Genesis 22:20-23:20 “Sarah’s Death, Abraham’s Grief”
Sunday, October 31, 2010
22:20 Now after these things it was told to Abraham, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 (Bethuel fathered Rebekah.) These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 Moreover, his concubine, whose name was Reumah, bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.
23:1 Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 And Abraham rose up from before his dead and said to the Hittites, 4 “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” 5 The Hittites answered Abraham, 6 “Hear us, my lord; you are a prince of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will withhold from you his tomb to hinder you from burying your dead.” 7 Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land. 8 And he said to them, “If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me and entreat for me Ephron the son of Zohar, 9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as property for a burying place.”
10 Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, 11 “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the sight of the sons of my people I give it to you. Bury your dead.” 12 Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. 13 And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” 14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, listen to me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” 16 Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants.
17 So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over 18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.
Introduction: In chapter 22 we reached the apex of Abraham’s journey of faith, the climax to the story of his life and a foreshadowing of Christ in many ways as our substitute who died in our place. In that chapter we saw the beginning of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead as interpreted by the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews. From that highly controversial and moving chapter we turn now to chapter 23 and the death of Sarah. First, however, we must look at the little genealogy of Nahor that Moses includes. Somewhat of an irritating inclusion for us westerners, it served an important role in linking parts of the larger story together.
Surprisingly, Moses does not concentrate on Sarah’s actual death and only a brief mention of Abraham’s grief is given. Most of the chapter is about the funeral arrangements in what seems, initially, to be a rather crude negotiation over a burial plot. Is that all that is going on in this chapter? If so, why even bother to include it? I must confess that this chapter always seemed to bother me; it just did not seem to fit and it sure seemed a little bit disrespectful of Sarah as the emphasis was on arguing over the price of the burial plot.
As always, however, when you take the time to actually study that part of God’s Word that seems a bit harder to understand, you not only come to understand and appreciate it more, but you find gold. The main idea of this chapter is that Abraham finally obtains a little piece of the Promised Land that will be uncontested and passed down to his ancestors. The promise of God for land is coming to pass.
- I. Literary Analysis: Why Include So Much About Buying a Grave?
- A. Nahor’s Descendants, 22:20-24 and the Bigger Story 22:20-25:11
- 1. Of what use is the little Nahor Genealogy in 22:20-24? Does it link to anything in the past that Moses has already told us? Does it point forward to anything in the future? Look at 11:27-32. Is there a relationship with 22:20-24? Immediately after the genealogy in 11:27ff what is Abraham asked to do in 12:1-3? Now compare with what Abraham is asked to do in chapter 22 which is concluded by the Nahor genealogy. What relationships do you see?
- 2. Nahor’s brief genealogy begins the next section of Abraham’s story that tells of his succession and is part of a unit going from 22:20-25:11. Waltke writes, (p.311) “This final act of ‘The account of Terah’s Descendants’ provides a transition from the patriarchy of Abraham to Isaac, although more so a transition to the patriarchy of Jacob…”
- A. Nahor’s Descendants, 22:20-24 and the Bigger Story 22:20-25:11
Wenham writes, p.121, “A genealogy of Nahor seems rather an anticlimax after the high tension of the sacrifice of Isaac. But it is not as irrelevant to the story line as it appears on first sight….the genealogy closes, leaving the reader to wonder what the point of it is and whether Abraham had learned of Rebekah’s birth only of her uncles. Here are seeds from which the story will grow further.”
- 3. Outline of this section of Genesis 22:20-25:11 by Waltke, p.311
Scene 1: Genealogy of Nahor, including Rebekah (elect) (22:20-24)
Scene 2: Death of Sarah, Abraham securing real estate (23:1-20)
Scene 3: Securing a bride for the promised seed (24:1-67)
Scene 4: Genealogy of Abraham through Keturah (nonelect) (25:1-6)
Scene 5: Death of Abraham (25:7-11).
- 4. Chapter 24 is the longest chapter in Genesis, the securing of a wife for Isaac. This chapter is also pretty close to being exactly in the center of Genesis by word count (keep in mind the chapter divisions were not in the original Hebrew).
