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5. Abraham’s Epitaph (Genesis 25:1-11)

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How do you envision the end of your life? Living life to the full, right to the end? Using your gifts for God until your final breath? Or, fading into the sunset with nothing much to show for it?

What will be your perspective when you near the end of your life? “I’ve raised my children, worked hard, now I’m entitled to some peace and quiet” – preoccupied with your entitlement? Or, “I’m past it, out of touch, incapable of contributing, no use to anyone anymore” – absorbed with helplessness? Or, “My life is over and all I’m waiting for is to die” – obsessed with hopelessness?

What will others say about you when you’re gone? He lived his life well for God? Or, he lived for self? Or, she was fully devoted to serving God? Or, she was preoccupied with things?

What will be written on your tombstone, your epitaph? An epitaph is something by which a person, time, or event is remembered. It’s an inscription on a tombstone, words written or spoken in memory of a person who has died. So, how will others remember you? What words would they use to sum up your life?

Before commenting on the following verses, please note the interesting literary structure which the writer has chosen in bracketing Abraham’s death between the genealogies of his two concubines - Keturah (25:2-4) and Hagar (25:12-18) – which are then followed by the genealogy of Isaac in 25:19f.

Genesis 25:1-11 constitute the closing testimony of Abraham’s life and death, which testimony teaches us many invaluable lessons about how to end our lives well. Notice the first biblical lesson that…

I. Godly Parents Do Not Always Have Godly Children (25:1-4)

We’ve met Hagar before (Gen. 16:1-16 and 21:8-21) and now we are introduced to Keturah. “Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah” (25:1). Like many O.T. men of faith, Abraham had more than one wife. Multiple wives were often taken to produce children. But this practice was contrary to the will of God for marriage, that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24-25). This practice was an accommodation of cultural standards that were contrary to God’s standard. It conflicted with God’s intent for marriage, just as divorce did (Matt. 19:8).

The questions that are sometimes raised concerning Keturah are: (1) “What was Keturah’s status? (2) When did she become Abraham’s wife? (3) Was she Abraham’s wife or concubine? Or, was she his concubine who became his wife after Sarah died?”

Concubines were sometimes referred to as “wives” (cf. Hagar in 16:3; Bilhah in 35:22 and 30:4), as is Keturah (Gen. 25:1), although they did not have equal status alongside an actual wife. In some respects they were treated as slaves, being kept and provided for by the man and being considered the property of the man.

It appears that Keturah probably began as Abraham’s concubine and that, after Sarah’s death (Gen. 23:2), she became his wife (Gen. 25:1), although we cannot say this definitively since we need to remember that Genesis does not always record its genealogies in literary or chronological order. For example, even though Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah at age 40 is recorded in Genesis 25:20, and the twins were born 20 years later as recorded in Genesis 25:26, yet both these events took place before Abraham’s death, which is recorded earlier in Genesis 25:8. However, that said, if Keturah was Abraham’s concubine (1 Chron. 1:32) prior to Sarah’s death and became his wife after Sarah died, this would quite adequately explain the two different descriptions of her status – concubine and wife. It should be noted, however, that she never enjoyed the same status as Sarah, which perhaps would explain why her sons received gifts from Abraham (Gen. 25:6) but did not share in the inheritance with Isaac.

Other than her name, the only thing we really know about Keturah are the names of the six sons, seven grandsons, and three great-grandsons she bore to Abraham (25:2-4). We know little else but the names of these descendants of Abraham. What we do know is that Abraham sent them “eastward to the east country” (25:6b), probably to Syria or Arabia (cf. Ishmael’s children, Gen. 25:18) where they became the progenitors of six Arabian tribes (cf. 1 Chron. 1:32-33). We also know that the descendants of Midian (the Midianites) became staunch enemies of Israel.

It’s sad, isn’t it, that a godly, faithful man like Abraham should produce descendants who turned out to be so ungodly and so opposed to God’s people. But I suppose what we learn from this is that godly parents can raise their children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4) but they cannot control how they turn out spiritually. For that we must entrust our children to God’s sovereign care and control.

So, the first biblical lesson that this account of the end of Abraham’s life teaches us that godly parents do not always have godly children. The second lesson is that…

II. Godly Parents Leave Invaluable Lessons For Us (25:5-11)

The first invaluable lesson that we learn from the life of Abraham is…

1. How To Plan Wisely (25:5-6)

Abraham had not always acted responsibly, as we have seen, for example, in earlier studies of Genesis 16 and 21 in his relationship and dealings with Hagar. But at the end of his life, he made responsible and wise provision for his children, provisions that he made voluntarily and not out of obligation.

Because Isaac alone was the son of promise, he was Abraham’s sole heir and inherited all his father’s assets. Thus, Abraham “gave all that he had to Isaac” (25:5). His estate would not be divided up between various children because Isaac was the sole and rightful God-appointed heir, the son of God’s promise.

This is a lovely illustration of Christ’s inheritance, whom God “appointed the heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2). And how much more precious is it to know that, as God’s children by faith, we also are heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17).

