Genesis Chapter Twenty-three
The death of Sarah, Abraham applies for a burying-place. (1-13) Sarah's burying-place. (14-20)
Commentary on Genesis 23:1-13
The longest life must shortly come to a close. Blessed be God that there is a world where sin, death, vanity, and vexation cannot enter. Blessed be his name, that even death cannot part believers from union with Christ. Those whom we most love, yea, even our own bodies, which we so care for, must soon become loathsome lumps of clays, and be buried out of sight. How loose then should we be to all earthly attachments and adornments! Let us seek rather that our souls be adorned with heavenly graces. Abraham rendered honour and respect to the princes of Heth, although of the ungodly Canaanites. The religion of the Bible enjoins to pay due respect to all in authority, without flattering their persons, or countenancing their crimes if they are unworthy characters. And the noble generosity of these Canaanites shames and condemns the closeness, selfishness, and ill-humour of many that call themselves Israelites. It was not in pride that Abraham refused the gift, because he scorned to be beholden to Ephron; but in justice and in prudence. Abraham was able to pay for the field, and therefore would not take advantage of Ephron's generosity. Honesty, as well as honour, forbids us to take advantage of our neighbour's liberality, and to impose, upon those who give freely.
Commentary on Genesis 23:14-20
Prudence, as well as justice, directs us to be fair and open in our dealings; cheating bargains will not bear the light. Abraham, without fraud or delay, pays the money. He pays it at once in full, without keeping any part back; and by weight, current money with the merchant, without deceit. See how anciently money was used for the help of trade, and how honestly it should be paid when it is due. Though all the land of Canaan was Abraham by promise, yet the time of his possessing it not being come, what he had occasion for he bought and paid for. Dominion is not founded in grace. The saints' title to an eternal inheritance does not entitle them to the possessions of this world, nor justify them in doing wrong. Ephron honestly and fairly makes a good title to the land. As that which is bought, must be honestly paid for, so that which is sold, must be honestly delivered and secured. Let us manage our concerns with punctuality and exactness, in order to avoid contention. Abraham buried Sarah in cave. or vault, which was in the purchased field. It would tend to endear the land to his posterity. And it is worth noting, that a burying-place was the only piece of the land which Abraham possessed in Canaan. Those who have least of this earth, find a grave in it. This sepulchre was at the end of the field; whatever our possessions are, there is a burial-place at the end of them. It was a token of his belief and expectation of the resurrection. Abraham is contented to be still a pilgrim while he lives, but secures a place where, when he dies, his flesh may rest in hope. After all, the chief concern is, with whom we shall rise.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Genesis》
 And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep — He did not only perform the ceremonies of mourning according to the custom of those times, but did sincerely lament the great loss he had, and gave proof of the constancy of his affection. Therefore these two words are used, he came both to mourn and to weep.
 I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.
I am a stranger and a sojourner with you — Therefore I am unprovided, and must become a suiter to you for a burying-place. This was one occasion which Abraham took to confess that he was a stranger and a pilgrim upon earth. The death of our relations should effectually mind us that we are not at home in this world.
That I may bury my dead out of my sight — Death will make those unpleasant to our sight, who while they lived were the desire of our eyes. The countenance that was fresh and lively becomes pale and ghastly, and fit to be removed into the land of darkness.
 Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.
Thou art a prince of God among us — So the word is; not only great, but good. He called himself a stranger and a sojourner, they call him a great prince.
 And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth.
Abraham returns them thanks for their kind offer, with all possible decency and respect. Religion teaches good manners, and those abuse it that place it in rudeness and clownishness.
 Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead.
The field give I thee — Abraham thought he must be intreated to sell it, but upon the first mention, without intreaty, he freely gives it.
 And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.
I will give thee money for the field — It was not in pride that Abraham refused the gift; but 1. In justice. Abraham was rich in silver and gold, and therefore would not take advantage of Ephron's generosity. 2. In prudence. He would pay for it, lest Ephron, when this good humour was over, should upbraid him with it.
 My lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead.
The land is worth four hundred shekels of silver — About fifty pounds of our money, but what is that between me and thee? - He would rather oblige his friend than have so much money.
 And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth.
A burying place — 'Tis worth noting, 1. That a burying-place was the first spot of ground Abraham was possessed of in Canaan. 2. That it was the only piece of land he was ever possessed of, tho' it was all his own in reversion. Those that have least of this earth find a grave in it.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Genesis》
23 Chapter 23
Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her
Abraham in the house of mourning
What lessons would such a man as Abraham learn in this house of mourning?
