Genesis 23:1-20

Genesis 23 records the death of Abraham’s wife Sarah, and the actions he took that revealed so much about this man of faith. At this time, Isaac was 37 years old. From Genesis 21 when Isaac was born, to chapter 23 and the death of Sarah, 37 years had passed which we know nothing about. How can we be sure that this amount of time had passed? Scripture tells us that Sarah was 90 years old when Isaac was born, and Sarah died when she was 127, which equates to 37 years (Gen. 17:17; Gen. 23:1). Scripture declares, “Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 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” (Gen. 23:1-2).

Abraham mourns the death of Sarah.  Vs. 1-2

This account of Sarah’s death and the mourning of Abraham is one of many testimonies in Scripture of how a man of faith deals with death. Note that Scripture declared that Abraham, “Came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” Here is an example of how a man of faith dealt with the death and loss of his beloved wife. He mourned and wept for her. This is the first mention and use of the word mourn in the Bible. Also, Sarah is the only woman whose age, death, and burial are referenced in the Bible. Why is this? She is undoubtedly referred to in this manner because of the very special place in Scripture that Abraham and Sarah held in the story of the Jewish nation. It is very important to realize that God declared in this text what is normal for any man or woman of faith to do when their loved one dies. We are going to mourn and weep for them, because of the great sense of loss that we are experiencing. When someone you love dies, this is also exactly what you are going to do. You are going to mourn and weep. I want you to realize this so that when someone says to you, “O, don't cry,” after you lose a loved one, you will be prepared. Those who say such things are well-meaning, thinking they are trying to comfort you, but these words are completely unrealistic. When I have done funerals and memorial services over the years, and someone doesn’t weep and mourn, I honestly think there is something wrong. I have found by talking to these individuals that some have no real connection to that person, others hide their emotions out of embarrassment, or they have a very hard heart because they are holding bitterness toward the person who has passed. Let me also say that even if I don’t know the person whose funeral I’m doing, I usually will get emotional as I think of the loss this family is experiencing. Emotions at a time like this are very normal.

The normal process of grief.

Let me be very clear, emotional grief is a very normal process in life. Mourning, grief, and weeping are not contrary to faith in anyway. If it was wrong to weep and mourn, then why did God create us with emotions and the ability to weep? Faith and tears are not contrary to one another in any way. Abraham was a man of faith, and the father of all who will believe, and he naturally wept and mourned at the death of his wife. Remember, even Jesus wept! The Scripture is so clear about this fact. In John 11:35, which is the shortest verse in the Bible, it declares, “Jesus wept.” Why did He weep? He wept because He saw the unbelief of the people who stood at the tomb of Lazarus. He wept because of the people’s inability to understand His words to them that day concerning the resurrection. Later in the ministry of Christ when He came and stood on the Mount of Olives and looked over the city of Jerusalem, Scripture declared, “He saw the city and wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Why did He weep again at this time? Jesus knew the judgment that was about to befall the city of Jerusalem because of their unbelief, and He knew the pain and suffering that they would all experience. He wept over the city, because He knew it could have been so different, if they had only believed. Notice what Jesus said at this moment. He declared. If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44). Jesus was clearly predicting the destruction of the city and the Temple by the Romans in 70AD. All this would happen to them, because they didn’t understand the hundreds of prophecies that had predicted the very day that Christ would come and ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. That very day He would allow Himself to be worshipped as the Messiah for the first time in His entire ministry (Zech. 9:9; Dan. 9:24-27). If you would like to study further on this topic, please watch my explanation of the 70 Weeks prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27.

In addition, in the Old Testament, Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet because of his compassion and concern for the people of God. In Jeremiah 9:1 he cried out from the depth of his soul and said, Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” These are just a few of the examples of the men of faith weeping and mourning because of the anguish of their souls for the people of God. Therefore, never think that faith and tears are contrary to one another. Godly spiritual men and women of faith will weep in this life.

