How Christians deal with death – Genesis 23

The death of a saint of God is a beautiful thing. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” When a believer in Christ leaves this earth, it is a special moment. Knowing that a loved one is in heaven brings much joy in the midst of sorrow. Sarah was a precious saint who truly loved the Lord and was a faithful wife to Abraham. In Genesis 23 we see the death of Sarah and the process in which Abraham engaged in to bury his wife. The New American Commentary says, “The death and burial of Sarah at Hebron is another transitional event (cf. 24:67) in the epilogue of the Abraham narrative (22:20–25:11) preparing the reader for the succession of Isaac-Rebekah. The occasion of her death required the purchase of a family burial plot. The notion of burial indicates permanency. That Abraham secures a family plot in Canaan rather than returning to Haran conveys the man’s commitment to the land promised him. Ancient peoples cherished their ancestral burial ground; burial in the ancestral grave indicated honor and continuity with the family.”[1] We have all been touched by death in one way or another. Most all of us have witnessed the burial of those we love. How should we respond to the loss of a loved one? What should we do when someone we love passes on? As we study this event in the life of Abraham, we learn some very valuable truths that will help us when we face the death of a loved one.

It is okay to cry (v. 1-2). I have seen people who will apologize for crying when they lose a loved one. It is as if they have a sense of guilt for mourning over someone who is now in Heaven. If you have lost a loved one, listen to me clearly, it is okay to cry. As a matter of fact, it is good to cry. Wiersbe says, “Grieving is one of God’s gifts to help heal broken hearts when people we love are taken from us in death. Paul did not tell the Thessalonian Christians not to weep; he cautioned them not to sorrow “as others who have no hope” (1 Thes. 4:13–18). The grief of a believer should be different from that of an unbeliever. Abraham loved his wife, and her death was a painful experience for him. He showed his love and his grief by his weeping. These are the first recorded tears in the Bible, and tears will not end until God wipes them away in glory (Rev. 21:4). Even though he was a man of faith, Abraham did not feel that his tears were an evidence of unbelief.”[2] If you have recently buried a loved one, you need to understand that grieving is important. Grieving is the way we handle the pain of loss. It is not a good thing if you do not grieve. If you do not allow yourself to cry then all the pain is bottled up inside and it becomes unbearable. Tears provide a way of release. Tears are the boiling over of the pain that we have on the inside. If we do not grieve, we will hurt ourselves even deeper and the pain will be much stronger. The grief that we experience over the loss of a saint of God is different than the grief over the loss of an unbeliever. The pain is still there, but in the midst of the pain and sorrow, there is joy over the fact that a precious saint has gone home. Abraham experienced this type of grief. He missed Sarah terribly, yet, at the same time, he was glad that she was in the presence of Jesus. The scripture says, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” This is a comforting thought when we lose a loved one who is a believer. Just the thought of them being in glory causes our tears to be mixed with laughter. As we mourn the loss of a saint of God, we should cry with a smile, knowing that they are in the presence of the Lord.

Maintain your testimony in the midst of your sorrow (v. 3-6). What is interesting here is that the land that Abraham was in was rightfully his. It was part of the promised land. However, Abraham showed respect toward the inhabitants of the land. Even though the land was rightfully his, Abraham was not an official citizen of the land, therefore, he had to ask permission to bury his dead in the land. What we see here is Abraham moving on from his mourning and taking care of what needed to be done. “We cannot mourn over our dead forever; there comes a time when we must accept what has happened, face life, and fulfill our obligations to both the living and the dead.”[3] Because Abraham responded to the death of his wife the way he did, and because he stay faithful to his obligations, it served as a positive testimony for the residents of that land. As believers, we need to understand that the world around us is watching our every move. They especially take notice of how we respond to difficult situations. Every time we experience pain, the world is watching. Every time we face a financial crisis, the world is watching. Every time we lose a loved one, the world is watching. Every time we are persecuted rather directly or indirectly, the world is watching. It is vitally important that we maintain our testimony in the midst of sorrow. As Weirsbe says, “It is a wonderful thing in a time of sorrow when the child of God has a strong witness to the lost. There is a natural sorrow that everyone expects us to manifest, but there is also a supernatural grace that God gives so that we might have joy in the midst of sorrow. The unsaved can tell the difference, and this gives us opportunity for sharing the good news of the Gospel.”[4]

