Read This Week: Genesis 23
Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. – Genesis 23:1-2 NIV
In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course, it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not others, and in reality, not thoughts.” These words are indeed true. We know loss is part of life, and we realize that we haven’t found a way to cheat death, but when we are confronted with losing someone near and dear to us, the knowledge that death is inevitable never outweighs the pain when it happens. The confrontation with the reality of death came for Abraham even though he had experienced loss before. But this one hit much differently, much more profound. It was Sarah.
Abraham’s loss of his beloved wife in chapter 23 is a pivotal moment in his life, shedding light on human emotions and the fulfillment of divine promises. It weaves a poignant narrative that explores grief and the enduring legacy of faith. The section begins with her passing at 127. Abraham’s grief is palpable, offering us a glimpse into the depth of their relationship, connection, and the universal experience of loss, as Lewis wrote about. In this passage, we relate to and witness the humanity of this giant biblical figure and spiritual patriarch. Reading verses 1-3 evokes a visceral reaction and is felt by anyone who has mourned or said goodbye to a loved one. It reminds us that even those trusted by God and marked by great faith are not exempt from the pain of farewell. When it says that Abraham wept over her and laid beside her after she died, we are moved by the authenticity of the moment.
Abraham’s next steps are unexpected yet profound. Instead of seeking solace in his grief, he turns his attention to securing a proper resting place for Sarah. This leads to a fascinating negotiation with the Hittites, revealing the cultural norms of the time and emphasizing the importance of honoring the deceased. Abraham’s insistence on purchasing the cave of Machpelah rather than accepting it as a gift is a noteworthy decision. It speaks to the value of ownership and the recognition that the promises of God are not just for the present generation but are intended to be tangible, lasting legacies for those who follow.
Beyond the cultural insights, this chapter solidifies the connection between Abraham’s family and the Promised Land. Purchasing the burial site isn’t merely a transaction; it is a symbolic claim on the land God promised Abraham and his descendants. He ensures a dignified resting place for Sarah and stakes a claim to fulfilling God’s covenant. Verses 19-20 say that Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in Machpelah field near Mamre (at Hebron) in Canaan. So, the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites.
Genesis 23 gives us so many lessons that are relevant to our lives today. The themes of grief, negotiation, and legacy-building are as applicable today as they were in the time of Abraham. We are reminded of the importance of honoring our loved ones, navigating cultural practices with wisdom, and understanding that our actions today contribute to a legacy that extends beyond our lifetime. It combines the threads of sorrow, cultural nuance, and divine promise. It challenges us to observe grief and reflect on our own approach to loss, the legacies we are building, and the significance of the truths we hold dear. We find a profound exploration of faith, love, and the enduring impact of a life lived in pursuit of God’s promises.