We sorrow, but not as others.

Another very important aspect of sorrow for believers is that we do not sorrow as the world does, because we have an eternal hope in Christ. Paul explained this truth in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 when he sought to encourage the church concerning their loved ones who had died. He wrote, But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. Why would we not sorrow as the world does concerning our loved ones who have died and gone home before us? Because we have hope in the fact that there is life after death, which means we are going to see our loved ones again. This passage is clear, that since Jesus died and rose again, our loved ones are with Him right now, and He will bring them with Him when He comes for us. We can be confident of this fact, because when we leave this body, we go directly into the present of Jesus. Paul taught the Corinthians, We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Therefore, we don’t sorrow as others in this world, because we are going to see our loved ones again. So, the next time you go to a Christian’s memorial service, you are not saying goodbye, you are saying, “See you later!”

In addition, we sorrow not as others in this world, because we know what our believing loved ones are experiencing at this very moment. John gave us an understanding into what our loved ones are enjoying when he wrote, Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:15-17). These are incredibly comforting words that ease our sorrow at the loss of those we love. It doesn’t remove our sorrow and grief, but knowing this fact reduces our anguish considerably.

I have done many memorial services in my ministry, and stood at scores of gravesides. I have watched people come with absolutely no hope mingled with their sorrow, and others who sorrow and weep with genuine hope in their hearts, because they know they are going to see that person again.  This knowledge gives real comfort and hope.

A biblical view of death.

I have spent so much time on this topic, because our view of death must be a biblical one. I believe Paul’s view of death should transform your thinking. He declared that one of his great desires in life was to go and be with the Lord. In fact, this was a real struggle for him as he contemplated this desire, as opposed to his ministry here on the earth. He explained this conflict when he wrote, For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you (Phil. 1:21-24). Paul saw death was gain! The Greek word for gain actually means profit. It is an accounting word as used in a profit and loss statement. But the question is, do you see death as a gain and a profit, or do you only consider it as a loss? When your treasure is in heaven, there will your heart be also (Matt. 6:21). But this is where the struggle was for Paul, because he so wanted to go to heaven, but he also saw how many people were lost and going to hell here on earth. This is why he was hard-pressed between wanting to be with Christ which was far better, but knowing that he could lead many to Christ, and strengthen so many more, if he remained here on earth. This struggle revealed just how intense his love was for people, and the incredible servant’s heart he had for the church. May this love and desire to serve others burn within each of our hearts until the day He comes for us!

What should you do after you grieve?

After Abraham wept and mourned for his wife, what did Abraham do? This question brings up another important aspect to grieving. Many times, when I have spoken to people who have grieved for their loved one for a very long time, they don’t want to hear this part of the grieving process, but it is just as essential as what I have already addressed. Abraham was a great example of how to grieve, and what should happen next. Abraham was not overcome or incapacitated by his grief. No! He demonstrated just the opposite by his actions. In verse 3 it declares, “Then Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth” (Gen. 23:3). Abraham stood up, and he proceeded with what he needed to do, which was to find a burial place for his wife. Abraham was taking care of business. He was not overcome or incapacitated by his grief to the point that he couldn’t move forward. His actions reveal that there is a time to weep and mourn, and there is time to accept what has happened and move forward with whatever the needs are in front of you (Ecc. 3:4). You must move forward, because you have a responsibility first to make the arrangements for your loved one, and second, to care for the other people that are still living who also need you. Remember, you have the rest of your family to care for, and you also have your friends, your ministry, or employees that are depending on you. As long as you are breathing, you have a purpose and a reason for being alive. If God wants you here on this earth, then He has important things for you to accomplish. This concept of a time to weep and mourn, and a time to move forward, are also seen in the words that God spoke to Samuel the Prophet when he continued to weep and mourn over the failure of King Saul. Listen to these words; they are powerful. Scripture records, Now the LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons’” (1 Samuel 16:1). Note that God acknowledged that there was a time to mourn, and He allowed Samuel the time to do that, but there was also a time to get moving, move forward, and anoint the new king.

