This week’s taste of Torah features Abraham giving a real deal appeal. And the back heel of this appeal is the LORD proving Himself faithful to Abraham and Sarah by miraculously giving them a son (Isaac) in their old age. And that led to Abraham facing his greatest test. He was told to offer up his promised child as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah, the place of the future Temple. And in response to Abraham’s willingness to obey, the LORD promised that He would greatly multiply his offspring and that in his seed (singular) all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:17-18).
This brings us to the current parsha known as the “life of Sarah,” which paradoxically begins with the account of her death. It’s also a section which retells how the first great matriarch of the Jewish people was buried at a burial site which Abraham had legally purchased from Ephron the Hittite for four hundred shekels of silver (Gen. 23:25-26).
Now Abraham did not live a perfect life in Canaan. In fact it took a lifetime for him to shed the ways of his pre-Yahweh days and consistently walk with the LORD. But the reason we’re calling this a real deal appeal is because by the time Sarah died, the Hittites were so impressed with Abraham’s lifestyle and his relationship with the one true God that initially they offered to provide, at no cost, one of their best burial sites for Sarah. The reason I say that initially this was the Hittite offer is because what appears at first to be generosity actually turns out to be part of an ancient Near East negotiating process (cf. Gen. 23:3-18). And in many respects that’s a cat and mouse game that continues to this day in that part of the world.
Now the key details concerning Sarah’s burial is recorded in Genesis 23:1-6; 19-20. It reads: Now Sarah lived 127 years; these were all the years of her life. 2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 Then Abraham got up from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites: 4 “I am a foreign resident among you. Give me a burial site among you so that I can bury my dead.” 5 The Hittites replied to Abraham, 6 “Listen to us, lord. You are God’s chosen one among us. Bury your dead in our finest burial place. None of us will withhold from you his burial place for burying your dead.” 19 After this, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field at Machpelah near Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field with its cave passed from the Hittites to Abraham as a burial place.
Now as a reflection of Abraham’s ever developing character, we should note that Abraham’s purchase of a burial site in the Promised Land demonstrated his intention to remain in Canaan rather than going back to his native homeland. Since he was a sojourner in Canaan no doubt it was assumed that he would bury Sarah back in the area he was originally from, namely, Mesopotamia. Typically ancient Near Easterners buried family members in their native land. And so Abraham’s desire to bury Sarah in the Promised Land demonstrates that he had turned his back on Mesopotamia forever. Canaan, the Land of Promise was his new adopted homeland.
Now here’s the real-life/real-time principal can we glean from this incident. We should live godly lives before unbelievers in order to demonstrate that we are truly God’s children. As Abraham grew in his faith, he knew he was an alien among the Canaanites. He understood that he was God’s representative in an ungodly culture.
So how does this relate to us as Messiah followers today? Simply this, in order to follow the honorable example of Abraham’s sanctification journey, we need to take the following words from the apostle Peter very seriously: 11 Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, 12 and maintain good conduct among non-believers, so that even though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears (1Pe 2:11-12).
Obviously, we will face difficult challenges living for Messiah in a culture that is ever increasingly hostile to biblical values. And yet we are called to reflect God’s holiness and be a dynamic witness to an unbelieving world. According to Acts 2:47, when first century Jewish believers in Jerusalem devoted themselves to apostolic teaching, fellowship, and praise; unbelievers viewed them favorably, why, because they observed their good works and because the Holy Spirit convicted these unbelievers of sin. And the result of that, is that every day the Lord added to this upstart Messianic congregation those who were being saved!
Here’s the deal, we have the same divine mandate that those first century Jewish believers had. Plus, we have something they didn’t have; namely the Word of God in its entirety! So instead of being a fumbling stumbling mumbling schlemiel, we can be the real deal, and that gives credibility to our evangelistic appeal.