July 7th, 1957 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-7-57 8:15 a.m.
You’re sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message, the early morning message, entitled Tear-Stained Machpelah. Last Sunday morning, we left off preaching at the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis, and this morning, we begin at the twenty-third chapter of the first book in the Bible.
And if you would like to open your Bible, you can easily follow the message this morning turning to the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Genesis. The twenty-third and the twenty-fourth chapters of Genesis, though so very unlike, are yet a part of the same story. It begins in the twenty-third chapter and the first verse with the death of Sarah. Then, notice the end of the verse of the twenty-fourth chapter: "And Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death" [Genesis 24:67].
So the two chapters go together. The twenty-third chapter describes the death and the burial of Sarah. The twenty-fourth chapter describes the unusual providence of God in providing a wife for Isaac. Her name is Rebekah [Genesis 24:67].
Now, it was my hope, it was my plan, to speak of both of them in the same message this morning, but I cannot encompass it within this brief, allotted time. So this morning, we shall speak of the twenty-third chapter and then next Sunday morning, the twenty-fourth chapter. This morning, the death of Sarah, and the next Lord’s day, the marriage of Rebekah – a type of the bride of Christ for Jesus, Rebekah, the bride of Isaac.
Now, let us read the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Genesis. It has in it one of the most quaint and beautiful stories you could find in the Bible, and, at the same time, will reveal the heart of God’s great patriarch:
And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah.
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.
And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying,
"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."
And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him,
"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."
And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth.
And he communed with them, saying, "If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and intreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar,
"That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you."
And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of the city, saying,
"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."
And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land.
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."
And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him,
"My Lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; but what is that betwixt me and thee? Bury therefore thy dead."
And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.
And the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure
Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.
And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan.
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.
Don’t you wish today that people were as courteous in their merchandising as you find in this unusual story of the buying of a little field that held in its border a cave named Machpelah? Don’t you wish people were as gracious today as they were in that so long ago ancient day?
When you hear people saying, "Oh, look what progress we’re making. Look at these gadgets we have, and these planes we have, and these automobiles we have, and all these appliances we have." Yes, but are people any better than Abraham today? Are they any better than the children of Israel today? Have we really evolved as some so fervently avow and affirm? How gracious and how courteous this beautiful story.
Now, last Sunday morning, we spoke of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham on Mount Moriah which is the story of the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis [Genesis 22:1-18]. And when Abraham walked down the Mount, hand-in-hand with Isaac, he had fifty years that lay before him. When we begin at the twenty-third chapter this morning, twenty five of those fifty years have passed. What lay in that quiet valley in between, we do not know. But the next event in the life of this great patriarch is recorded here after 25 years in the twenty-third chapter that I have just read.
Now, the first thing that I see as I look into the Word of God, reading this chapter, is this: "Sarah having died, Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her" [from Genesis 23:2]. We’ve had a long story of this great man of God – God’s friend, Abraham [James 2:23]. But that is the first time that I have read where he wept.
The tears of Abraham. I do not read that he wept when he left Ur of Chaldees and journeyed northward, turning his face toward a land that he knew not but which God had promised that he should afterward receive for an inheritance. I do not read where he wept when he left the home of his youth and turned his face to a strange and a far-away land [Genesis 11:31]. I do not read in the Scriptures where Abraham wept when he left Haran in Mesopotamia and bid forever and eternally an earthly farewell to all of his family and to all of his kindred, and left Haran, and crossed the Euphrates River and beyond the great desert into the land of Canaan [Genesis 12:1-5].
I do not read where Abraham wept when Lot was captured by the kings, the five alliances, and was taken away, a captive, in destruction and in slavery [Genesis 14:8-16], nor do I read that Abraham wept when Lot fell upon that evil day when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed and everything he possessed was burned up in the judgment of Almighty God [Genesis 19:23-28]. Nay, I do not read that Abraham even wept when, with sorrowful, heavy heart he made that long, arduous journey to the top of Mount Moriah there to sacrifice his only son, Isaac [Genesis 22:1-14].
This is the first time that I read in this long story of Abraham that he cried, that he wept: "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" [Genesis 23:2].
Now, why his tears here? I think it is a simple answer. It is a difference between doing the will of God and suffering in it. As long as you can do something, there is an activity, there is a life, there is an intenseness pouring out. There is an abundance of vision and hope and energy. As long as you can do something for God, no matter what it is, there is a recompense and a compensation in the very activity itself. As long as you can battle for the Lord or go to war for the Lord, as long as you could speak for the Lord, as long as you could sacrifice for the Lord, as long as you can toil and work for the Lord, there seems to be something in just the doing of God’s will that has in it an infinite and incomparable recompense and compensation.