Take care of your affairs (v. 7-16). In Abraham’s day, business dealings occurred in the town square for all to see. This provided the opportunity for fairness and accountability. Following the custom of the East, Ephron offered to give Abraham not only the cave but the whole field in which the cave was located. Of course, this was only a clever maneuver on his part; for he had no intentions of giving away a valuable piece of property, especially to a man as wealthy as Abraham. But Ephron’s reply gave Abraham two pieces of information: Ephron was willing to sell, but he wanted to sell the whole field and not just the cave. Ephron had Abraham in a corner, and he knew it. Sarah had to be buried soon, and Ephron had the only piece of property that met Abraham’s needs. So, Abraham agreed to buy both the cave and the field even before Ephron named the price. That is really living by faith! Ephron’s price was far too much, but Abraham paid it and claimed the property for himself.[5] The lesson we learn here is that when we face the death of a loved one, we must handle our affairs in a loving and godly manner. Just as the people at the town square witnessed the purchase of the property, the world is watching how we handle our business affairs. We must be careful to be open and honest. We must take care of our affairs with integrity. Now, allow me to preach on something here! We have a responsibility to provided for our family. Especially, the men. As men, we are the primary providers. It is our responsibility to make sure our family is cared for. Therefore, we must be wise in understanding that we will face the death of loved one at some point in our lives. Our families will face our own death at some point in their life. That is why making sure that your family is cared for is of vital importance. I am not trying to sell you anything. However, there is no reason for a family, especially with children still living at home, to not have some type of insurance so that the family does not have financial burdens when you die. When it comes to dealing with the reality of death, we must be prepared and have our house in order.

Live with respect and hope (v. 17-20). Abraham wanted to give his wife a proper burial. Even though he knew she was in heaven, he respected her earthly body and buried her with honor. This has been the custom of both Jews and Christians for centuries. Practicing such respect for those who have passed serves as a good testimony to those who are not believers. It shows them how much we respect life. Living with respect also demonstrates our faith. Warren Wiersbe again says, “When Abraham purchased the cave of Machpelah for a tomb, he was making a statement of faith to all who were there. He did not take Sarah back to their former home in Ur but buried her in the land God had given him and his descendants. He did not ignore the body but gave it a proper burial in view of the promised resurrection. When God saves us, He saves the whole person, not just “the soul.” The body has a future, and burial bears witness to our faith in the return of Christ and the resurrection of the body. It must be pointed out, however, that resurrection is not “reconstruction.” God will not reassemble the dust of the body and restore the body to its previous state. God promises us a new body! In 1 Corinthians 15:35–38, Paul makes it clear that there is continuity but not identity between the old body and the new body.”[6] “He illustrated this miracle with the planting of a seed. The seed dies and decays, but from it comes a beautiful flower or some grain. There is continuity but not identity: The same seed does not come out of the ground, but what came out came from the seed that was planted. Christian burial bears witness that we believe in a future resurrection.”[7]

The loss of a loved one is the most painful thing anyone can endure. However, it is a glorious thing if that loved one is a believer. In the midst of sorrow there is joy. In the midst of death there is life given to those who believe. As Christians, we should face death without fear, knowing that to be absent from the body is to present with the Lord!

[1] Mathews, K. A. (2005). Genesis 11:27–50:26 (Vol. 1B, p. 310). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 128). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 129). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 130). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[5] Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 130). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (pp. 131–132). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[7] Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 132). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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