Genesis 23

A Promise, But No Land

“Here I am, a stranger in a foreign land, with no place to bury my wife. Please let me have a piece of land for a burial plot.” – Genesis 23:4 NLT

Have you ever had someone make a promise to you and not keep it? Or have you ever made a promise to someone else and fail to follow through on that promise? It happens all the time. And when it does, it usually causes us to lose trust in the one who made the promise. We begin to doubt their word. We question the believability of any and all promises they have made us. It’s only natural. So when we come to chapter 23 of Genesis, we find a story, that at first glance, doesn’t seem to have a lot of meat to it. It records the death of Sarah and Abraham’s bartering with the Hittites in order to buy a plot of land on which to bury her remains. It’s easy to just blow through this passage and miss out on what could be a very important point that Moses, the author, is trying to make.

When Sarah dies, Abraham makes plans to bury her. But he has a problem. He owns no land. Now this is significant. He is living in the very land that God had promised to give to he and his descendants, but at this point not one acre of it belongs to him. Yet over and over again God had reiterated His promise to give this land to Abraham and his descendants. Back in chapter 13, God had reaffirmed His promise to Abraham regarding the land: “Look as far as you can see in every direction. I am going to give all this land to you and your offspring as a permanent possession And I am going to give you so many descendants that, like dust, they cannot be counted! Take a walk in every direction and explore the new possessions I am giving you” (Genesis 13:14-17 NLT).

Seems pretty clear. God was going to give Abraham all the land he could see as his possession. Yet on the day Sarah died, he didn’t even own enough land to bury his wife. All he had was a future promise. According to God, this land would all be his someday. But at this moment, it belonged to Ephron the son of Zohar. According to the book of Hebrews, Abraham was a foreigner living in the very land that God had promised to give him. “And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith––for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent” (Hebrews 11:9 NLT).

Abraham was living by faith. He had been promised everything, but owned nothing. Yet, rather than complain to God about his lot in life, Abraham went about buying a plot of land – a plot of land that rightfully belonged to him. Why? The writer of Hebrews goes on to tell us: “Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God” (Hebrews 11:10 NLT). He had a future focus. He wasn’t going to limit the promises of God by putting a time limit on Him. He had learned this lesson while waiting on God’s promise of an heir. He had tried to put a time table on God’s promise and that had caused nothing but pain and sorrow. It had even caused him to take matters into his own hands. Which proved disastrous and disappointing. Abraham was learning to trust God. He was learning to believe that God’s timing was perfect and impeccable. Sarah had died never seeing the promise regarding the land fulfilled. But the same thing would happen to Abraham. He would live out his life never seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise. Yet he believed. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says this about Abraham and the others listed in the “Hall of Faith.” “All these faithful ones died without receiving what God had promised them, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed the promises of God. They agreed that they were no more than foreigners and nomads here on earth” (Hebrews 11:13 NLT). These people had a future focus. They welcomed or embraced the future fulfillment of God’s promises as if they were already here. They didn’t have to see the results to believe that they would happen.

A Heavenly Home

Was God going to give this land to Abraham and his descendants? You bet. Would Abraham ever see that happen? No. But he knew it would. And he also knew that God had something even better in store for him. “But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a heavenly city for them” (Hebrews 11:16 NLT). Abraham wasn’t obsessed with owning land and extending his little kingdom on earth. He was content to let God work all that out on His own timeline.

What about us? Are we willing to trust God with the future? Are we willing to believe the promises of God even when they look as if they will never happen in our lifetime? That requires faith. “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). Faith is what kept Abraham going. Faith is what kept him strong even when the promise was delayed. Chapter 11 of Hebrews, that great “Hall of Faith,” tells us of the great exploits of those who lived their lives by faith and not by sight. As a result, “Their weakness was turned to strength” (Hebrews 11:34 NLT). Oh for a generation of individuals who will “faith up” to the fact that God can be trusted to keep His promises.

Father, You are faithful all the time! You never fail to keep Your promises. Yet I still doubt and question whether You will. Give me the faith of Abraham. Let my weakness be turned to strength as I learn to trust You, confident that what You have promised is going to happen, even when I can’t see it. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

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