Therefore, you cannot be overcome by allowing too much sorrow to debilitate and incapacitate you. How does Scripture define too much sorrow? Paul explained this truth to the Corinthian church concerning a man they needed to forgive, because if they didn’t forgive him, this man would have given up and been overwhelmed with too much sorrow. Paul wrote, “You ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Cor. 2:7-8). The Greek word for the words swallowed up, means to drown in sorrow or to be devoured by sorrow. This is a real possibility for anyone struggling with grief. One of the most important things that keeps someone from being swallowed up by grief and sorrow is for you to reaffirm your love to them, and allow them to confirm their love toward you. Loving those who are grieving around you today, is one of the great healing balms for the sorrow we experience in this life. Don’t let grief swallow you up, or someone you know, but let love bring God’s healing to the heart!

Grief and tears will never end until we go home.

Now, it is really important to never forget that mourning and tears will not cease until the day you enter into His Kingdom. This is realistic thinking. Jesus was a realist in all of his teaching, but especially when He taught about the sorrow that conflicts bring into our lives. Jesus said, It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come” (Luke 17:1)! We need this kind of realistic thinking, because people are going to offend and hurt you in this world, and there will be tears. Tears are not going to end until we see the Lord face to face; that’s the bottom line. Remember that God is the only one who will, “wipe away every tear” from your eyes, but that will be in His eternal kingdom (Rev. 7:17; Rev. 21:1-4). You must have this kind of biblical thinking, because there will be many tears in every one of our lives as we live in this fallen world. It’s going to happen, and so you need to be prepared for this reality. Abraham’s example of struggling with grief and many tears over the loss of his wife shows us how to handle the death of our loved ones. May we follow his example!

Abraham buys a piece of land.

We finish this chapter with the record of how Abraham actually went through the process of purchasing this burial place for his wife. Scripture declared, Then Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘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.’ And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘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.’ Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. 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, 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.’ 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, ‘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!’ Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land; 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 Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘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.’ 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. 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 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who 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 (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 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” (Gen. 23:3-20). 

Another important question to answer is, what does it say about Abraham that he had to buy this land? God had promised that all the land of Israel had been given to him, but at this moment none of the land belonged to him. So, when Abraham purchased this piece of land, he was in effect declaring, “This is where I am staying, even if I don’t see all of God’s promises fulfilled, and I am definitely not going back to the land of Ur.” A person’s actions are the declaration of their heart and their beliefs. Abraham’s actions declared, this is where I’m going to bury my dead, and this is where I am staying. I believe this purchase of the land further demonstrated his commitment to the promise of God, and his obedience to God.  

Abraham’s example should also make you question yourself in this regard. What demonstrates your commitment to the promises of God, and to the kingdom of God? The answer is very simple, it is the way you live your life. It is not just the words that you profess, but the actions that you take in your everyday life. That is what demonstrates your commitment to God’s kingdom and to His promises. Do you evangelize others who don’t know Him? Evangelizing is the verbalizing of your commitment to Him. It tells everyone that you speak to that you believe His promises. If you are willing to have someone mock you, hassle you, or mistreat you, this is even a more powerful demonstration of your faith in God’s Kingdom.

Then do you live out what you profess by your love for others? Do you unselfishly give, serve, and show kindness and forgiveness toward others? These are the fruits of righteousness and proof that the Holy Spirit truly lives inside of you (Phil. 1:11). All of these actions demonstrate something about you, and your faith. Do you live your life in an honorable way, so that others respect your testimony? Peter told us that we needed to have our, “Conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). On judgment day, even though people have mocked your faith, they will have to stand before God and acknowledge that God was glorified in you because of the way you lived in this world. This is why Paul encouraged us all in Titus 2:7, “In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility.” In other words, be a good witness to others by living your life with integrity. Then people will believe, that at least you believe what you are professing. Likewise, Abraham also proved that he believed the promises of God by the actions he took.

