet picture of the love Abraham had for his beloved wife. It says that he came to mourn for Sarah and weep for her. This is the picture of someone who understood how bitter-sweet losing a loved one is. We know the great faith of Abraham and so we have to recognize that Abraham did not mourn for her like the world mourns, but looked forward with the hopeful expectation that they would one day be reunited somehow some way.
[Gen 23:3 NKJV] Then Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying,
[Gen 23:4 NKJV] “I [am] a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”
Abraham was indeed a foreigner to this land as he had come from Ur of the Chaldeans, but the reality is that Abraham understood that he was merely a sojourner and that his permanent abode was heaven where he would one day be reunited with his wife.
Now, I know that Abraham was a shrewd businessman and could sell ice-cubes to Eskimo’s if he set his mind to do so, but this seems very tacky for him to use the death of his wife to get something for free. Actually, that is not what happened here. In the culture of Abraham’s time, it was customary to ask for something that you wanted or needed. The expectation is that the seller would counter by offering to give it to them at no cost. This is what happens next.
[Gen 23:5 NKJV] And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him,
[Gen 23:6 NKJV] “Hear us, my lord: You [are] a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place, that you may bury your dead.”
This is where the negotiating for the burial plot begins. The sons of Heth were not being gracious here, in the sense that they intended on giving Abraham the lot at no cost. They were just showing that they were ready to wheel and deal.
[Gen 23:7 NKJV] Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.
[Gen 23:8 NKJV] And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish that I bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and meet with Ephron the son of Zohar for me,
[Gen 23:9 NKJV] “that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he has, which [is] at the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price, as property for a burial place among you.”
[Gen 23:10 NKJV] Now Ephron dwelt among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the sons of Heth, all who entered at the gate of his city, saying,
[Gen 23:11 NKJV] “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field and the cave that [is] in it; I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead!”
[Gen 23:12 NKJV] Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land;
[Gen 23:13 NKJV] and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “If you [will give it], please hear me. I will give you money for the field; take [it] from me and I will bury my dead there.”
And so there is some back and forth going on here to see who will start the opening bid. The custom for the seller was to insist upon giving away the property until the prospective buyer made an offer or until the offer was refused, at which time, the seller would suggest a price, generally higher than the actual value.
[Gen 23:14 NKJV] And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him,
[Gen 23:15 NKJV] “My lord, listen to me; the land [is worth] four hundred shekels of silver. What [is] that between you and me? So bury your dead.”
Ephron answers back and breaks the stalemate and offers the land at a price (in a round-about way), for 400 shekels of silver. Apparently, this was more than the land was worth, and it was expected that Abraham would bargain with Ephron. Instead, Abraham does something unexpected.
[Gen 23:16 NKJV] And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants.
Now, this should be a lesson for us as believers to behave in a godly manner when negotiating. We should be shrewd and good stewards of our finances, but we should not be stingy or unwilling to pay a fair price. When I was younger, I served as a waiter in a few restaurants. The one day of the week that I did not want to work was Sunday. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to work on Sunday because I had to go to church or something. At that time I would not darken the door of a church and did not give two winks about observing a Sabbath’s day rest. The reason I did not want to wait tables on Sunday was because of the church folk who would come in. Many times they were the messiest, loudest, and most needy patrons, but that I could handle. It was after I served a clan of homeschooling church folks and even impressed myself at how well I took care of that twelve-top, that I looked down at the line on the receipt where the tip goes and would find a really insulting tip and a Scripture reference at the bottom. Really?!?! Surely they knew that a worker was worth his wages and that good service demands good reward (laws of sowing and reaping and all). Surely, they knew that waiters and waitresses made their living on tips, right? That was such a turn-off to me. I started to believe that the songs I listened to were right, and that church people were greedy and all about money. What a terrible taste that left in my mouth.
That is why now when I go to a restaurant I always leave a really good tip and if the service is excellent I leave an even better one. I try to be courteous and show how blessed I am that someone would wait on me and my family. I try to engage with them and if the opportunity avails itself (which it usually does) I will ask them something in “Christianese” to see if they are believers. At the very least I will try to go out of my way to let them know that I am a Christian. I don’t do this for any other reason than to imagine what they are thinking when they see a nice tip alongside a Scripture reference at the bottom of the restaurants’ copy of the receipt. Perhaps they will actually pull out their phone and Google the reference.
And so Abraham deals fairly with Ephron and sets an example of how godly businessmen should behave when dealing with unbelievers.
[Gen 23:17 NKJV] So the field of Ephron which [was] in Machpelah, which [was] before Mamre, the field and the cave which [was] in it, and all the trees that [were] in the field, which [were] within all the surrounding borders, were deeded
[Gen 23:18 NKJV] to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.
Though Abraham would possess the entire land about him according to the promise of God, this is the only piece of land within the boundaries of the promised land that Abraham actually had a deed for. The land was already his, but I suppose that Abraham, by faith put down earnest money for that which would belong to him and his legacy after him forever.
[Gen 23:19 NKJV] And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that [is], Hebron) in the land of Canaan.
[Gen 23:20 NKJV] So the field and the cave that [is] in it were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as property for a burial place.
As we will see in later studies, LORD willing, this would become the burial plot for the Patriarchs as Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah would all be buried here.
Now, as I began my devotional for today, I was reminded of my parents, and my Aunt Penny and Aunt Debbie, who we recently buried. I was privileged to preach at each of their funerals. I was joking around with one of my cousins after the last funeral I presided over about how I wish I would be asked to do weddings instead of all these funerals. Then, last week, one of my cousins asked if I could perform a wedding. Ha! Unfortunately, I had to turn down the offer as I have not been ordained as a minister yet, and ordination is required to perform weddings in the State of Texas. It would have been nice to do a wedding or a baby dedication or something that represents new life for a change.
The reality though is that there is nothing as close to new life than a funeral. I mean, think about it, one minute you are here on earth and the next you are in heaven for all eternity celebrating eternal life in a new glorious body. I don’t think it gets any newer than that!
When I do a funeral, I will often share this poem because it speaks to the gravity of eternity and choosing where we want to spend it (and I will close with this).
The story is told of a cemetery has a tombstone (more than a hundred years old) which bears the following epitaph:
Pause Stranger, when you pass me by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be,
So prepare for death and follow me.
An unknown passerby read those words and underneath scratched this reply:
To follow you Iβm not content,
Until I know which way you went.
This begs the question, where will you spend eternityβheaven or hell?
Prayer: LORD, thank You for this day and all that You have done in it. I am grateful that I was able to be a part of it and to serve my clients in a way that I believe was pleasing to You. I only pray that they will see Your hand in my work and that You will receive all the glory for the good things that You do. I am proud to be associated with You in life or death. I am well pleased to be Your servant and ask that You would continue to bless me with more of Your work. LORD, I do desire greatly to be ordained as a minister of Your WORD. Not so that I can say that I have somehow arrived, but so that I can move beyond the years in the wilderness and get on with my calling. Still, I am content to wander with purpose until You say “go.” Thank You for using me here and now. I love You LORD and am truly at Your service. βAmen