A SEPULCHER OF CHOICE
Verse 6 speaks of the “choice” sepulcher, referring to the best sepulcher. When the Lord Jesus was on earth, He did not have a good dwelling place. But after He died, He was put into a very good burying place (Matt. 27:57-60). He lived in a poor home, but He was buried in a rich tomb. In the Bible, this is a principle. We should not live in a good home, but we should prepare the best tomb. Abraham paid more attention to the sepulcher than to the tent. Genesis does not say a word regarding how Abraham put up his tent, how much he paid for it, or exactly where he erected it. He pitched his tent like someone who goes camping in the mountains for a few days. Abraham, a true camper, was camping throughout his entire life. Although he did not care very much about the tent, he was very concerned for the sepulcher. In this chapter we find a full description in detail of the cave of Machpelah in the field of Ephron. Not even the Old Testament city of Jerusalem is described in such a detailed way.
Let us now consider the meaning of this. In the light of the New Testament, we can see that Abraham was called by God and realized that he was a stranger, a sojourner, looking for a permanent city and a better country (Heb. 11:9-10, 16). As he was looking for this better country, his dear wife suddenly died. But Abraham did not give up his faith. Neither did he say to Isaac, “Isaac, your mother and I have been looking for a city with foundations and for the better country which God has promised us. We have always had this expectation. Now your mother is dead. How will she ever get there? What should we do? Probably our God is not trustworthy and we should not believe in Him anymore.” Abraham did not speak in this way. As we examine the record in Hebrews, we see that Abraham was not disappointed and did not lose his faith. Rather, he had strong faith in the God of resurrection, believing that his dear wife would be in that city and in that better country. This belief implies resurrection.
Genesis 23 is not a chapter on resurrection; it is a chapter on the gate into resurrection. In Genesis 23 Sarah did not enter into resurrection; she entered into the gate. According to Abraham’s realization, Sarah’s death was the entering into the gate of resurrection. Abraham did not take this matter lightly. Although he might have been somewhat light with his tent, he was not light concerning the burying place of his wife. His intention in purchasing the cave of Machpelah was not only to bury Sarah there, but also to bury himself there. The word Machpelah in Hebrew means double or doubling. Everyone who was buried in this cave was buried as one of a couple: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah (v. 19; 25:9; 49:29-32; 50:13). Deep within, Abraham was filled with the expectation that one day his wife would be in the city of foundations. This implies resurrection. Shortly before his death, Jacob charged his sons to bury him in the cave of Machpelah. Although in ancient times it was not a small thing to take Jacob from Egypt to Canaan to be buried, Jacob’s sons did it for him (50:13). By this we can realize that, as he was about to die, Jacob did not consider death as a termination but as a station, as the gate into the better country.
Abraham was filled with the hope of resurrection. He might have even loved the dead body of his wife more than he loved Sarah when she was living. If Sarah could have spoken to Abraham, she might have said, “Abraham, why are you so good to me after I have died? When I was living you never prepared a good tent for me. Now that I am dead, you have paid so much money to buy a cave in which to bury me. Why did you buy a cave with a field and trees? What are you doing?” Abraham might have said, “Sarah, you must realize that you are not being buried here. You will just rest here. I have prepared the best bedroom for you in which you may rest as you wait for that day. If that day is far off, I will come to be one with you and we shall rest together. This is why I have purchased the field as well as the cave. Look at the life in the field. It is not a place of death—it is a place of life.”
In the Bible, a field signifies the growth of life, that is, resurrection. This is true even today. If you do not believe in resurrection, I would ask you to consider a wheat field. Not long after the grains of wheat are planted, they rise up again. In 1936, I was preaching the gospel to a group of students at Ching-Hua University in China. One evening, after I had preached, a young student came up to me and, wanting me to explain the matter of resurrection, said, “I have no problem with Christianity, but I cannot believe in the resurrection. How can we, in our modern, scientific age, believe in such a superstitious thing as resurrection? How can a dead person be resurrected? Yet, this is one of the main teachings in the Bible.” I said to him that this was easy to explain. Through the window of the room in which we were sitting we could see wheat fields. I said, “Look at the wheat fields. Do you see the wheat that is growing there? Can’t you see resurrection in these fields? The seed is sown into the soil, dies, and eventually the wheat comes forth. This is resurrection.” This simple illustration convinced him, and he was saved. Now he is one of the leading co-workers on the island of Taiwan.
A growing field signifies resurrection, but driftwood signifies death. Abraham did not put Sarah into a place of death, but into a place of life, a place full of resurrection. The cave in which she was buried was in the end of the field (v. 9), and there were many trees nearby (v. 17). Suppose the cave of Machpelah was surrounded by piles of driftwood. Whenever anyone saw this, he would immediately have had the sense that it was a place of death, a place of termination. But the cave of Machpelah is not the place of termination; it is a place full of the expectation of resurrection. It is on the way to resurrection. In this place, Sarah could restfully sleep as she waited for that day to come. If she could speak, she might say, “I am not waiting in a place of death. I am in a living place. Look at the field and the trees. Someday, I’ll be in resurrection.” Sarah’s death did not disappoint Abraham in his search for a better country and for a city with foundations. On the contrary, it stirred up his expectation of the coming day. Therefore, he devoted much attention and spent a large amount of money to purchase the burying place for Sarah, himself, and his descendants. If we have the light from the New Testament, we shall realize that this indicates the expectation of resurrection. Once again I say that the sepulcher is the passageway, the gateway, into the expected city, the New Jerusalem. Hallelujah, the cave of Machpelah is on the way to Jerusalem!
We know that Genesis 23 indicates the expectation of resurrection because the Lord Jesus said that the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is not the God of the dead but of the living (Matt. 22:31-32). In our eyes, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are dead, but in God’s eyes, they are living.
Our forefather, Abraham, God’s called one, did not care very much for the present, but he did pay attention to the future. The choice sepulcher was for the future. In principle, we also should not prepare a better home for the present but a gateway for the future. We are not here for today but for tomorrow. If the Lord delays His coming back, we all shall enter into this gateway. We should not pay too much attention to the present but rather to the future. We should live in a tent looking for the city which has foundations.
(Abraham—Called by God, Chapter 23, by Witness Lee)