“Buried in the Promised Land”

Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford

In Genesis 23, we find a description of the death of Sarah and the fallout from it. Most of the chapter is occupied with a long-winded and somewhat comical account of Abraham haggling with the inhabitants of the land for a burial place for his wife. Eventually, he ends up as the owner of the cave of Machpelah, where in time he, his son, and his grandson also will rest.

This marks a somewhat ironic end for Sarah. Hebrews 11 identifies her as a woman of faith. Specifically, she considered God faithful in His promise that she would bear a son. More generally, though, she is part of the “these all” of Hebrews 11:13 who died in faith without having received the promises.

These promises can only be the promises that God had made to her husband. So far as we know, she was not a party to the conversations in which God told Abraham that the land of Canaan would belong to him, that his descendants would become a mighty nation, or that in his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Nonetheless, it appears that she knew about them, presumably because Abraham told her, and they shaped the course of the rest of her life.

She lived as a sojourner in the land of promise, and she died as a sojourner in the land of promise. In the end, she was buried in the only part of that land that belonged to her family. What a fizzle!

Of course, we know what Sarah did not live long enough to see. In time, Canaan did come into the possession of her descendants. They did become a mighty nation, and all nations were and are blessed through her grandson many times over, Jesus. Her death did not keep the promises from being fulfilled.

I find this heartening, for in many ways, I identify with Sarah. She heard only one of God's promises directly, but I've directly heard none of them. Instead, as she had to rely on Abraham, I must rely on the Bible.

I also anticipate that I will die without receiving the promises. I suspect that most Christians do not look for the Lord to return in their lifetimes, but if He wants to return while I am still alive, He's running out of time pretty quickly! Most likely, I will face the challenge of dying in faith.

Sarah’s example, though, shows that such a death is possible and even reasonable. Like her, I, and indeed all of us, can see and greet the promises from a distance. I am a foreigner and a temporary resident on the earth, as everyone is whether they believe the promises or not. However, I can look forward to a permanent dwelling, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Sarah died, but her death did not hinder the fulfillment of the promises. Even if I die, my death will not hinder the fulfillment of the promises either. God is much too powerful for that!