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Buying a Burial Plot

“Then Abraham rose and he bowed to the people of the land, the Sons of Cheth, and he spoke to them, saying, ‘If it is in your soul to bury my dead from before me then hear me and plead for me with Ephron the son of Zochar that he may give to me the Cave of Makpelah which is his and is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me for its full value in silver in your midst as property for a grave.’”

(Genesis 23:7-9)

 

And the negotiations begin. As we have seen before, though Abraham is the superior in this negotiation, he does not hold that superiority over the Sons of Cheth with whom he is negotiating. Instead he takes a humble position of grace toward them and chooses not to take their hospitality for granted. How often it is that Christians fail to follow Abraham’s example here, seeking their own good ahead of the good of those around them. Beloved, we have a God who has promised to provide for all of our needs, why is it that we are worried about going without if we seek to meet the needs of those around us? If God is the provider of our needs, can we ever truly exhaust the “stores of grace” if we are seeking to meet the needs of those in our midst?

Yet the importance of paying “full value” for the gravesite goes further than simply wanting to make sure he not cheat Ephron (whose name likely refers to the reddish-white color of dry clay — remember, he is a farmer, so this should not be a great surprise) the son of Zochar (again notice the differences in transliteration, his name refers to a shiny, reddish-white color like that of one blushing — the family resemblance should be noted, we would describe them today as “ruddy” in complexion, though the father’s color is described in a way that is bright and shiny and the son’s as dull and dirty). Sarah is not a Canaanite nor is she in the line of the Sons of Cheth. Sarah belongs to Abraham’s line and for her to be buried amongst the dead of the pagans on their land and in one of their tombs, would identify her as part of their tribe. This, Abraham must not do. His purchase of the lot is to preserve the lot as his own, for his line only and as a taste of the promise that is to come, for while Abraham’s children will eventually inherit all of the land of Canaan, here and now, Abraham is able to purchase a small plot of ground as his own to bury his dead, namely his wife Sarah. Abraham himself will be buried in this cave (Genesis 25:9) as well as Jacob (Genesis 49:30; 50:13). And while we are not told for sure that Isaac is buried here, the implication is made that this was his burial site as well (Genesis 35:27-29). And though one might expect that Joseph was buried here (given the Hebrews carried his bones out of Egypt {Exodus 13:19}, we are told that his bones are buried in Shechem {Joshua 24:32} on property bought by his father, Jacob).

In the end, this tradition of purchasing a burial plot still continues today, purchasing a place that will not only stand as a remembrance of the person, but also as a safe place where the bodies of those who have departed us can be held until the time of resurrection. There will indeed come a time when the graveyards will be emptied, but for now, we are trustees of such spots, waiting for the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Abraham’s Lament

“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.”

(Genesis 23:2)

 

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.