Abraham must have been a white-haired old man with long flowing beard and noble, rugged face. I can imagine him as he gazed for the last time on his life’s companion. His heart must have been broken. Tears must have streamed down his weather-lined cheeks and run down his beard as his shoulders shook and his chest heaved with sobs of sorrow.
When Sarah died, it’s obvious that Abraham was acutely aware that he had many flocks and herds and servants and tents but nothing truly permanent. He owned no buildings or homes or businesses. Everything he had was of a temporary, portable, transitory nature as he “rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, ‘I am an alien and a stranger among you'” (Genesis 23:3-4).
The older I get, the more life seems not only fragile but also very brief. When I have faced the death of a loved one or stood by the casket of a close friend, the temporariness of life has come into clear focus. One moment the person was thinking and feeling and speaking and hearing and loving. The next moment he or she is silent and still … gone. The sorrow is magnified when we realize that, unless there are people who make an effort to keep the memories alive, that person will soon be forgotten. I am left almost numb by the thought that my own grandchildren will never really know my mother, except through the stories I tell them and pictures I show them and her writings I read to them.
What a sobering realization! As I observe people working so hard, achieving so much, living so frantically, accumulating so abundantly, indebted so deeply, known so famously, and acclaimed so highly, King David’s reflections come to mind: “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16). Death has seemed to bring life more into focus for me. Has it done the same for you? If life is not about more than just living at the present, it’s basically meaningless.
As you examine your life—your daily, weekly and monthly schedule; your priorities, activities and goals—how much of it has eternal value? How much of the way you spend the majority of your time and attention and thoughts and money and energy will last beyond your lifetime? As I have asked myself that question, the answer has been very eye-opening. Jesus, who certainly knew we would have the tendency to waste our lives, urged His followers not to “store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20).
As Abraham said good-bye to Sarah, he must have been overwhelmed with gratitude that he had not wasted his life. In light of her passing, he seemed to see not only the present more clearly but also the future.
Abraham’s confident hope was firmly rooted in the promises God had given him more than 60 years earlier. God had said—then later confirmed with an oath–that He would give to Abraham all the land he saw and walked over. At Sarah’s death, Abraham made his first claim on that land. He asked the Hittites, “Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead” (Genesis 23:4). “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” (Genesis 23:17-18). After years of wandering, Abraham’s purchase of the burial site expressed his absolute, unwavering faith in God’s Word that the land would ultimately belong to him and to his descendants forever.
As I thought about it, I realized Abraham could have gone back to Ur in order to bury Sarah among his own people. He could have gone back to Haran, where he still had some family, and buried her there. But Abraham had embraced the magnificent obsession. God was now “his people,” his “family.” His life on earth was just a journey to the Father’s house.
So Abraham buried Sarah “in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 23:19). As Abraham laid the body of his beloved wife in the cave, then sealed the opening against invading predators, I wonder if a tear trickled down his cheek. Did he take a moment to look at the dusty cave and the trees that dotted the rock-strewn grassy field and thank God, not only for Sarah’s life and all that had been but also for all that was to come? Did he thank God one more time for the covenant promises that guaranteed him ownership of the land, confident that Isaac and his children and his children’s children for generations to come would also live and be buried there?
When he bought the cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite, Abraham was driving down his stake of confident hope for the future.
As you face death, your own or that of a beloved family member or friend, is your focus clouded because your eyes are on the grave and all that was, instead of on the glory and all that will be? My mother’s own words come back to me. When I asked her how she could stand being so alive on the inside and so helpless, like a little mouse stuck on a glue board, on the outside, she replied, “Anne, it’s because I have so many wonderful memories—and I have so much to look forward to.”
In the midst of horrendous trials and troubles, Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).
Job’s confident hope was echoed by the Apostle Paul, who revealed an amazing truth to the Corinthians when he confided, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: … For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
What a comfort to any of us who are suffering … or who love someone who is. Jesus, as He comforted Martha following Lazarus’ death, promised, “Your brother will rise again.” When her response indicated her faith was small and she didn’t quite get it, Jesus catapulted her faith beyond the boundaries of her own reasoning into the infinite sphere of the eternal when He placed her hope and focus squarely on Himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:23, 25-26).
I’ve had to ask myself that same question. And I have answered yes. Yes! YES! I believe! Praise God for the living hope of the resurrection!
So … go ahead and weep. I do. But take comfort in knowing that your tears are on His face. Mourn if you must. Mourn if you want. But mourn with the confident hope that the best is yet to come!
Anne Graham Lotz is president and CEO of AnGeL Ministries and is the author of 10 books. Her revival ministry, “Just Give Me Jesus,” has been held for hundreds of thousands of women in more than 30 major cities around the world.