Introduction: The preparations for death which Jacob makes remind us of that important burial plot which Abraham purchased, and to which Jacob alludes as his future burial place in Genesis 49:29-32. We turn back this week, then, to learn from Abraham lessons about dying as he buries his wife Sarah.
Monday: read Genesis 23:1-2 and Hebrews 2:14-15. Death produces grief in the godly because it is a hostile enemy which only came into this world through sin (Romans 5:12). Jesus Himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus and was visibly angry as he contemplated the grief which death caused Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha. As we see Abraham grieve over his beloved Sarah, how we should rejoice at the news of Hebrews 2:14-15, that Jesus took on our flesh and blood in order to win the victory over the Devil and death by dying Himself. Only a mighty Savior like Jesus could actually taste death in all its destructive power and yet come through it victorious!
Meditate and Pray: Thank Jesus now that “He assumed our nature not first to reign in it, but to suffer and die in it.” (John Owen) Thank Him also that His death is so powerful as to break the bondage of fear by which death holds the world captive, so that we can say with Paul that we are convinced that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Tuesday: read Genesis 23:3-9. Why was Abraham so insistent on buying this piece of ground to bury his wife – when he himself admits in Gen. 23:4 that he is an ‘alien’ in the land of Canaan and when he in fact owns no other land for himself? Why make your first purchase to be a grave-site? Because Abraham believed that God would give this land to his descendants for their possession (Gen. 15:7) and this grave would prove his faith in that inheritance. On a deeper level, Abraham knew that God had the power to raise the dead; he knew that resurrection was coming, so that one day Sarah would stand again on that very burial site as delivered body and soul from death.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the faith He gave even to the ancients like Abraham, who believed in the resurrection just like Job (who lived at the same time of history as Abraham). Let us rejoice and affirm with Abraham and Job that we know… ‘that our Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after our skin has been destroyed, yet in our flesh we will see God; we ourselves will see Him with our own eyes – we and not another’ (Job 19:25-27).
Wednesday: read Genesis 23:10-20. True faith such as Abraham shows in burying Sarah is an exact, specific faith. Faith reckons, computes, carefully chooses and reasonably plans. Abraham carefully weighs out the full price for the land before all the Hittite elders so that his claim to the land can never be called in question; the site of the land is carefully described in the ‘surveying’ terms of the day (Gen. 23:16-17) – down to the very trees! All this reminds us of the security of Abraham’s inheritance. He knows that God will one day bring his descendants back to this place, and that after 400 years of slavery in Egypt, this place will be their inheritance. It was the same, exact kind of faith that prompted Joseph in Gen. 50:24-26 to exact an oath from his family to take his bones back to the Promised Land to be buried.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that the faith He gives is a rationale, reasonable faith – having to do with more than just abstract ideas or hopes. We rationally believe, for example, in the bodily resurrection from the dead: that one day Sarah will stand on the very ground where she was buried – and that ‘in Christ’ all the dead shall be raised. Praise God for such a real-life faith to hold onto!
Thursday: read Hebrews 2:14-17 and 11:8-10. We have seen Abraham purchase land for burial with a sure and certain hope of his future resurrection unto eternal life. How was Abraham so sure that one day he and Sarah would rise from the dead and enter into a more solid eternal city ‘whose architect and builder was God’ (Hebrews 11:10)? One clear answer is that the Spirit of God which lived in Abraham elevated faith in him to such a height as to even believe in the resurrection! This is no surprise, since it is that same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. You can’t receive the Holy Spirit as Abraham did without having the ‘resurrection’ included! Batteries are always included! And the ‘battery pack’ of faith always includes belief in the resurrection because the same Spirit that gives us new spiritual life to make us ‘born again’ also raises us from the dead!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that His Holy Spirit was already spreading the ‘good news’ of resurrection in the darkest days of the Old Testament. Thank God that the Good News of the Resurrection of Jesus includes the ‘Spirit of Resurrection’ working that same power into our lives! It is not just a matter of a one-time declaration of the Empty Tomb at Easter. Every time a sinner is converted, the voice of God declares with the same power that raised Lazarus: “Sinner come forth; loose your grave clothes.” Resurrection is therefore proclaimed by the witness of Sarah’s and Abraham’s silent tombs in Gen. 23. One day they will stand with us and shout to the glory of God with a new resurrected body and tongue.
‘I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.’ John 5:25
‘Then in a nobler, sweeter song I’ll sing your pow’r to save, when this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue lies silent in the grave: lies silent in the grave…’ (hymn # 253)
Fri/Sat/Sun: read Genesis 49:29-33 and Exodus 6:1-8. As we see Jacob gather up his feet and die with the same enduring faith that characterized Abraham at his death, we ought to be clear as to where the power to die this way came from, and where a faith that endures through death gets it power. It is from God’s self-designation as “El Shaddai,” the name by which (according to Exodus 6:3) the Lord revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in their lonely pilgrimage.
What this name means is that God always has power to help and provide – no matter what the trial or depth of suffering in which we may find ourselves. It is a name that can be translated, “God Almighty.” It is also a name that refers to God’s power to give a multitude of offspring (and so when revealed to the patriarchs, it is often tied to the multitude of nations which would one day come from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – see Genesis 35:11). It also refers to God’s sufficiency when applied to the wandering and uncertain conditions that beset Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Whatever they needed: by the name ‘El Shaddai’ God rose to the occasion. Did Abraham need fresh faith-strengthening grace after 13 years of living with the sinful conflict of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 16? Well then, God appears and says, “I am God Almighty” (El Shaddai) – “walk before me and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1).
Pray: “Lord, please be our ever-present aid and constant provider. Even against great odds and in the face of huge obstacles to our faith, show your power to do more than we expect or imagine possible. Thank you that our faith can live in impossible situations because of your powerful name. Thank you that we are to trust in your name as our refuge. Amen!”