The Abrahamic Covenant is found in Genesis 12, 15, and 17. One of the divine promises in this covenant is that God would give the land of Canaan to Abraham and his offspring after him. To be sure, the final fulfillment of this promise is the New Heaven and New Earth and the New Jerusalem found in Revelation 21-22; however, there was also, for a time, a physical fulfillment of the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant. The first fulfillment of the land promise in the Abrahamic Covenant is found in Genesis 23, which records the death and burial of Abraham’s wife, Sarah.
Abraham and Sarah had left their homeland years before to live as sojourners in the land that God had promised to them. Now, Sarah has died and Abraham found himself still as a sojourner with no place to bury his wife. Through a brief negotiation and the city gate, Abraham is able to buy a field with a cave in it in order to bury Sarah, his wife, in the land of Canaan.
One interesting note about the structure of Genesis 23 is that it is bookended by references to Sarah in Canaan. Genesis 23.2 states, “And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her” (ESV). Genesis 23.19 states, “After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan” (ESV). These bookends, or inclusio, along with the many geographical and people group references bring the location of this story to the forefront. Indeed, Moses is highlighting that God was at work, even through the tragedy and sadness of a spouse’s death, to fulfill his promise to Abraham. It was through Sarah’s death and the subsequent purchase of the land for an eternal burial plot, that Abraham acquired his first small, token piece of the Promised Land.
Genesis 23 reminds us that our God is faithful and sovereign in keeping his word. There is great comfort in knowing that God is faithful and sovereign when suffering comes. We can know that though the reason for our suffering may not be fully understood, it is not in vain. Indeed the greatest comfort in tragedy is not the removal of pain, but the knowledge that God is working out his good, pleasing, and perfect will for his own glory.
Such was the case with Christ as well. Too often, we think Christ went to the cross willingly and therefore painlessly. This is not the case. While Christ did go willingly, it was with great anguish. Matthew records Jesus prayer to his Father seeking the cup of bearing the sins of his people to pass. However, Christ took comfort and was encouraged to press on, knowing it was his Father’s will.
Repeatedly, throughout Scripture, God uses some tragedy or point of suffering in order to advance his plan of redemption. Now as the church, the body and bride of Jesus Christ, presses on in the work to which God has called us and suffers for this work, may we be comforted and strengthened not by the removal of pain, but the knowledge that we are doing our Father’s will.