|LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE
Series: Abraham - Part Ten
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 9, 2017
This Darrel Pace. Who has something to do with archery. Anyone know who Darrel Pace is? Darrel is a two time Olympic gold medalist in archery. A few years back Darrel gave an archery exhibition in New York City’s Central Park - an event that received coverage by all the news stations. True story.
Shooting steel-tipped hunting arrows, Pace punctured bull’s-eye after bull’s eye without a miss. Then he called for a volunteer. Pace said, “All you have to do, is hold this apple in your hand, waist-high.”
Josh Howell - ABC reporter - volunteered. While Josh Howell stood there - a small apple in his hand - trusting that Pace wouldn’t miss. Pace took aim from 30 yards away. Then THWACK - a clean hit that exploded the apple before striking the target behind.
Everybody applauded Howell - who was all smiles - until his cameraman came up and said, “I’m sorry, Josh. I didn’t get it. Had a problem with my viewfinder. Could you do it again?” (1)
God is always on target. He never misses. For the Christian, faith in real time is how we live totally committed to God. Trust - faithful obedience - Plan A. How we live knowing that God doesn’t miss.
We’re at Genesis 23. Today is our last Sunday looking at the life of Abraham. Exploring what faith looks like in real time.
Genesis begins in the… beginning. God creating everything out of nothing. God forming Adam and Eve. Giving them a relationship with Him. Then the Fall and things going down hill pretty fast after that. There’s the flood and people getting scattered.
Then God chooses Abraham. Abraham who is the patriarch - the father - of what becomes a dysfunctional family that becomes a dysfunctional nation - that God chooses to work through to fulfill His plan of salvation - restoring our broken relationship with Him.
God makes a covenant with Abraham. A promise. The three parts of the Abrahamic Covenant are...
Land - meaning a place for Abraham and his descendants to dwell in relationship with God.
Descendants - God changed Abram’s name to Abraham - which means… “father of many” - meaning lots of descendants.
Third - blessing. God promised to bless Abraham and that through him all the peoples of the world would be blessed.
It is important for us to see ourselves in all that.
When we come to salvation through Jesus - we become children of the promise that was made to Abraham and fulfilled in Jesus. Spiritually we become descendants of Abraham.
In Christ you are a part of a people chosen by God for His purposes - for His glory. And in Christ we all look forward to dwelling with Him forever. In Christ you are living proof of the faithfulness of God.
Our father Abraham is a real time example for us of what it means to live by faith in God. Watching Abraham move forward through life learning to live by faith in God helps us to understand how God deals with individuals and peoples - how God works in and through the lives of His people - in and through us.
What is hugely instructive for us. In every circumstance - no matter what the drama - whatever our dysfunction - no matter what our past is - what sins we’ve committed - whatever the failure - the weakness - the burdens we drag around with us - we are to follow the example of Abraham.
To learn to intentionally choose to trust God. Without any conditions placed on God - as to when and how He’s suppose to come through for us. To give God complete - irrevocable - control over who we are. Us learning to live by utter dependence on God. To God alone be the glory.
Faith in real time is how we live totally committed to God. Plan A - trust God - faithful obedience.
Chapter 23 is the last part of Abraham’s journey of faith that we are going to be looking at. Verses 1 to 16 focus on Abraham’s Negotiation.
Let’s walk through this together. We’ll make some observations as we go along. Verses 1 and 2: Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.
The custom of Abraham’s day - when someone died - was to place the body - by itself - in a tent. Verse 2 tells us that Abraham “went in” to this tent to mourn for Sarah - to weep for her.
Abraham was torn apart when he had to send Ishmael away. Struggled deeply with the reality of sacrificing Isaac. But this is the only place in Scripture where we read that Abraham wept. The heart of Abraham poured out at the loss of Sarah.
Unwinding that: Sarah and Abraham knew each other from childhood. Maybe from day one - 127 years ago. They’ve been married for decades. Probably well over 100 years. There’s a lot of mileage in that. Yes?
As Abraham enters the tent - perhaps head down - stooped - seeing the body of Sarah. Memories come back - memories of a childhood together. Memories of the beautiful young girl that caught his eye - that captured his heart. What it meant to leave Ur and Haran - leaving their family behind - heading down to Canaan. Heading off into the unknown - learning to follow God together.
The pain of how he’d let her down - tried to pass her off as his sister - twice. The tears of her barrenness. The conflict with Hagar. The birth of Ishmael. The birth of Isaac. Learning to be parents together.
Retraced images of love. Laughing together. Suffering together. Growing together - becoming one body, mind, and heart - learning to trust God - to rely on His blessings together.