I. THAT IN VIEW OF THE AWFUL FACT OF DEATH THE LITTLENESS OF HUMAN LIFE IS SEEN.
II. TO REALIZE THE FACT OF HIS OWN MORTALITY. “I may be the next to go.”
III. TO FEEL THAT THERE IS A LIFE BEYOND.
IV. THE SACREDNESS OF SORROW FOR THE DEAD. (T. H. Leale.)
Mourning for the departed
The true mourning a sanctified feeling of death.
1. A fellow-feeling of death with the dead.
2. An anticipation of death or a living preparation for one’s own death.
3. A believing sense of the end or destination of death to be made useful to the life. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
1. On Mount Moriah we find Abraham doing God’s will; here we find him suffering it.
2. Look at Abraham buying a grave; the best man of his age here bargains for burial ground. Ponder well this transaction, and consider that in return for four hundred pieces of silver Abraham gets a burying-place.
3. The behaviour of the children of Heth calls for appreciative notice. They treated Abraham with generous pity and helpfulness.
4. Man’s final requirement of man is a grave. In the grave there is no repentance; the dead man cannot obliterate the past.
5. Abraham mourned for Sarah. Consecration to God’s purpose does not eradicate our deep human love; say, rather, that it heightens, refines, sanctifies it. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A break in the home circle
Perhaps we who lead briefer and, at the same time, more stirring and varied lives, with rapid change and a multitude of interests to divide attention, cannot fully realize how the members of such a home circle as Abraham’s grew into each other, or how one out of such a circle would be missed. Through long unbroken periods they lived constantly together, and were everything to one another. Of society, except that of their own slaves, there was little or none. The round of easy occupations which made up their shepherd life left ample leisure for domestic converse. It was inevitable that their lives should grow together as if welded into one. Husband and wife, parent and child, must have moulded one another’s character to an extent hardly possible in other states of society. Stronger natures impressed themselves upon feebler ones. The older generation made that which succeeded it. The experiences and the teaching of the aged father created an unwritten family code, which ruled alike his son and his grandson. Each memorable incident in the family annals crystallized itself, no doubt, through constant repetition, and passed down with hardly any change of form as part of the family tradition. From such a close circle of relations the disappearance of one loved and familiar face would leave a blank never to be filled and scarcely ever to be forgotten. This must have been especially the case when death made its first breach in the family, and, at the ripe age of a hundred and twenty-seven years, Sarah, princess, wife, and mother, fell asleep. Her death made Abraham a lonely man. It broke the final link to his ancestral home. It robbed him of the only one who cherished with him a common memory of his father’s house and the happy days of youth. She alone was left of those who, sixty-two years before, had shared his venturous emigration from Haran. He was her senior by ten years; and her removal must have come to him like a warning that before him likewise there lay another emigration, more venturous than the last--one final journey into a land still farther off. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
I. THE DEATH.
1. Of Sarah, princess. Kings and great men die. “Wealth cannot deliver in the day of his power.”
2. The wife of a great man. Derives her chief dignity from this connection. Little expected the honour that would befall her from this marriage. The source of Abraham’s joy, as well as the occasion of some of his sins.
3. The mother of the free. The ancestress of Jesus, and those who believe in Him.
4. Died at Hebron = alliance. The alliance with Abraham dissolved, and her eternal alliance with Abraham’s God, and one who was before Abraham John 8:58), now inaugurated. Happy are those who compose the bride--the Lamb’s wife; the day of death is with them the day of theirespousals. The alliances of earth, abandoned for a better and more lasting one.
II. THE GRAVE.
1. A cave. We are of the earth, earthy. Dust, and must return to dust.
2. Purchased. Abraham selected one that would receive his own remains. (“The family meeting-place” is an epitaph at Pere la Chaise.) Men sometimes think more of their sepulchres than of death; and make greater preparation for the temporary repose of the body than the eternal rest of the soul. It was all that Abraham purchased of the promised land. The country was given to the living. The promised land of heaven for the living is a free gift, and there will be no bargaining for graves there. Man sells a place for the dead, God gives a home for the living.
