|Abraham mourns the death of Sarah|
I wondered how how we treat our dead affects our role in our families life? About how what we do in this life affects the communities of both the living and the dead. For the dead are in a season "wherein there can be no labor performed" (Alma 34:33) and they therefore become dependent upon the respect given to them by their living.
I discovered these important truths
This chapter is as much about Abraham's integrity toward his fellowman and God as it is about securing a burial place for Sarah. The children of Heth tried to bestow the gift of a sepulcher on Abraham. It was a subject given "in the audience of the people."
Even though Abraham thought of himself as a "stranger and a sojourner"(vs5) among the people of Hebron, they loved and admired Abraham and called him "a mighty prince."(vs 6) Abraham had opportunity to exercise his power to dominion. He could have had what he wanted and needed for free. No one would dismiss a man of his stature in his time of grief. But Abraham knew who he was and he knew the importance of integrity while conducting business, especially the business of eternal life.
- In the choice of they sepulchers bury thy dead (vs 6)
- Nay, the field I give I thee. (vs 11)
Integrity is an eternal characteristic. Consider how Abraham's entire life focus within the book of Genesis is about eternal life. If he truly believes that he and Sarah are married for all of eternity then he what he does for her body in this life, will be recognized in the next life. He would have to answer not only to God but to Sarah. Abraham understood how we practice integrity in this life affects not only the example we leave others, but also paves the way for our eternal happiness.
In addition, he understood the importance of securing a burial place for Sarah as a means of honoring her and her family, but also to "make sure" a burial place for himself. There could be no mistake after his death where he would be buried. By securing this transaction with the power of social custom, honor and integrity he was securing Sarah's and his resting place. For if he owned the land (and it was not a gift) no dispute could arise after his passing that would jeopardize his choice of where and by whom he would be buried. ( remember he had other wives)
The importance of this transaction is reiterated at the end of the chapter in verse 20, "and the field, and the cave that is therein, we made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a burying place by the sons of Heth."
Our culture fears death. When Abraham chose to purchase the land, and honor Sarah, he was teaching us about eternal life. Death is one of life's facts. We are indeed born to live and eventually die. Our culture does not want us to speak of it, yet it comes as surely as the tree which falls in the forest. Just as the tree does not know his own time, we are not to know our time. But if we are prepared we should have not fear.
Could it be that Ephron and the other sons of Heth wanted to bestow this gift on Abraham out of pity? or out of their own fear of death? Or out of their desire to honor a man of his spiritual stature? It really does not matter why? What does matter is that Abraham did not cower to their persistence. He knew his death would come and he faced it by purchasing his burial place. His actions of honor while still grieving for Sarah speak of his belief in the eternal nature of family.
I remember when I was about thirty my Grandfather Conkey took me on a walk through the Presbyterian cemetery where his father and mother had been buried. I was enjoying myself until I walked past the gravestones of my (living)Grandfather and Grandmother Conkey. They stood next to me as I read their names, their stone engravings and the year of their birth. The year of their death had been left to be inscribed upon their passing. I was mortified that they had chosen to think of death while they were yet alive.
Yet they had and they had done it with such grace and style that it set my own fears at rest. I believe this chapter does the same. It makes us consider how Abraham treated the subject of death. How he revered and honored Sarah by purchasing the cave of their burial and in doing so made us aware of his belief in the eternal nature of the family. If Abraham did not believe he would rise again, or see Sarah after this life, why was it so important to him to secure a safe burial place, a sure burial place, a place where he too could rest next to her.
In speaking to a few people about this chapter I learned that most have dismissed it. They have not considered the many truths that lie hidden here. Sarah died. Abraham buried her. Our lives can be easily summed up as easily as many of us want to sum up this chapter. We were born, we lived, we died. But life, eternal life, has much more to offer us. When we consider the eternal nature of man and we consider how Abraham's actions played to his belief in the eternal life, we understand the role that he played in teaching his culture about death, about eternal families, and about how we treat those we do business with, and those with whom we share eternal ties of love. When we understand these basic principals we understand just how important the role of respect for our dead, integrity and our belief in eternal life in the lives of the children of Israel play in setting an example for us to follow.