We can relate. Yes? It’s hard to imagine a harder season of life than the loss of someone we’ve deeply deeply loved.
Verse 3: And Abraham rose up from before his dead and said to the Hittites, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”
We can almost feel Abraham take in a long deep breath - gather himself together - rise and move outside the tent.
In verse 3 that Abraham addresses the Hittites. Probably the leaders of the Hittites sitting at the gate of the city. Which is what leaders did - the sitting at the gate thing. Abraham - comes to ask permission to have a place to bury Sarah.
The Hittites were the sons of Heth. In some places Scripture calls them Hittites. In some places they’re called sons of Heth. Same basic people.
Follow this: Ham - son of Noah - fathered Canaan - think the name of the land they’re on. Land of Canaan. Canaan fathered Heth - otherwise known as the... Hittites. These are Hittites who lived in Canaan. Descendants of Canaan who possessed… Canaan - Kiriath-arba - Hebron - where Sarah died. Land God had promised to Abraham.
That helps us to understand how Abraham is thinking about where he’s at.
“Sojourn” translates the Hebrew word “ger” which has the idea of someone who just arrived and has no rights or privileges. A resident alien. “Foreigner” translates “toshab” which has the idea of someone temporarily dwelling someplace who is dependent on the hospitality - the graciousness - of those who actually live in that place.
We need to be careful. That Abraham describes himself as a sojourner and a foreigner isn’t because he’s from Ur or Haran. It’s because he’s recognized that he’s in the land because of God. It’s God Who led him there. Abraham recognizing that God’s promises to his descendants about that land go way beyond Abraham and his own temporary dwelling on that land.
Physical dwelling and death and the temporary stuff of this life aren’t the bottom line. Abraham has learned that life and the stuff of life is about God. God’s plan and God’s purposes and God’s promises. Abraham is looking beyond where he’s at to his dwelling with God - to descendants dwelling with God - to what God has promised.
David writes in Psalm 23 about walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Not death itself. But through the shadow it casts. Walking through the shadow of death is a very - very - difficult place to be. Mourning the death of someone we love.
Death brings us face to face with our own mortality. Causes us to think about our lives - how we’ve lived - what we leave behind. What comes next - if anything.
If there’s a shadow - in the valley - if there’s a shadow then there’s light. Faith is turning from the shadow to look at the light - God’s light pouring into the darkness of this world. The valley of the shadow of death isn’t our home. Abraham is looking for something much much greater.
So when Abraham rises from his dead and moves outside the tent - addresses the Hittite leadership - Abraham is purposefully moving forward into the promises of God.
Verse 4 is the beginning of Abraham’s negotiation with the Hittites - the possessors of the land - for a burial site - in the land that God has promised Abraham’s descendants.
Verse 5: The Hittites answered Abraham, “Hear us, my lord; you are a prince of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will withhold from you his tomb to hinder you from burying your dead.” Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land. And he said to them, “If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me and entreat for me Ephron the son of Zohar, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as property for a burying place.”
Ever done the negotiating over the bill thing? “Let me get that.” Proper response: “No, let me.” Been there?
With Armenians the argument has to go back and forth 3 times until the final, “Well okay. But, I’ll get it next time.” Back and forth... 3 times.
It would be a generations long scandal if on the first go round someone said, “Okay. All yours.”
What we’re observing here is a culturally accepted process of negotiation. Each party following their own time honored role in the process.
Grab the process and flavor of what’s going on here.
“Prince of God among us” translates something like “You are God’s tribal chief among us.” In contrast to the humble way that Abraham comes before the Hittite leadership - describing himself as a sojourner and foreigner - honoring them - the Hittites acknowledge that Abraham’s special relationship with God is well known to them. Honoring and respecting Abraham that’s part of the opening round of the negotiations.
“Take the best tomb we’ve got. Even if it’s our own personal tomb.” Sounds generous. But it’s just round one.
Abraham bowing is his honoring - respecting - the Hittite leaders and the whole community they represent.
“If you are willing” meaning only if this is something that you might desire to see take place. The sojourning foreigner seeking the leadership’s permission to negotiate with Ephron. More honor. More respect.
Finally we get to the actual property Abraham desires - Ephron ben Zohar’s cave of Machpelah at the end of the field.
Then the opening offer of payment: “For the full price let him give it to me.”
Let’s go on at verse 10: Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the sight of the sons of my people I give it to you. Bury your dead.” Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” Ephron answered Abraham, “My lord, listen to me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”
Notice where Ephron is sitting. With the leaders - with the people. There are a lot of people listening to this. Generations. This is a public contract that the whole community will recognize and hold the parties accountable for. No fine print or lawyers needed.
