Still Walking by Faith

3 Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, 4 “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”

5 The Hittites replied to Abraham, 6 “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”

7 Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. 8 He said to them, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf 9 so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.”

10 Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. 11 “No, my lord,” he said. “Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.”

12 Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land 13 and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”

14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”

16 Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.

17 So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded 18 to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. 19 Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site. Genesis 23:3-20

According to BibleHub, “Sarah is the only woman whose age at her death is mentioned in the Bible, an honor doubtless given her as the ancestress of the Hebrew race.”

Because Abraham was not native to Hebron, he sought to buy a plot of land. He finally offered a fair price to Ephron, and buried her in a cave in a field in Machpelah.

Sarah never got to see much of God’s promise of a great nation, but Isaac was more than enough. Both Sarah and Abraham held to the glimmer of faith that since Isaac was born, grandchildren would be on the way. Still, though, they weren’t able to glimpse further than that.

That’s certainly how we live our lives. We’d love to know the future but we don’t have that privilege.

We go on, walking by faith, believing God to be true in both life and death.

Grieving Sarah

Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. 2 She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. Genesis 23:1-2

Abraham and Sarah were married for about 75 years. They went through a lot during that period. Their marriage from our standpoint wasn’t exactly stellar. Sarah was obedient and loyal to a fault, but she also had ideas of her own to fulfill God’s promise. Abraham, on the other hand, showed his cowardice at least twice and was willing to sacrifice her virtue for his own safety.

Still, they lived with and loved each other for 75 long years. His grief would have been great. He was entitled to mourn and weep over her.

Never forget that these are real stories about real people who had real and raw emotions despite the high status we give them because they were written about in the Bible. Put yourself in Abraham’s sandals and imagine his grief and burden of losing his wife of 75 years. Initially he wouldn’t be able to continue, but as he releases her to the Lord, he lifts his burden. That kind of grief is only worked out by time and calling out to the Lord.

Perhaps you know someone who is grieving over a loved on now. Give that person space and let them grieve. No cliches or fancy words. Abraham went through that process in his culture, so should we.

“I’m sorry for your loss” is more than sufficient.

Then you pray for the person.

The Exclamation Point

20 Some time later Abraham was told, “Milkah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram), 22 Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. Milkah bore these eight sons to Abraham’s brother Nahor. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also had sons: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maakah. Genesis 22:20-24

These few verses put an exclamation point on the Lord’s promise to Abraham. Already God was expanding the family line.

I was recently reading the biography of a pastor friend of mine. Over and over again, God provided for this man and his family. He opened doors, closed them, and just led him every step of his journey. While it’s insightful to read about it in the Bible, it’s current coming from a friend who has walked with God all his life.

We certainly know that God provides for us, just as he provided for Abraham.

Reading my friend’s biography just underscored what we already knew: God is faithful and can be trusted through the dark and lonely stages of life as well as when we’re on the mountain tops.

Exploring New Ground

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba. Genesis 22:15-19

For the third time the angel of the Lord reiterated the promise to Abraham. Despite his previous foibles, he was obedient. We have no idea whether Abraham’s servants knew about what occurred on the altar. I’m sure it was a traumatic experience for all involved.

Abraham went to Beersheba previously so it was familiar to him. Presumably Sarah joined them on the journey. Sarah must have been relieved to see them all, quite literally, in one piece. She must have been on edge the entire time they were gone.

The spiritual journey that Sarah and Abraham were on had a lot of hills and valleys as well as obstacles and barriers to success. They were exploring new ground all the time because nothing like this had happened before.

We occasionally explore new ground in our lives, though nothing nearly as dramatic as Abraham and Sarah. We don’t always understand why God is allowing events to happen in and around us. We even begin to question God, not because we’re bad, but because sometimes life just doesn’t make much sense. He has no problem with us coming to him and questioning Him.

Why do I say that? Because the mere act of coming to Him is what He’s wanted all along. If we kept everything in, we’re not approaching Him.

Bring it back to your own life. Would you rather your kids come to you with issues or not?

Overly Thankful

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” Genesis 22:13-14

The Lord did provide for Abraham. Even though the text doesn’t say it, Abraham was probably praying from the time the Lord told him what to do until the angel of the Lord halted him. Relieved, he then eagerly sacrificed the ram. As he had done several times in the past, he burnt the sacrifice to the Lord.

