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14. How to Respond to Death in a God-honoring Way (Genesis 23, 25:1–10)

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Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.” The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.” Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. He said to them, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.” Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. “No, my lord,” he said. “Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.” Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.” Ephron answered Abraham, “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you? Bury your dead.” Abraham agreed to Ephron's terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants. So Ephron's field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city… (Genesis 23, 25:1–10)

How can we respond to death in a God-honoring way? How should we comfort those who have lost loved ones?

One of the purposes of Scripture is to equip the man of God for every good work (2 Tim 3:17), and one of these good works is responding to death well. Many don’t like to think about death; however, death is a reality that must be considered and prepared for. And in one sense, as Christians, we should be more prepared for death than others. Hebrews 9:27 in the KJV says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Scripture teaches us to live with a view towards eternity, and in order to do that, we must realistically view and prepare for death.

In this text, we see how Abraham responded to his wife’s death, and we will, eventually, see his death as well. This is important to consider because we all will experience the loss of a loved one and ultimately our own death. And it is also important because people close to us lose loved ones. How can we prepare to minister to them and help them respond in a God-honoring way?

When Paul was confronted with the possibility of dying while imprisoned in Rome, he said this in Philippians 1:20–21:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Paul’s desire in confronting death was that Christ would be magnified through him, and it must be the same for us. How can we respond to death in a God-honoring way—a way that magnifies Christ?

As we consider both Genesis 23 and 25, two of the last narratives on Abraham, we learn principles about how to respond to death in a God-honoring way.

Big Question: What can we learn about responding to death in a God-honoring way from Abraham’s response to Sarah’s death?

In Response to Death, We Must Celebrate and Learn from the Lives of the Deceased

Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. (Genesis 23:1–2)

As we consider Sarah’s death, we must first consider the fact that she lived. The text says, “Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old.” If she married Abraham at fifteen, the common marrying age of the ancients, she was married for 112 years1 and following God for at least sixty-two years. A great deal can be celebrated and learned from her life.

Often when people die, instead of celebrating and learning from their lives, we commonly over-focus on the death and how sad it was. However, the most important thing to remember is the fact that they lived, no matter how brief or difficult life was.

Sarah was a great woman of faith. We are never clearly given Mary, Jesus’ mother, as a model of faith in the Scripture; however, we are given Sarah as a model of faith three times. In fact, she is put in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. Listen to these texts:

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. (Hebrews 11:11 [ESV])

For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (1 Peter 3:5–6)

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many. (Isaiah 51:1–2)

When confronted with death, we must remember the person’s life. Sarah was a great woman of faith. Not only did Abraham leave his family and his home, so did Sarah. When Sarah had a miraculous birth, the writer of Hebrews attributes it to her faith. In 1 Peter 3:5–6, she is honored for her humble submission to her husband, and women who do the same are called her daughters.

No doubt, Abraham and Isaac comforted one another by talking about how great a woman she was. She was a Proverbs 31 wife and mother. In the same way, one of the ways we should respond to death is by remembering the life of the deceased and taking lessons from them. As mentioned, Hebrews 11 is the Hall of Faith. It mentions Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David and other great men and women of faith. Hebrews 12:1 says this about their lives:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

The writer says that we should remember the lives of these dead saints because their lives encourage us to get rid of sin and persevere in the life of faith. Many times God uses deceased saints to inspire us, remind us of the brevity of life, and motivate us not to waste ours. In responding to death, we must remember the lives of the deceased.

Pastor Bruce Goettsche from Union Church, in his sermon on Genesis 23, gives us some helpful insight on how to comfort those who have lost a loved one. He says,

In fact, many people make a terrible mistake when talking with someone who has suffered a loss. They avoid talking about the person who died or anything associated with the loss. We say we “don’t want to upset” the one who is grieving. But what a foolish approach this is. We are acting like the person never lived. And there is nothing that deepens the pain of one who is grieving like the feeling that the one who is gone has been so easily forgotten. Truthfully, the one thing most grieving people want to do is talk about the one who died. They want to talk about how rich life was when that person was around. They love hearing a special memory or being told that you were missing that person today. Sometimes it brings a tear…but it is usually a grateful tear.2

One of the ways we respond to death is by remembering that the people lived and talking about them. Talking about them is a necessary part of healing from the loss—celebrating and learning from them. Lord, give us grace to celebrate and learn from your saints.

Application Question: Have you ever lost a loved one? How important is it to remember and talk about them? How can we wisely comfort grieving people by remembering the lives of their loved ones?

