Sarah’s Death

Genesis 23

Proposition: The place of Death in the Land of Promise is at the end of the field, a proclamation of life lived by faith and of a death that sees the Promise.

Introduction: Last week we read about the willingness of Abraham to lay down his son Isaac as a burnt offering to the Lord. We read how God intervened and provided for Himself a ram and that God proclaimed His great joy in Abraham for this act of faith. He said that Abrahams offspring through Isaac would be more numerous than the stars of the heavens or the sand of the sea shore. Mathematicians say that if that were a literal number it would be 10 to 25th power, or ten with 25 zeros behind it. The chapter closed with what seemed like an obscure reference to the children that Abrahams brother Nahor had who was still back in Ur where Abraham first came from. If we look closely we see that the writer is introducing us to the grand-daughter of Nahor, Rebekah, the woman who would become Isaac’s wife. I would call that symmetry, the way one detail perfectly fits into another. In the chapter we are about to read there is again a subtle symmetry as we are brought to a great turning point. Genesis 23.

I. Sarah, A Woman to Be Honored.

It tells us that Sarah lived 127 years. If Sarah was about 10 years younger than Abraham then we could say that she was about 65 when the Lord first called Abraham into this journey of faith. She was twice given away by Abraham as she played the role of his sister so that Abraham would not be killed. She lived in tents in a land where she was a foreigner, a land that she heard the Lord say would one day be their homeland. When Abraham was 99, Sarah perhaps 89, she listened by a tent door as the Lord said that within a year she would be pregnant and she couldn’t help herself, she laughed to herself at the very idea. She is the only woman in Scripture who is recorded as arguing with the Lord as she denied that she laughed and He insisted that she most certainly laughed because of the impossibility of such a thing. One year later the impossible became true, at about the age of 90, Sarah conceived Isaac, she gave birth and she nursed him. Sarah had the joy of raising Isaac for 37 years and then she died. Did you know that Sarah is referred to more in Scripture than Mary the mother of Jesus. Isaiah mentions her (Isa. 51:2); in Hebrews 11:11 it says, “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.” Listen to how Peter refers to Sarah, “Don't be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. That is the way the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They trusted God and accepted the authority of their husbands. For instance, Sarah obeyed her husband, Abraham, when she called him her master. You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husband’s might do”. (1 Peter 3:3-6) So if Sarah is a woman to be honored then so are her daughters, all women of faith who trust God, whose belief is in the promises of the Lord Jesus Christ. This according to Peter will draw unbelieving husbands to faith, it will move past the times when husbands are short sighted and self serving, it will see what God wants to do through the big perspective of a marriage. Not to be disrespectful, but Abraham was not an easy man to live with and I think he knew that too. It’s why we see him come to the door of the tent where her body lay in death and he grieved and wept for her. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, wrote Paul. Don’t wait until death to do that. Now the camera in Genesis 23 shifts from the death of Sarah to the details of Abraham purchasing a burial place. From verses 4 to 18, the vast majority of the chapter, we have the details of Abraham purchasing a cave in which to bury Sarah. Why such attention to these details?

II. The Cave of Machpelah, Promised Land.

When we were in Israel we stepped into a shop selling wooden carvings. I discovered that the man who ran the shop was an Arab Christian and I told him I was a Christian too. To make a long story short he asked me what I was interested in and I pointed to this carving. He insisted that I take it as a gift, I insisted that I should pay, he insisted that I take it, I offered to take it only by paying for it, he said the price was 25 shekels and in just a moment the deal was done. It is somewhat the same kind of interaction happening in Genesis 23, a place where business and honor meet. That was the process but let’s talk for a moment about what Abraham was purchasing. He wanted the cave but ended up buying the field and all the trees around it. The name of the cave, Machpelah, means double, perhaps referring to a second inner chamber in the cave. Abraham and Sarah had lived in this region for almost 45 years, it’s very likely he knew this cave well, had been in it and had thought of it for these very purposes. Way back in Genesis 14 and 15, when he rescued Lot, Abraham was living near the oaks of Mamre (#1 slide), very close to the cave of Machpelah. It was here that God demonstrated to Abraham through a split sacrifice that God would be the keeper of the covenant with Abraham. God would make it come true. In Genesis 15:15, God says to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace, you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” So where is ‘here’, it’s at Mamre, near the cave of Machpelah. Is it possible that Abraham purchased this cave because it was the closest burial point to the place where the promise was made? Is it possible that Abraham knew this was the place he wanted to be buried as well, right next to Sarah? Consider this, Abraham and Sarah were the first generation into the Promised land, Isaac and his wife Rebekah were the second generation, Isaac would have two sons but only one was the preferred son, Jacob. Jacob would marry Rachel and Leah and Rachel would die in child birth near Bethlehem and be buried there. Jacob and Leah were the third generation. Jacob would have 12 sons, one of which would rise to great prominence, Joseph. Joseph was the fourth generation. As we continue to work our way through Genesis we will discover that Abraham and Sarah were both buried in the cave of Machpelah, Isaac and Rebekah were buried in that same cave, Jacob and Leah were buried in that same cave when Joseph came all the way from Egypt with Jacobs body and placed it in the cave of Machpelah. The cave of Machpelah is in what we would call the city of Hebron . It is the second most holy place in the world to the Jewish people after the Temple mount. The history of the place is long and tangled but today a mosque (#2 slide) has been built over the site. Way below the floors ( #3 slide) of the mosque is the actual cave with the bodies of the patriarchs still within, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives Sarah, Rebekah and Leah.

What is the symmetry of Genesis 23, what is it that the Lord would have us discover because of Sarah’s death. Perhaps we could conclude several things:

1. The first and perhaps of only deeded title of land, of Promised Land, that Abraham held was a burial plot. This land, as wonderful a place as it is, can’t be compared to what God has prepared. Abraham was a sojourner, we are too.

2. The importance of family, for though this is about Sarah’s death it also points to the way family are the instrument that God uses to build a nation.

3. Sarah was a woman no different than any other, she struggled with not being able to have a child for 90 years, she knew loneliness and danger, poverty and wealth but over it all was faith and a willingness to trust, to trust her husband and much more to trust her God. The legacy of her life was a cave at the end of a field, a place of rest at the end of a place of work.

4. The cave of Machpelah didn’t look like much, but God chose to use it as a marker point that almost 4000 years later is considered one of the holiest places on earth to the Jewish peoples. That’s so not because of the cave but because of what it contains, people of faith that God used to carve a nation, even to be a blessing to all nations. The memorial that you bear is not your property, it’s your faith and how you bow before God to let Him carve the next future.

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