Genesis 23: Lessons from Sarah’s Death on Placing Your Hope in Heaven

Introduction: Genesis chapter 23 records Sarah’s death and Abraham’s investment in her eternal inheritance with a cave in the city of Hebron. From this chapter, God reveals seven lessons about placing your hope and your investments in your eternal inheritance in heaven. First, God records that Sarah was blessed with a long life, dying at age 127. God also promises to bless those who honor Him with a prolonged life. This could be a day, a month, a year, or a decade. He will reveal your blessing in heaven. Like Sarah, He will also remember and celebrate your faith while blotting out your sins. Second, Abraham mourned his loss of his life-long love. Yet, he did not mourn without hope. Instead, He had the faith and hope that she was destined for a better place with God. God also wants believers to mourn the loss of loved ones. But He does not want you to mourn without hope. Third, when looking for a place to bury Sarah, Abraham revealed to a local Hittite that he had lived in the Promised Land as a sojourner without any actual land possessions. Many of the great leaders of the Old Testament lived the same way. Jesus also lived without a permanent home. He also wants you to live on Earth as a sojourner, with the faith and conviction that heaven is your real home. Fourth, from Abraham’s reputation before the Philistine King Abimelech, the Hittites feared Abraham as being under God’s protection. From this, God reveals that you are to also live your life as a light to the lost. Fifth, Abraham refused to accept any gifts from the Hittites. From this, God reveals that you are not to be unequally yoked by the things of this world. Sixth, without haggling, Abraham then paid the Hittites’ inflated demand of 400 shekels of silver. Jesus also wants you to place your investments in the Kingdom of Heaven, no matter what the cost may be. Finally, Abraham trusted in God’s promises, even though the only investment he ever owned was a tomb. God also wants you to trust in His eternal promises, even though you cannot see many of them.

1. God Remembers and Blesses all His People. Gen. 23:1.

  • Sarah’s death at age 127. As a reward for her faith, the Bible records that God blessed Sarah with a long life through age 127: “1 Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” (Gen. 12:1). Because she honored God the Father in faith, He blessed her with a long life: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16; Eph. 6:2-3). “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep My commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.” (Prov. 3:1-2). He rewards all for their faith. This is true regardless of their age, gender, or race: “Sarah is the only woman in Scripture whose age, death, and burial are mentioned, probably to do honor to the venerable mother of the Hebrew people.” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary Gen. 23). Her faith in believing in God is a model for all believers to follow: “Nowhere in in the Bible are we told to look to Mary as an example of a godly woman. Twice we are told to look to Sarah as such an example (Isaiah 51:1-2, 1 Peter 3:3-6).” (David Guzik on Genesis 23).1

God blessed Sarah with a long life2

  • Rejoice that your sins will be blotted out. A student of the Bible might protest that Sarah was a sinner. She blamed God for her infertility and then gave Hagar to Abraham to have a son: “So Sarai said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.’” (Gen. 16:2(a)). She then became jealous of Hagar and argued with Abraham (Gen. 16:4-5). She then treated Hagar with cruelty and drove her away (Gen. 16:6). She later laughed when she heard God repeat the promise that she would have a child at an old age (Gen. 18:12). She later again drove Hagar and Ishmael away when Ishmael mocked Isaac (Gen. 21:10). Although Satan no doubt pressed these charges against her, God expunged her sins and forgot about them. He only remembers her faith. Like Sarah, you also have reason to celebrate. Like Sarah and Abraham, God will blot out your transgressions and only remember your faith: “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” (Heb. 8:12). “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Is. 43:25). “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:34). “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro. 8:1). Self-loathing over your old forgiven sins comes from Satan. Are you letting your old sins hold you back? If so, you lack faith in the power of Christ’s blood.

  • Blot out the sins that others have done to you. Paul says that the lessons from the Old Testament are recorded for your instruction (1 Cor. 10:10-11). By God’s example, you must forgive and forget the sins that others have made against you. If you don’t, He will not forgive your sins (Matt. 6:15; Mk. 11:26). Is there anyone you need to forgive?

