Although we may not like to think of it, we cannot deny it, and Hebrews 9:27 declares it so emphatically: “. . . it is appointed unto men once to die. . . .” And the main reason for our fears of that day is expressed in the next phrase, “But after this the judgment.” Separation from loved ones through death is painful and not to be coveted. Even for the most devout child of God, who with Paul is convinced in the bottom of his soul that “to die is gain,” and is thoroughly convinced that “there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), that matter of leaving loved ones behind is not a pleasant experience to contemplate. But the fear is there concerning that judgment.
Come, though, that day surely will, whether we be children of God or children of the devil. We may face it differently than do the children of the devil because of our faith in Him Who entered death for us, rose triumphantly out of it, and now is our Good Shepherd to lead us while in the valley of the shadow of death and to be our guide through death. But that day of death is just ahead; and so is the judgment. We can stop them no more than we can stop tomorrow from coming. And because tomorrow is coming, so is death and the judgment. Though our faith sustains us as we see it coming, our flesh, in which are still the motions of sin, gives us constantly the evidence that we not only deserve the death but also that we cannot stand in ourselves in the judgment.
And if we today, on this side of the cross and with all the powerful writings of the New Testament, have a fear of death, we ought to marvel at the faith of the Old Testament saints who faced it calmly and with confidence, even though they had lambs instead of The Lamb of God, sinful priests instead of our holy High Priest, and pictures instead of Him Who was pictured so faintly in that day of shadows. Of them we read that they died in faith, that they embraced the promises and walked as pilgrims and strangers who knew that they had a better city and were going to it.
Living in the day of shadows they were also taught by God by means of shadows. We know today that when God declares and promises to them that fear Him that they shall see their children’s children (Psalm 128:6), we cannot be sure that this will happen in this life; but we know that this will surely be the case in the new Jerusalem. We see though that Abraham, the father of believers, was given to experience that in his earthly life before death swallowed up and carried him away. Even though his son Isaac did not marry until he was forty years old and, Abraham himself was now 140 years old, and even through Abraham and Isaac with Rebekah had to wait another twenty years before the grandchildren were born, God caused him to see his children’s children at the age of 160 years. And then God gave him another fifteen years to live with them and see them grow up and approach the age of becoming young men.
Those were good years for Abraham. We may believe that Abraham enjoyed good health until the day of his death. We read no word about blindness such as came upon Jacob, nor of any other weaknesses that characterized his last days. We do read that he died “in a good old age, an old man and full of years.” The whole expression leaves not the slightest suggestion of a senile, frail man who hardly knew he was alive. His days were good and full. The expression “full of years” does not mean that the days were heavy, weighty with problems and difficulty of getting around. In fact the word “years” does not even appear. Some translations even make it “full of days.” And would we need this addition after the statements of “a good old age” and “an old man”? No, he had a good life that was full of wonderful experiences from a spiritual point of view. He saw, when he was as good as dead, the promised son. His concern for a wife for his son that would have interest in God’s covenant was rewarded with a divinely appointed woman from his own relatives. And now he had seen his children’s children and God’s faithfulness to His promises.
Incidentally, the first few verses of Genesis 25 refer to that which took place before the birth of Isaac and not afterward. Abraham took Keturah as a wife and she bare him six children. And to read of this in chapter 25, after Abraham had procured a wife for Isaac, makes it look as though the power which God gave Abraham to father a son at the age of ninety nine, in a wife who was eighty nine, continued and that he was able to father six more children and obtain a host of descendants. This definitely was not the case. The birth of Isaac was a miracle wrought by God in Sarah. It was also a miracle realized through sexually dead Abraham. And God did not continue this miracle in Abraham. He enabled Abraham for that one time to fertilize that which He for, the first time gave to Sarah for the sake of bringing forth in her a son.
It is certainly true that had he taken Keturah after the birth of Isaac there was still plenty of time for these children to be grown enough to be sent away from Isaac, as Abraham did and as is pointed out in Genesis 25:6. There were forty years before Isaac received a wife; and those forty years were certainly sufficient time for children to be born and to mature. But this puts Abraham in a worse light than he deserves. It is bad enough to read that he took another wife after God showed him in the case of Hagar that this was not His way of fulfilling the covenant promise. It is bad enough to read of both Hagar and Keturah, who represent unfaithfulness on Abraham’s part to his God-given wife, Sarah. That he was disappointed that God gave him no children through Sarah is understandable. Many a husband has had that experience. But it is no excuse for unfaithfulness and for adding new flesh. But consider once what it would mean that, after receiving the child of the promise, Abraham would get himself a concubine to raise up more children. He would hardly appear as the father of all believers. But how it appears to us means little. He would certainly be walking in a way of despising this great mercy and wonder of God that gave him Isaac. And Scripture gives us no such picture of Abraham. He looked to the Christ as that Christ was still in the loins of Isaac. Before the promise of Isaac he did look elsewhere. After Isaac’s conception and birth Abraham looked at Isaac and through him to Christ Himself. The reason why Moses places this taking of Keturah here is that he intends in this chapter to bring us to the death of Abraham. And before he does so, he will give the full account of these children of Abraham who became enemies of Israel in later years.