III. THE BURIAL. “That I may bury my dead out of my sight.” The object that once most pleased the eye must be put “ out of sight,” as a loathsome thing. Life, a fountain of beauty and attractiveness. How glorious that world must be where they die no more, and are never put out of sight. Those who die in the Lord, and are put out of sight, will presently be in sight for ever. The aged man before the grave of his wife. The parting is not for long. A few more steps, and he will be at home with his princess for ever. But with all this Christian hope, the loss of dear friends and the sunderings of long companionships is painful. At such times may we be able to say, “Thy will be done.” Learn:
1. The great and good and best loved must die.
2. The earthly dissolution may be the beginning of our eternal union.
3. It is little the world can furnish us besides a place to lie down in at the end of the journey.
4. Happy are those who, being saved themselves, have a good hope of meeting those who are “not lost, but gone before.” (J. C. Gray.)
Tears over the dead
In those tears of Abraham was anguish; but there might have been remorse. Apparently Abraham had nothing to reproach himself with. Quarrels in his married life are recorded, but in all he behaved with tenderness, concession, and dignity. In all things he had supported and cherished his wife, bearing, like a strong man, the burdens of the weak. But oh! let us beware. There are bitter recollections which enhance the sorrow of bereavement and change it into agony--recollections which are repeated to us in words which remorse will not cease to echo for ever and ever. “Oh, if they would but come again, I’d never grieve them more.” It is this which makes tears scald. To how many a grown heart have not those childish words of the infant hymn gone home, sharp, with an undying pang! (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Constantine the Great, in order to reclaim a very worldly man, marked out, with a lance, a piece of ground the size of a human body, and then said, “If you could increase your possessions till you acquired the whole world, in a short time such a spot as this will be all you will have.”
Abraham buried Sarah his wife
Abraham burying his dead
CONSIDER HIM AS A MAN.
II. CONSIDER HIM AS A MAN OF BUSINESS.
2. His exactness (Genesis 23:17-18).
3. His courtesy.
III. CONSIDER HIM AS A GODLY MAN.
1. He believed in immortality.
2. He believed that God would grant his posterity to inherit the land.
3. He believed in a future state of blessedness for the righteous. (T. H.Leale.)
Circumstances connected with Sarah’s burial
1. Observe the honour which the ancients paid to the dead. This proves that they had a secret glimmer of immortality.
2. Observe the transaction with the children of Heth. A scriptural precedent for exactitude in business.
3. Observe also how courteous phrases contain a higher excellence than they mean. “What is that betwixt me and thee?” The children of Heth had no intention whatever of being taken at their word any more than a man has now when he calls himself your humble servant or bids you command him. We must go back to an earlier age when phrases were coined and meant something, when gifts were gifts and nothing was hoped for in return, in order to catch the life that was once in our conventional phraseology. So now language preserves, as marble preserves shells of hoar antiquity, the petrified phrases of a charity and humbleness which once were living. They are dead, but they do at least this, they keep up memorials of what should be. So that the world, in its daily language of politeness, has a record of its duty. Take those phrases, redeem them from death, live the life that was once in them. Let every man be as humble, as faithful, as obedient as his language professes, and the kingdom of God has come!
4. Lastly, we find in connection with Sarah’s burial a Divine provision for the healing of Abraham’s sorrow. He was compelled to exert himself to obtain a place to “ bury his dead out of his sight.” Had he not had to arouse himself and procure a grave for Sarah, he would have brooded over his grief. This is the merciful plan of compensation which God has provided for us; the necessities of life call us from our sorrow. All these merciful provisions plainly show us that we are in a Father’s world. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Machpelah, and its first tenant
I. WE ARE FIRST ARRESTED BY ABRAHAM’S TEARS.
II. NOTICE ABRAHAM’S CONFESSION.
III. NOTICE ABRAHAM’S FAITH. (F. B. Meyer, B.A.)
I. IN ITS CONNECTION WITH SARAH IT IS A TOKEN OF RESPECT TO THE DEAD. The body deserves this.
1. Because it has been the man’s dwelling-place.
2. Because it has assisted the soul to express itself.
3. Because it is destined for a higher and nobler service.
The purchased grave
II. IN ITS CONNECTION WITH ABRAHAM HIMSELF IT SHOWS THAT HE PREPARED FOR DEATH.
1. It taught him that the highest earthly possessions terminate in a grave.
2. It implies that he waited for death.
I. IN ITS CONNECTION WITH THE JEWISH NATION IT SERVES AS A MONUMENT FOR THEIR INSTRUCTION.
1. Its purchase taught them that it would soon be theirs.
2. Its stillness taught them to be active.
3. Its solemnity taught them to seek that country where there is no grave. (Homilist.)
The cave of Machpelah
I. ABRAHAM’S SORROW.
II. ABRAHAM’S PURCHASE. Strange possession to be the first portion in the land which was promised! A place to bury the dead in--yet observe how this very purchase is an act of faith and a pledge for the future fulfilment of God’s promises.