2. God Wants You to Mourn Your Lost Loved Ones, Yet Not Without Hope. Gen. 23:2.

  • Abraham’s mourning for the loss of his wife. Because he had a genuine life-long love for Sarah, Abraham mourned his loss, most likely for seven days: “Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” (Gen. 23:2). Contrary to the culture of that time, he did not abandon Sarah because of her infertility. He also did not take on a second wife. When he made the mistake of sleeping with Hagar at Sarah’s request, he did not allow Hagar to usurp Sarah’s authority. He instead stood behind Sarah because he deeply loved her. As a man of faith, he knew that Sarah was in a better place with God. Yet, it was still within his right to deeply grieve and feel sorrow for his loss of his life-long love. Solomon said that there is “A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecc. 3:4). Joseph also later mourned Jacob’s death for seven days (Gen. 50:10). Thus, you should never rebuke or undermine a believer mourning the loss of a loved one.

Abraham mourns Sarah’s death3

  • Celebrate the hope of the resurrection for all asleep in Christ. Abraham’s grief is recorded to let believers know that it is healthy to grieve the loss of loved ones. Yet, that grief should also contain the hope of knowing that they are only “asleep” until Christ returns: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” (1 Thess. 4:13-14). “who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.” (1 Thess. 5:10). “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Ro. 14:9). “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;” (2 Tim. 2:11). Knowing that your loved one is in a better place that you cannot see is the kind of faith that God expects from you: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1). “while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18). “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (Ro. 8:24). “for we walk by faith, not by sight-- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:7-8). If you know someone grieving the loss of a believer, let them grieve. Yet, also encourage them that the believer is merely “asleep” until Christ returns to take that person home.

3. God Wants You to be a Sojourner on Earth, Placing Your Hope in Heaven. Gen. 23:3-4.

  • Abraham received the hope of the Promised Land, yet lived as a sojourner. At Sarah’s death, Abraham revealed that he had no permanent home where he could bury his wife: “Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’” (Gen. 23:3-4). In reference to Abraham, Hebrews explains that: “By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;” (Heb. 11:9). Abraham lived in faith that his future descendants would receive God’s Promised Land.

  • The great leaders of the Old Testament were sojourners. In reference to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, Hebrews explains: “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb. 11:13). Moses later called one of his sons “Gershom” because he was also a sojourner (Ex. 2:2). David also called himself a sojourner: “Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; do not be silent at my tears; for I am a stranger with You, a sojourner like all my fathers.” (Ps. 39:12). “I am a stranger in the earth; . . .” (Ps. 119:19). “For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; . . ..” (1 Chr. 29:15).

  • Jesus lived as a sojourner without a home on Earth. Like the other great leaders of the Old Testament, Jesus journeyed through the Promised Land without a permanent home: “And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” (Lk. 9:58; Matt. 8:20). His home was and is in heaven. Jesus and the other great leaders of the Bible should set an example for you.

  • Live in the world but not of the world. God does not want you to think of your permanent inheritance as being on Earth because the land belongs to Him: “The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.” (Lev. 25:23). Thus, He wants you to live as a stranger to the evil things of this world: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” (1 Pet. 2:11). Have you lived as a stranger to the evil things of the flesh? Or, have you become at home living like non-believers?

4. God Wants You to Live Your Life as a Light to the Lost. Gen. 23:5-6.

  • The Hittites recognize Abraham as a “prince of God”. Out of a fear of God, the Hittites offered their finest grave sites to Abraham: “The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’” (Gen. 23:5-6). The Hittites recognized Abraham to be God’s representative. They called him “a mighty prince.” (Gen. 23:6). The title they used, “Nesi Elohim”, means “a prince of God.” They likely learned of Abraham’s divine favor through the Philistine King Abimelech. After God imposed a plague on him to protect Sarah, Abimelech recognized that God was with Abraham. Thus, out of fear of God, Abimelech pleaded with Abraham to deal fairly with him and his descendants: “22 Now it came about at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, ‘God is with you in all that you do; 23 now therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me and to the land in which you have sojourned.’ 24 Abraham said, ‘I swear it.’” (Gen. 21:22-24).

  • Be holy in your dealings with others. Like Abraham, you are called upon to be holy in your dealings with others. Like Abraham, your example may cause non-believers to fear God: “For I am the LORD your God . . . be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44). “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (Lev. 19:2). “You are to be my holy people.” (Ex. 22:31). “for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Pet. 1:16). Jesus is the light of the world today (Jo. 8:12). His light burns inside you as a beacon for those around you (Matt. 5:14). In turn, you are commanded to share the hope that lies within you (1 Pet. 3:15; Matt. 28:19-20). Is your life a holy witness to the light of Jesus?