God’s promises never die, even though someone close to you does die!

What do I mean by this statement that God’s promises never die? Many times, when a loved one dies, or an entire generation of all your relatives pass on, sometimes people think, I’m all alone now! Everything is going to change. Will God still fulfill His promises to me? My answer is yes, He will still be faithful to you. Why? Because God does not change, and His promises don’t change, because He remains the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). His promises are just as true today as they were to the disciples. As He was with your parents, so He will be with you. As God was with Abraham after Sarah’s death, so He would be with him now. God’s promises did not end with the death of Sarah. God’s promises did not end with Abraham’s life. Those promises continued on into the life of Isaac, Jacob, and to all of Abraham’s descendants. Likewise, God’s promises do not die with me or my wife, my children, or my children’s children. He will be faithful to a thousand generations (Deut. 7:9). Do you ever wonder if your grandparents or great grandparents prayed for you to inherit God’s promises? I am praying continually for my children and grandchildren. I pray that God will use the testimony of Christ in my life to encourage them to follow Him. Several years ago, I was going through old pictures that my father had left after his death, and among the things I found an old letter on parchment from 1825! The letter had been sent to another relative from one of my great great-grandparents. As I read it, I was amazed to see that she was declaring her faith in Christ, and how she and another family member had just come to faith in Jesus, and they had both just been baptized into the Methodist Church. Then I thought to myself, I wonder if this woman prayed for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, which resulted in someone coming to share with me the message of the Gospel? It will be interesting to find this out one day in heaven. Remember, God’s promises, and His desires and plans do not die with one generation or one person, because He is the faithful One and will continue to work even when you think everything is lost at the death of a loved one. Share your faith with others, serve, be a light in this dark world, because this demonstrates where you have placed your faith, and who you are as a person to those around you. 

Abraham as a foreigner and pilgrim.

In these final verses there are several nuggets of truth that are important to address. The first is this acknowledgement by Abraham that he is a foreigner and pilgrim in the land of Canaan. In the book of Hebrews, we see this same statement made of all those who have faith in God. The apostle wrote concerning the patriarchs, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). The words stranger and pilgrim essentially mean the same thing, that the person is a foreign resident. Abraham was essentially saying to the sons of Heth, “This is not my home land. I’m just passing through this land.” When Abraham died, the only thing that he owned at that time was this grave site. That was it. The rest of the Promised Land belonged to someone else. This is why Abraham saw himself as just a foreign resident in the land of Canaan. I believe this statement is very important in light of Hebrews 11:13. Why? Because this is how Abraham saw himself.

So, how do you see yourself? Are you a foreign resident in this world? Or, are you seeking to build your kingdom and put up your monuments that you think will last? The reality is that every person must decide at some point in their life whether they are building an earthly kingdom, or they see their citizenship in heaven. Is everything you strive for in the here and now, or is there something more that you are pursuing in life? Paul acknowledged, For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). If you see your citizenship is in heaven, then this will dramatically change your priorities and decisions over every issue in your life. The reality is, when you die, all you will actually own will be the ground you are buried in, and if you are cremated you will own literally nothing. Everything that you own will be left here, as Paul said, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim. 6:7). People are laboring for success in this world, as if they are going to take all they accumulate with them, but this is not the case. Everything you possess will be going to someone else one day when you die. This is the best reason to see yourself as Abraham did, as foreign resident! This is why Jesus taught us to focus on our treasures in heaven. In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus taught His disciples, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is such sound wisdom for anyone who considers himself a pilgrim on the road of life. So, which are you doing? Are you laying up treasures in heaven, or here on the earth? Is this your home, or are you a foreign resident? These are your only two options in life. Choose wisely!  

Abraham conducts business.