There are thanksgiving offerings, and there are thanksgiving offerings. It probably wasn’t difficult to know what to say when he sacrificed the ram.

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re overly grateful as Abraham probably was? In those times, thankfulness comes easy. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, we can only say, “Praise the Lord for his goodness.”

A Close Call

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Genesis 22:9-12

It’s easy to read this and not feel the tension that must have occurred between father and son. We know how it ends. Both Abraham and Isaac didn’t know how it ended.

Isaac may not have known that the Lord had told his father to do this so he was completely in the dark.

(As an aside, modern psychologists would argue that after this incident, the boy might have trust issues!)

Hopefully Isaac too was able to hear the angel of the Lord when he called out.

I’ve never considered this until now, but our view of this situation has always been from that of Abraham and his reaction to God, but what about Isaac? I suspect he was terrified at what his father was doing to him. What’s it like for a little boy to watch his executioner – his own father – kill him. That has to mess with the mind a bit!

Fortunately we get to follow Isaac as he grows and matures. We’ll get to see if that one event changed him forever.

Stay tuned.

Where’s the Lamb?

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. Genesis 22:3-7

This is an important passage because within Abraham and Isaac’s conversation is the Gospel message cleverly outlined and the foretelling of the Messiah.

On a more practical note, though, an innocent boy was asking a very astute question, “Where’s the sacrifice, Father?” Did Isaac understand that he was to be the sacrifice? Probably not because he took his father at face value, and in the broadest sense of the statement, God would provide the sacrifice. They were obviously getting closer to the moment of truth. Abrahm knew what was coming when they got to the altar. It could not have been a pleasant time for Abraham. He had to have doubts and misgivings, even if he didn’t express them. Could he have gotten it wrong and made to suffer internally for the rest of his life for it?

But he was right; he had to be right.

Abraham had certainly heard the Lord correctly.

Trusting in God is not easy. Abraham did it every step along this journey.

Often in our lives, trust bears a startling resemblence to obeying God in the little things we do.

What are you trusting God for today?

But Abraham Obeyed

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Genesis 22:1-2

This was Abraham’s second test. The first was circumcision of him and all the men under him. But this one was even more personal, if that were possible. The Lord had asked him – no, told him – to sacrifice his son, the very child he had promised. I can’t imagine the conversation Abraham had with Sarah on his intentions.

Did he question God in his heart or even if he had heard correctly? If he said anything to Him, we don’t know about it.

But Abraham obeyed.

When he took that first step with his son, it was if he were committed. He obeyed and we are left dumbfounded at the whole situation. For as many faults as as a husband he had, Abraham obeyed when he needed to the most.

The rest of the Abraham and Isaac story is merely details about Abraham’s first step in obedience.

Sure, he had many other opportunities to turn around and go home, but that initial step was the biggest. I think we can learn from that first step.

Of Treaties and Politicians

22 At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do. 23 Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.”

24 Abraham said, “I swear it.”

25 Then Abraham complained to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek’s servants had seized. 26 But Abimelek said, “I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.”

27 So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty. 28 Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, 29 and Abimelek asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?”

30 He replied, “Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.”

31 So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.

32 After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. 34 And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time. Genesis 21:22-34

Abimelek again entered the picture. He obviously remembered Abraham’s deceit with his wife and wanted no more of it. So they made a treaty among themselves.

The same kinds of treaties are made every day among world leaders. Some are military treaties, while others are more geared towards commerce and trade. A successful treaty today is when each nation involved believes it is getting a good deal from the agreements.

You’ve no doubt been hearing a lot of news about trade treaties with China and other Asian countries. Negotiators on both (or all) sides spend weeks and months hammering out deals before the leaders actually shake hands and documents are signed. It take a lot of wisdom all around to make deals that satisfies all participants.

We live in interesting times in areas of trade, peace, environment, human rights, trafficking, drugs, and other relevant topics. For the longest time, China has been granted most favored nation status despite its deplorable human rights violations. That’s changing.

While each nation is different in its goals and values and what its best interests are, leaders needs wisdom so that they’ll do the best things for the people they represent. Unfortunately all too often that represents “the donor class,” those powerful lobbyists who spend a lot of money on political campaigns to persuade a politician to vote a certain way. So pray for those in power to do what’s right instead of what’s expedient or what the donor class wants. This actually applies to many jobs government is tasked to perform.

Just as Abraham and Abimelek struck a deal at Beersheba, pray for leaders who strike deals in your country.