5. God Does Not Want You to Be Unequally Yoked to the Things of the World. Gen. 23:7-9.

  • Abraham’s refusal to accept any free gifts from the Hittites. As a man walking with the Spirit, Abraham did not take advantage of the Hittites’ fear. Instead, he insisted upon paying the full price for a grave that would accommodate Sarah and his family: “So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying, ‘If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.’” (Gen. 23:7-9). Abraham asked them for a cave named “Machpelah” (Gen. 23:9). In Hebrew, this means “double”. It most likely suggested a cave with either double entrances or two interior caves where both Sarah and Abraham in the future could be buried together. Yet, he insisted upon paying the full price for it. At another point of high integrity, Abraham refused to enrich himself with the wealth of the pagan king of Sodom: “22 Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.” (Gen. 14:22-24). Abraham had learned from his mistakes. He previously accepted money from Pharaoh after he lied about his wife (Gen. 12:16). He also accepted money from Abimelech when he again lied about his wife (Gen. 20:14-16). In both circumstances, Abraham profited from his own deceit. He also accepted things that did not belong to him. Yet, he learned not to become indebted or yoked to the pagan people or things of this world.

  • Don’t be unequally yoked. If a business partner seeks to gain influence over you and that person is not a person who is walking with Jesus, you can be unequally yoked and weighted down by the other person’s sins: “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Cor. 15:33). This is one of the reasons why Abraham and Lot had to divide the Promised Land and separate (Gen. 13:8-13). The rule also applied in romantic relationships (2 Cir. 6:14-18). Have you become unequally yoked in business?

  • God will bless you when you walk with integrity. Like Abraham, you also should show integrity by turning down things that do not belong to you unless you fairly pay for them. David also promised to walk with integrity: “I will give heed to the blameless way. When will You come to me? I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.” (Ps. 101:2). God later offered to bless Solomon if he walked with integrity: “As for you, if you will walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you and will keep My statutes and My ordinances, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, just as I promised to your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.”’ (1 Kgs. 9:5). “The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them.” (Prov. 11:3; 13:6). True integrity is revealed when no one is watching. Do you walk with integrity when no one else can see it?

6. God Wants You to Invest in His Kingdom, No Matter the Cost. Gen. 23:10-16.

  • Abraham’s payment of 400 shekels of silver. Believing in her future resurrection, Abraham paid the full 400 shekels to purchase a tomb for Sarah, Abraham, and the other patriarchs: “10 Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, 11 ‘No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.’ 12 And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. 13 He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there.’ 14 Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, 15 ‘My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.’ 16 Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard.” (Gen. 23:10-16). According to one Messianic Jewish tradition, Sarah’s death symbolized the separation of the body and the soul. Abraham bought a tomb for Sarah because he wanted her preserved for her future resurrection: “As the mother of our faith Sarah is also the mother of the goal and reward of our faith: resurrection. . . . Abraham negotiated for a place to bury his wife because he believed in the resurrection of the dead. His purchase of a plot of land represented his investment in the future kingdom when his wife will rise from the tomb and Abraham will be rejoined to Sarah, just as the body will be reunited with the soul in the resurrection of the dead.” (First Fruits of Zion, Torah Club, Volume 2, Shadows of the Messiah, Chayei Sarah (2016) p. 96).

Abraham paid the full price for Sarah’s tomb4

  • Jesus paid for your redemption as well. Every contract requires “consideration” to be enforceable. Today, this does not always require the exchange of money. Yet, in Abraham’s day, silver was used to redeem land purchases: “I signed and sealed the deed, and called in witnesses, and weighed out the silver on the scales.” (Jer. 32:10). Without consideration, the Hittites could revoke the land gift to Abraham at any time. To ensure that the tomb would remain for future generations, Abraham insisted upon paying the full price. Yet, what was the fair price of a tomb? Many believe that the Hittites offered an inflated demand of 400 shekels for a cave after Abraham offered to pay the full price. Centuries later, King Omri of Israel bought all of Samaria “for two talents of silver.” (1 Kgs. 16:24). This translates to 6,000 shekels. The Hittites most likely expected Abraham to counter with a lower number. Abraham had completed his ten great tests. Yet, the number 400 symbolized testing. Would Abraham haggle over an inflated price for the land? The answer was no. “Abraham was not willing to negotiate over the dignity of his wife.” (Torah Club, Unrolling the Scroll, Book 1, 2014, p. 92). He later received a formal deed to the land (Gen. 23:20). This deed will last until Jesus’ return. Today, the “Cave of the Patriarchs” still exists in Hebron for Abraham’s tomb. It is considered holy to both Jews and Muslims. Muslims call it the “Sanctuary of Abraham” or the “Ibrahimi Mosque”. They believe that the promised line traces through Ishmael. Yet, the tomb today clearly celebrates the Jewish patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