III. ABRAHAM’S HOPE (Hebrews 11:13-16). We Christians to whom more light has been granted concerning the hopes of “the heavenly city” beyond this earthly life can see how, in Jesus Christ and His gospel, the sorrow for the dead and the fear of death are changed into thankfulness and hope. In Christ’s death, burial, resurrection we trace an upward course to life eternal. Death is conquered. “Paradise” is the peaceful resting-place of those who “sleep in Jesus.” Heaven is the final fulness of joy. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)
Death and burial
Abraham declares himself a stranger and a sojourner in the land, and humbly prays for a burying-place to bury his dead, once so dear and so lovely, “out of his sight”; expressing thus a sad, universal, and most humiliating fact, that death “changes the countenance” of its victims, as well as “sendeth them away”; and so changes them that disgust succeeds to delight, terror to affection; and so dreadful is the mixture of the memory of past beauty and the sight of present decay, that the survivor needs no exhortation to hide his friend in the grave, but with eager haste commits parent, or child, or brother, or wife, or lover, into the dust, and almost rejoices as he shuts the coffin to know that that disfigured countenance he shall see no more. What a strange view of the power and mystery of death is implied in the thought of not hatred, but love, crying out for the eternal removal of its object out of its sight! But often it is not the mere physical rottenness which awakens this desire; often, too, there arise painful, agonizing, terrible thoughts on the sight of a departed friend. The whole of the past history of the friendship or love; its first commencement and the joys connected with it; the trials and troubles, perhaps partial estrangement or complete alienation for a time, which darkened its progress; the exquisite pleasures, or no less exquisite pangs, which alternated; benefits received from the departed which were unrequited, or injuries done to them which were never fully repaid; every harsh look or word on the side of the living remembered, while on that of the dead all but their smiles and kindness are forgotten; the scenes of the sick-bed; the last farewell on the brink of eternity; all these heartquaking, melting, rending images arise, and clustered around and pictured as they are on the mirror of that pale face and shut eye, might drive to insanity and howling despair, were it not that a veil for that mirror of past joy became sorrow, and past grief became distraction, has been provided, in the merciful lid of the coffin--a lid which henceforth only the worm, the eye of imagination sometimes venturing to peep into darkness, but as speedily withdrawing the gaze, and the light of the last morning, shall be able to penetrate. (G. Gilfillan.)
Significance of behaviour in the presence of grief
Circumstances test the true quality of men. Irreverence in the presence of grief is an infallible sign of the deepest degeneracy; it marks the ultimate deterioration of the human heart. On the other hand, to be chastened by sorrow, to be moved into generous pity and helpfulness, is to show that there is still something in the man on which the kingdom of Jesus Christ may be built. Never despair of any man who is capable of generous impulses. Put no man down as incurably bad, who will share his one loaf with the hungry, or give shelter to a lost little one. Poor and crude may be his formal creed, very dim and pitifully inadequate his view of scholastic theology; but there is a root in him which may be developed into much beauty and fruitfulness. For this reason, I cannot overlook the genial humanity and simple gracefulness of this act of the Hittites. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Ephron and Abraham--a life-like picture
It was quite in accordance with Eastern usage that Abraham did not apply directly to the proprietor of the plot in which the cave lay, Ephron by name, the son of Zohar, but made interest with him through the leading men of the city. Courtesy required, too, that their consent should be secured for the proposed arrangement. The whole narrative, which is most minute, wears the strongest local colouring. Abraham’s respectful attitude, his repeated prostrations with his face to the ground, the polite hospitality of the townsmen, the difficulty in coming to a bargain, the offer of Ephron to waive the question of price, his indirect mention of the four hundred shekels, the conclusion of the sale at the city gate in the place of concourse, the weighing of uncoined rings or ingots of silver which served for a medium of exchange, and the copious phraseology as of a legal document, by which, before witnesses, the cave, with the field, the fence around it, and the trees on it, were all conveyed in perpetuity to their new owner--these particulars correspond, we are assured by Dr. Thomson, a competent witness, to what may be seen at this day in Eastern bargain-making. It is true that nowadays the courtesy is merely formal, and such generous phrases as those of Ephron and his fellow-citizens are grown very hollow indeed. Still, it seems questionable to conclude, as Dr. Thomson himself has done, that they meant no more in that simple age, when the ceremonies of intercourse were newer and more truly reflected its spirit. Besides, it is hardly fair to place an occasion like that before us quite on a level with the ordinary chaffering of an Arab market-place. One must take care, no doubt, not to read all the incidents of a story, which is sacred as well as ancient, through such an unreal light as will invest them with fictitious dignity. On the other hand, we may equally err if, in our efforts to be realistic, we rob the record of its native dignity, or vulgarize the manners of antiquity because the manners of to-day are vulgar. