The Death Of Sarah (Genesis 23)

Sarah – the exalted wife of Abraham.  God declared his promises for her in chapter 17, “I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”  Her faith is memorialized in Hebrews 11:11, “And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.”  First Peter 3 explains how wives are to emulate her in their marriages.  

Our chapter today brings us to the death of this great woman.  She was 127 years old when she died.  Doing the math here are some interesting numbers at the time of her death:  she had been married to Abraham at least 62 years and possibly over 100 (if she married younger than 27 yrs old); Abraham was 137 years old (17:17), Ishmael was 51and married (16:16 and 17:17); Isaac was 37 and single (17:17; 23:1) – which was interesting because soon after his mother died Isaac married Rebekah (24).  Its interesting because while she is exalted as a great woman of faith I wonder just how well she would have done as a mother in law.  She waited until she was 90 to have Isaac and after that whole Hagar debacle you wonder just how open she would have been to Isaac having another “woman” in his life.  

After summarizing the passage I want to do 3 things today:  1) The Importance of Mourning, 2) The Importance of Honor, and 3) The Importance of Faith


The chapter is very simple actually:  Sarah dies and after mourning for her Abraham buys a grave to bury her.  

At 127 years old, and possibly having been married to Abraham for over 100 years, Sarah dies.  Not only did the life of Abraham and his family stop to observe a period of mourning for her, but you get the impression from the Hittites’ comments that the whole city was with them in their mourning.  Long before Paul ever wrote Romans the Hittites were “mourning with those who mourn.”  (Rom 12:15).  

After that time of mourning, however long it lasted, Abraham rises to take care of her body.  She must be buried.  If you’ve lost a loved one and been responsible for all the arrangements afterwards you can relate to Abraham here.  You’ve had to call family, make arrangements with the funeral home, plan the memorial service, gather pictures, meet with the minister, write and obituary, guess how many will be there so you can plan on the right amount of food, and so on.

Abraham is in need of a grave.  The whole chapter is 20 verses long, and only the first 2 verses focus on Sarah and her death.  The rest of the 18 verses is all about the purchase process of the grave – which itself is interesting when you notice it.  You’d expect the chapter to eulogize Sarah or something.  But as you read the chapter and how the transaction goes down you realize it is even more interesting than you first thought.  

Verses 3-16 record the actual purchase and you see that there are 3 stages to the process that repeat.  In each stage Abraham offers to buy land for a grave and the Hittites respond.  

The first stage is verses 3-5 where Abraham offers to buy land for a grave and the Hittites respond by telling him they will give him any land he wants.  They have tremendous respect for him and they all insist that they are all ready to give him for free any land he names so that he can bury Sarah.  

The second stage is verses 6-11 and Abraham names the land and cave owned by Ephron and he insists he will pay full price for it.  Ephron stands up and refuses payment and insists on giving it freely to Abraham.

The 3rd and final stage is verses 12-15 where Abraham again insists on paying and that he will pay whatever price Ephron names.  Ephron stands up again and while mentioning the land is worth 400 shekels of silver he again insists that he is giving the land to Abraham for free.  

After this Abraham doles out 400 shekels of silver and the Hittites hand over the deed to Abraham.

Now, for a long time this passage had me scratching my head.  “What?!” I said to myself all the time…  “Verse 16 says that ‘Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms…’ and that got me all kinds of confused because Ephron didn’t give any ‘terms.’  He repeatedly insisted on giving it to Abraham….. Or did he?  

Apparently this was customary for bargaining.  As one commentator noted, “This was bedouin bargaining – giving for giving.”  (BKC).  In other words Ephron was not giving a gift for free.  Arnold Fruchtenbaum says, “Here again is what appears to be an offer of a free place to bury, but the free offer was not intended to be taken seriously because that was just the way things were done in the ancient Middle East.  Abraham understood that he was not to accept the offer as given.”  (ABC, 336).  Another commentator made the point that Ephron was giving it to Abraham as a gift fully expecting Abraham to give him something in return as a gift to compensate for the value of what Ephron gave him. (K&D, 255). 

What are some lessons for us from this chapter?



I think we need to stop and acknowledge the value of mourning.  Notice verse 2, “..and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and weep over her.”  Before “taking care of funeral business” Abraham mourned first.  That says something, doesn’t it?  Abraham didn’t “stiffen” up like some Stoic and suppress any grief as though it would have been unmanly to “weep” for his dead wife.  This great man wept and gave full vent to his emotions. 

How do we approach grief and mourning?  Denying our grief and sadness is not good.  The Bible shows the great and godly men of history fully stepping into mourning and grief:

  • When Jacob died his son Joseph “threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him.”  Joseph was the most powerful man in Egypt and it says that the Egyptians mourned for 70 days with Joseph for his father Jacob.  Joseph took Jacobs body back to the cave of Machpelah and buried him there with Abraham and Isaac.  Genesis 50 says “All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied Joseph” and “they lamented loudly and bitterly” and a “seven day period of mourning” was observed and it was so prominent that the Canaanites in the land were affected.
  • When Moses died Deuteronomy 34:8 says “the Israelites grieved for Moses for 30 days”
  • As David fled Jerusalem from his son Absalom it says in 2 Samuel 15:23, “The whole countryside wept aloud …”
  • When David heard King Saul and his friend Jonathan were killed 2 Samuel 1 says, “Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them.  They mourned and wept and fasted…”
  • “I am worn out from my groaning” Psalm 6 says, “All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.”  Or Psalm 42 when it says, “My tears have been my food day and night…”
  • We take note too that our Lord wept at the grave of Lazarus
  • Abraham mourns for Sarah.