- 5. James Montgomery Boice writes, p.240, “In Genesis 23-25 we find recorded three events that conclude the first generation of the Hebrew patriarchs: (1) the death of Sarah, (2) the marriage of Isaac to Rebekah, and (3) the death of Abraham.”
- 6. Wenham writes, (about 25:1-11) on p.156, “It is typical of the editor’s method to include a trailer for the next section toward the end of the previous one….Although this section (25:1-11) looks like a ragbag of traditions about Abraham that have been appended here because they do not really fit anywhere else, it should be noted that the three major cycles of patriarchal stories, about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all end similarly:
Death and burial of wife- 23:1-20; 35:18-20; 48:7
Son’s marriage- 24:1-67; 35:21-22; 49:3-4
List of descendants- 25:1-6; 35:22-26; 49:5-28
Death and burial of patriarch- 25:7-10; 35:27-29; 49:29-50:14
List of descendants- 25:12-17; 36:1-42
‘This is the family history of…’ – 25:19; 37:2
- 7. Waltke relates the brief genealogy of Nahor in 22:20-24 to the original genealogy of Terah given in 11:27-31 this way:
A Genealogy of Terah (11:27-31)
B Abraham’s Call to Journey (12:1-8)
B’ Abraham’s Test of Sacrifice (22:1-19)
A’ Genealogy of Nahor, son of Terah (22:20-24)
- 8. Waltke writes, p.313, that the narrator, in 22:20-24, “intends the genealogy to provide the background both for the marriage of Isaac to Rebekah (24:24) and for Jacob to Leah and Rachel (28:5).
- 9. Waltke continues, “The twelve nonelect sons of Nahor…parallel the twelve elect sons/tribes of Abraham through his grandson Jacob. In each case there are eight by the principal wife/wives and four from the secondary wife/wives (22:20, 24; 29:31-30:24; 35:16-18). The number twelve also matches the twelve sons/tribes of Ishmael (see 17:20; 25:12-16).”
10. Key words/phrases- in 22:20-24 Milcah and Nahor, Bethuel and Rebekah. In 23:1-20 “his/my/your dead” occurs 8 times in 23:3, 4, 6(2x), 8, 11, 13, 15. “to bury” eight times in 23:4, 6(2x), 8, 11, 13, 15, 19 and the root, qbr, shows up as a noun (tomb, burial sight) 5 times at 23:4, 6(2x), 9, 20. Waltke points out, p.316, that there is an important difference between “tomb” and “burying place”. A tomb is offered freely by the Hittites but a burial sight is larger and must be purchased; it will be for generations of Abraham’s family and implies permanence.
11. I know that this type of detailed study may not be your favorite but it is valuable because it shows us how God’s Word is put together with not a single part being out of place or unimportant. It strengthens my belief in the inspiration of Scripture.
- II. Theological Analysis: Looking for a Country of His Own
- A. Sarah Died, Gen. 22:1-2
- 1. Allen P. Ross, writes, p.408, “The inclusion of the genealogy of Nahor just prior to this chapter reminds the reader that the ancestral home was in the east, but the account of the burial in the Land of Promise informs the reader that there was no going back for Abraham. The future was in Canaan, even though the first recipients of the promise would die before that promise could be realized. Consequently, Abraham secured some of the land for an ancestral burial spot.”
- 2. “Sarah lived 127 years…” Waltke writes, p.317, She is the only woman in the Bible whose life span is given, signifying her importance. She dies when Isaac is thirty-seven years old, three years before his marriage (see 17:17; 21:5; 25:20; cf.24:67). Abraham outlives her by another thirty-eight years (25:7).
- 3. How long was Sarah married to Abraham? Considering that they had a tendency to marry at a very young age, she could have been married to Abraham for something like 110 years. That is a long time of faithfulness and love!
- 4. James Montgomery Boice writes, p.240 “Sarah was a great woman. There is no place in all the Bible where we are told to look to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an example of what a godly woman should be. But in two different passages- one in the Old Testament and one in the New- we are told to look to Sarah…(Isa.51:1-2; 1Pet.3:3-6).