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Around the grotto which thus became the sepulchre of Abraham’s family, and which afterwards was to receive, not only his own dust, but that of his son and grandson with their wives, there has grown up an interest as enduring, and an obscurity as deep as attach to any grave on earth save one. The piety of some unknown age, probably Jewish, erected round the spot massive walls of noble masonry, which still exist. Inside these walls the devotion of early Christians consecrated a church, and over the church the devotion of the Mussulman a mosque. The gates of that mosque, the famous Haram of Hebron, had been closed against Western unbelievers for six centuries, when with extreme difficulty access to it was procured for the Prince of Wales and his suite in the year 1862. What they saw inside an enclosure so jealously guarded has been told with his accustomed precision of statement by Dean Stanley. Railed off, each one within its separate chapel, there lie the coffin-like shrines to which are attached the venerable names of Sarah and Abraham, of Isaac and Rebecca, of Leah and Jacob. These, however, are only empty monuments. The real tombs, if they exist at all, must be sought beneath the floor of the building, in the rocky cavern underground. To this vault a trap-door in the pavement promises to give access; but as yet its darkness remains unvisited and unviolated. So far as could be ascertained through such a brief and partial inspection of the mosque, it is clear that the contents of that sacred place answer exactly to the requirements of the scriptural narrative. Unfortunately, more than this cannot be said. It is reserved for some explorer more fortunate than even the Prince of Wales to disclose the well-kept secret of the tomb of the patriarchs. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Only one European, Pierroti, an Italian architect in the service of the Sultan, has ever seen more than the floor of the upper chamber, with its six tawdry erections, placed there in accordance with a practice usual in Mahometan sepulchres. Pierotti, daringly pressing after the chief Sanon, or priest of the mosque, when he was entering the lower story on a special occasion, found the entry was by a horizontal door in the porch. First a carpet, then a grated iron door, was lifted; after which a narrow stair appeared, cut in the rock. Undeterred by blows and violence, he managed to descend this far enough to see into the lower cavern in a northern direction, and to notice sarcophagi of white stone; the true tombs of some of the illustrious dead, in striking corroboration of the statement of Josephus, that they were of fair marble, exquisitely wrought. There can be little doubt, indeed, that the remains of the three generations of patriarchs and their wives, Rachel alone excepted, still lie safely in this their venerable sepulchre. (C. Geikie, D. D.)
Origin of money
When he required this sepulchre, he offered so much money we are told-shekels of silver-and this money was weighed. This informs us that silver came so early as this period of the world to be currency. I mentioned, I think, before, that the earliest money was cattle. Hence, the Latin word pecunia, from which our expression pecuniary transactions is derived, comes from pecus, which means cattle. And it is very singular that in the Greek language every word that is used for purchase or property is a derivation from some other word denoting an animal. Thus the Greek word αρνυσθαι, which means, “to bargain,” is derived from a Greek word that means a lamb. Again, πωλεω, to sell, is derived from the word used for a colt. Again, the Greek word ωνεομαι, to profit, comes from a word signifying an ass. Again, the Greek word προβιας, revenue, is derived from the Greek word προβατον, sheep or cattle. In short, all the words in Greek and Latin that mean property transactions, buying and selling, are derived from cattle, and the earliest figures that were struck upon ancient coins were figures of cattle. A man was said to be possessed of so many thousand oxen or sheep, and when they entered into a bargain, they gave so many sheep or so many oxen to the person from whom they were purchasing. Here, for the first time, we have silver introduced as currency-that which, in fact, is still the currency of the greatest portion of the nations of the earth-gold being restricted to very few countries, as the representative of property-mainly, I believe, in this country; whereas on the continent it is, I believe, chiefly silver (J. Cumming, D. D.)
