As we come to chapter 18 in our study of the Book of Genesis, we see the most dramatic of all of God’s appearances to Abraham. Here, the Lord and two angels visit him in the form of human beings. This visitation immediately brings to our minds the reminder given by the writer to the Hebrews who said that we do well in showing hospitality to strangers: for some have “entertained angels unaware” (Heb. 13:2). Surely had the Lord not revealed His identity to Abraham here, this would have been such an occasion. Nevertheless, we can be certain that Abraham was in need of no such reminder and was in the practice of displaying this kind of hospitality to all who passed his way.
There are a great deal of things that may be observed during this encounter and many lessons that we can learn from it. However, highlighted in my Bible are two simple, rhetorical questions that I feel are among the highest points of spiritual truth that we glean from this chapter. These two questions are the hinges upon which the great revelations of God’s character in Genesis 18 swing. The first of these is:
Is anything too difficult for the Lord? (v.14)
As God re-confirms His promise to Abraham of a son born by Sarah, Sarah herself overhears His words and laughs at the notion of conceiving a child in her old age. Shall Abraham and I really bear a child at our age?, she thinks within herself. The Lord responds by asking why she has laughed and then asks the question: Is anything too hard for the Lord? It is to this end that it seems that God has waited so long to bless them with a child. He could have caused Sarah to conceive many, many years before, but He has chosen this time to do so. Why?
“I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)
Wherein can man behold so vividly the strength and glory of God than when He performs “the impossible?” At what time do we trust so greatly in God’s power than when we have come to realize the insufficiency of our own? God withheld Sarah’s conception of Isaac until the point when there was absolutely no other way that he could be born apart from God’s miraculous intervention. What pure faith is revealed within us when we reach the conclusion that if something is to be done, then God alone must do it. This was the point of faith that God had been bringing Abraham and Sarah to all along. Hebrews 11:11 tells us that Sarah did, in fact, believe that God was able to perform that which He promised, but it seems that just the thought of it gave her a brief pause when first she heard Him utter it.
Sarah’s reaction of laughter, her brief moment of incredulity, is born not of her distrust in God, but in her distrust of herself. She is not really intending to express skepticism in what God can do, but in what she is capable of. After I am old, she thinks, shall I have the pleasure of motherhood? Is this not so often the point of our own contention of faith? We take our eyes off of what God can do and look only at what we cannot do. We tell the Lord that our faith is firmly rooted in Him, yet we have no faith in ourselves. But we fail to see that this is precisely the realization that God intends for us to have! It is in our weaknesses and inabilities that the glorious strength and abilities of God are shown in such remarkable contrast (2 Corinthians 12:10). It is only when things become impossible for us that we learn to say: Is anything too hard for the Lord?
To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,
[This post was originally published January 15, 2010]
**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]
What a peculiar situation we find Abraham in as the 23rd chapter of Genesis unfolds. The man to whom God had promised the entire land of Palestine (Genesis 15:18) now stood negotiating with the sons of Heth for a burial plot in which to inter his beloved Sarah. His descendants had been given by God all the land from the Wadi el Arish river of Egypt to the mighty Euphrates; yet Abraham did not actually possess so much as a parcel of land the size of a burial plot! He indeed possessed great wealth, we know this (e.g, Gen. 13:2, 24:35), but his feet trod upon ground which, at the time, belonged to others.
“I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” (Genesis 23:4)
I am a foreigner and an alien among you, Abraham honestly says to those who currently occupied the land. He was living in a country which he had immigrated to, a land wherein he had no natural inheritance. The only One Who really does own any part of this Earth (Psalm 24:1) had deeded the land to Abraham and his descendants, but Abraham was not to take it by force. So, he negotiates to purchase a piece of the land which he really already owns. Verse 9 of Genesis 23 shows us that Abraham already had in mind a specific section in which he desired to bury Sarah: the Cave of Machpelah. It belonged to a certain man named Ephron; and it would be from him that Abraham must purchase it.
The generous gesturing of the sons of Heth, even Ephron himself, which is described in Verses 6-16, might leave us quite impressed by the absolute magnanimous offerings which they present to Abraham. “In the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead”, they tell him (v. 6). It appears that these most noble gentlemen are proposing that Abraham take from them whatsoever he wishes, no charge attached. But those familiar with the customs and commercial protocols of the Oriental marketplaces, ancient and modern, tell us that such ostentatious pretense is a mere formality with no such actual intention of a one-sided transaction occurring at all. Take it, it’s your, even though it is worth 400 shekels of silver, Ephron says. The price has been stipulated, a price that is agreed by those familiar with the culture to be grossly exorbitant. Nevertheless, the price has been stated and Abraham can in no way accept this piece of land without rendering the amount; lest his honor and reputation be forever damaged.
Verse 17 defines the parameters of the property in question, even mentioning the trees and specific borders that would differentiate the limits of the field from its environs. No doubt about it that this chapter of Genesis was to serve as a perpetual legal document articulating that the Cave of Machpelah, the resting place of the Patriarchs, had been acquired with all propriety.
So, what can be learned by examining such a relatively mundane chapter of Scripture? What applicable truths can the modern child of God glean from this description of Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah? First, we see that there is a dignity with which the servant of God should behave in all of his dealings with those of this world. Any other man in that assembly would have doubtlessly haggled and dickered over the amount quoted for the field, as was likely Ephron’s expectation and reasoning for setting the initial price so high. But Abraham refrains from doing so, silently agreeing with Ephorn’ assertion: What is 400 shekels of silver betwixt me and thee, indeed. The price was unfair, but in Abraham’s economy it was no great loss. Any attempt to secure a lesser amount could have later been construed as duplicity on the part of Abraham. I wanted 400 for it, but that silver-tongued Abraham talked me down to 250, Ephron might have claimed. Since Abraham paid the exact price requested, no such dishonesty could ever be attributed to him. It is certainly not a violation of God’s will to be shrewd in our business dealings, but we must always bear in mind that God is the One upon Whom we rely and we are merely stewards of any finances which come our way. Our character is of far greater importance than our treasure; for we cannot serve God and mammon.
The paradoxical nature of Sarah’s burial was not likely lost on Abraham. For it was only in her death that he had actually acquired even one small portion of the Land of Promise. He would later join her there (Gen. 25:10) and it would only be then that he would cease to be a stranger and sojourner and would take up permanent residence therein. It really is not much different for us. God has promised unto the Christian blessings in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3, 2:6), the fullness of which we will not see in this lifetime. Those blessings were secured by Christ through His death, and it is only after our own death that we shall enjoy them in completeness. Like Abraham, we have those promises now, but until we pass from this life to the next, we shall remain strangers and sojourners in a land that is not our own.
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)