It was through Isaiah that God declared, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8. And it is so often in life that we find this to be so very true. Incidents recorded in Scripture show this to be the case, but also in our lives and in the day in which we live, we find that God’s thoughts and ours are not the same. We find that the way He intends to rule the world and order our lives differs from what we planned and man expects.
Statistics—which men like to keep, because they like to try to know God’s thoughts for their own earthly and worldly good—show that as a rule women live longer than men. And there are more widows living today than widowers. Were we to live by statistics, we would have Abraham dead long before Sarah. He was already ten years old when she was born. Who then would expect that she would not outlive Abraham? Who would expect that she would die at the age of one hundred thirty-seven, while Abraham would go on and outlive her by twenty-eight years? Who would have expected that Abraham would be able to count thirty-eight more years of life, when he was on his death bed, over the number of years that God gave Sarah? What is more, Abraham enjoyed the fellowship and companionship of their son, Isaac, for seventy-five-years, while Sarah lived to enjoy it only forty-seven years.
Now neither parent was essential any more for Isaac. As a young man he was quite able to take care of himself. We find shortly after the death of Sarah that Abraham sends to get a wife for Isaac. But this was not because Isaac was not able to do so himself. He did not seek one. He showed absolutely no interest in having a wife. But it cannot be said that Abraham had to live because Isaac was not yet able to live without him. In fact today we would make a stronger case of the elderly father and mother needing this young man, their son, for their protection and constant care in the twilight days of their lives.
But such was God’s way; and all this was according to His thoughts which are so much higher than ours. And we ought to remember that there is a covenant consideration here. Yes, Sarah was a covenant mother and had a great interest in God’s covenant. At times she showed more interest in it than Abraham did. And thinking of all this we must not foolishly think that our thoughts are higher than God’s and that she deserved to live as long as Abraham and enjoy the wonders of God’s covenant with him—such as the marriage of their son to a believing child of God from among Abraham’s relatives in Mesopotamia. And God’s promise which we find in Psalm 128:6, “Yea, thou—everyone that feareth the Lord—shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel,” was not forgotten. God does not promise covenant parents that in this life they necessarily shall see their children’s children. Some do not even see their own children. Men have gone to war, had children born to them, and died in battle before they could return home and see their children. Parents have died before they saw their children’s children in ways of God that are higher than our ways, and in thoughts that are not our thoughts. Sarah sees them today; and Sarah will see them to thousands of generations with body and soul in the new Jerusalem. God’s promises are not forgotten. God never breaks a promise. In thoughts that are higher than ours, He prepares and promises blessings so much higher and greater than our earthly, human thoughts can imagine.
But, after all is said and done, Abraham and not Sarah is the covenant head of that day. With him and his seed God established His covenant, and in His way, and according to His thoughts, Abraham lives to enjoy the unfolding of God’s covenant in his son for seventy-five years before the breath of life is taken from him. And though Abraham deserved no longer life on this earth than Sarah did, it was in God’s higher thoughts that it was so to be.
Now that Sarah is dead, Abraham is confronted with a problem. The very nature of death makes it necessary for him to bury the body—at least to hide it from view, to remove it from their midst. And Scripture teaches us that unless it is impossible, we are to bury the dead body. We are to commit it to the ground from whence it came. Cremation, burning the body, when burial is possible is an act of unbelief. Even if it were true—which it certainly is not—that God would then be unable to restore that body and in the judgment day cast it into the torment of hell, the soul of the unbeliever who dies will have been in that torment for many years. That soul is indestructible and at death goes into everlasting woe. Such is the teaching of Jesus in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man was in torment while the history of this world went on, and his brothers continued to live on this earth. Cremation, does not take hold by faith of the comforting truth of God’s Word that God will raise up all the bodies of His saints and glorify them with the glory that Christ now has. It does not believe that God is the Almighty. It does not believe in His blessed promises to His people in Christ.
Scripture teaches us to bury the dead. We are told, as in I Corinthians 15:42 ff, to sow it as a seed in the ground, to plant it in the soil in the assurance that it will come out again in a new form, spiritual, glorious, and powerful. Scripture teaches us to have respect for that dead body of the believer. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. But precious also in His sight is that body. It belongs to Christ, His beloved Son. It is part of that glorious Bride whom Christ loves and for whom He returns at the end of time. We do and must respect it. We do and must believe in the resurrection of the body. And Abraham did, even though there is no mention of that fact here at the occasion of the death of Sarah. His action of burying her body does nevertheless speak of it indirectly.