Note how Abraham now negotiates this business agreement with the sons of Heth. Abraham first goes to meet directly with the sons of Heth at the city gate to purchase this land. As I have said several times in this study in Genesis all business transactions were done in the gate of the city before the eyes of the public. Notice that Abraham doesn’t try to just take the land by force, but shows that he fully intended to pay full price for the land he desired. He bows himself to the ground several times during this negotiation, thus showing them respect throughout the negotiation process for obtaining the burial plot. They in turn show Abraham equal respect. He then seeks the help of the sons of Heth in speaking to Ephron the son of Zohar who owned the property. They attempt to give Abraham the land that he wants, but Abraham refuses. This offer may have been an eastern bargaining technique, or it may have been a realistic offer, but Abraham stands his ground that he will not take it as a gift. Abraham and Ephron finally settle on 400 shekels of silver, and Abraham weighs out the money and makes the deal in public at the city gate. Last, there was a legal document made out deeding the property to Abraham. Note that even the specifics of the purchase were put into the deed, and recounted here in the text. The field, cave, and trees in the field all now belong to Abraham.    

By comparison, hundreds of years later when Hanamel, Jeremiah’s uncle, comes to visit Jeremiah while he is in prison to ask him to buy some property from him, the price was only 17 shekels of silver. That is quite a difference from 400 shekels in this purchase. But in Jeremiah’s case it is important to see that the transaction was also done legally with a deed and witnesses (Jer. 32:6-12).

What are some lessons that you can learn from these two accounts in Scripture? The first is that when dealing with any financial arrangement or business transaction, make sure that it is done legally. Get witnesses to the terms of the contract, and put them down on paper, and make sure to get all parties concerned to sign the document. People do this every day with wills and trusts, so there will be no dispute over what your wishes are after your death. Also, for any business arrangement you enter into, this would be a wise thing to do. Why is this so important? Because I have sat many times with Christian business men who have a conflict with their business partner, and the first thing I ask them is, where is your written contract agreement. Most of the time there was no written agreement, which made it impossible to resolve the conflict. Most of the time the parties just had to split the assets in half, and dissolve the business. No one ended up happy. It makes no difference whether you are doing business with family, friends, with Christians or non-Christians, put it all in writing so both parties know exactly what is expected. If it is a will or trust, do it legally, and make sure that is signed and notarized.

The second lesson you should learn from this account is that you need to show respect for anyone you do business with. Respect for someone causes you to honor your agreements, done verbally or with a written contract. Most of all, respect for someone keeps you from trying to cheat them in any transaction. Solomon warned in Proverbs 20:14, “It is good for nothing,” cries the buyer; but when he has gone his way, then he boasts.” God does not want us to tell someone that what they are selling is worthless and good for nothing, just to get them to come down in price, and then leave and tell everyone how they got the buyer to reduce the price. This is lying, and is also disrespectful to negotiate in this manner with a person. Abraham paid the asking price! If you don’t want to pay the asking price, just say no, and consider other options. If the seller wants to reduce the price, that is his decision. Just don’t try to manipulate the seller by some negotiating game!

Last, Genesis will end with this same tomb that Abraham purchased being full of most of his family members. Abraham will be buried in this very same tomb, as well as Isaac and Rebekah. Many years later, Jacob and Leah will also be buried in this tomb. Genesis ends with a full tomb, but the gospels all end with an empty tomb. What a contrast! We have an empty tomb, because Christ is risen, and He lives today. When Jesus rose again, He led all those who waited in faith for the coming Redeemer into heaven, because as Jesus said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:32). If He is your God today, then He will also be your God in the resurrection. My hope is that all who read these words will have a living relationship with Him! You can know Him in a new and living way, if you will simply ask His forgiveness and receive Him by faith. This will enable you to live in such a way that you will see His transforming work powerfully changing you and the way you behave. If you know Christ personally you will surely see His love flowing through you to others. His abounding love is really the ultimate proof that you know Him, and that Christ lives in you (2 Thess. 1:3). Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” May His life and love flow through you to a lost and dying world!