A book on my nightstand lately is Cicero’s “How To Grow Old.”  I’ll let you interpret that however you want.  But its an interesting book and in it he talks about many things pertaining to growing old, and one of them is the rewards of old age.  He says, “The crowning glory of old age is respect.”  

The Hittites, to their credit, gave Abraham great respect.  They were not insincere when they said in verse 6, “Sir, listen to us.  You are a mighty prince among us…”  This respect was part of God’s promised blessing.  In chapter 12 God told Abraham, “I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” (3)

APPLICATION:  Respect the aged among you.  I’ve stressed this before but EFC is a church where our aged saints will be honored.  I absolutely love Leviticus 19:32, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.”  Cicero said the best place for the elderly to live was in Sparta because they were treated with great reverence.  Then he says:

“A story goes that once in Athens an elderly man went to a crowded theater to see a play, but not one of his countrymen offered him a seat.  However, when he came to the section reserved for the visiting Spartan delegates, each of them rose and invited him to sit down.  This action was heartily applauded by the whole crowd, which prompted one of the Spartans to say, ‘These Athenians know what good behavior is but they don’t practice it.’”

The Hittites showed respect for the aged Abraham.  If we want God’s blessing let us respect the aged among us.

APPLICATION:  To the aged among us:  be worthy of that respect.   Do not be bitter, fearful, selfish, and pitiful.  Make us look forward to old age and  many years with Christ when we look at you.  Show us how it creates the sincerest of love, the most generosity and thoughtfulness, the steadiest of faith, a revered wisdom, the deepest peace, and the most childlike eagerness for seeing Jesus. 

APPLICATION:  To those of us who are not yet crowned with white and gray:  make the honor of your name one of your greatest ambitions.  The Bible says this repeatedly.  

  • Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  
  • Ecclesiastes 7:1 insightfully declares “A good name is better than fine perfume…”  In other words, as pleasant as your fine perfume is to other people, your good reputation is even more pleasant to them.

Building a good name is different from “living for the praises of men.”  This is important because we have to think through the apparent contradiction in the Bible where in one breath it tells us “Don’t live worried about what others say about you” and then in the next breath it tells us “Live your life so people say good things about you.”   Essentially we’re not supposed to be slaves to what people think of us but we are to be conscientious as we live our lives.   But living for God, following His commands, and trusting in Him as a way of life no matter what people say about you. 

One thing we must also keep in mind is this:  Abraham was a man whose honor came from the LORD.  A good name among men ultimately is a blessing from God on those who live for God.  Abraham’s honor among men was a blessing that God gave Him, “I will bless you and your name will be great” (12:3).  God does that for us, if He so pleases.  

  • Turn to Joshua 3:7 and 14.  You see here that the esteem and the respect and the admiration for Joshua was God’s doing. 
  • Its the same thing in King Solomon’s life – turn to 1 Chronicles 29:25.  God is the one who made Solomon great in the eyes of the people.

Yet, we are to live worthy of a good name, which means worthy of God, and trust Him with our reputations.


One of the questions you ask in this chapter is “Why is so much ink spent on buying a grave?”  I mean it seems like it should have been the first verse mentioning “Abraham bought a grave from Ephron the Hittite” and then the rest of the chapter lauding Sarah his dead wife.  So why is this important?  Here’s what I propose:

First, It was an act of faith in God’s promises.  Abraham didn’t own the land he was in yet but God had promised it to him.  So as an act of faith he was going to bury himself and his wife there knowing he would certainly have it.  

Think about if Abraham had travelled back to Harran or Ur to bury her.  What would that have said about his confidence in God’s promises?  “Well, we spent our whole lives here honey and we never God what God promised so I think it might be a good idea to just go back ‘home.’”  Yet, while standing in Hebron with the Hittites surrounding him, self-consciously an “alien and stranger” among them (4), he was in fact “home,” according to the promise of God.  “All the land you see I will give to you and your offspring forever” God told Abraham in 13:15.  His faith in that promise was not only evident in his moving there and living there his whole life, but, it was evident in his burying his dead there.  

Similarly, this is why in the next chapter, Abraham sternly warned his servant NOT to take Isaac out of Canaan and back to his homeland in Ur when finding him a wife.  The servant was to leave Isaac in Canaan and the servant was to go back to Abraham’s homeland and get a wife for Isaac.  Abraham would not allow the slightest possibility that Isaac, the promised son, the heir of the covenant, the channel for blessing, to leave and possibly never come back.  Again it was Abraham’s faith that Isaac was the promised son and the promised son needed to stay in the promised land.

Another reason this passage is important is because it provided an anchor point for the family.  The chosen man Abraham, along with his chosen son Isaac, and his chosen son Jacob, would all be buried together in that place.  When he died Jacob instructed his sons in Genesis 49:31 to bury him with his fathers in the cave at the field Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite, “There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah.”  So the 3 Patriarchs were buried in that same grave with their wives.  

Just like in life, families wanted to be together in death.  Yet again it was an act of faith.  This family trio:  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – son, dad and grandpa – are all the 3 covenant men God chose.  God would identify himself with them to the nation of Israel over and over again by saying, “I am the God of your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…”  They shared blood as family, they shared the covenant promises as heirs, and they would share a grave in death.  

And I would press it one step further and say that their grave was meant not just as a shared ending but a shared beginning too at the resurrection.  They would all be resurrected at the same time from the same place.  

Have you ever realized that where you are buried is also where you will be resurrected?  Did you ever give it the thought:  “Huh, now when I come up where do I want to be coming up at?”  This is why I’ve always loved the idea of a church cemetery – we can all go up together!  Imagine it:  The voice of the Lord, the trumpet, dirt exploding like IED’s going off as resurrected bodies burst out of the ground, and all of us going up and up to meet the Lord in the sky

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