Genesis 23

Sunday Morning Bible Study

April 29, 2007



A couple from Minneapolis decided to go to Florida for a long weekend to thaw out during one particularly icy winter. Because both had jobs, they had difficulty coordinating their travel schedules. It was decided that the husband would fly to Florida on a Thursday, and his wife would follow him the next day. Upon arriving as planned, the husband checked into the hotel. There he decided to open his laptop and send his wife an e-mail back in Minneapolis. However, he accidentally left off one letter in her address, and sent the e-mail without realizing his error. In Houston, a widow had just returned from her husband’s funeral. He was a minister of many years who had been ‘called home to glory’ following a heart attack. The widow checked her e-mail, expecting messages from relatives and friends. Upon reading the first message, she fainted and fell to the floor. The widow’s son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen, which read:

To: My Loving Wife

From: Your Departed Husband

Subject: I’ve Arrived!

I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. I’ve seen that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then! Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was.

P.S. Sure is hot down here!

We’ve come quite a long way in our journey with this man of faith, Abraham.  We’ve seen him perform great feats of heroism.  We’ve seen him act like a coward.  We’ve seen him trust God.  We’ve seen him act out in the flesh.

Today we’re going to see him dealing with something that is common to all men, the death of a loved one.

:1 Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.

Abraham would be 137 years old. Isaac would be 37 years old.

We are often told how long men lived in the Bible.  This is the only place where we know how old a woman was – I guess it has something to do with asking a woman her age…

:2 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.

Kirjath Arba – “city of Arba

Hebron – “association”

This is one of the places where Abraham has lived. When Lot chose to live in the Jordan valley, this was the first place Abraham spent some time at (Gen. 13:8). This was where Abraham was living when he heard about Lot being captured by the Eastern kings (Gen. 14:13). This is where the Lord visited Abraham and Sarah to tell them about the upcoming birth of their son Isaac (Gen. 18).



mourncaphad – to wail, lament, mourn
This is the first time the word “mourn” is found in the Bible, and it is used for a godly man mourning and weeping over the death of his beloved wife.
Jesus said,

(Mat 5:4 NKJV)  Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

When Jesus rose from the dead, He took the righteous believers with Him to heaven.  But prior to the resurrection, the place where the righteous believers went at death was called “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22).  It was seen as a place where the righteous dead were comforted.

(2 Cor 1:3-4 NKJV)  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, {4} who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

I find it fascinating that Abraham mourned.  Abraham was comforted.  Abraham’s bosom was known as a place of comfort.

God understands grief.
When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus went to visit Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary.

(John 11:32-36 NKJV)  Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." {33} Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. {34} And He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." {35} Jesus wept. {36} Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!"

I know that some of us preachers will say that Jesus was weeping over the unbelief of the people and that may be.  But the Scripture doesn’t specifically say that.  And even though the Jews may have been wrong about Jesus’ reason for weeping, I’m not sure I read where John corrected their view.

I think Jesus understands what it is to lose a loved one.

God understands and pays attention to your loss. 

(Psa 56:8 NKJV)  You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?

God wants to bring you comfort.  God wants to use you to bring others comfort as well.

:3 Then Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying,

sons of Heth – these are the people known as the “Hittites”. The Hittites would become a great empire in about six hundred years.  The Hittite empire of ancient times was centered in the area of modern Turkey and did not extend this far, but apparently there are a few pockets of Hittites that settled in the south. Esau would marry two Hittite girls (Gen. 26:34). The Hittites were a part of the inhabitants of Canaan that Joshua conquered (Josh. 9:1). David had some Hittites among his men, including a man named Uriah who was married to a gal named Bathsheba (2Sam. 11:3).

:4 "I am a foreigner and a visitor among you.

Even though we see Abraham as a wealthy man because of the size of his flocks and the number of servants, up to this point, Abraham does not own any property in the land of Canaan.


