Genesis 23:1-20; 25:1-11 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. With regard to the Promised Land of Canaan, what is Abraham’s status at the time of Sarah’s death? See Genesis 23:1-4 (printed below)

Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. (2) She died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), in the land of Canaan. And Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. (3) Then Abraham got up from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites, saying, (4) I am an alien and a sojourner among you. Sell me a piece of property for a burial site here in your land, so that I may bury my dead. (Genesis 23:1-4)

Although the Lord had pledged to Abraham possession of the Promised Land of Canaan (Genesis 13:14-17), at the time of Sarah’s death Abraham owned no property in the land. In verse 4 Abraham identifies himself to the Hittites as “an alien and a sojourner among you;” he acknowledges that at this time the land legally is the possession of the Canaanites. Abraham then proceeds to negotiate with the Hittites for the purchase of a burial site for his family. He succeeds in securing the site, but only at the very high price of 400 shekels (Commentaries on the Old Testament, The Pentateuch, Vol. 1, Keil and Delitzsch, p.256). Sarah has come to the end of her earthly life, Abraham is well advanced in years and is approaching the time of his departure, and at this late date all he possesses in the Promised Land is a burial site, nothing more.

2. What was Abraham’s thinking at this stage in his life? See Hebrews 11:8-10,13-16 (printed below)

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (9) By faith he became a sojourner in the promised land, as though living in a land that was not his own, living in tents, with Isaac and Jacob who were heirs with him of the same promise. (10) He was willing to do so because he was looking for the city that has foundations, the city whose architect and builder is God…(13) All these men were still living by faith when they died, not having received the fulfillment of the promises, only seeing them and greeting them from a distance, confessing that they were strangers and aliens on the earth. (14) Men who say such things make it evident that they are seeking a country of their own. (15) If, indeed, they had been thinking of that country from which they came, they would have had opportunity to return. (16) Instead, they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16)

What was Abraham thinking at this stage of his life? The book of Hebrews reveals this to us. By faith Abraham became a sojourner in the Promised Land (verse 9), because he looked for the city that has foundations, whose Architect and Builder is God (verse 10). Abraham willingly acknowledged himself to be a sojourner on the earth, because he was seeking a country of his own (verses 13-14). The country he was seeking was “a better one, a heavenly one,” the city God has prepared for him—which is none other than the kingdom of heaven (verse 16).

3. Based on the Hebrews passage (printed above), how would you describe Abraham’s perspective? Was his mind focused on earthly things or heavenly things?

What was Abraham’s perspective? Abraham possessed ‘the far look.” Whether from the very outset or in the course of time, it became clear to Abraham that the promises of God transcend this present world—he came to see that the land of Canaan was a type (an earthly representation) of the heavenly inheritance. By faith his focus transcended this present world and, consequently, he was willing to identify himself as an alien and sojourner (both spiritually and physically) on the earth. Abraham’s whole perspective transcended this present world; his mind was focused on heavenly things rather than earthly things.

4. What do you think enabled Abraham to exercise such faith—faith that enabled him to willingly accept his status as a sojourner in the Promised Land of Canaan? Consider Genesis 17:1 (printed below).

Jehovah appeared to Abram and said to him, I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless. (Genesis 17:1)

What enabled Abraham to exercise such life-transforming faith—faith that enabled him to willingly identify himself as a stranger and sojourner in the land of Canaan, the Promised Land? The answer is, his personal communion with God, which increasingly enabled him to see things from God’s eternal perspective and to trust in God’s covenant faithfulness. Abraham heeded the Lord’s command to walk before Him, that is to say, to live his life in communion with God. What was the result and benefit of Abraham’s transcendent perspective? The benefit was hope, instead of anxiety and despair; for Abraham, death was not a permanent severance from the blessing but rather an entrance into the blessing (following the resurrection of Christ).

5. How does Genesis 25:8-10 (printed below) describe the conclusion of Abraham’s earthly life and his death?

So Abraham took his last breath and died at a good old age, an old man who had lived a long and full life; and he was gathered to his people. (9) Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, which was located in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is near Mamre, (10) the field that Abraham had purchased from the Hittites. That is where Abraham was buried, and that is also where Sarah, his wife, was buried. (Genesis 25:8-10)

Even though he was a sojourner in the land of Canaan up to the very time of his death, Abraham had experienced the blessing of God—the Lord had bestowed temporal blessings upon him, a foretaste of the heavenly blessing to come. Verse 8 reports that Abraham upon his death “was gathered to his people.” The phrase, “gathered to his people,” is an Old Testament expression describing the hope of the godly, intimating the final gathering of God’s people. Note Mark 13:27, “then the Lord shall send out the angels, and he shall gather together his elect from the four winds—from the most distant part of the earth to the most distant part of heaven.” Genesis 25:9 informs us that Abraham’s sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried their father in the cave located in the field he had purchased from the Hittites. Here is a reminder that the Lord had been faithful to Abraham, fulfilling His promise to provide Abraham with a son, indeed, two sons—a token that the Lord in His time will prove faithful to fulfill all His promises.