Torah Portion for Week 5: Genesis 23:1 – 25:18
Chayei Sarah (Life of Sarah)
In this week’s Torah portion the Abraham narrative comes to a close. From his call in Ur of the Chaldees, to his trip down to Egypt and his interactions with Melchizedek, Lot, Abimelech, and others, it’s been quite a ride. Along the way, God has made promises to Abraham and his descendants that include the land, being a special people, and being a blessing to the whole world. Now, at the end of Abraham’s life, the stage is set for a transition, as God is preparing the next generation to receive the promises. There are two main events in this week’s portion.
First, we read of Sarah’s death at the age of 127 years. (It is interesting to note that this is the only time in all of scripture that a woman’s age is mentioned at all.) Sarah was a special person. Although she once laughed at God’s plan, she was nevertheless used by God in important ways. Thankfully, God likes to work with less than perfect individuals. Sarah became the matriarch of the Jewish people, and Abraham wanted to honor her with a proper and fitting burial. They were in Kiriath-arba which, as the text says, was also known as Hebron. Here, Abraham searched for a burial site for Sarah.
Abraham went to the inhabitants of the land, the Hittites, and asked to buy some ground for the burial. The Hittites readily agreed and even offered to give him a grave free of charge. Abraham then asked if he could meet with Ephron the son of Zohar, who had a particular cave that Abraham wanted. Upon meeting, Ephron also offered the land for free. But Abraham preferred to pay full price and gave him four hundred shekels worth of silver. We read in Genesis 23:19-20, “After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.”
The second main event in this week’s portion is the famous story of Isaac and Rebekah. Abraham instructed his servant to find a wife for Isaac, but not among the Canaanites. So the servant went back to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor, and – by the Lord’s providence – found Rebekah. She returned with the servant to meet Isaac, and he took her to be his wife.
The life of Abraham is now coming to an end. Sarah has been buried, and Isaac is ready to start the next generation and continue the line that will carry God’s promises. Abraham’s burial is recorded in Genesis 25:9-11a, “Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son.”
The original purchase of this cave was itself an act of faith on the part of Abraham, as it was a piece of the very land that God had promised for him and his descendants. In Genesis 50:13 we see that Isaac and Rebekah, along with Jacob and Leah are buried there as well. This means that all of the patriarchs and their wives (with the exception of Rachel) were laid to rest in this very place. Years later, the children of Israel would enter the land more completely, just as God had promised. Abraham’s faith in the future promises of God enabled him to live obediently even while the fulfillment was a long ways away.
This should be a lesson for us all. Through Yeshua – the ultimate descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – we can rejoice in the future promises God has given us. Hebrew 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”