Meaning if Abraham is going to own this land there’s going to be no question of what he bought - how much he bought it for - that he bought it honestly and through the process of negotiation that everyone’s agreed on. Respect. Honor.
Ephron adds the field along with the cave. Two for one. An offer made “in the sight of the sons of my people I give it to you.” Free. Such a deal. Part of the process. Scandalous if Abraham says okay at this point.
Abraham offers to buy the field if Ephron will honor him by naming a price.
And - according to custom - at this point Ephron is suppose to suggest a price. A price that the seller would claim is very reasonable. But everyone knew was outrageous. But once the price is given then the real negotiating for the real price begins.
Shekels were measured by weight. 1 shekel weighed about .04 ounces. 400 shekels of silver today is about $2,600 plus. In those days - price gouging.
Ephron, “What’s 400 shekels? I’ve giving you a bargain cause we’re such buds. I want to honor you and help you bury your beloved wife.”
Then according to time honored custom - with all the honoring and respecting - what everybody knew what was suppose to happen next - Abraham is suppose to try to negotiate Ephron down in price. “Oh great esteemed Hittite leader, let me honor you by trying to knock down your outrageous price.”
Verse 16: Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants.
Back in chapter 14 - after Abraham had defeated the four powerful kings from the east - we saw Abraham pay a tithe to Melchizedek. Abraham recognizing that it was God who’d given Abraham the victory - and all the spoils of war.
Remember how this goes?
The king of Sodom approached Abraham with an offer of paying Abraham a reward for rescuing the people of Sodom. “Abraham, you take all the goods - all the wealth and the spoils of war - even what used to belong to us in Sodom - you keep it all and just return our people to their homes.”
Abraham tells the king of Sodom, “No way am I going to accept any stuff from you. People might say that it was the king of Sodom who made Abraham rich.”
Same deal here. This public negotiation. Everyone knowing what’s going on. Abraham negotiating with the Hittites - sons of Heth - sons of Canaan - with Ephron - showing great respect for these people - their customs.
But when he pays an outrageous price for the land it demonstrates that Abraham knows he’s not purchasing the land because of Ephron or the Hittites - or any cleverness on his part. There will be no future entanglement with these people - or indebtedness to them - because he’s received some kind of favor from them. He’s negotiating according to custom but he’s burying Sarah in the land God had promised to him.
There’s no way that Abraham is going to seek to become wealthy or acquire land apart from the promises of God. God - not man - was the source of Abraham’s hope and blessing - even the means of purchasing the land. That piece of land is about God and God’s promises - what God will fulfill completely in God’s timing and Gods’ way of fulfilling His promises - what Abraham is looking forward to because of God. God Who is always on target.
Bottom line - unwinding this negotiation: In the midst of the crushing - valley of the shadow of death circumstance - what drives Abraham’s negotiation and the purchase of this land - even beyond the loss of Sarah - what drives Abraham from the heart level out is Abraham’s faith in God.
Verses 17 to 20 focus on Abraham’s Possession. What did Abraham get for his 400 shekels?
Verse 17: So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city.
Hopefully some of these places and where they are is starting to look familiar.
Looking at the map you’ll see that Hebron and the Oaks of Mamre are just west of the Dead Sea. Which is what this is a picture of.
In chapter 13 - we saw that after Abraham let Lot choose what land to graze his flocks on - Abraham settles at the Oaks of Mamre - builds an altar there - worships God. (Genesis 13:1-18)
The word “mamre” means “fatness” or “strength.” “Hebron” is a word that means “association” or “fellowship.” It’s descriptive of a place where a person’s soul is made fat - strengthened - supplied with all that’s needed. A place of spiritual supply and fellowship with God where Abraham pitches his tent and builds an altar - worships God - dwells with God - experiences the strength and supply of God in his life.
We saw back in chapter 15 - it was at the Oaks of Mamre - that God spoke with Abraham about the 400 years of slavery his descendants would endure. It was here that God promised Abraham that his descendants would return to the claim this very land. (Genesis 15:13-21)
Ephron ben Zohar’s cave of Machpelah at the end of the field is this one. Today - if we were to go to Hebron - there’s a mosque there known as the Mosque of… Abraham at Hebron. This is a real - known even today - historical place.
The Bible is real people in real places learning to live by real faith in real time.
The cave - the location near Hebron - what Abraham has come to possess is hugely significant for Abraham. We need to also grab the ginormous significance of Abraham’s possession for his descendants.
Reading on through Genesis this cave is where Ishmael and Isaac came to bury Abraham. Isaac and Rebekah were buried there - also Leah and Jacob. But, death isn’t the bottom line. God’s promises are.