Just passing through

(Heb 11:9-10 NKJV) By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; {10} for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
This isn’t all there is.  There is a city we will one day go to that will be our real home.
When you go on a trip to a foreign country, some countries are more foreign than others.
When you’re in Russia or in Israel, one of the first things you notice is that you can’t read the signs.  Both Russian and Hebrew alphabets are unlike anything we’re used to.  It’s “foreign” to us.
There is a sense beloved that we ought to feel a little “foreign” in this world we live in.  When we start feeling too comfortable and too familiar with this world I think we’re headed for trouble.
When someone tells a dirty joke a work, it ought to sound like a foreign language to us.  When people talk about how to take advantage of a customer, it ought to feel out of place.
Peter writes,
(1 Pet 2:11-12 NKJV) Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, {12} having your 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.

The “day of visitation” is the day a person meets God.  Hopefully there will be more than a few people who will give thanks to God for the things we said and the things we did that caused them to turn their lives over to the Lord.

But it won’t happen if we are too much “at home” in the world.  Only if we’re “strangers”.

:4 Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight."

This is the first mention of burial in the Bible. When death comes to a body, after 24 hours the body begins to decay.  Eventually it will attract wild animals.  Burial was practiced quickly.


Death and Burial

Burial customs have changed through the years.

Some people have customs about the funeral procession …

A woman was leaving the corner convenience store with her morning coffee when she noticed a most unusual funeral procession approaching the nearby cemetery. A long, black hearse was followed by a second long, black hearse about 50 feet behind. Behind the second hearse was a solitary woman walking a pit bull on a leash. Behind her were 200 women walking single file. The woman couldn’t stand the curiosity. She respectfully approached the woman walking the dog and said, “I am so sorry for your loss, and I know now is a bad time to disturb you, but I’ve never seen a funeral like this. Whose funeral is it? “The woman replied, “Well, that first hearse is for my husband.” “What happened to him?” The woman replied, “My dog attacked and killed him.” She inquired further, “Well, who is in the second hearse?” The woman answered, “My mother-in-law. She was trying to help my husband when the dog turned on her.” A poignant and thoughtful moment of silence passed between the two women. “Could I borrow that dog?” “Get in line.”

Some people have customs about the words said at a funeral…

Ol’ Fred had been a faithful Christian and was in the hospital, near death. The family called their pastor to stand with them. As the pastor stood next to the bed, Ol’ Fred’s condition appeared to deteriorate and he motioned frantically for something to write on. The pastor lovingly handed him a pen and a piece of paper, and Ol’Fred used his last bit of energy to scribble a note, then he died. The pastor thought it best not to look at the note at that time, so he placed it in his jacket pocket. At the funeral, as he was finishing the message, he realized that he was wearing the same jacket that he was wearing when Ol’ Fred died. He said, “You know, ol’ Fred handed me a note just before he died. I haven’t looked at it, but knowing Fred, I’m sure there’s a word of inspiration there for us all.” He opened the note, and read, “Please move, you’re standing on my oxygen tube!”

In the ancient times, a typical burial consisted of a body wrapped in clothes and placed on a carved out shelf in the wall of a cave.  When the body was decomposed, the bones would be collected into a common pit.

By the time of Jesus, the Greek culture had affected much of the world.  The Greeks were very self-centered.  They were concerned about the appearance of their bodies.  They didn’t want their bones being mingled with other people. So, for the very rich, a body was placed in a limestone sarcophagus, a stone coffin the size of the body.  You had a space all to yourself.
For those who couldn’t afford this, they would “borrow” a sarcophagus for 11 months, which is how long it would take for the limestone to decompose the body until all that was left was bones.  Then the bones would be taken and placed in a separate “bone box” called an “ossuary”.

Back in the time of Abraham, they followed the tradition of allowing the body to decompose and then putting the bones in a common pit.

Some see this as part of what it means when the Scripture says …
(Judg 2:10 NKJV) When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers
Sarah would not be the only one to be buried here. This is also where Abraham would be buried (Gen. 25:9).
Eventually, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob would all be buried in this same place. There is also a Jewish tradition that this is where Adam and Eve are buried, though this is not found in the Bible. There is a mosque there today that covers a system of caves.

What is the proper way to bury the dead?

I am not aware of any Scripture that indicates how a person should be buried.
Some folks are curious about cremation – is it okay to cremate a body?  What takes years inside a coffin takes 30 minutes inside a crematorium.  I don’t see any problem with speeding up the process. 
On the other hand, if you choose to honor your loved ones with an expensive coffin, gravesite, and grave stone – that’s wonderful too.

