“And Sarah died at Kiryath-Arba (this is Hebron) in the land of Canaan. And Abraham entered to lament for Sarah and to weep for her.”
Grief for someone lost to us is an experience common to mankind in this fallen world, yet while common, radically is different from person to person. We often fall into the trap of judging another’s grief by the standard that we think we would hold ourselves to; yet that is neither right nor fair to the one struggling through that same time of loss. What we have here is a very simple picture of the grief of Abraham. The scriptures neither commends nor judges his grief; it is simply put forth as the natural expression of loss over the life of a faithful woman who has been Abraham’s companion, wife, and friend for many years. The simplicity of this statement is profound. He went into her tent to lament and to weep. Yes, he knows that he will see her again at the side of his Lord, but for now he weeps their separation in an honest and heartfelt way. To that, little more is added.
It should be noted that what follows in this chapter is the account of Abraham seeking a burial plot for his wife. Some may find Abraham stubborn in wanting to reject the gift of land and to provide fair payment for the location, but again we must recognize the grief of her husband and that in this state of grief, one of those things that is deeply important is being responsible for securing a place by his own hand. Do not think that when the weeping is done that the grief is over; his grief is being worked out in several of the things that follow. Even the search for a wife for Isaac is done in honor of Sarah (Genesis 24:67).
We are prone to wonder sometimes just what kind of impact we will have on the lives of those around us, and in some ways, I think that it is healthy that we don’t always know, lest our pride well up within us. Funerals often provide a place where people share what the deceased loved one meant to them, but at this point, we are with our Savior and truly giving Him the honor and praise for any good works that we might have been privileged to do in His honor. There is a trend in our modern culture, to have funerals before the death of an individual so that the person can hear all of the praises and accolades that people would say after their death, but I think that this is something that flows only out of the pride of men, not a humble heart committed to Jesus.
Grieving over the loss of a loved one is a task left to the living, not to the dead. Those who die in Christ will arrive in the presence of their Lord in joy and celebration. Those who die apart from Christ and will enter into judgment. And while mourning will then become an eternal part of their state; their mourning will be categorically different than what is experienced by those of us left behind on this earth. The mourning of the dead apart from Christ will contain no hope, no thoughts of joy to come, and no promise (or desire for) a reunion, just eternal lament. Such is not the character of the mourning of those still left with a promise of salvation in Jesus Christ.
If you are reading this and you know Christ, know that you have a promise that is sure and true in your Lord and Savior. If you do not know Christ, know that if you turn from your sins and accept Jesus in faith as your Lord and Savior, seeking to live out your life for Him, then you too can have this absolute assurance. If you are mourning a loved one; grieve and grieve deeply in a way that suits your soul. At the same time, if you grieve one who is a believer, remember that the person is only lost to you and is held by Christ in glory. If you have lost one who is not a believer, though that person is lost to all things good and meaningful in life, know that Christ is yet glorified even in the judgment that befalls those who reject him and know if you are believing in Christ, the same torment will not await you. Abraham is grieving, but grieving with hope; may each of you have the same hope that Abraham has for an eternal reunion at the foot of Christ’s throne.
“And she said, ‘Who would have repeatedly announced to Abraham that Sarah would be made to suckle children? Yet I have borne a son in his old age.’”
This is one of those spots where our English translations are not helpful in assisting us to understand the depth of the statement that Sarah is making. Most of our translations render Sarah’s statement something like: “who would have said that Sarah would bear children.” This is not a wrong translation per say, but it obscures the nuances that are contained within the Hebrew verbs that are employed. As we read the English as it is typically rendered here, we walk away simply thinking that Sarah is amazed at the work of God. Indeed, it is amazed, but the statement she is making is far more profound than that.
To begin with, the first verb that is used is lAlDm (malal), which can legitimately be translated as the verb “to say,” though it is a fairly uncommon term in the Hebrew Bible and is only found once in the text of Genesis. What is more important is the verbal stem. In Hebrew, verbs can be found in a variety of forms, called “stems,” which indicate different nuances of how the verb is being used. Here we find the verb in the Piel stem, which refers to a repeated action. In other words, Sarah is not referring to a casual statement, “who would have said…” but to a statement that is repeatedly being made. In addition, when lAlDm (malal) is used in the Piel, it typically refers to an announcement that is being made. It seems that Sarah is not saying, “who would have said…,” but instead is saying, “who would have repeatedly announced.” In other words, she is reflecting back on the pronouncement that had been made repeatedly to them that she would bear a son who would be the vessel through which God would fulfill his covenant promises.
