There is a bit of irony in the name of this Torah portion. The English translation is “life of Sarah.” The irony is that the narrative is about the death of Sarah. In fact, this Torah portion reports the deaths of both Sarah and Abraham. The text has already recorded the highpoint of the life of Sarah in giving birth to Isaac. The highpoint of Abraham’s life was the akedah – the binding of Isaac described in chapter 22. In the portion for this week, we have the conclusion of the life of Sarah and Abraham as well as a description of finding a wife for Isaac. Chapter 23 describes the death of Sarah and Abraham’s purchase of burial ground. This narrative teaches us some important lessons about death and our reaction to it. Gen. 23:2 says Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. Abraham did not live in denial. It is sad when a loved one dies. Abraham did not simply say that it was the will of God; he did not say that Sarah is with the Lord so it is a celebration. He missed his wife and grieved over the loss. Grieving is a healthy response to death. The fact that we read so much detail about the process of obtaining proper burial ground for Sarah tells us how important the act of death is and how important it is to respond well. We could say that the death of Sarah was part of the “life of sarah.” We also learn about how important burial rites are to the Jewish people. We learn that Jewish people traditionally bury the deceased and do not cremate. There is great respect for the body. Second, Jewish people do not normally embalm the deceased. The body is to be buried as soon as possible and in the most natural way as possible. There are exceptions such as Joseph but the norm is not to embalm. Another reason for such a detailed account of the purchase of burial ground is because the cave at Machpeleh is where the patriarchs and their wives are buried. Much emphasis is placed on the purchase of the cave. The purchase of the cave is the first purchase of land in Canaan by the father of the Jewish people. Abraham’s insistence on owning the land forever is an expression of faith that his descendants would inherit the land.
The legacy of Abraham is the life of faith that he lived. Abraham’s faith is demonstrated in this portion in his sending Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac. Finding a wife for Isaac is important if the promise of descendants to Abraham was going to come to pass. Chapter 24 begins with Abraham entering into an oath with Eliezer his trusted assistant. This is the same Eliezer that Abraham was going to choose for a “son.” Abraham tells him to go to the land of his father to find a wife for Isaac. Abraham is convinced that Eliezer will find a son for him there. Even though he gives his servant a release from the oath if he cannot find the girl, Abraham himself believed that the servant would have success. Once again we see the faith of Abraham in action. Notice that in verse seven, Abraham acts on the promise that God had made to him. God had promised him many descendants and that they would live in the land. Abraham tells Eliezer that he cannot bring a Cannanite girl for Isaac. Notice also that Isaac was never to leave the land of Canaan. These statements reinforce Abraham’s belief that the promise would come to pass. Abraham saw himself as participating in the promise by giving Eliezer these important guidelines. Eliezer is the picture of a model servant. He does just as his master asks. He trusts the faith of Abraham. Upon arriving at his destination he prays that the right girl would come along. In his prayer Eliezer asks for a specific sign. He was a man of prayer. Before he even finishes his prayer, God is answering him! As he finishes his prayer, Rebekah appears at the well. The main thrust of this whole narrative is to show the providence of God – that God is at work bringing these events to pass. In the narrative we are able to see how Eliezer responds to this answered prayer. Then the man bowed low and worshiped the Lord. He said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the Lord has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers.” Eliezer worshipped the Lord as he realized that God had brought about his discovery of Rebekah. This narrative teaches us some important lessons about faith. We need to exhibit the faith of Abraham. He believed that his servant would find the right girl from among his relatives. This is interesting because earlier in Abraham’s life there are two episodes where he was not so convinced that he would have his own son of promise. The first is when he thinks that Eliezer will be the “son he never had” and the second time is when he has a child with Hagar. Now he is old and almost ready to die. His faith has grown over the years. So too with us. For most of us faith is something that is cultivated over time. We start our life with the Lord with a measure of faith – believing in Yeshua, but as time goes on we grow in our faith believing God for more. We also learn in this portion what it means to be a faithful servant. Eliezer followed the desires of Abraham. He was obedient and faithful. Upon seeing the hand of God at work he was driven to worship. What is our response to seeing the hand of God? Overall this narrative teaches us that God is the one bringing to pass the promises that He has made. He promised a redeemer and He provided one in the person of Yeshua. As we live out our lives in faith, we will see the hand of God at work. As we serve the Lord the way Eliezer served Abraham and follow through in our service, we will see the hand of God work in this world. Finally like Eliezer we will be driven to worship. May our eyes be opened to the hand of God at work in our lives and in the world. The portion begins and ends with the death of godly people. We must learn that even death – both its timing and circumstance are in the hand of God.