IN HEBRON—THE PLACE OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD
At the end of chapter twenty-two, Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac were dwelling at Beer-sheba, undoubtedly living near the covenanted well and the tamarisk tree. This was a miniature of the church life, for the church life is always by a well of living water and a tamarisk tree. Suddenly, at the beginning of chapter twenty-three we are told of Sarah’s death. Although Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac were living at Beer-sheba, she died and was buried in Hebron, the place of fellowship with God. Sarah went on from Beer-sheba to Hebron. In like manner, if the Lord delays His coming back, I would like to live in the church life and die in the fellowship with God.
According to the map, Hebron is between Beer-sheba on the south and Jerusalem on the north. It is on the way from Beer-sheba to Moriah, where Jerusalem is. If the Lord delays His coming back, I would like to be buried in a place which is on the way to the New Jerusalem. Where are you living today? We all must answer that we are living in Beer-sheba, in the church by the well of living water and the tamarisk tree. Our church life is today’s Beer-sheba. Before the Lord comes back, some of the older ones may leave Beer-sheba, the church life, die in Hebron, and wait there for the New Jerusalem. Hebron is not only a place of fellowship with God; it is also a way to Jerusalem. The cave of Machpelah in Hebron is the gateway to the New Jerusalem. Perhaps some day we shall hear Sarah testify, “When I entered into the cave of Machpelah, I entered into the gate which leads into the New Jerusalem.” Sarah was not simply buried in the cave of Machpelah; she is now sleeping there, waiting for the day when she will wake up and find herself in the New Jerusalem.
SARAH’S EARLY DEATH
Sarah died at the age of one hundred twenty-seven (vv. 1-2). Although this may seem to be very old today, at that time it was an early age to die. Abraham lived one hundred seventy-five years (25:7), living thirty-eight years after Sarah died. Sarah should not have died at such an early age. Her death, thirty-seven years after Isaac’s birth (17:1, 17; 21:5), was abnormal.
Abraham and Sarah were the best couple in the whole universe. They truly loved one another, never having any consideration of divorce or separation. When Abraham was robbed of his wife, it was a great loss to both Abraham and Isaac. Isaac was a dear son to his mother, and she undoubtedly loved him very much. At the age of thirty-seven, he was still unmarried and lived with his mother. When he did marry at the age of forty (25:20), the Bible even tells us that Isaac was married in his mother’s tent (24:67). Suddenly, the love between Abraham and Sarah and between Sarah and Isaac was broken, for Sarah, the wife and mother, was taken away by an abnormal death. Because of this, Abraham suffered greatly.
If you read Abraham’s history, you will see that God was always taking things away from him. Lot separated from him, Eliezer was rejected, Ishmael was cast out, and Isaac was offered to God on the altar. Then his dear wife was taken away in death. What trials and sufferings Abraham passed through! According to our natural concept, Abraham, one who was so good with God, should not have suffered all these things. In chapter twenty-two Isaac was offered to God and returned to Abraham in resurrection. Suddenly, while Abraham was enjoying a happy life with his wife Sarah and his son Isaac, Sarah, the factor of his happiness, was taken away. The happiness in this family was dependent upon Sarah, the wife and the mother. When Sarah died, the atmosphere, life, and happiness of this family were all taken away, and the family itself was gone. What a suffering that was to Abraham!
As God’s called ones, we should not expect to have a happy life here on earth. We must follow the steps of Abraham looking for a better country, for a city with foundations (Heb. 11:10, 16). Our temporary life on earth is the life of a traveler. Due to this, Abraham paid little attention to his dwelling place and simply erected a tent. He was a sojourner, a stranger, who was looking for a permanent dwelling place.
Abraham lived for thirty-eight years without Sarah’s help (25:8). In the Bible, the number thirty-eight is the number of sufferings, trials, and tests. The children of Israel suffered trials and tests in the wilderness for a period of thirty-eight years. As we have seen, Isaac was forty years old when he married. In the Bible, the number forty also means trials, temptations, and tests. We also have another number in this chapter—four hundred—which is ten times forty. The first time the number four hundred is used in the Bible is in Genesis 15:13, where Abraham was told that his descendants would suffer affliction for four hundred years. Here in 23:16 we read that Abraham bought the sepulcher at the cost of four hundred shekels of silver. This indicates that it was a test, trial, and suffering.
As you read this chapter in the past, perhaps you did not have the feeling that Abraham was suffering. But notice two words in verse 2—“mourn” and “weep.” Abraham mourned and wept for Sarah because he had lost his happiness and his family life. The Hebrew words translated “mourn” and “weep” indicate much more than just mourning and weeping. Abraham suffered intensely at losing his wife in his old age; he was deeply hurt. His great suffering is indicated by the numbers thirty-eight, forty, and four hundred.
(Abraham—Called by God, Chapter 23, by Witness Lee)