Faith of Our Fathers
“And it came to pass that Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, buried him in the cave of Makpelah — the one in the field of Ephron the son of Tsohar the Hittite which is in the direction of Mamre — the field which Abraham bought from the sons of the Hittites. There Abraham was buried along with Sarah, his wife.”
Abraham’s body is now placed in the same cave which he bought to hold his wife’s body — property that rightfully belongs to him. As we read in Genesis 23, Abraham goes to lengths to ensure that this property is rightfully purchased and belongs to him, not something given as a gift or a loan — not something that the Hittites would have any recourse to come and take back. But a piece of property that now belongs to Abraham and is meant as a covenantal foretaste of the reality that one day Abraham’s descendants will come back and take the whole land as their own. Compared to the whole, it is a small spot — yet it is a spot nonetheless and it is here that Abraham’s body will be buried alongside of his wife’s remains.
And notice that it is not all of the sons of Abraham that return to bury their father. Nor is it Isaac alone. But Isaac and Ishmael work together to this end. This may seem odd to us, but Isaac is the son of the covenant and Ishmael is a son that is covenantally blessed because of his lineage from Abraham (see Genesis 16:11-12; 21:18). From both men great nations will arise — nations that will perpetually be at war with one another even up until this very day. His other sons are sons nonetheless, but no covenantal promise is attached to them. They are simply a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars of the sky.
And here ends the account of Abraham, the friend of God. What follows in this chapter is the transition of the covenant story to the life of Isaac, Abraham’s son. The baton has been passed from one generation of promise to the next. To cite God’s statement regarding Abraham earlier in his life — here is one who will “teach his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice…” (Genesis 18:19). May that statement be made of each of our households as we seek to pass the baton of faith from one generation to the next…
He died with Good Grey Hair
“These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived: one-hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham perished and died with good grey hair, an old man and fulfilled. And he was gathered to his people.”
These are the final words recorded in the narrative of the life of Abraham. What follows relates his burial and the transition in God’s covenant story from Abraham’s life to that of Isaac. Even so, here we have the scriptural epitaph for this man of God. His days were full and long, he died with a full head of grey hair (a sign of maturity), and he was gathered to his people — his spirit joined the spirits of all those other believers who had passed on ahead of him in the presence of their almighty God. Though it is brief (as are all epitaphs), as far as epitaphs go, this is just about as good as it gets.
There is something that we have lost in our modern pursuit of youth, and that is the respect and honor due to those elders in our midst. Too often we see them as slow, not up to date, and a burden, when we ought to see them as a great treasure and repository of wisdom. Those grey hairs were earned and thus things to be held in honor, not hidden under layers of dye or relegated to being “old fashioned.” That grey head of Abraham signifies more than his old age — it signifies the wisdom that those many years brought to his life. His death marked not only the passing on of the covenant responsibility from himself to his son, but the passing away of wisdom and experience from this world — something that must be mourned.
Notice that the passing away of one with great wisdom is a community affair — all recognize their corporate loss as well as the family’s immediate loss. Again, in a culture that glamorizes the vibrancy of youth, often the wisdom of maturity is neglected. Yet, as the word of God brings a close to Abraham’s life, it does so with great dignity and grace and from that we can learn as we honor the passing of those in our own midst.
The Sending …
“But to the sons of the concubines of Abraham, Abraham gave gifts. And he sent them away from Isaac during his life — eastward, to the land in the east.”
Before Abraham sends his sons (those not of Sarah) away, he gives to each gifts — a practice that is remarkably ahead of his time. Many today seek to give a portion of their estate to their children while they are still living — this has tax benefits and gives you control over the disbursements — but Abraham’s purpose is rather different. Isaac will inherit his estate — he will be the one to assume responsibility for this great and wonderful promise that God has given to Abraham in terms of the covenant and the wealth that has been given in the context of the covenant. Upon Abraham’s death, there will be no squabbles over nick-knacks, but all will fall to Isaac.
Yet, Abraham still provides for his other sons. They are his children and this is a fulfillment of the covenant that God made to him at the very time of his calling — I will make you a blessing (Genesis 12:1). Thus, the account of Abraham’s life ends the way it began … with a focus on the nations finding their hope and blessing in the line of Abraham. And Paul writes that we who find our hope in Jesus Christ are counted as children of Abraham and thus heirs to the promise (Galatians 3:29). Again, while we tend to react to the sparkle of gold and wealth; those who are found in Christ have discovered what wealth truly is.