In Response to Death, We Must Properly Mourn

Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. (Genesis 23:1–2)

After Sarah died, the text says that Abraham mourned and wept over her. Sadly, in many circles today it is considered a lack of faith to mourn. They would trumpet the fact that Christ defeated death (2 Tim 1:10), that God works all things to the good (Rom 8:28), and therefore, we shouldn’t mourn. However, those statements do not represent the full counsel of Scripture. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept, even though he knew Lazarus would rise from the dead. When Jacob died, Joseph and the Egyptians mourned for over seventy days (Gen 50:3, 10).

Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 7:3–4, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.”

There is a place for sorrow and sadness. There is tremendous wisdom in it. It is the fool who tries to escape pain and drown it out with pleasure. In mourning, we remember the people, lament the loss, and find healing. If we do not properly mourn, we will handle that pain in an unhealthy way, which eventually affects us and others negatively. If Jesus mourned death, then so should we.

Application Question: What are some normal stages of grief? What should distinguish these stages in the life of a believer from that of a nonbeliever?

The normal stages of grief include:

  • Denial and isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining (When we have lost control, we naturally want to try to regain it. We may say, “If I did this” or “If I did that…,” or we may try to bargain with God)
  • Depression
  • Acceptance of the loss

Now with that said, believers should not mourn in the same way the world does, we mourn in hope. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul said, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” We grieve, but it is not the grief of hopelessness.

We hope because of the realization that we will see them again in heaven, if they were believers. We hope because we know that our God is ultimately good and wise and always does what’s best. Yes, we mourn, but we mourn in hope because of God’s faithfulness.

Application Question: How can we know when we or somebody else is mourning without hope? How can we minister to these people?

In Response to Death, We Must Remember Heaven Is Our Ultimate Home

Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.” The Hittites replied to Abraham, (Genesis 23:3–5)

Interpretation Question: What did Abraham mean when he called himself an “alien and a stranger” among the Hittites?

The narrative only spends one verse on Abraham’s mourning and then moves on to Abraham’s securing of a grave plot. This may seem like a ridiculous amount of space given to purchasing a burial place for Sarah; however, we can learn many important principles from this correspondence.

From Abraham’s interaction with the Hittites we must notice what he called himself in verse 4. Abraham said, “I am an alien and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site so I can bury my dead.”

What did Abraham mean when he called himself “an alien and a stranger” among the Hittites? Obviously, he meant that Canaan was theirs and that he owned no property in the land, but the writers of Scripture seem to imply that he meant much more. Hebrews 11:9–10 says this,

By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

The writer of Hebrews says that the reason Abraham never owned land in Canaan other than his wife’s burial site was because he viewed heaven as his home. He saw himself not just as a pilgrim waiting for God to give him the land of Canaan, but he also was waiting for heavenly Canaan.

God said the same thing about Israel through Moses in Leviticus 25:23: “‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” Even though the nation of Israel would indeed own the land of Canaan, it was really God’s, and they were just aliens and tenants in the land—heaven was their ultimate home.

David said the same thing in 1 Chronicles 29:1 and Psalm 39:12. He said:

“We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. (1 Chronicles 29:1)

Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were. (Psalm 39:12)

Even though David owned great land and property, he realized that it was all God’s and that he was really just a stranger waiting for his heavenly abode.

Do you realize that Scripture says the same thing about us? Peter said this in his introduction to his first epistle, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Pet 1:1).

We are strangers in this world; this world is not our home. While Abraham was living in Canaan, he lived as a pilgrim and a stranger because he was really waiting for heaven. This is the same way that many saints have viewed themselves in this world. This reality becomes especially important as we encounter persecution and death. We must hold on even tighter to our heavenly home. Paul said this to persecuted Christians in Philippians 3:20–21:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

As we encounter death, we must remember our citizenship. This is not our home. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8), and one day at the resurrection, our bodies will transform into glorious bodies like our Lord’s. This is what we must remember when encountering death. This is what we must consider when losing loved ones or when confronted with our own mortality.

Application Question: How does remembering our heavenly citizenship encourage you when considering death? How can we better live as citizens of heaven while on this earth, instead of assimilating to the culture?

In Response to Death, We Must Respond and Prepare Practically

Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.” (Genesis 23:3–4)

As we witness Abraham’s purchase of a burial plot, we are reminded that when encountering death, we must respond practically. Some when encountering death bottle up and go into a corner—leaving the practical issues of death to others. But, pragmatic issues like burial, finances, and wills, must be addressed.

Some have wondered if God, by his grace, allows us to deal with these matters as a way to not be overwhelmed with death. It often helps with grieving and continuing to live after loss.

