Abraham and his entire tribe continued to move as nomads through the land, waiting on and trusting in the promises of God. Someday, God would fulfill his covenant and give all the land to Abraham’s descendants, and they would fill the land like the stars fill the sky.
While they were staying in the region of Hebron, which is a part of Canaan, Abraham’s beloved wife died. She was one hundred and twenty seven years old.
Sarah had stood by Abraham in faith, venturing out into unknown and dangerous lands with him as they waited on the promises of God together. When Abraham asked her to protect him by telling kings that she was his sister, she submitted to her husband, and she saw God protect her from her husband’s mistakes.
Sarah was a woman of great beauty, not only with her outward feminine grace that so beguiled kings, but through the dignity and strength of how she carried herself through life. She waited in patient faith as she bore the disgrace and pain of being childless for twenty five years. All the while, she trusted God’s promise for the heir that her body had not provided. Mistake though it was, she was willing to give another woman to her husband in hopes of seeing God’s promise fulfilled. But God had his own plan to provide, in just the time and way he said he would: through Sarah, the wife of Abraham’s own flesh. Sarah lived to see her one and only son grow to the age of thirty seven.
The impact of Sarah’s faith on history is something so great that we can’t measure it. Two thousand years after she died, Peter, the disciple of Jesus, wrote about her. Here is what he said:
“Wives, in the same way submit to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”
1 Peter 3:1-6
Peter described Sarah’s faithful life as his prime example of what is truly beautiful. Those who have faith and do not fear, doing what is right, are Sarah’s spiritual daughters. They become part of her family and her heritage of beauty to the world. That was true during the time of Sarah and when Peter wrote those words two thousand years later. Two thousand more years have passed and they are still true today. God’s image of womanly beauty through the life of Sarah has stood true for four thousand years and counting.
In our story, the life of Sarah, Abraham’s great love, had come to an end. Abraham went to her body and bowed over it in grief. He wept and wept with sorrow. He wanted to provide a secure and honored place to bury her in the Land of Promise, where they had journeyed so many years together. The land was not his yet, but he had faith that it would be…it was the relentless, underlying belief that decided every choice he made.
Abraham rose from his place beside his wife and ventured out to visit the Hittites. At the time, they were among the people who owned the Land of Promise, which they called Canaan. Abraham went to see if he could purchase a piece of the land from them so he could lay his wife to rest.
God had blessed Abraham over many years of faithfulness. He had great herds of animals and hundreds of servants that made up one of the most powerful, well trained armies in the region. God had blessed him with great wealth through gifts from kings and the plunders of war. Many of the wells for precious water throughout the region had been dug by Abraham and his servants over decades as they roamed the land. Abraham and Sarah and all the people of their travelling clan had lived among the other nations for over fifty years. The Hittite people of the region saw Abraham as a great prince, and Sarah was his queenly wife. The death of this great man’s spouse was a very big deal to the Hittites.
When Abraham went to the gate of the Hittite village where business was done, the Hittite people gathered, eager to hear the famed man speak. Abraham gave his request, “‘I am an alien and a stranger among you,’” he said. “‘Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.’”
The Hittites replied, “‘Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.’”
The Hittites gave Abraham, the princely foreigner, the right to bury his wife within the boundaries of their land. That was a major victory for Abraham. The people of each of these cities and clans held on tightly to their territory. Yet they graciously offered Abraham the right to choose from any of the tombs of their own families to take as his own. They considered it an honor that this great man would have the grave of his family among them.
Abraham was deeply respectful of their offer. He bowed down before the Hittite people who had gathered and said, “‘If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.’”
Abraham would not let them give him a tomb for free. If it came freely, they might take it back one day! For Abraham, this tomb was a way of claiming the promises of God. He wanted to establish a place in the Land of Promise that was the permanent resting place for his descendants, starting with the mother of the nation God had promised. Abraham told the townspeople that he had found a piece of land he liked, and it belonged to a man named Ephron. Ephron said to Abraham, “‘Listen to me, my lord, the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you? Bury your dead.’”
Wow. Four hundred shekels was a lot of money. In those days, a normal farm laborer might
make ten shekels of silver a year for his work. He could work his whole life and never make four hundred shekels! This was very valuable land, and Ephron had given a very high price. Yet Abraham agreed to pay it. He bowed low before the people to show his respect and thankfulness. Then he weighed out four hundred shekels of silver so he could bury his Sarah in a place of honor and dignity. Abraham had not only purchased the tomb, but all the land around it with a field of grass and tall trees. Then he took the body of his beloved wife into the cave and laid her there.
God had promised Abraham the land, but the Lord had not given it yet. Abraham had waited in faith all of those years, depending on God. The first piece of the Land of Promise that belonged to Abraham was purchased for the love of Sarah. By faith, he believed that one day, her burial site would be surrounded by the towns and fields of their offspring.