Thus, with their wealth, the descendants of Abraham head to the east and form many of the Arab tribes that will end up coming back to haunt the people of Israel, but that is an account for another day. Now, once all things are settled and each son is provided for and sent off to the east to find his own fortune, Abraham will finally be ready to lay down and rest, shuffling off this mortal coil and joining Sarah in the presence of the Almighty God who called him out of his homeland and would establish his line in Canaan — a God whom he called, “Friend” (James 2:23).
Children of Midian
“And the sons of Midyan were Eyphah, Epher, Chanok, Abiyda, and Elddaah. All these were the sons of Keturah.”
Moses gives us the final listing of the grandsons of Abraham and Keturah, in this case through the line of Midyan (Midian). These are the sons who will establish the tribes of the Midianites that will give the people of Israel so many problems in the generations to come, hence their likely inclusion. There are others in the Bible who share the same name, but as with people today who are named John, Samuel, and Paul, these names were not totally uncommon in the ancient near east. Apart from the parallel in 1 Chronicles 1:33, we know little else about these sons and grandchildren.
- Eyphah (Ephah): Literally, his name is translated as “darkness.” Perhaps more literally, the idea conveyed by the word is the presence of that gloom whose effect is to create a darkened state — see Job 10:22. However you explore the nuances of this name’s meaning, its connotations are ominous.
- Epher: There is some debate as to the term from which this word gets its name. Traditionally it has been understood to be a derivative of rRpOo (opher), which refers to a young fawn or gazelle. It may also be derived from rDpDo (aphar), which refers to the dust of the earth. In either case, both are fleeting. The deer runs swiftly from its hunter and the soil, when dry, is scattered by the wind, much like the wicked before God’s judgment.
- Chanok (Hanoch): Typically this name is rendered as “Enoch” in our Bibles (see Genesis 4:17 & 5:18 for example) and means “dedicated.” In the context of the son of Cain, a city was dedicated to him. In the case of the son of Jared, he was dedicated to God. As this Enoch is not part of the Covenant line, most likely the former is the intended meaning, not the latter.
- Abiyda (Abida): Literally: “My Father has Known Me.” Here we probably have the most positive of the group, though again history makes clear that the Father in question is an earthly father, not a heavenly one.
- Elddaah (Eldaah): Literally: “One who seeks God.” Yet does anyone ever really seek after God of their own accord? No, not even one (Romans 3:11-12). Only those that the Father draws to himself will come (John 6:44).
“And it came to pass that Abraham once again took a wife, and her name was Qeturah.”
As Abraham completes his sojourn in this life, he takes on another companion to be his wife. These last few verses of Abraham’s story cover the last 38 years of Abraham’s life. It is interesting that so little is recorded of this time when so much is recorded of the 25 years that passed between God’s call to travel to Canaan and the birth of Isaac. We really know very little about most of this patriarch’s life, though of the most important part of his life, we do know a great deal. This is a good reminder first that our Bibles are a record of redemptive history and thus not every chronological detail is recorded. Secondly, it is a reminder that the legacy which we leave behind that will be of lasting value will be that spiritual legacy that points people toward Christ. The other stuff, while not unimportant, will fade away.
Thus, we find that Abraham takes a wife of Qeturah — or as is commonly transliterated in English, “Keturah.” Apart from the children she bore to Abraham, we know nothing of this woman or where she is from. Her name means, “Fragrant Smoke,” and is a reference to the food offerings that would be lifted up to God (not necessarily of perfumes). The writer of Chronicles refers to her as his concubine (1 Chronicles 1:32), but this should not prove to be too great a stumbling block, for the wife of Abraham in redemptive history was Sarah — nations would rise from Hagar and Keturah, but God worked his promise through Isaac and then Isaac’s son, Jacob. It is through this line that all of the nations (including those descending through his other wives) would find their blessing.
The baton of God’s covenant promise has now passed from Abraham to Isaac, these first verses of chapter 25 serve as a transition as this friend of God comes to the end of his travels and prepares to go home. Solomon writes that we should rejoice in the wife of our youth (Proverbs 5:18), which is indeed true, but praise God for that wife who is our companion in our old age as well. While Solomon’s later words in Ecclesiastes are not typically considered overly “inspirational,” they do add meaning to our wives’ role as helpmates (Genesis 2:20) in this fallen world.
“Find meaning in life with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life, which he has given to you under the sun — all the days of vanity. For it is your portion in life and in your troubles in which you trouble under the sun.”