The practical issues of death must be tended to, and they should not only be considered after somebody dies but also before. Consider what God said to Hezekiah when telling him about his impending death in Isaiah 38:1. The text says:

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

God told Hezekiah to put his house in order. This consisted of choosing an heir for his wealth and his kingdom. It also included preparing his family, friends, and nation practically, spiritually, and emotionally. Sadly, when people do not put their “house in order,” it often leaves undue stress on their family and friends.

Application Question: What does putting one’s house in order include in our context?

1. Putting our house in order might include getting life insurance or establishing a savings for family members—especially young children.

Funerals, caskets, and burial plots, can be costly, and these things must be considered. One should have money set away for these. Even though it will not affect us when we die, it affects those we leave behind. In addition, when considering a funeral, we should shy away from being luxurious, but maybe we shouldn’t be as cheap as possible either. Burials are not for the deceased; they are for the friends and family to mourn, celebrate the person’s life, and heal.

2. Putting our house in order might include paying off outstanding bills.

Again, this removes the burden from family members and allows them to both mourn and go forward with their lives afterwards. Scripture calls us to leave no debt outstanding (Rom 13:8).

3. Putting our house in order might include establishing a will.

A will establishes who inherits what and who handles certain practical matters after the death of a loved one. Establishing this after the death of a loved one can be a very difficult legal process, and some families actually divide over it. A will should be set up early in life and continually updated.

4. Putting our house in order might include downsizing.

In wealthy societies, people tend to pick up a lot of things that others need to sell, maintain, or give away in the event of death. When we die, we will take nothing with us. This reality alone should keep us from hoarding possessions (Matt 6:19). Either way, as we prepare for death, we should practically consider what to do with our things.

As Christians, we must prepare for death in a practical, God-honoring way, even before it happens.

Application Question: Have you ever considered these practical aspects that come along with death? Why is it important to prepare for the practical aspects of death? How can one start making preparations for one’s self or for older family members?

In Response to Death, We Must Recognize the Opportunity to Demonstrate Our Hope to the Lost

Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.” The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.” Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. He said to them, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.” Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. “No, my lord,” he said. “Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.” Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.” Ephron answered Abraham, “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you? Bury your dead.” Abraham agreed to Ephron's terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants. So Ephron's field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. (Genesis 23:3–18)

Throughout this narrative, as Abraham secures a burial plot for Sarah, the narrator repeatedly establishes how this was done “in the presence of all the Hittites.” This is shared in different ways four different times (Gen 23:3, 7, 10, 18).

The Hittites already admired Abraham. When he approached them, they literally called him “a prince of God” (v.6, ESV). Throughout his time in Canaan, he acknowledged and glorified God. In fact, soon after arriving, he built an altar to God in Genesis 12:7. No doubt, the Hittites always watched and respected him.

Now, even in how he responded to his wife’s death, he was a witness for God. We can see this in his negotiation with the Hittites. He first approached them asking to purchase a burial plot, and in response, they offered to allow him to bury his dead in the choicest of their tombs (v. 6). For the Hittites, this was a very generous offer. The ancients believed that wherever a person was buried affected where he lived in the afterlife.3 Therefore, to bury Sarah in the Hittite tombs meant she would dwell with their relatives in the afterlife.

However, Abraham believed in a different God and a different afterlife. Only owning his own burial plot would suffice. He then asked for the cave of Machpelah, which Ephron owned. Through the negotiations in Genesis 24:10–18, we learn something about bargaining in this ancient culture. Commentator David Guzik said this:

Ephron the Hittite followed the cultural customs of bargaining. First, the seller offered to give the item. Then, when that was refused, the seller suggested a price, which he claimed was modest but was really very high. This was understood to be the starting point, and from there the bargaining began.4

Ancient bargaining was often full of false humility and deception. When Ephron offered the cave plus the land for free, according to that culture, Abraham was supposed to reject the offer. It seems that Ephron added the plot of land because according to Hittite law, if he only sold the cave and not the whole property, he still owed taxes on the entire property. Therefore, he tried to unload the whole plot for financial purposes.5

Ephron’s offer of 400 shekels of silver was an extremely high price. It was there that the bidding would have begun. Abraham was supposed to bargain for a fairer price; however, he doesn’t. In the presence of the Hittites, Abraham acted with great integrity and accepted the initial offer.

This would have been a tremendous witness to the Hittites of whom dishonest practices was part of their culture. In the same way, death is another opportunity for believers to be a light and share their hope with the lost.