God is very clear with his people as to the way in which one can tell a true prophet from a false prophet. If the prophet is speaking for the Lord, then those things which he says will come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Repeatedly, God had spoken either directly or through The Angel of Yahweh (the pre-incarnate Christ) that a son would be borne to them (Genesis 12:2,7; 13:15; 15:2-6; 17:2,16-19; 18:10-15) over a period of 25 years. They have struggled with doubt, fear, and worry with respect to the fulfillment of this promise. Here the promise is being fulfilled and Sarah is confirming in her statement that it is God who was behind the promise to give her a son. You could go as far as to paraphrase her statement as: “who but God would have announced that Sarah would bear a son.” These prophesies cited above, she is saying, have clearly come from none other but God on high.
The second note that reinforces this reading can be found in the second verb that is being used here. The term qÅnÎy (yanaq), which means to suckle, is found in what is called the Hiphil stem. The Hiphil reflects an action that has been caused or brought about. Obviously, it is clear that Sarah’s pregnancy was caused by outside means for she is old and has lived a life of barrenness (Genesis 11:30). God is the one who opens the womb (Genesis 29:31; 30:22) and closes the womb (Genesis 20:18; 1 Samuel 1:5-6). Who but God could bring to pass such a prophesy in the life of a woman who is many years past childbearing age? And indeed, what a supernatural act this was to take place?
On one level, some of these details may seem rather slight. Yet on a larger scale, they affirm that Sarah understands completely the nature of the promise that has been given to her and that she is affirming as well that God has brought things to pass. Oftentimes we struggle with doubt and fear when God fulfills promises in his timing and not ours. Often we struggle when God delays the answer to our prayers by weeks or months, let alone for 25 years. Do not think that you are alone in your struggles; Abraham and Sarah struggled in the same way—hence we have Ishmael and the Arabs that have descended from him. We need to be reminded of their struggles, but we also need to be reminded of their recognition that it was God faithfully bringing about his promises. Sometimes we plead and plead with God for things, yet when they come to pass, we feel as if we have somehow earned them through our own efforts. Yet it is by God’s hand of grace alone that we even breathe for another day, let alone accomplish any plans that may be set before us (James 4:13-15).
Loved ones, set Sarah’s example before you. Rejoice in what the Lord has done both great and small and trust in His timing, for it is always right and true (whether we happen to think so at the time or not!). And give credit where credit is due, for surely it could only be God who brings about such wondrous works in the lives of his people, both then in Sarah and Abraham’s day, and now in our day as well.
The Laughter of the Saints
“And Sarah said, ‘Laughter, God brings to me; all the ones who hear will laugh with me.’”
The emphasis that is placed here is on the laughter. Usually, this word refers to the way we might mock someone by laughing and jeering at him, but in this context a very different sentiment is being conveyed. Here is the joy of a lifetime of reproach being lifted. The desire of Sarah’s heart, to bear her husband a child, has been denied to her through her normal childbearing years, yet he has remained faithful to her. Now, in her old age, a gift has been given to this woman. The shame and reproach that came with being barren has been removed and her only response is to laugh with joy at the thing that God has done.
What a beautiful picture of the response of this woman. Sometimes, when one has walked so long in the darkness of rejection and then suddenly one is thrust out of that despair and into joy, there is nothing to do but to laugh — one cannot contain the joy one is experiencing. Here, this woman who has tried to bring that child for Abraham in a variety of different ways, even to the extent of giving Hagar to her husband as a surrogate wife, is given the desires of her heart; what a beautiful and a human response as we see her laughing and anticipating the laughter of others who will join in celebrating with her.
Yet is this also not what Jesus does for every believer? He removes the reproach of sin and judgment from us as we stand before God. He gives us life where death was our only state of being. We are brought by him into the household of the Almighty God of the Universe and presented as clean and as a child of that God and King; beloved, what can we do but laugh in joy? What can we do but celebrate? The laughter of the saints is a holy thing and it is a thing that brings healing because it stems from a heart that has been redeemed. When God’s people gather together to fellowship, joyful laughter seems to be one of the most basic characteristics of those gatherings; I can only imagine what the joyful laughter will be like when we are all joined together before the throne of our Lord and our joy made fully and irrevocably complete. I pray that you are ready to join with me there on that day.
Wonderful night! Wonderful night!
Dreamed of by prophets and sages!
Manhood redeemed for all ages,
Welcomes thy hallowing might,
Wonderful, Wonderful night!