I assume that Isaac’s inheritance of his father’s estate took place upon Abraham’s death, since the text specifically states that to his other children, the children of his concubines, he gave gifts while he was alive: “But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country” (25:6). Giving gifts to the children of Keturah was an act of pure goodwill, as there was no requirement for Abraham to give anything to sons of concubines. They were his biological children, but not children “of promise.” Just as Abraham sent Ishmael away in order that he would not participate in, or interfere with, Isaac’s inheritance (21:10), so he also sends all the sons of his concubines away. And just as he gave provisions to Ishmael when he sent him away (21:14), so he gave gifts to all the sons of his concubines when he sent them away.

Notice the wisdom and forethought that Abraham must have put into the plans for the disposition of his estate pursuant to his death. He not only secured the succession of the covenant through Isaac as his heir (and subsequently Jacob), but he also safeguarded Isaac from any opposition of the children of Keturah (1) by giving them gifts while he was alive (that was the extent of their participation in his wealth); and (2) by sending them “eastward to the east country,” far away from causing Isaac any trouble.

In all of Abraham’s dealings with and provision for his children, we can learn good, practical lessons about responsible parenting and responsible financial planning prior to our death. First, we learn that parents lay up for their children, not vice versa. For, as the apostle Paul says, “children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2 Cor. 12:14).

Second, at our death we must not leave a mess for our children to clean up. While it is not possible to prevent your children from fighting over your estate, at least you can do your part by spelling out in writing what is to happen to it upon your death – i.e. by way of a will. It’s sad, isn’t it, how many families are torn apart by disputes over the division of an estate? Money often changes people’s thinking and behavior. No wonder that 1 Timothy 6:10 says, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Third, as God prospers you, use your assets wisely for God’s work, for your family, and for those in need. May we make this a lifelong pursuit to be joyful and generous in blessing others and honoring the Lord with “the first fruits of all your produce” (Prov. 3:9; cf. 2 Cor. 8-9). Let us exemplify generosity now and to the next generation.

Fourth, leave a legacy that will impact your children and grandchildren after you’re gone – not just financial, but how you lived your life. This was the overriding legacy of Abraham’s life - not his wealth, but his faithfulness to God.

So, Abraham teaches us how to plan wisely. And he teaches us…

2. How To Be Remembered Well (25:7-8)

“These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years” (25:7). His biblical biography doesn’t start until he was 75 years old and covers the next 100 years of his life, during which he experienced God in a most personal and dynamic way. Let’s quickly review Abraham’s biblical biography.

Abraham believed God’s promise that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3) and he obeyed God’s instruction to uproot his wife, Sarah, and his entire household from their home in Ur of the Chaldeans in Mesopotamia and go to a new home in the promised land of Canaan (12:1-9). When a famine came, he and Sarah journeyed to Egypt, where, because Sarah was “a woman of beautiful appearance” (12:11, 14), he feared the possibility that Pharaoh might kill him in order that he could take Sarah as his wife. So, he lied and said she was his sister. He and his nephew Lot parted company because their livestock and possessions were of such abundance that they needed separate properties (13:6). Lot chose the well-watered plains of the Jordan Valley, settling in Sodom, while Abraham settled in the land of Canaan. When four kings made war with the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and captured Lot and his possessions, Abraham rescued them (14:1-16). After this, God repeated his promise to Abraham that he would have descendants in number like the stars of heaven, even though he was still, at that time, childless. And Abraham “believed the Lord and he counted it to him as righteousness” (15:5-6).

But no child was forthcoming from Sarah, so Sarah devised a scheme that, instead of waiting for God to fulfill his promise of a son and heir, they would produce their own son through Sarah’s maid, Hagar (16:1-4). But the result of this self-willed scheme was disastrous. Ultimately, Abraham had to send Hagar and her son, Ishmael, away in order to bring peace to his household (21:8-21). Finally, Isaac, the son of God’s promise, was born and no sooner had he become a young man than God called upon Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in order to test Abraham’s loyalty to God (22:1-19). He passed the test with flying colors.

Finally, in his old age and undoubtedly wanting to preserve their family lineage as God had promised, Abraham sent his servant back to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac. The servant was successful in his search and brought Rebekah, who “became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (24:67).

That is a quick summary of Abraham’s long and full life. With his affairs in order and a full and varied life behind him, Abraham’s life ended well. It seems as though the Spirit of God can’t repeat enough the fulness and the blessedness of Abraham’s life, the man who “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God” (James 2:23). And so the final epitaph and benediction on this good and godly man reads: “7 These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years and was gathered to his people” (25:7-8). Notice and analyze well this fourfold, repetitive tribute to Abraham…

First, Abraham’s life in retrospect. “These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years” (25:7). A life, no matter how long it may be, is made up of days. And Abraham’s days were varied, full of adventure, failures and faith. Let us learn to walk with God, as Abraham did, to be aware of God’s constant provision, protection, and guidance, and to seek to please God every single day.

Second, Abraham’s death recorded. “Abraham breathed his last and died” (25:8a). It seems from the way this is worded, that his end was not a long, drawn-out battle, as it is for some. He simply slipped peacefully and quietly into the presence of God. There is no hint of any bitterness over life’s hard experiences and lessons, no apparent regrets over bad decisions and behavior, no struggle with guilt, but a life at peace with God. His life ended in full communion with God, despite all the ups and downs, just as we would expect a “friend of God” to die. He died in faith and at peace with God.