Application Question: How can believers share their hope with the world, even in response to death?

1. Believers share their hope by having gospel-centered funerals.

At a funeral people are more conscious of death and the afterlife; it helps bring these unsettling realities to the forefront of their minds. During the funeral, yes, the deceased should be remembered, but even more importantly, the gospel must be proclaimed so that those without hope may find hope in Christ.

2. Believers share their hope by having integrity in their practical dealings.

As mentioned, when dealing with wills, property, and bills after a loved one dies, many believers lose their witness before the world. All these matters become opportunities for fighting and discord—pushing many away from Christ. Like Abraham, these matters must be handled with humility and integrity.

3. Believers share their hope by showing love to grieving family members.

Certainly, we should show love to grieving families by reaching out, trying to help in any way possible, and also by grieving with them. It must be remembered that Christ wept, when he met with Lazarus’ family at the burial site (cf. John 11:33–35).

This might be especially important in the case of one’s own family. Many families have a great deal of discord within them, and funerals bring all the family members physically together. This can be an explosive time or a time of great healing. As believers, this is a time to love each family member, regardless of the previous baggage, and to be a peacemaker (cf. Matt 5:9). By loving grieving family members, we show our hope in Christ.

Application Question: Have you ever experienced a God-honoring funeral? What were characteristics of it? In what ways have you seen or experienced believers losing their witness by how they handled the practical matters of death?

In Response to Death, We Must Hold onto God’s Promises

Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site. (Genesis 24:19–20)

One of the things we must notice about Abraham’s purchase of the land is that it was an act of faith. In that culture, it was normative to bury one’s loved ones with family members in their homeland. But Abraham didn’t return home; he, in faith, buried Sarah in the Land of Promise. God promised that Abraham and his descendants would own the land of Canaan, and this property was a stake in that promise. It was very similar to God telling Jeremiah to buy the field of Anathoth in Jerusalem, even though Israel was about to be exiled to Babylon. Jeremiah bought the property as an act of faith, because he believed God’s promise that Israel would return (cf. Jer 32:6–15).

The cave of Machpelah was the same tomb that Isaac, Ishmael, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob would later be buried in (Gen 25:9, 49:31, 50:31) and, no doubt, many others. It would become a great monument of faith to the people of Israel. In fact, this narrative would have been very important as Moses, the narrator, was preparing the Israelites to leave the wilderness and to conquer the promised land. He was calling them to have faith, just as their forefathers did.

Application Question: In what ways must we as Christians hold on to God’s promises as we encounter death?

There are many important promises to hold on to when encountering death—one’s own death or the death of others.

1. We must hold on to the promise of being with Christ immediately at death.

Second Corinthians 5:8 says, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” A believer that dies immediately enters God’s presence. We must take comfort in that great promise.

We must hold on to the promise of the resurrection of the body.

First Thessalonians 4:15–18 says,

According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

It was never God’s will for us to live as dismembered spirits. One day our bodies will be resurrected. This can be tremendously comforting to those with a terminal sickness, as they watch their bodies waste away. This body will one day be resurrected, and it will be a more glorious body (cf. 1 Cor 15:36–37, 42–44).

This is also tremendously comforting to those still alive when loved ones pass away. The bodies of those who died in the Lord will be resurrected first, and then those still alive at the Lord’s coming will resurrect to meet with them and Christ in the air. We are instructed by God to comfort one another with these words (1 Thess 4:13–18).

3. We must hold on to the promise of his comfort in the midst of our loss.

Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” A grieving person may not always experience a special revelation of God’s presence. We are not told that God appeared to Abraham after he lost Sarah, as he did at other times. However, we can trust that he was present with him, even as he will be with us. Like the poem titled “Footprints in the Sand” says, we can trust that at discouraging times when God seems distant; it is then that God carries us.

“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?” The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”6

4. We must hold on to the promise that God will bless the children of those who love him.

Exodus 20:5–6 and Psalm 37:25–26 give us these great promises:

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:5–6)

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed. (Psalm 37:25–26)

This may be especially important as we face our own mortality while still having living children, especially young ones. We can trust that as we have followed God, he will faithfully take care of our children. They shall not be forsaken or left to beg for bread. God will meet their needs, and they will be blessed to a thousand generations.

Again, when Abraham’s wife died, it was normative to bury one’s loved ones with their family in the homeland. But Abraham didn’t go back to Ur or Haran; he trusted God’s promise and buried her in the land of Canaan. And we’ll see that at Abraham’s death, his children did the same, as they buried him with his wife (Gen 25:9).

We also, when encountering death, must hold on to God’s promises.

Application Question: Why is it so important to hold on to God’s promises as we encounter death? What promises are especially important to you as you consider death?

In Response to Death, We Must Continue to Live and Encourage Others to Live as Well

Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Asshurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah. Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east. Altogether, Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. (Genesis 25:1–10)

After Sarah died, Abraham didn’t crawl into the cave with her and become a hermit, he moved on with his life. God was not done with him yet. The Lord still had promises to fulfill in Abraham’s life. Abraham lived another thirty-eight years after the death of Sarah.7 At some point during that time, he married a woman named Keturah and had six children with her. Obviously, when God rejuvenated his reproductive organs at the age of ninety-nine, they still worked over twenty years later.

As we read the names of his children, we just read names. But when the Israelites read this narrative, they heard the names of nations. Jokshan, the second son of Keturah, had several nations come out of him: the Asshurites, the Letushites, and the Leummites. Midian was the father of the Midianites. In fact, Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, was a Midianite priest (Exod 3:1).

Similarly, we must continue to live after the death of a loved one. We will never forget. Our lives will always be richer because of them, and they should always remain in our memory. However, there is a time to mourn and a time to heal. There is a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to embrace and a time refrain (cf. Ecc 3:1–8). For Abraham, it was a time to embrace again.

This can be especially difficult for family members to watch when a widow or widower remarries. Some will choose to never remarry, but many will. In fact, Scripture encourages young widows to remarry to protect themselves from temptations (cf. 1 Tim 5:11–15). When and how soon remarriage happens is between them and God; however, in the process of discerning timing, it is probably wise to consider the sensitivities of others.

This principle applies to everybody who loses a loved one and not just for those previously married. There is a time to mourn and a time to heal. We must trust God and continue walking this pilgrim life. He still wants to use us, even after the death of a loved one, and he still has promises to fulfill in our lives.

God continued to bless Abraham and fulfill his original promise to him, that he would be great and nations would come from him (cf. Gen 12:1–3; 17:6). Abraham lived till 175 years old and then died. Before he died, he sent his six new children away with gifts, but he left his inheritance to Isaac. He then was “gathered to his people” (v. 8)—meaning he was buried with his wife, and ultimately reunited with her in heaven.

Death is not the end of living for the deceased nor the living. In heaven, if they knew Christ, the deceased are more alive than they ever were. And those on earth must continue to walk with God as well, until he takes them home and reunites them with their loved ones. In response to death, we must keep on living and encourage others to continue to as well.

Application Question: How can we wisely encourage others to continue to live in a healthy way after losing a loved one? Also, how can we help encourage others to accept when a loved one moves on, especially when it comes to remarriage?

Conclusion

How should we respond to death?

  1. In Response to Death, We Must Celebrate and Learn from the Lives of the Deceased
  2. In Response to Death, We Must Properly Mourn
  3. In Response to Death, We Must Remember Heaven Is Our Ultimate Home
  4. In Response to Death, We Must Respond and Prepare Practically
  5. In Response to Death, We Must Recognize Our Opportunity to Demonstrate Our Hope to the Lost
  6. In Response to Death, We Must Hold onto God’s Promises
  7. In Response to Death, We Must Continue to Live and Encourage Others to Live as Well

Copyright © 2017 Gregory Brown

The primary Scriptures used are New International Version (1984) unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, and King James Version.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.


1 Swindoll, Charles R. (2014-07-16). Abraham: One Nomad's Amazing Journey of Faith (Kindle Locations 3123–3125). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Kindle Edition.

2 Goettche, Bruce. “Sermons on Genesis.” accessed 12/13/14, from http://www.unionchurch.com/archive/071199.html

3 Swindoll, Charles R. (2014-07-16). Abraham: One Nomad's Amazing Journey of Faith (Kindle Locations 3191–3194). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Kindle Edition.

4 Guzik, David (2012-12-08). Genesis (Kindle Locations 3704–3707). Enduring Word Media. Kindle Edition.

5 Swindoll, Charles R. (2014-07-16). Abraham: One Nomad's Amazing Journey of Faith (Kindle Locations 3215–3218). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

6 Stevenson, Mary. “Footprints in the Sand”. Accessed 12/15/14, from http://www.footprints-inthe-sand.com/index.php?page=Poem/Poem.php

7 Swindoll, Charles R. (2014-07-16). Abraham: One Nomad's Amazing Journey of Faith (Kindle Locations 3231–3235). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Kindle Edition.

Related Topics: Suffering, Trials, Persecution