Abraham at Machpelah
What I wish to emphasize here is the open, manly honesty of Abraham. There was no cheapening of the price--nothing of “It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: and when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.” Here were only civility, courtesy, and integrity. He did everything in a business way, but he had respect for others as well as for himself. He recognized that there was another hearer than the multitudes assembled at the city gate, even God Himself, and he did not choose that He should hear anything of rudeness, or selfishness, or dishonesty from his lips. Oh, how much more pleasantly business would be conducted among ourselves if we were to act in this way! But too many of us are constantly on the watch for an advantage! The seller’s maxim too frequently is the selfish one of the Romans, “Caveat emptor”--“let the buyer look out for himself.” And the buyer, on his side, is too frequently just as eagerly anxious to over-reach the seller. It is far too often “diamond cut diamond” between them. But that both are bad does not excuse either, and God is listening to both. Ah! if we all remembered that, our stores would be different places from what they often are, and business would rise to its ancient and irreproachable renown. Faith in God--such faith as Abraham had-that is still the great necessity of life. For pureness, for integrity, for liberality, for courage, for courtesy, this is what we mainly need. It is as true to-day as when John wrote the words, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
It is related of Pope Clement XIV. (Ganganelli), that when he ascended the papal chair, the ambassadors of the several states represented at his court waited on him with their congratulations. When they were introduced, and bowed, he returned the compliment by bowing also; on which the master of the ceremonies told his highness that he should not have returned their salute. “Oh, I beg your pardon,” said the good pontiff, “I have not been pope long enough to forget good manners.”
When old Zachariah Fox, the great merchant of Liverpool, was asked by what means he contrived to realize so large a fortune as he possessed, his reply was, “Friend, by one article alone, in which thou may’st deal too if thou pleasest--civility.” (Moral and Religious Anecdotes.)
Courtesy to enemies
After the battle of Poitiers, in which the Black Prince fought and defeated the French king, the prince waited upon his captives like a menial at supper; nor could he be persuaded to sit at the king’s table. This was quite in accordance with the chivalry of the day. (Little’s Historical Lights.)
I am a stranger and a sojourner among you
Strangers in the earth
THE EXHORTATION. A true Christian’s life should be that of a stranger and a sojourner.
1. Such persons are at once recognized. Marks of nationality may be more or less prominent. Sometimes the foreigner wears a strange costume, and speaks a strange language; and sometimes these things are studiously avoided; he assumes our dress, converses in our dialect; nevertheless, there is always something about him which bespeaks “the sojourner.” And so should it be with the Christian.
2. These peculiarities will be observable in all the common business of life. Not, indeed, in any disregard of useful industries and occupations. A wise foreigner, passing through a strange country, will make the best use of his time, mingling with its inhabitants, studying its institutions, observing its manners and customs, examining minutely its improvements in science and art, perhaps investing largely in its agricultural implements, and mechanical machinery, and scientific apparatus, and many of its products and fabrics, ornamental and useful. He may for the time appear, more even than native citizens, attentive to and engrossed by such matters; nevertheless, every man who deals with him perceives that his interest in them is that of a sojourner, who examines and purchases with a view to some use or enjoyment in his own distant land. Just so should it be with the Christian.
3. These marks of a foreigner will be manifest in all the pleasures of life.
4. A foreigner may be known by the opinions he forms and expresses of all things that surround him. Many such things, which to us, through custom and familiarity, seem proper and consistent and natural, will often strike him strangely. This point is finely illustrated in Oliver Goldsmith’s “ Citizen of the World.”
II. As A CONSOLATION. If we are “strangers and sojourners on earth,” then--
1. Our better portion and grander heritage and home are in heaven. Like the patriarchs, we should “look for a city whose maker is God!” and, like the apostles, should rejoice to think that presently we shall be “absent from the body and present with the Lord.”
