The Burial Of Sarah
So it was that the field of Ephron in Machpelah, east of Mamre, the field with the cave in it and the trees on it all passed to Abraham and became his legal possession in the presence of the Hittites and all those officials present at the city gate. After the agreement was made, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah, east of Mamre (an area now known as Hebron) in Canaan. The field and the cave in it became Abraham’s property with the approval of the Hittites; now he had a proper place to bury his dead.
Genesis 23:17-20 (VOICE)
The key phrase in the chapter, used seven times, is “bury my dead.” Even though Sarah was gone, Abraham showed respect for her body and wanted to give it a proper burial. This is the pattern for God’s people throughout the Scriptures. Neither the Old Testament Jews nor the New Testament Christians cremated their dead. Rather, they washed the body, wrapped it in clean cloth with spices, and placed it in the ground or in a tomb. While there may be some situations when cremation is the better way to dispose of the body, for the most part, Christians prefer burial. This is the way our Lord’s body was handled after His death (Matt. 27:57-61), and Paul seems to teach burial in 1 Corinthians 15:35-46.
When Abraham purchased the cave of Machpelah for a tomb, he was making a statement of faith to all who were there. He did not take Sarah back to their former home in Ur but buried her in the land God had given him and his descendants. He did not ignore the body but gave it a proper burial in view of the promised resurrection. When God saves us, He saves the whole person, not just “the soul.” The body has a future, and burial bears witness to our faith in the return of Christ and the resurrection of the body.
It must be pointed out, however, that resurrection is not “reconstruction.” God will not reassemble the dust of the body and restore the body to its previous state. God promises us a new body! In 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, Paul makes it clear that there is continuity but not identity between the old body and the new body.
He illustrated this miracle with the planting of a seed. The seed dies and decays, but from it comes a beautiful flower or some grain. There is continuity but not identity: The same seed does not come out of the ground, but what came out came from the seed that was planted. Christian burial bears witness that we believe in a future resurrection.
When you get to the end of Genesis, you find that Abraham’s tomb is quite full. Sarah was buried there, and then Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah (Gen. 49:29-31); and then Jacob joined them (50:13). Genesis ends with a full tomb, but the four Gospels end with an empty tomb! Jesus has conquered death and taken away its sting (1 Cor. 15:55-58). Because of His victory, we need not fear death or the grave.
Abraham owned the whole land, but the only piece of property that was legally his was a tomb. If the Lord Jesus does not return to take us to heaven, the only piece of property each of us will own in this world will be a plot in the cemetery! We will take nothing with us; we will leave it all behind (1 Tim. 6:7). But, if we are investing in things eternal, we can send it ahead (Matt. 6:19-34). If we live by faith, then we can die by faith; and when you die by faith, you have a wonderful future.