  • Jesus also paid the full redemption price for you with His sinless blood. Just as Abraham paid the full redemption price for Sarah, Jesus paid the full price for your redemption as well. He also did not seek an alternative cheaper means to redeem you. He instead paid the ultimate price with His life, not with silver: “[Y]ou were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:18-19; Mk. 14:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; Is. 53:4-5, 10, 12). In this account, the 400 silver shekels foreshadow the ransom price that Christ paid for the father and mother of our faith (Matt. 26:14-16). Through faith in Jesus, this blessing extends to you as well: “in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Gal. 3:14). If you are grateful for your undeserved blessing, live your life in submission to Jesus (Ro. 12:1-2).

7. Trust in God’s Promises, Even if They You Never See Them Fulfilled. Gen. 23:17-20.

  • Abraham’s sole land possession in his lifetime was a tomb. After paying the full price, Abraham buried Sarah at Machpelah: “17 So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over 18 to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth.” (Gen. 23:17-20). “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 to him. Ancient people cherished their ancestral burial ground; burial in the ancestral grave indicated honor and continuity with the family.” (Kenneth Mathews, “The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture” Genesis 1-11:26, Vol. 1B, (B&H Publishing Group Nashville Tenn. 1996) p. 310). Abraham would later be buried in this same tomb (Gen. 25:9). Although God promised Abraham all of the Promised Land, this was the only piece of land that he owned while alive. Isaac would later be buried here (Gen. 49:31). Before his death in Egypt, Jacob pleaded in hope for his descendants to return his body to the same grave (Gen. 49:29). The Jews later faithfully returned Jacob’s bones to this same grave (Gen. 50:1-14). “And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. From there they were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.” (Acts 7:15-16). After 400 years of captivity, the Jews also carried the bones of Joseph through the wilderness. After conquering Israel, they buried him with the other patriarchs in Shechem (Josh. 24:32).

Abraham buried Sarah5

  • The dead in Christ will rise first. The New Testament reveals that the dead in Christ will rise first: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thess. 4:16). Most Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Yet, one Jewish tradition recognizes that their Messiah will raise people from the dead. According to this Jewish tradition, the patriarchs at Machpelah will rise first. This same tradition holds that Adam and Eve’s bones are buried in this same cave: “In that hour, [the Messiah] goes up and brings glad tidings to those who sleep in Machpelah, and says to them: ‘Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, rise! Enough have you slept!’ And they reply and say: ‘Who is this who removes the dust over us?’ And he says to them: ‘I am the Messiah of the LORD. Salvation is near, the hour is near.’ And they answer: ‘It is really so, go and bring the tidings to Adam the first man, so that he should rise first.’ In that hour they say to Adam the first man: ‘Enough have you slept!’” (Pirkei Mashiach, Breit HaMidrash 3:73-74; quoted in First Fruits of Zion, Torah Club, Volume 2, Shadows of the Messiah, Chayei Sarah (2016) p. 97). Before it was called Hebron, the ancient burial city was called “Kiriath-arba” (Gen. 23:2). This translates as “city of four”. Adam may have been the fourth patriarch symbolized by this name. If this Jewish tradition is correct, the patriarchs might have been the first to rise when Jesus descended into the grave (Acts 2:31). Or, they will be the first amongst those asleep in Christ to rise with His return. Like the patriarchs, you also must place your hope in the world to come. You should live in this world but not of this world. Is your hope in the promises of His Kingdom or in your accomplishments on Earth?

  • Invest in God’s unseen eternal promises. Jesus reveals that a true person of faith values his or her investment in the Kingdom of Heaven far beyond any investment on Earth: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matt. 13:44-46). Abraham showed that his investment in heaven exceeded anything on Earth by making only one land purchase, a tomb. The Kingdom of Heaven should also be considered your most treasured possession. If an accountant were to analyze how you use your time, talent, and treasure, would your investments in the Kingdom of Heaven come anywhere close to your investments on this Earth? Many believers should feel convicted by this question. If you do, pray for the Spirit to reveal to you how you can better reallocate the use of your time, treasure, and investments to serve Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven.