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A Little Taste of the Promise

“Afterwards, Abraham buried Sarah, his wife, in the cave of the field of Makpelah toward Mamre (which is Hebron), in the land of Canaan. The field and the cave which is in it were given up to Abraham as a possession for a grave from the Sons of Cheth.”

(Genesis 23:19-20)

 

And with dignity and with a foretaste of what is to come, Abraham buries Sarah, his wife. Later, Abraham will also be brought to this site for burial. Though Abraham never saw fulfillment of the promise of the land, he did close his life owning a piece of property within the inheritance that God promised him. And in that, he was satisfied.

So much about Abraham’s life is about waiting and anticipating, it is no wonder that he is referred to as the Father of the Faithful (Romans 4:11). And much like Abraham, we too are called by God to wait on Him and upon His timing. How often we grow impatient at waiting for God to fulfill his promises. How often, because of our impatience, we miss the partial fulfillments that God places in our lives. For Abraham, the partial fulfillment took the form of a burial plot for Sarah. For us, our promised inheritance is in heaven, kept free from decay and defilement (1 Peter 1:4-5), but does not God give us little tastes of heaven in the context of Worship? Is not the gathered body of Christ meant to be a foretaste of heaven to come?

How often the worship of God’s people is little more than going through the motions. Beloved, when worship is only about what you are doing, then you will only ever get out of it what you put in…there is a zero sum gain. But when worship is only about God and what he is doing, then you taste his glory, which is a gain of everything and more. If you focus your worship on man, you will only find the walls of man’s own limitations. If your focus is upon God, then walls are broken down and we will come face to face with the transcendent God. For Abraham, his longing was for God himself; for you, what will it be?

The Sojourner Becomes a Resident

“And Abraham listened to Ephron. Then, Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he spoke of in the hearing of the Sons of Cheth — four-hundred shekels of silver according to the merchants. Thus, the field of Ephron, which was in Makpelah, which was before Mamre —  the field and the cave which was in it and all the trees which were in the field which are within all of the borders around it was sold to Abraham as property in the eyes of the Sons of Cheth and all those who entered the gates of his city.”

(Genesis 23:16-18)

 

The deal is now fully negotiated and made. Abraham purchases the lot and its contents as his own. This will be the first piece of the Promised Land that actually will fall into the control of Abraham…a taste of the promise that will be later fulfilled as the children of Abraham move out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into Canaan. A third party (the merchants) is called in to measure out the silver (again, making sure that a fair deal is struck and no one can complain the Abraham cheated Ephron out of his property), and witnesses seal the public deal. Abraham is now a land-owner, at least on human terms, and will bring his own life to a close dwelling in this area.

The sojourner has now become a resident, the alien has been given a home. In death, Sarah’s body is given that which she did not enjoy in life, though in the new creation, she will enjoy it most fully. How that is the story of the believer. Before God takes ahold of our lives, we are spiritual wanderers, flitting about from one ideology to another, always glorifying self and not Christ. But in Christ, we find a home. In Christ, we find meaning. And in Christ, we finally belong. How Christ’s church ought to reflect that; how rarely Christ’s church does a good job of reflecting that. Jesus said, “Come to me all you that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest…” (Matthew 11:28). May Christ’s church be that place where we can find our rest from the wearying burden of sin in our lives and in the world.

Four Hundred Silver Shekels

“Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, hear me: it is land of four hundred silver shekels value, between you and me, what is that? Bury your dead.”

(Genesis 23:14-15)

 

Ephron appeals to Abraham one more time, though this time he does so by answering Abraham’s question. And to those who would suggest that Ephron is just seeking to save face in the presence of the other Sons of Cheth by insisting Abraham take the property for free while at the same time offering up a purchase price, it should be noted that the price given here is very minimal. We find Abraham’s servant presenting Rebekah with a gold ring and bracelets (gold being more valuable than silver) worth ten and a half shekels between them as a gift for watering his camels and as a promise that he serves a master with financial means (Genesis 24:22). Later in Genesis, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery for twenty shekels of silver (Genesis 37:28) and when Joseph was reunited with his brothers and prepares them to return to Egypt with their father, as a special blessing to Benjamin, Joseph provides him with 300 shekels of silver (Genesis 45:22) and the redemption price for an ox who gores the slave of his master in Israel, was thirty shekels of silver (Exodus 21:32). When they constructed the Tabernacle, it would take 1,775 shekels of silver just to make the hooks for the pillars and the leaf to overlay the capitals of the pillars, making fillets (the thin band that joins the pillar to its capital) for them (Exodus 38:28).

The bottom line is that Ephron wants to appease Abraham by giving him an answer as to value, but continues to insist that the property is of little value in the grand scheme of things. It is likely fair to conclude that he expects that Abraham is not going to back down, but the price quoted is designed to bless Abraham, not to gain wealth.

Often in life we find ourselves in situations like this. Someone is pressing us for an amount that we are willing to sell an item for or to accept for our services and we would rather offer it for free or a nominal amount. And here even, we can learn from Ephron, that when pressed for a price, a fair price can be offered even if it is intentionally quoted on the low side. You can bless those you are serving in that they feel they have offered you payment for services (or items) rendered while still not taking advantage of the situation. Abraham will pay Ephron the silver, but it is here that the price is set and the contract made public.

Doing what is Right

“Then Abraham bowed in the presence of the people of the land and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If you will only hear me: I would give silver for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.’”

(Genesis 23:12-13)

 

Once again, we see the persistence of Abraham to do what is right. How often we are quick to seek out (and even to expect) the gratuities of others when it would be right and proper for us to pay a fair price for an item. How often Christians are characterized as seeking “something for nothing” or to guilt someone into a discount because, “it is for the church.” How often churches underpay their employees and pastors because, “it is for the ministry” and how often corrupt pastors guilt people into giving far beyond their means to support a lavish lifestyle or massive church building projects.

This is not to suggest that people should not give to the church nor is it to suggest that Christians (as well as non-Christians) should not be prudent with their money and seek to find deals and discounts. The bottom line is, what will the people you are interacting with remember once everything is said and done. Will they have had a good experience? Will they feel cheated? Will they feel that a fair deal has been struck? Will the person regret having done business with us? Abraham is leaving no opening for Ephron to come back and say that Abraham stole from them or abused their generosity. Ephron will also not be able to come back and claim Abraham’s line as part of his own, burying pagans alongside of Sarah’s body. Ephron also will not be able to come back and say, “I did you a favor, now it’s your turn to do me a favor.” A fair deal will be struck; may we too follow Abraham’s model as we interact with the world of non-believers around us.

A Place to Bury the Dead

“Ephron was sitting in the midst of the Sons of Cheth, thus Ephron the Chethite answered Abraham before the ears of the Sons of Cheth and all who were entering his city gate, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me. The field I give to you and the cave which is in it. I give it. In the sight of the sons of my people, I give it to you; bury your dead.’”

(Genesis 23:10-11)

 

Ephron, consistent with the discussions of his leadership, goes over and beyond the call of duty in his offer. All Abraham has asked for is the cave at the back corner of the field; Ephron offers him field and cave both as a gift. There are some that have suggested that Ephron was not overly happy about his being allotted to offer his property, which explains why, a little later, he suggests a sale price, but that mindset misses the spirit of negotiation that is dominant in the near-eastern cultures. There is an expectation of some degree of haggling here for a final decision, particularly as Abraham is asking for a price. In addition, were he begrudging the sale, he would not have added the field to the transaction so enthusiastically. Instead, his spirit seems consistent with the spirit of his brothers in wanting to incorporate Abraham’s line as part of their own.

Thus, the offer is made in the city gate to give both the cave and the plot of ground to Abraham as a burial plot for his family. City gates were the typical place that public business was transacted in ancient times; hence the reference to those coming and going through the gates. It was the place where the elders of the community sat and ruled on the affairs of the people. It would be the equivalent to the modern city council meetings that take place to govern a community.

The debate will continue, but do not lose sight of two principles: first, the way in which these pagans look up to this believer and second, the importance of securing a separate place for Sarah’s body that was not community property of those who lived there, but that would be set aside for the holy use of the burial of God’s people. May our communities look toward us this enthusiastically and may we never lose sight of the importance of preserving places to put the bodies of believers that they may be kept intact until the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Church as Blessing in the Midst of a Pagan World

“And the Sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a prince of God in our midst; in the choice of our graves bury your dead. Not one of us will withhold his grave from you for the burial of your dead.”

(Genesis 23:5-6)

 

At the onset, the offer that is made sounds quite generous and Abraham’s insistence on purchasing the plot of land may seem a bit rude. Yet, as with other things in God’s design, there is a reason and a purpose behind Abraham’s refusal, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. It should be noted that some modern translations render “The Sons of Heth” as “The Hittites” in this passage. Simply that is a result of scholarly inquiry which has suggested that the nation we now refer to as the Hittites has their origin with this particular Canaanite tribe. Literally, their name means, “The Sons of Terror,” which is an appropriate name for any ancient pagan tribe, needless to say, it is with these that Abraham is now negotiating.

What we ought to take note of, though, is the attitude that these “Sons of Terror” have taken with Abraham. They refer to him as a “Prince of God” and generously offer to him any choice grave site that they have prepared and reserved for themselves. There is nothing left over to doubt that these pagans can see that God has given favor to Abraham and that they (even as pagans) have been blessed by Abraham’s presence.

Such an attitude in the life of unbelievers is a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3, that the nations of the world will find their blessing in the children of God. How far, it seems, that we have fallen from that mark. How rarely do the unbelieving neighbors of our churches speak of our presence in their community with thanksgiving. Biblically, our churches should be seen as a place of good blessing to all around us. How far so many of our churches have fallen. How easy it is to begin turning our focus on ourselves (building our programs, our membership, our buildings, and our resources) instead of being focused outwardly on the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. How often we fear taking a stand for the Truth for fear that people won’t like what it is that we have to say, where if we were to speak truth in love and grace we would instead be respected for holding with integrity to our views. When we compromise the gospel we also compromise the blessing we are to be to the non-believers in our midst.

Loved ones, may we live intentionally in such a way that the pagans in our midst would say, like the Sons of Heth, that we are “princes of God” and that they would sacrifice to preserve our presence in their midst. How differently our communities would look were we to live in such a way that it produced this response amongst unbelievers? How different the work of evangelism would look were this the case as well.