These all Died in Faith

Sarah lived 127 years, Moses writes here, and she died in Hebron, in the promised land of Canaan, that had not yet been given to the people of God. Sarah was not perfect, as we have seen, and neither was her husband. But she had been Abraham’s faithful companion and wife for at least 100 years, ever since they were married in Ur of the Chaldeans and her name was Sarai. She had been with Abraham in all of the great moments of their lives, and in all of the failures. And she was the miracle mother at 91 of the child of promise, Isaac, who was now around 37 years old. Centuries later, Isaiah the prophet would write this to the people of God: “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you;” (Isaiah 51:1-2)

Now Sarah, the matriarch from which Israel came, was dead. And Abraham does what any husband would do when his wife dies. He mourns for her. He weeps over the loss of his faithful companion, the wife of his youth and his old age, the mother of his son Isaac. Death is the enemy that will one day be finally and forever defeated, but not yet. Paul wrote that it will be after this mortality puts on immortality on that day when we are all changed in the twinkling of an eye that the saying shall come to pass that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” But death still stings today, doesn’t it? Every marriage, every family, every loving friendship will ultimately suffer loss. It is simply the reality of life before the second coming of Christ. But as Paul says, we who believe, “do not mourn as those who have no hope.”

After Abraham mourned, he rose up and went presumably to the gate of Hebron where he found the people who lived there, the Hittites. With the 62-year old promise of God perhaps ringing in his ears, “to this offspring I will give this land,” Abraham speaks to the men in the gate. Notice he does not tell them that the land they are occupying is really his and his descendants and they might as well go ahead and give it to him. No. Abraham simply asks them for a place to bury his dead wife. They may have been surprised that this man from far away was not taking his wife back to her ancestral home to bury her. They didn’t know what Abraham knew, that this land was his home and the home of his descendants, though they held not one deed to one square inch of it. Not yet.

That’s when the bargaining begins. I have bought souvenirs from street vendors and street marketplaces in several countries, and one tactic is universal. If you offer $5 for a carved wooden elephant, you may only be able to get that price, after several minutes of bargaining, if you also buy a carved wooden giraffe and lion and maybe a rhino and pay $5 each for them as well. In other words, “upselling” was not invented by Americans. It happens everywhere and has been going on for a long time. At least as far back as Hebron, circa 1914 B.C. Because Ephron does it with Abraham when he is asked about the purchase of a cave to bury his wife. First the game. Ephron says to Abraham, “No, my Lord, I give you the field and I give you the cave that is in it.” Ephron has no intention of giving this foreigner anything, but notice what he did? He added the field into the deal. Abraham didn’t ask for the field, just the cave. He is not looking to build a cemetery or a park, just bury his wife. But he doesn’t argue. He simply bows again and asks permission to be heard once more. He then asks for the price of the field. Ephron, he says, name your price and I will give you that price, and I will bury my dead.

With the upsell of a field as well as the cave accepted, Ephron asks for what most believe to be a highly inflated price tag. He says maybe with a heavy sigh for effect, Oh, that field is only worth 400 shekels of silver, and what’s that between you and me? The man in Kenya with the carved elephant, when I offered him $5 for it would put his hand on his chest and say, “Oh, my friend, you hurt my heart! This elephant, and I love this one, I have spent hours and hours carving it. Not $5, but $50. My friend.” And so it would go. Well, back in Hebron, Ephron has Abraham on the hook and starts reeling him in.  The price of 400 shekels, or 6 ½ pounds of silver in that day would be an enormous, even outrageous sum. But notice that Abraham did not argue. He knew God as Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides, didn’t he? He accepted the price graciously, and the price was weighed out in the hearing of the Hittites.

Allen Ross writes, “The only portion of the Promised Land that Abraham ever received, he bought—and that was a grave.” What is important about this transaction beyond a place to bury his beloved bride? This purchase forever tied the descendants to the land. Sarah will be joined by Abraham in the same burial cave, and then Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah.

The writer of Hebrews said, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”