The reason why he did not place this element in Abraham’s life in its chronological setting is the fact that he wishes, as guided by the Holy Spirit, first to trace the covenant line and how God realized it. This required the telling of Abraham’s and Sarah’s foolish attempt to help God along by the conception of Ishmael. But these children which Abraham begot through Keturah have no place in the telling of the story of God’s unfolding His covenant promises to Abraham. So the detail of their birth and of Abraham’s sinful deed in former years of taking Keturah is added here at the end before Moses closes out the account of his earthly life. And we do better to translate, “And also Abraham took a wife . . .” rather than, “Then again. . . .” “And also” then means that he also took Keturah to be his wife, without stressing the time when he did so.
And having informed us of these descendants of Abraham Moses gives us to understand that Abraham did, after the birth of Isaac, walk according to the truth that God spoke to him that, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” For we read that he gave gifts to all the sons of Keturah, and “sent them away from Isaac.” These were his flesh and blood as surely as Ishmael was, and as surely as Isaac was. But Abraham is not moved here by the flesh but by the Spirit of Him. Who was in Isaac’s loins. It is a simple statement: “Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away.” But it speaks of faith in God. We do not, as the world warns its citizens not to do, “Put all our eggs in one basket”; but we do in implicit trust in God expect Him to keep His word and realize His promises. Be it but one son that Abraham has left, because God has said that all these rich promises will be filled in him, they will be fulfilled. And we are to look in only one direction. We are to look at the only begotten Son of God. We need nothing more than Him. We need nothing that is not in Him. And all the glories and blessings promised God’s Church are in Him and come out of Him.
It is for that reason also that Moses declares of Abraham that he, “. . . was gathered to his people.” For it is through this only begotten Son of God that we are gathered at the moment of death to our people. It is through this only begotten Son of God, and through Him alone, that we have a people. When God gave the first promise of the gospel, when fallen man stood trembling in the garden, knowing his guilt before God, He spoke of restoration of His favor. He spoke of a Kingdom of Heaven wherein man would know the sweetness of God’s love upon him, and wherein man would live in perfect love before God. But He also spoke of one Seed who would realize all this in the way of the bruising of His heel on the cross of Calvary by the Serpent, but also in the way of crushing that Serpent completely and of delivering a people from his power and out of his kingdom of darkness.
There God spoke already of two peoples. There already He divided the whole human race into two groups. There He drew the sharp line of the antithesis wrought by sovereign, eternal election. There He spoke of a spiritual difference which HE would realize in the human race. There He spoke of a seed which the believer may call his people in distinction from another seed and people to which he does not belong. There He put reborn Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah, and Shem, and the other unnamed believers who died before Abraham did, all in one class. Yea, there He put all these in one place, the heavenly abode of the souls of the redeemed. For to be gathered to one’s people means that these are all in one place. And Abraham was by God gathered to where God had already gathered the elect who had preceded Abraham into death, or, as Enoch, had gone into this place without death.
So you see Moses believed not only in life after death, he believed in a conscious life of glory immediately after death. Abraham was about a thousand miles or more away from the place where the bodies of Adam and Noah and Shem were buried. Bodily they were not gathered. Their bones were not gathered into one place. It is the soul of which Moses speaks here. His soul was gathered with the souls of the elect who one by one were gathered before God’s face. And the expression “his people” rules out any idea of soul sleep. So does the word gathered. Souls were gathered, not bodies. And these souls were not unconscious realities stacked somewhere on shelves, or still in their bodies in their graves. No, they are a people. Abraham was gathered unto his people. And we may believe that the expression implies that when he closed his eyes in death to see Isaac and his sons no more in the flesh, he saw Adam and the saints from him till Shem and knew them to be his people. He felt quite at home in the heavenly glory; and he did not enter as a stranger. These were his people, even though he had not known them in the flesh and had never seen them before.
Who are your people? With whom do you expect to be gathered when your time comes to close your eyes in the sleep of death? How amazingly wonderful that we know where we are going and with whom we will spend eternity. In Christ all the saints are our people. Because we belong to Him, and they likewise belong to Him, and both by God’s sovereign grace, we can point to the most wonderful people that ever lived, the redeemed children of God who have enmity in their hearts for all evil and love only for God, and we can say with conviction and joy, “These are my people.”