Joseph - when he was dying in Egypt - Joseph made the people promise that they’d carry his bones back to God’s promised land - to bury him in the parcel of land Jacob had purchase from the sons of Hamor. (Joshua 24:32)
In a different time the prophet Jeremiah - on the eve of the Babylonian captivity - when everything looked like impending hopeless disaster - Jeremiah purchase a piece of property. Jeremiah was confident - even though God’s people would be led off into captivity - one day they’d be back. They’d return and enjoy the land God had given them. (Jeremiah 32:6-15)
Bottom line: Abraham purchased only a fraction of the land that God had promised to his descendants. But that purchase is significant - the one parcel of land that this sojourning foreigner owned. A small purchase of what was to be a larger endowment. That small purchase embodies faith in God’s promise. Abraham looking forward to the day in the future the whole land would belong to his descendants.
Processing all that…
In Hebrews chapter 11 - the writer of Hebrews writes of Abraham moving forward by faith when God called him. How Abraham followed God not knowing where he was being led. But because of faith Abraham lived as an alien in a land of promise - dwelling in tents - sojourning as a foreigner but looking for a city which has foundations - who’s architect and builder is God.
What Abraham longed for was a land better than anything this earth can offer. He was looking for a land called heaven where God’s people dwell in God’s presence forever.
Hebrews tells us that God’s people - down through Old Testament history - were tortured, stoned, sawn in two, mocked, imprisoned, put to death, went around in sheepskins and goatskins. They were destitute, wandered in desert and mountains, lived in caves and holes in the ground. Men and women who lived their lives daily committed - daily trusting - in God.
People who lived looking forward beyond the temporary stuff of this world that can never fully satisfy. God’s people who lived knowing that dying and death are not the end - knowing that God has great eternal purposes for His people. People who - because of their relationship with God experienced life - more fulfilling and real - than anything this world can offer.
And yet they lived and died looking forward - by faith - to the fulfillment of God’s promises. To what we know today - to Jesus Christ - God incarnate - born in Bethlehem - proclaiming the Kingdom of God - entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday - crucified in our place - paying the penalty for our sins - resurrected - opening up to us the certainty of life with God - now and forever. (Hebrews 11:8-10, 35-40)
In Revelation 21 - the Apostle John describes the coming dwelling place of God’s people. The new heaven and new earth where we’re going to live in the presence of God. A place more beautiful - more awesome - than any place here and now. A place of great joy and peace.
There’s a river that runs through that dwelling - the river of life - refreshing - renewing water - the purist crystal clear water - coming right from the throne of God. We’ll be able to see God - right there on His throne and drink from that river. God’s presence - God’s glory - will shine so there’s no night - no darkness - no shadows - no sin.
All the crud of this world will have been wiped away. The baggage of sin that pulls us down each day of our lives - that entangles us - that works against us - sin will be no more. Our relationships will be free of the struggles we have now - all the drama and dysfunction.
When we get to heaven we’re going to get new bodies. Bodies that aren’t subject to disease - that don’t wear out and break down. No more death.
God Himself will wipe away our tears forever. No more mourning - no crying - no pain - all the physical stuff that drags us down - all the those things will have died with this world. (Revelation 21:1-22:9)
That’s exciting to think about. Isn’t it?
Here’s the take home question. In the drama of your life today - or what’s waiting for you out there - how does that reality shape how you live by faith in God?
In Genesis God chooses a man who becomes a family who becomes a nation. The Old Testament identifies Israel as the people of God. In the New Testament that focus shifts to the church. Same purpose. A people called out by God to live by faith in God - to live holy because God is holy - to live together in that God created holiness now and forever - so that God’s purposes are accomplished and God alone gets the glory.
That’s the big picture of what all this is about. What Abraham needed to keep in focus. What we need to keep in focus. Regardless of the drama of the days of our lives.
In Christ, what God has called us to - saved us for - promised to us - is doing in us and through us transcends all the petty little things that we get caught up in. Like Abraham - God makes us to be a part of what God is doing in history.
God who never misses. Who’s always on target. Who calls us to trust Him - faithful obedience - so that our lives testify of Him. To God alone be the glory.
Bottom line: To those who live by faith in God - any situation or circumstance where the crud and drama of this world gets thrown against us - or when we may feel like aliens living in a society and culture spinning farther from God - or even the grave - to those who live by faith in God - any situation or circumstance is a place of great opportunity - of great hope if we’re looking past the shadow of death to all of what God has promised to His people - to us.
1. Bob Teague, Live and Off-Color: News Biz
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.