But when we suffer in the will of the Lord, when there is nothing left to do, when the last deed has been done and the last word has been said, when the last offices have been performed, when the last flowers have been arranged and we are left with our silent dead, there is nothing to do but to bow and cry. And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.
A funeral service has always been – and after these years and years of my pastorate is no less so today – it always has been a very difficult and trying experience for me. Though I may not know them, though they may be strangers to me, to see them weep and lament over a departed member of a loved family wrings my heart if for no other reason than just the sorrow of being unable to do more or further or beyond.
There was nothing for Abraham to do now but to cry. I remember at the beginning of my pastorate, so long ago, in a little country church – I remember a little girl in the home of one of the families that belonged to the congregation. She was the prettiest, sweetest little child with long blond curls.
And the little child died of diphtheria. And when the little body was prepared, the mother asked that, just once again, she could comb the little girl’s hair and arrange her curls just so as she had done in days past. So the mother combed the beautiful blond curls of that little child, and arranged them just so, and lay the little child in that pretty casket and then sat down to cry – nothing more to do except to weep.
Well, what of that? Is that a denial of our faith in God? Is that a repudiation of our persuasion of heaven to bow and to weep? No. I have never felt that real religion was inhuman or unnatural. In my humble persuasion, it is a thing of the human heart to break, to overflow in tears.
Jesus wept, and He wept before the dead. Standing at another cave before another sepulcher [John 11:31-36], He broke into tears. Simon Peter wept: "And he went out, and wept bitterly" [from Luke 22:62]. The Ephesian converts wept. The Bible says: "They wept sore, falling on Paul’s neck, kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he said, that they would see his face no more . . . " [from Acts 20:37-38].
I say it is natural and it is human. There is a religion that says there’s not any death, and there’s not any grief, and there’s not any separation, and there’s not any bereavement. I saw a man one time fall into great sorrow in the breaking up of his home – in the death that came and broke up the family circle. And he was weeping over his beloved dead. And belonging to a certain faith, representatives of that religion came, sat down by his side, and spoke to him. And, to my surprise, they so turned him and so converted him that he left off from weeping for his dead and came, it seemed to me, to the place where he did not even care whether his dead had lived or whether they had died.
Why, to me, that is the strangest, most inhuman and unnatural of all the faith that I’ve ever known or seen in this world. Not any death and here my dead lay before me. Not any bereavement, not any sorrow – just a psychological aberration of the mind. If there’s any one thing that I find in this holy Book, it is this: that the religion of Jehovah God is always one that is natural and human and understanding and full of infinite sympathy and help.
Abraham’s tears: "And he came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her" [Genesis 23:2]. Now, look at this thing that Abraham says:
And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying,
"I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace . . . that I may bury my dead out of my sight."
Look at this confession that is wrung from the heart of the great patriarch: "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you" [Genesis 23:4]. Sorrow reveals the heart. This unusual confession wrung from his soul: "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you."
I would never have thought it. It would never have entered my mind to look at Abraham and have surmised or judged that. He is the greatest chieftain in the land. He’s the emir of a princely clan [Genesis 23:6]. He’s the richest patriarch in all that world: Abraham. And he has been here in the land of Canaan two and sixty years [Genesis 12:4, 17:17, 23:1] having become rich and wealthy, having become the head of a great tribe and clan, having many, many hundreds and hundreds of servants, vast herds and droves of cattle and camel and sheep and goats, and many, many tents: a whole city around him [Genesis 13:2, 6-8].
I would never have thought of Abraham looking upon himself as being a stranger where he lived and how much more so when he has been in the land sixty and two years. Yet, he refers to himself, in the revealing of his heart in this hour of sorrow – he refers to himself as a stranger and a sojourner in the land [Genesis 23:4]. And those words of Abraham sank deep into the memory of his children and of his children’s children, and those words came to be a very characterization of the whole nation and of the people of God. They were never forgot.
Here, in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Leviticus, Moses writes that very thing at the order and word of God: "The land shall not be sold for ever . . . for ye were strangers and sojourners with Me. And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption . . . " [Leviticus 25:23-24]. That is, it belonged to God, not to the people, and if the people used it, it was to be redeemed from the hand of God.
We are strangers and sojourners in this earth [Hebrews 11:13]. What we possess belongs really to God: "The land shall not be sold forever, it is Mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with Me" [Leviticus 25:23].