2. Strangers and foreigners think ever and most tenderly of their distant native lands. Of the dear doors that will open, and the loved voices that will welcome them, when, having accomplished the ends of their brief sojourn in those stranger-scenes, they cross the ocean, and cast anchor in distant harbours, and go ashore to their own cities. And herein they should be our models. Good as Christian life may be on the earth, yet there are better things in heaven. (The Preacher’s Monthly.)
The believer and the world; or, Abraham the stranger and sojourner
We shall attempt the task of analysing the relations which Abraham sustained to his heathen neighbours. We perceive at once that they were those of entire friendliness, but of absolute separation. We shall follow, therefore, this simple division of the subject of this chapter.
I. HIS FRIENDLINESS. Mark you, not his “ friendship.” Let it not be implied that there was any agreement of his principles with theirs, any community of interests between them, or any sympathy in character. He was indeed their friend, but he was not their fellow, and in his friendship there was no fellowship whatsoever. Their life was abhorrent to him. Their practices were such as gave him the greatest pain. The neighbours of Abraham were cruel, covetous, and licentious beyond the very conception of the vast majority who live in Christian lands to-day. But Abraham never ceased to be on friendly terms with them. He never manifested towards them an amicable disposition, treated them with noticeable courtesy and did them signal favours. But Abraham always kept the peace, and never made an enemy among them all. Some of the stories are exceedingly beautiful, as illustrating the existing friendliness. Look, for example, at that of the covenant between Abimelech and Abraham. The feelings which neighbouring chiefs entertained toward Abraham is nowhere better shown than at the time of the sack of Sodom and the capture of Lot and his family. But this was not all. His magnanimity took a higher form and his friendliness was of nobler nature than could possibly have been displayed in any affair of temporal character. Those heathen lay upon his heart. No one ever pleaded for guilty men as Abraham did--save only their Divine Saviour. A praying friend is the best friend, and such was Abraham!
II. Is it possible, then, for one who shows such friendliness to the ungodly, to be also ABSOLUTELY SEPARATE, from them? Yes, Abraham made it plain: so plain that it was clear, not only in his own secret soul--as is so often the case; but clear also to all among whom he sojourned. They would have been glad to have had him identify himself with them. But he would not do so. Nearly seventy years he lived among them; but he was not of them. He was a “confederate” only, never a “compatriot”; a sojourner, never a citizen. As his separation from these sinners is the important thing for us to study, note the following particulars wherein it was manifested. Beginning with the simpler, observe that it appeared--
1. In the food which he ate. A trifling thing, you say, but nothing is trifling whereby the holy is set apart from the unholy. Leaven is produced by fermentation, and fermentation is a species of corruption. Therefore Abraham would have none of it. So, when the three angels appeared to him as he sat in his tent door (Genesis 18:1-5)he was ready to entertain them, and offered at once to “fetch them a morsel of bread” for their “comfort.” Ah! it is worth our while to remember that in just such trifles there is a vast difference between the clean and the unclean. As some one has so wisely said, it is by trifles that we reach perfection, and perfection is no trifle.
2. In his dwelling. It was a tent, which could be easily moved from place to place. Had Abraham ever built a house, the whole meaning of his outward life would have been destroyed. It would have indicated that he had come to stay, and have rendered ridiculous his declaration, “I am a sojourner with you.”
3. In his private business. His avocation was in keeping with his mission, and his covenant relations to his God. He did not mingle with the ungodly multitudes. The cities, with the glare and glitter of their iniquitous life, had no attraction for him. Lot became covetous of their wealth, ambitious for their preferment, and settled in Sodom; but Lot was not a party to the everlasting covenant--not a “church-member.”
4. In his business transactions. He must needs have dealings with men of the world; but he so dealt with them as to emphasize his separateness. He became rich, but he never manifested any undue haste to be rich, nor took any “ short cut” to fortune. Observe several illustrations. What a noble spirit he manifested in the dissolution of the partnership existing between himself and Lot. But his principles are more plain, if possible, in his transaction with Ephron, the Hittite (Genesis 23:1-20.). The custom of the country was not the law of his life. He was the only man in all the land who conducted his business in this way.
5. Once more: his separation from the world appears in his conquest of the world. Though Abraham was a man of peace, as we have seen, yet it seems most appropriate that once, at least, in his long life, he should have exhibited his peculiar power over the men and agencies of this world. It was spiritual power for physical ends--something of which the world as yet knows little. Chedorlaomer and his allies had sacked Sodom, and were hastening away with the spoils and captives. (D. R. Breed, D. D.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》