- 5. “Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron)…” The name of the city means City of Four, about 20 miles south of Jerusalem on the way to Beersheba and very close to Mamre. The name Hebron is also related to this site and it could be that it started out as 4 very close villages at a crossroads which gradually merged into one city, Hebron. In ch.22 Abraham returns to Beersheba, how did Sarah end up in Hebron? At the end of chapter 19 and the destruction of Sodom Abraham and Sarah moved from the oaks of Mamre near Hebron. It would appear that they have moved back, which would explain why the elders in Hebron would know Abraham and call him a prince of God.
- 6. “…in the land of Canaan…” This may seem to be a redundant fact, we and Moses’ audience know this is in the land of Canaan so why include it? It emphasizes Sarah’s complete obedience in going with her husband from Ur to Canaan and now dying in the Promised Land without yet obtaining the promised land. In Moses’ day, it would reassure his people that they are going to the land where their ancestors lay. For the Christian, it emphasizes that this land is not our home, the promise lies beyond the grave. This phrase, “in the land of Canaan” is repeated in vs. 19, thus forming the familiar Mosaic bookmarks indicating a unit. Theologically it emphasizes the Land of Promise as the next chapter will emphasize the promised offspring.
- B. Abraham’s Grief, 23:2
- 1. Mathews writes, p.310, “The death and burial of Sarah at Hebron is another transitional event (cf.24:67) in the epilogue of the Abraham narrative (22:20-25:11) preparing the reader for the succession of Isaac-Rebekah. The occasion of her death required the purchase of a family burial plot. The notion of burial indicates permanency. That Abraham secures a family plot in Canaan rather than returning to Haran conveys the man’s commitment to the land promised him. Ancient peoples cherished their ancestral burial ground; burial in the ancestral grave indicated honor and continuity with the family. Later, while in Egypt, Jacob and Joseph insist that their remains rest in Canaan according to their faith in the divine promises (49:29-32; 50:24-25).”
- 2. Vs.2 “And Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” This brief statement of Abraham’s grief is contrasted with the lengthy negotiations for her burial plot. We would tend to focus more on a eulogy for Sarah and asking Abraham how he felt, what he remembered best about Sarah, etc. But Moses sticks to the concept of obtaining the Promised Land, even if it is just a small field and a cave for a family plot.
- 3. “to mourn” is almost always used to describe the typical forms of middle eastern grieving that Abraham would have engaged in which would involve wailing, tearing of clothes, throwing dust in the air, disheveling his hair, fasting, even cutting his beard. They would consider our relatively calm and somber, sedate, funerals as being strange and emotionless.
- 4. This is the only place where we see Abraham weeping. He did not cry when his father died or when he left Haran. He did not weep when Lot departed from him nor when he heard of Lot being taken captive in war. He did not weep when he sent his wife Hagar and his firstborn son Ishmael out into the wilderness. There are no tears recorded as he prepares to sacrifice Isaac. But with the death of his wife, he wails.
- C. Application- How Should Christians Mourn?
- 1. Understand first, that death is an enemy. 1Cor.15:26 “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Man was created by God with conditional immortality. He was to dwell in the presence of God and partake of the Tree of Life forever. But sin entered in and the penalty for sin is death, Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23. It is common to accept death as a relief from suffering, but all too often I think we fail to see death as an enemy. Certainly in our church now we can recognize death as an enemy since we have lost one of our youth to a drunk driver. But we our loved ones grow old or very ill and the suffering is great, we tend to welcome death. Even lost people, those who do not have a saving relationship with God through Jesus tend to look at death as preferable to a life of suffering. This last week an acquaintance of mine committed suicide. It was shocking. He was an ex-con, he had gotten laid off from a job about a year ago and had not been able to find work. Since he had no money he couldn’t afford car insurance, yet he kept on driving until he got involved in a minor traffic accident and lost his license for no insurance. He was divorced and had not been able to see his daughter in months because she and the mother live in a different city. He got turned down for a job because he could not produce a driver’s license. He lost all hope and killed himself. I have done two teenage suicide funerals and one murder-suicide funeral of an older couple. But for the lost, death does not bring relief, it ushers them into the eternal fires of hell. You go from suffering here to an everlasting suffering there.