Now, look at those same words in the mouth of David as he prepares for the tremendous building of that great temple. In First Chronicles 29:14 and following, David says:
But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee –
Not what we have, but what God has given us we give to Thee –
For we are strangers before Thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers; our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.
O Lord our God, all this store that we have prepared to build Thee an house for Thine holy name cometh of Thine hand; and is all Thine own.
[1 Chronicles 29:14-16]
"A stranger and a sojourner, as were all of our fathers" [1 Chronicles 29:15].
And you find it again in that marvelous, incomparable chapter, the eleventh of Hebrews:
These who died in the faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Now, how did Abraham sustain himself with that kind of a spirit? "Here is no home of mine. This is no land of mine. These are no possessions of mine." How did he sustain himself? In what spirit? You find that answer in this same chapter, the eleventh of Hebrews:
By faith, Abraham sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country . . .
For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
Truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city.
[Hebrews 11:9-10, 14-16]
Abraham confesses in the hour of his grief and sorrow, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you" [Genesis 23:4]. His heart was in heaven. His vision was in glory. His eyes were focused on the great and beautiful land that is yet to come. And God did not disappoint him. He prepared for him a city [Hebrews 11:10]. Wonder if God will do that for us? If we confess ourselves strangers in the earth and pilgrims looking for a city that is yet to come whose builder and maker is God, will the Lord prepare for us, too, a city?
Now, this last: Abraham’s illimitable faith. Look at it: "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" [Genesis 23:4]. Why did not Abraham take Sarah back to Haran, back to his people, back to the house from whence he came, back to the land from whence he had come as a stranger and a pilgrim? Why didn’t he? Almost every family that is able, when their beloved dead lay before them, will take them back to the burying ground of the family. And there, by the side of these they have loved and lost for a while, there do they inter their beloved dead.
Why didn’t Abraham do that – take Sarah back to the family grounds in Haran and lay her body to rest? Why? The answer lies in the persuasion and in the faith of this man of God. He believed the promise of God that Canaan should be given to him and to his seed forever and forever [Genesis 13:14-17].
And in the light of this present day and these last 1,900 years, it still seems that Abraham’s faith has fallen to the ground. Abraham believed that the land of Palestine would be his and would belong to his children forever and forever. The Lord God had said to Abraham, in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Genesis and the seventh verse: "The Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, ‘Unto thy seed will I give this land’" [Genesis 12:7].
And in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, the Lord repeated it twice [Genesis 15:7, 18]: "And the Lord said unto Abram, ‘I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give unto thee this land to inherit it’" [Genesis 15:7].
And in the seventeenth chapter, the Lord said: "I have changed thy name to Abraham . . . and I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, for an eternal possession; and I will be their God [Genesis 15:5, 8].
"I will give thee and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger – all the land of Palestine – for an everlasting possession. I will be their God."
Abraham believed the promise and the Word of God. In that fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, God revealed to Abraham that the children of Israel would be captive and bondsmen for over four hundred years in a strange land, even in Egypt [Genesis 15:13-16]. And the Lord revealed unto Abraham, in the darkness of an awful vision, that his people, his children, his seed, would have, oh, how much of blood, and how much of toil, and how much of sorrow, and how much of grief, in this world.
And in the story in Second Kings, there is the wasting of the seed of Abraham and the Babylonian captivity [2 Kings 23:26-27, 24:10-25, 25:1-21]. And in the story of the book in Chronicles, there is that same terrible wasting [2 Chronicles 36:15-21]. And in the story of the life of Jesus, there is that same terrible reiteration of that vision of the horror by night, the destruction of the city of God, the Jerusalem of Palestine, and the wasting of the children of Israel [Matthew 24:1-2].
But beyond the years of the captivity in Egypt, and beyond the years of the wasting in Babylonia, and beyond the years of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the burying of the children of Israel among the nations, Abraham believed that God would keep His word: that God would keep His promise and that the land of Palestine would belong to him and to his seed forever and forever.
And that promise and that faith is the great reiteration of the mighty prophets of God in an unvarying word. In this matchless sixty-third chapter of Isaiah, the prayer of the prophet to Jehovah God:
Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitations of Thy holiness and of Thy glory: where is Thy zeal and Thy strength, the sounding of Thy heart or Thy mercies toward us?
Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: Thou, O Lord art our Father, our Redeemer; Thy name is from everlasting.
O Lord, why hast Thou made us to err from Thy ways, and hardened our heart from Thy fear? Return for Thy servants’ sake, the tribes of Thine inheritance.
The people of Thy holiness have possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down Thy sanctuary.