Wonderful night! Wonderful night!
Sweet be thy rest to the weary,
Making the dull heart and dreary
Laugh in a dream of delight;
Wonderful, Wonderful night!
Abraham’s Prayer and Abimelek’s Household: Genesis 20:18
“And Abraham prayed to God and God healed Abimelek and his wives and his handmaidens and they bore children because Yahweh had completely worked restraint throughout all the wombs in the house of Abimelek over this thing of Sarah, the wife of Abraham.”
As we discussed in the passages above, God protects his own, and here he not only preserved the chastity of Sarah, but he also closed wombs of all of the people under the spiritual authority of Abimelek. What is striking about this is that it helps set a timetable for how long Sarah was in the house of Abimelek, for the barrenness of the women could not have been known were there not a sizable enough period of time for the young women to realize that they were not unable to get pregnant. At the very least, that places Sarah in Abimelek’s house for a month but more likely than not, as people sometimes don’t notice their pregnancy right away, it was a period of several months to a year before it would be utterly confirmed that no one who lived under Abilelek’s authority.
Often we do not see the timetable of events in scripture. Often one chapter ends and there are several years that pass before the beginning of the following chapter begins. More importantly for us is that sometimes we can be impatient with God’s timing on events. We want everything and we want it “now!” Thankfully, God does not exist to satisfy our whims—how many things we have prayed for we have been thankful that have not come to pass! We exist to serve God. That is the beginning and the end of our role here on earth—we shall serve him by seeking His glory over and above that of this world. It is in that glory we will find our peace and joy—it will be found nowhere else. At the same time, we will also experience that glory only in God’s timing and not in our own. Sarah was confident in her preservation and rescue. Shall we also not be the same? How many times has God preserved us in our own experience of this world already? He will continue to preserve his people.
The Great Nation of Ishmael
“And unto Ishmael, I have heard you, so behold, I will bless him and will cause him to bear fruit and I will make him exceedingly great. He will bear twelve princes and I will give to him a great nation.”
Because of God’s promise to Abraham, God blesses Abraham’s firstborn and allows him to build a nation. Like Jacob, from Ishmael we are told that 12 princes would come (see Genesis 25:13-16 for the list of Ishmael’s twelve sons). These sons would grow in stature and influence and founded many of the nations that surrounded ancient Israel and which are even today seeking to destroy the rest of those who descend from Abraham. These, of course, are ultimately the current Islamic nations.
So why did God permit the rise of Islam? Couldn’t God have just cut off the line of Hagar as he did with Keturah (Abraham’s wife after the death of Sarah)? Indeed, God could remove all of the obstacles between us and glory, yet God uses those obstacles to refine us and to mature us in our faith. Islam is also designed to be a reminder to us of the grace and mercy of God. Their religion is law, law, law and it is as contradictory to the Christian faith as light is to darkness. If man’s natural bent since the fall were not legalism, Islam would have no appeal.
As we look at the political landscape of the world around us, one may be quick to wonder if life indeed would be easier if the Muslims were not a threat. Not only has there been centuries of warfare between Christians and Muslims but that warfare has been coupled with terrorist activities. In additions, Muslims are immigrating all over Europe and America and some are suggesting that one day these once Christian nations will be under Sharia Law.
So, indeed, what is the solution to this great dilemma that Christians are facing today? The answer is the same, beloved, as it has always been: be bold in your witness of the Gospel. Part of the reason that Islam, Humanism, eastern Mysticism, and other false religions are making such headway into the thinking of lands who have once been dominated by Christianity is that Christianity no longer dominates in the public square. We have sadly turned inward and have decided to focus more on building buildings, running programs, and having a following than in making disciples of all nations. Can you imagine what America would be like if we were so bold with our testimony of the Gospel that everyone who came would end up converting to Christianity? If that were the case, we would be excited about more Muslims immigrating from the Middle East because that would mean that they would soon be becoming Christian. Even many pastors have become defeatists, acting as if they are serving the church in Sardis, strengthening what is about to die, rather than engaging and breaking down the gates of Hell. God has given us the armor and weapons of warfare to do so; will we not use them?
Beloved, we have been called by our great captain to engage the enemy, let us do so with vigor and with boldness and proclaim that we will not lay down our arms before the foe because the war has already been won by Jesus Christ upon the cross. Let Christianity once again be on the march because it is through Isaac and through Christ that the promise is given, not through the other children of Abraham.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!
At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.
Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.
Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages men and angels sing.