What happens at death?

Here’s what we do know will happen:
When a believer dies, their spirit goes immediately to be with the Lord in heaven.

Paul says that to be “absent from the body” is the same thing as being “present with the Lord” (2Cor. 5:8)

Paul talks about his own death and describes it as

(Phil 1:23 NKJV)  …having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.

God does not intend for dead believers to simply be disembodied spirits in heaven, but there will also be a day when we our spirit will be reunited with a physical, resurrected body.
In Paul’s day, they were expecting Jesus to come back at any moment.  And some folks were worried about those who had died before Jesus came back.  Would they miss out on the resurrection?

(1 Th 4:13-18 NKJV)  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. {14} For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

The proof that our physical bodies will one day be raised from the dead is based on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.  When Jesus returns in the rapture, a resurrection will take place.

{15} For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.

Paul is describing this event we call “The Rapture”.  At the time of the rapture, there will be some of us still alive in our old bodies on this earth.  And we won’t be getting our new bodies before those folks who have already died and are in heaven.

{16} For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

There will be a trumpet blown, and those who have already died before us will receive their new bodies.

{17} Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. {18} Therefore comfort one another with these words.

After the dead have received their new bodies, then we too will receive our new bodies without having to experience this thing called death.  Paul says it will happen in the “twinkling of an eye” (1Cor. 15:52).  One moment we will be looking at things as normal, and the next moment we will find ourselves “in the air” and in the Lord’s presence.

:5 And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him,

:6 "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."

mighty prince – the Hebrew text reads “a prince with God”.  Maybe they heard the stories of Abimelech finding out that Abraham was a prophet.  They themselves had witnessed how Abraham had taken on the Eastern Kings to rescue Lot and the people of Sodom (Gen. 14).

Abraham had a good testimony among these people.

When we lose our loved ones, we have an opportunity to impact those around us who don’t know the Lord.

A funeral is an amazing opportunity to share the gospel.  The reality of death makes our faith so much more real.  We have real hope that there is life after this one.  We believe this because Jesus rose from the dead.

:7 Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.

:8 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,

:9 "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."

MachpelahMakpelah – “double” or “portion”

It seems that Abraham only wants to buy the cave, not the entire field.  Ephron will want to sell the field as well.

Apparently Hittite law required Ephron to be responsible for taxes on the entire property if he sold Abraham only the cave, but not if he sold him the entire parcel.

:10 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,

The gate of a city was where legal transactions took place.

:11 "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!"

Ephron is not really offering to give the cave away.  This is middle eastern haggling, simply a nice way of saying that he’s willing to sell it.

:12 Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land;

:13 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."

:14 And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him,

:15 "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."

:16 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.

Apparently this is a pretty high price for a field in those days.  This is supposed to be the beginning of the haggling process.  Ephron starts at a high number and is supposed to haggle with Abraham until they get to the real price.  But Abraham doesn’t want to habble and he will pay the high price.

:17 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

:18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.

:19 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.

:20 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.

There is a sense in which Abraham has declared that Canaan is his home.

The custom was to be buried in your native land.

You will see this when Jacob dies in Egypt and Joseph has his father’s body taken back and buried in Canaan, in this very cave.

By purchasing this property, Abraham is saying that even though he was a “pilgrim” just passing through, that his mail still got delivered to Canaan.

God had told Abraham (Gen. 15:13-16) that though his descendants would spend 400 years in Egypt, they would come back and live in this land.

I wonder if this chapter isn’t a hint at the hope of things to come.

We can look at it and focus on the death of Sarah and the loss to Abraham.
But Abraham’s actions speak of the future.  His actions hint at his trusting God’s promise that one day this land would belong to him and his ancestors.

For us, when we’ve lost a loved one who knew the Lord, we too have hope.

(1 Th 4:13 NKJV)  …lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
When we’ve lost a loved one, we will have sorrow because we miss them. 
But we have more than sorrow.  We have hope.  We have hope in a resurrection.  We have hope that we will see them again.  We know we haven’t “lost” a loved one because they’re not “lost” – we know exactly where they are.
You can’t have this “hope” apart from Jesus Christ.  If you are a person looking for hope today, you need Jesus Christ.