We are Thine: Thou never barest rule over them; they were not called by Thy name.
You can feel the heart throb of the great prophet of God. "We have possessed it, this land, but a little while. Uprooted, sent away, ravaged, destroyed, decimated, we have possessed it but a little while, and the Lord God promised it to Abraham forever."
And the prophet lifts up his voice in prayer saying, "O Lord, bow down Thine ear. Listen here. Return for Thy servants’ sake, for Abraham’s sake, for the promise sake, the tribes of Thine inheritance. We possessed it just a little while. And God said to Abraham, "Forever, forever."
Look at Amos. Look at the promise of Amos. Look at the Word of the Lord to Amos:
In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:
And I will bring again the captivity of My people of Israel . . .
And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God.
[from Amos 9:11, 14-15]
They have possessed it but a little while, but the Lord God said to Abraham: "It shall be thine forever" [Genesis 13:14-15]. And Amos the prophet lifts up his voice in the name of the Lord and says, "The day is coming when the Lord will again raise the fallen tabernacle of David and God shall place His people back in their land, and they shall abide there forever, saith the Lord thy God" [from Amos 9:11, 14-15].
Abraham believed the Lord and instead of taking Sarah back to Haran and back to his people and back to his father’s house, he buried her in the land of Canaan, in the cave of Machpelah, because he believed the word and the promise of God that it would be his as a possession forever to him and to his seed.
And on the basis of that faith, you look – on the basis of that faith, Abraham buried Sarah in the field of Ephron, in the cave of Machpelah [Genesis 23:19]. And on the basis of that promise, Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham in the cave of Machpelah by the side of Sarah [Genesis 25:8-10]. And on the basis of that promise, Isaac buried Rebekah in the cave of Machpelah [Genesis 35:25, :31]. And upon the basis of that promise, Jacob and Esau buried Isaac in that cave of Machpelah. And now you listen to the word of Israel just before he died in the land of Egypt:
These are the tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.
And he charged them, and said unto them, "I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,
In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham [bought] with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace.
There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.
The purchase of field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth.
And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.
And did Joseph bury Israel in the land of Egypt? Did he?
And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him.
And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm Israel: and the physicians embalmed Israel.
And forty days were accomplished; and so are fulfilled the days of those which are embalmed: and the Egyptians mourned for him threescore and ten days.
And when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spake unto the house of Pharoah, saying, "If now I have found grace in thine eyes, speak, I pray thee . . .
"My father made me swear, saying, ‘Lo, I die: in the grave which I have digged for me in the land of Canaan, there bury me . . . ‘"
And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them:
For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with a field for a possession of a buryingplace of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre.
If the land of Palestine is just like any other land, if it doesn’t belong to Israel, if it is not in the promise of Abraham, why not bury Israel in the land of Egypt? Why not? Why not take Sarah back to the land of Haran? And when Joseph died, he made them swear that in the day that God delivered them, they would take up his bones and carry them back to the promised land of Canaan [Genesis 50:24-25]. If it’s not to be theirs, if it’s like any other place or land, why not bury Joseph in the land of Egypt? Because God has sworn. He who never changes [Malachi 3:6], with whom is not the shadow of turning [James 1:17], God hath sworn that the land of Palestine should belong to Abraham and to Abraham’s seed forever [Genesis 13:15]. And on the basis of that promise, Abraham buried Sarah in Machpelah. And Isaac and Rebekah were buried by the side of Abraham and Sarah. And Leah and Israel were buried in that field of Ephron, their possession forever and forever [Genesis :31].
Over that cave of Machpelah, there stands what is today the children of Ishmael, the sons of Abraham by that wild man Ishmael [Genesis 16:11-12]. And some of these days, some of these days, Ishmael and Isaac will be raised from the dead, and there in that land and in that place, the sons of Abraham – the children of Ishmael who are sons of the covenant of circumcision and the children of Isaac who are the chosen family of God – some day there in that land they will look upon their Lord and King, Christ Jesus, and acknowledge Him as their Lord, as their Savior. And there will be one nation and one King and one throne and one Lord and one everlasting sea of righteousness filled with the knowledge of the Lord. And the nations of the earth will go up to the mount of the Lord there to worship our Savior and theirs, world without end [Revelation 21:24], for the Word and the promises of God are sure [2 Corinthians 1:20].
Now, we sing our song, and while we sing it, somebody you to give his heart to the Lord, somebody you put his life in the church – a family or just you – while we sing this song, while we make this appeal, will you come and stand by me? On the first note of the first stanza, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come" while we stand and while we sing.