- 2. But the Christian has hope, so even though we are to consider death an enemy, 1Thess.4:13 tells us that we are not to grieve as others do who have no hope. We do have hope that our loved ones who depart us in the flesh are present with the Lord, Phil.1:21-23 and Luke 23:42-43.
- 3. How should we grieve? Tears, sobbing, even wailing over the death of a loved one are appropriate for the Believer. In our culture we do not tear our clothes or throw dirt, but we do often find that we cannot eat. Although, in my Baptist experience I have seen that eating after a funeral is a tradition as church members and friends bring lots of food or even have a communal meal at the church afterwards. We have a tradition of bringing flowers, a sign of life, to funerals. In the funerals that I conduct I present a theology of death and the gospel as well as speak encouraging words of counsel to the family and friends.
- 4. What do you think of the use of funeral homes instead of the local church? Cremation instead of burying? Donating of organs or even of the whole body to those who need them?
Sailhamer, p.171, on 22:20-24, “The fact that the number of names in the list is twelve suggests that the writer intended to draw a comparison with the twelve sons of Jacob or the twelve sons of Ishmael in 25:12-15. In any event, the central purpose of listing the names is to introduce into the flow of the narrative the source of the future bride of Isaac, Rebekah (v.23), and to show that she was of the lineage of Milcah and not of her concubine (v.24).”
P.172. “Sarah died in Hebron, and Abraham came there to mourn her death (v.2). Although the text is not clear, it appears that he came from Beersheba where he had been dwelling at the close of chapter 22 (v.19). The point of the narrative of chapter 23 is to show how Abraham first came into legal possession of a parcel of land in Canaan…According to 49:30-32, this is not only where Sarah and Abraham were buried but also Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob (50:13). “
“The sense of chapter 23 within the larger context of the Book of Genesis can be seen in the similarity between Abraham’s response to the offers of the sons of Heth and to those of the king of Sodom in chapter 14. In both cases the writer wants to show that Abraham would not accept a gift from the Canaanites. When the king of Sodom offered to reward Abraham, he replied that it should never be said that the king of Sodom made Abraham wealthy (14:23). In the same way Abraham adamantly refused to accept the parcel of land as a gift. Apparently against the wishes of the Hethites, he paid the full price for the land.”
“If viewed from the perspective of God’s covenant promises to Abraham, both these narratives fit well within the overall themes of the book. God, not man, was the source of Abraham’s hope of blessing. He would not seek to become wealthy or to own land apart from the promises of God. The same purpose also lies behind the note in 33:19, that when Jacob returned to the land, after his sojourn in the East, he purchased a portion of a field to pitch his tent. Wherever possible the writer seizes the opportunity to show that the patriarchs came by their possession of the land fairly and that it was a gift from God and not from those who were dwelling in the land at the time.”
“Still another idea that lies in this narrative can be seen in the book of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 32:6-15, on the eve of the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah’s trust in God’s promise of the land was expressed in his purchase of a parcel of land….the writer of Genesis appears to have a similar idea in mind in the picture of Abraham in chapter 23. He purchased only a portion of the land that would some day belong to his seed. In this small purchase was emboldened the hope in God’s promise that one day in the future it would all belong to him and his descendants. In the same way Joseph’s last request was that his bones be returned to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (50:24).His request was carried out…(Josh.24:32).”
Boice, James Montgomery. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 2, Genesis
12:1-36:43. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI. 1985 (pp.240-245).
Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-
50:26. Broadman&Holman: Nashville, TN 2005 (pp.306-321).
Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis.
Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI.1998 (pp.405-413).
Sailhamer, John H. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2, “Genesis”, Frank E.
Gaebelein, editor. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 1990 (pp.171-173).
Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI. 2001
Wenham, Gordon J. The Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 2, Genesis 16-50. Word
Books: Dallas, TX. 1994 (pp.118-131, 156).