Consider once that Sarah is a covenant child of God. Consider that she with Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land. that Abraham had been promised. She believed that she also had a part in that promise. Obediently, in faith, with hope of enjoying the covenant promises she went along with Abraham and never put up one word of complaint. And Abraham has not one thought of burying her back in Haran, or in Ur of the Chaldees. He has no such thought, not simply because it was impossible to transport a dead body that far in those days, but because he too, believed that Sarah had a place in God’s covenant, that she was a covenant child, and that the future blessings of the covenant were hers as well as they were his.
Sarah, then, must be buried in the covenant. She must be buried in the covenant land, the land of promise of which this covenant spake. Remember how insistent Jacob was, and later on Joseph as well, that their bones be buried in the land of the promise? Jacob even insisted that they be buried in this very place which Abraham bought for Sarah, his wife. Here is faith. Here is hope. Here is trust in God, a trust that death and years of lying in a grave cannot shake.
But Abraham has no place where to bury his departed wife’s body in that promised land. Will it be unbelief on his part to buy a place? Patiently and in unwavering faith he had made no attempt to get one square inch by his own money or strength. Now he needs a piece of land, has none, was given none yet by God; and what shall he do? Will he be denying the promise of God? Will he be accused by God of running ahead and of not waiting upon God?
We know that this was the besetting sin of his grandson, Jacob. He always tried to help God, as though God’s ways were not the best and His thoughts too slow. Did Jacob inherit this trait, was this part of his nature a weakness handed down from grandfather, through father, to grandson? Do we see that trait here already, years before, in the life of Abraham? Are we to say, “Now we can see where Jacob got it”?
It is certainly true that we hand down to our children sinful inclinations and natures. We all are what we sinfully are because of Adam’s and Eve’s sin and corrupted natures which they obtained through the lie. Infants are infected, the Netherlands Confession tells us in Article XV, with an hereditary disease before they are born, which produces in them all sorts of sin, being in them as a root that brings forth deeds that’ make them vile and abominable in God’s sight.
Yet we must not see that here in Abraham. Yes, he too was tainted by the fallen nature of Adam and Eve. But when he bought a piece of land wherein to bury Sarah, that was not the reason for his deed. Just the opposite, Abraham here is walking by faith. He bought that piece of land in trust and confidence in God. He had his promised son. He was seeing God’s covenant realized; and in a firm faith and strong hope for the realization of the fullness of the covenant promises that God will give him this land through his seed, he buys a piece large enough to bury his dead. And he is moved also by the consideration that he is burying a princess. God has changed Sarai’s name to Sarah when He announced the birth of Isaac. And although she never attained in her earthly life to such honor among men that earthly princesses enjoy, the name means that she definitely had a place in that promise of God, was a covenant child, and that the blessings of the covenant were hers. Tenderly, therefore, in strong faith and steadfast hope, he entrusts the earthly remains of this princess in God’s kingdom to the earth of the land of promise, expecting her to inherit the new Jerusalem and the heavenly Canaan.
For that he will not steal a piece of land. He will not in secret try to bury the body in a place unknown and unnoticed by the Canaanites. He will buy with money God gave him. He will not take the land by force, for that would be an act of unbelief. He will go to the Canaanites with a strong faith, tell them that he is a stranger and sojourner with them and has no intention of becoming one with them, and that he is sure that God ,will in time give him the whole land. He will buy from them, not because he is impatient and doubts God’s intentions or goodness, but because he is sure that in His own time and in His own way God will keep all His Word.
So he approaches the sons of Heth. In the custom of the day they offer it to him expecting him to turn down the offer; and then get down to real bargaining and demand of Abraham a pretty stiff price.
But Sarah is a princess and the promises of God are so much more wonderful and precious, above all gold and silver, that Abraham without a word measures out the money and has his burying place. And the earthly remains of this princess wait in the silence of the grave for the moment when God will bring all His princes and princesses into the heavenly Canaan as the free gift of His grace in Christ.