After yesterday’s exciting events in Genesis 22, today we’re jumping ahead a couple years after Abraham’s faith was tested to the next, more somber, event in their family’s story: the death of Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Verses one and two begin with, “When Sarah was 127 years old, she died at Kiriath-arba (now called Hebron) in the land of Canaan. There Abraham mourned and wept for her.” The last time Sarah was mentioned was in Chapter 21, when she demanded that her servant, Hagar, and Hagar’s son, Ishmael, be casted out.
However, this is not the last time the life of Sarah is mentioned. In Isaiah 51, the prophet Isaiah honors her as the mother of the nation of Israel, the spiritual mother of those who seek after the Lord. And Paul uses the example of God’s faithfulness to Sarah in the New Testament, in Galatians 4, to teach how all who belong to Christ Jesus are the spiritual children of Abraham and Sarah because of the Lord’s faithfulness to keeping His promises. Abraham is held with high regard as a father of our faith, and the repeated mentions of his wife, Sarah, show a reverence for her as well as the mother of our faith.
When Sarah dies, Abraham and his family are travelers in the land of Canaan. Abraham wishes to obtain land for a burial site for Sarah, and so he appeals to the people of that land - the Hittites, who are descendants of Noah’s grandson, Canaan. When Abraham goes to speak with the Hittites, the phrase, “he bowed low” before them is used twice in these interactions. Abraham conducts his business with these men with respect for their customs, and the respect appears to be mutual. Abraham was offered access to the best tombs the Hittites had to offer. They referred to him as, “an honored prince among them,” in verse six. It is possible that the Hittite people already knew of Abraham and they recognized God’s favor over him.
However, Abraham had been in this area before, and he had a specific spot in mind for his wife’s resting place. The specific field that he was asking for was in the area known as Mamre in Hebron - a location that we’ve read about in earlier chapters. In Genesis 13, after Abraham and Lot separated, God promises Abraham to give the lands all around him to him & his descendents. When God promises Abraham this, Abraham settles down in the lands of Mamre and builds an altar to the Lord. That area is now what Abraham is bargaining for in Genesis 23.
The Hittite leaders offer to give Abraham the land for free at first. This is an honorary tradition, and Abraham follows suit with the custom by offering to pay the full price for what it is worth. This is likely so that there would be no future land disputes like he ran into with Abimelech in Genesis 21. It seems that after years of Abraham not being fully honest in his business transactions, he now comes humbly before Ephron the Hittite to make a deal with integrity. After paying a the price of 400 pieces of silver, verses 17 and 18 say that this land was fully transferred to Abraham to be in his permanent possession. He is able to fully honor his wife and lay her body to rest.
What is significant about this gravesite? Why do we take time today to read about Abraham purchasing this plot of land? This property that Abraham buys in Canaan will come back up again the more we read in Genesis. This cave in Hebron where Sarah is laid to rest will be referenced again because this land now belongs to his family and his descendants. But what is truly significant about this land is that through the death of Sarah Abraham now owns a plot of land in the land that God promised to give him. Think about it - why didn’t Abraham want to bury his wife in their native land, the place where they came from? Why did he decide to purchase a gravesite in the land that they are travelers to? This can be seen as an act of faith on Abraham’s part that God will make good on his promises, and that this land will all one day belong to the descendents of Abraham. Without Abraham having to go to battle over the land, God makes a way for the beginning of the Israelite occupation of the promised land.
Even though we may not know how God is going to make good on His promises, we can still trust that He will. Through times of triumph and times of suffering, like grieving the loss of a loved one, we can still find hope in knowing that God is still faithful and trustworthy to provide.