Third, Abraham’s life reviewed. He died “at a good old age, an old man and full of years” (25:8b). He died in perfect accord with God’s promise, having received the abundance of God’s blessing. God’s promise was: “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age” (Gen. 15:15). And God’s blessing is indicated in the phrase, “full of years,” which literally and simply reads: “full” – i.e. “satisfied” or “contented.” Thus, his life was not only long in length but “full” in satisfaction and contentedness. How we should long to do the same, to die full of the blessings of God and satisfied in Him.

Fourth, Abraham’s soul reunited. He “was gathered to his people” (25:8c). This probably refers to his reunion with his predeceased loved ones, which reunion takes place immediately upon death, when the soul is separated from the body. Thus, here in the O.T. we have the truth revealed that human beings, despite being mortal and corruptible, have immortal souls that continue on after death.

So, Abraham teaches us how to plan wisely, how to be remembered well, and…

3. How To Be Buried Honorably (25:9-11)

Abraham was buried honorably in two ways. Firstly, Abraham was buried honorably by his two sons. Isaac and Ishmael, whom we last saw in conflict and separation (21:1-17), were reunited in the burial of their father (25:9-10). It’s lovely to see families come together at a time of loss, to set aside their differences and unite at a time when they most need togetherness. Isaac and Ishmael honored their father by reuniting at his burial. Notice that only the sons of Sarah were involved (not the sons of Keturah), Ishmael being considered Sarah’s son by a surrogate mother, Hagar.

Secondly, Abraham was buried honorably at his burial site. The cave of Machpelah was purchased by Abraham on the occasion of Sarah’s death as a family burial plot (Gen. 23:1-20). This was the first acquisition of property in the promised land by Abraham. Abraham made sure that he and his descendants would have a permanent burial place. This is an act of faith that God would fulfill his promise to give them this land. Hence, his careful negotiations and insistence that he own the property by buying it from Ephron the son of Zohar (23:8-16). Abraham would not agree with any of the options offered to him: (1) to borrow a burial place from the sons of Heth (23:3-6); and (2) to accept a burial place as a gift from Ephron the Hittite (23:7-11). Rather, he insisted that he buy the property at the market price and own it by a deed with a detailed description (23:12-16). Not until the deal was concluded to his satisfaction did Abraham bury Sarah in the cave of Machpelah.

“After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi” (25:11). Isaac now becomes the recipient of God’s covenant blessing to his father, Abraham, the blessing of the God who “lives and sees me” (Gen. 16:7-14). God is faithful and true; He keeps his word. He intervenes in our lives to deliver us from trouble, to correct us when we stray, and to give us renewed hope.

Final Remarks

Even though Abraham’s life was dotted with failures, nonetheless, he is included in the Hebrews hall of faith as one who “obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). That’s a life of faith well-lived for God. When he was already 75 years old, he obeyed God’s call to leave his home in Mesopotamia and go to the land of Canaan, a land he had never visited, knew nothing about, and didn’t even know how to get there (Gen. 12:1-4). That’s obedience and faith. And that’s what marked the entirety of Abraham’s life. That’s the testimony (epitaph) of his life.

So, what will your descendants write on your epitaph, in your memory? What will they say at your funeral? How will history record your life and death? That you lived a full, rich life for God? That you used all your gifts and abilities to bless your family and God’s people? That you left behind an example of how to live a life of faith that all who come behind you will seek to emulate?

How are you using (or going to use) your time at the end of your life, your “retirement” years? For self and pleasure? Or in activities that have spiritual and eternal consequences and benefits? Will you be known as a man or woman of faith who was gathered to your people?

Let us learn and take courage from the life of Abraham. After living for 175 years, a life with failures amidst incredible faith, at the end of his life Abraham’s epitaph reads: “He died at a good old age, an old man, and full of years” (Gen. 25:8).

Perhaps you are tormented over failures in your life, the memory of which keeps coming back to haunt you. Well, remember that while you can’t erase your memory nor the consequences of your actions, nonetheless you can be fully forgiven.

Sometimes, I think that those memories of failures that keep recurring are stimulated by our lack of acceptance and understanding of God’s full and complete forgiveness. Sometimes I think we are just unable (or unwilling) to accept and grasp the extent of God’s grace. We need to take God at his word, which says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). We may not be able to forget the past, but God can and does: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34).

So, let us keep short accounts with God, confessing our sins every day so that nothing hinders our full fellowship with Him. Let us enjoy the peace of knowing our sins (past, present, and future) are forgiven because of Christ’s death on the cross. And let us strive to live for the glory of God by faith, for the God “who saved us and called us to a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9) also strengthens us with power through his Spirit (Eph. 3:16), thus enabling us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Eph. 4:1; cf. Col. 1:10). Take courage in these great and precious promises and press on for the glory of God until Jesus comes again or until He calls you home to heaven.

Related Topics: Character of God, Christian Life

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