TorahScope: Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah

Sarah’s Life

Genesis 23:1-25:18
1 Kings 1:1-31

“Abraham’s Distinctive Faith”

by Mark Huey

The recorded testimonies of the life of Abraham and Sarah come to a close in this week’s parashah, Chayei Sarah. Our reading begins with a description of the death and burial of the Matriarch Sarah, and closes later with the death and burial of the Patriarch Abraham. In the balance of our Torah portion, the actions of the faithful servant Eliezar are detailed, as he was commissioned by Abraham to find a suitable wife for his beloved son Isaac, from his relatives in Haran after Sarah passed away.

Isaac finding an appropriate wife is a major theme of our reading, yet it is given to us surrounded by descriptions of the life examples of Sarah and Abraham. So, before turning to the search for a wife for Isaac, it is important that we understand how Abraham and Sarah both had a unique faith in the Almighty God of Creation. They each knew that the Holy One had chosen them for a special mission in life. They were each bound and determined to perpetuate their relationship with God through their descendants. For modern-day followers of this same Almighty God, adhering to their examples of faith is crucial, for continuing the acknowledgment that this loving Heavenly Father is the only One any human being can turn to for direction, guidance, provision, and indeed salvation. The Prophet Isaiah declared how those seeking the Lord are to look to the example of Abraham and Sarah:

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when he was but one I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him” (Isaiah 51:1-2).

We each must recall that the struggles, tests, and trials of Abraham and Sarah were designed by God to make them the preeminent examples of what it truly means for any person having lived since to walk by faith. God’s intimate personal interaction, with this revered couple, assured them that they were indeed called by Him for a very unique mission. Throughout their lives as they sojourned in hostile territories, they inevitably turned to the Lord God for direction and provision. And obviously, in the trials any of us face, so must we turn to the same Lord God.

One way to avoid a great deal of difficulty in life, which Margaret and I have taken from Chayei Sarah, and have tried to pass down to our own children, is the theme of avoiding becoming unequally yoked with others. The Lord desired this couple, Abraham and Sarah, to avoid entanglements with their contemporaries who worshipped other gods. They knew from the challenges they endured with Egypt’s Pharaoh, the king of Sodom, Abimelech, and the sons of Heth, that their belief in Him might be compromised if they succumbed to the ungodly religious influences and lifestyles they represented. Most importantly, they did not want their child Isaac to be susceptible to the pressures and wicked ways of a pagan Canaanite society, so it was essential that he marry someone with a wider degree of commonality, than from among the local population where they had relocated.

Purchasing a Proper Burial Site

Abraham and his entourage had settled in the Hebron area at the time of Sarah’s death. Our Torah portion goes into some detail regarding how Abraham did not want to be beholden to his neighbors. Rather than accepting, as a free gift, a proper burial site for his departed wife, Sarah, there was an elaborate back and forth negotiation between Abraham and Ephron. This culminated with Abraham purchasing the cave at Machpelah:

“Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’ The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’ So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying, ‘If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.’ Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.’ And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there.’ Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.’ Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard. So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth” (Genesis 23:3-20).

Here recorded in Holy Scripture is a real estate contract, with the terms outlined and consummated, with a transfer of a fair payment of four hundred shekels of silver. This transaction perpetually validated Abraham’s purchase of the cave, and also exemplified the principle that people of faith should avoid the possibility of being beholden to those who might use what could be considered a kind of “generous gift” against them. This was a philosophy that Abraham had adhered to earlier, when confronted by the king of Sodom upon returning with Lot (Genesis 14:21-24), as well as the agreement made with Abimelech when they resolved the water problems for their livestock around Beersheba (Genesis 21:22-34).

Securing a Suitable Wife

With Sarah properly laid to rest at the age of one hundred and twenty-seven, the challenge of finding a suitable wife for the forty year old Isaac (Genesis 25:20) confronted Abraham. Living in the Hebron region among the Canaanites was difficult, because the Canaanites did not serve the Living God whom Abraham and Sarah revered and honored. However, Abraham had learned earlier when he lived in Beersheba, that his brother Nahor, who had remained in the upper Mesopotamian region, had some children with his wife Milcah:

“So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba. Now it came about after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, ‘Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor’” (Genesis 22:19-24).

The aged Abraham turned to his faithful servant, Eliezer of Damascus, who had most likely been with Abraham and Sarah since they had left Haran with some other servants, sixty-two years earlier (Genesis 12:5, 15:2). From the account that follows, it is apparent that Eliezer exhibited faith in the same God that Abraham worshipped. Abraham entrusted Eliezer with the charge to return to the upper Mesopotamia region, to find a wife for Isaac, from his relatives located there:

“Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in every way. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, ‘Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac’” (Genesis 24:1-4).

Despite having served Abraham and Sarah for a very long time, and having marveled over the blessings God had bestowed upon them, Eliezer was still concerned about this critical mission to find a wife for Isaac. While participating in the intimate Ancient Near Eastern ritual of making a covenant by placing a hand under the thigh, Eliezer received an admonition from Abraham, as Abraham reiterated the promises God had made to him regarding his son Isaac and their descendants. Abraham’s faith never waivered, because he inherently knew that God was with him and that Eliezer would succeed in his mission. Encouraged by Abraham’s faith, Eliezer swore that he would venture forth to find a wife for Isaac:

“The servant said to him, ‘Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?’ Then Abraham said to him, ‘Beware that you do not take my son back there! The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, “To your descendants I will give this land,” He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.’ So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter. Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master’s in his hand; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor” (Genesis 24:5-10).

From this point forward in the narrative, the description of Eliezer’s mission unfolds. But, it is interesting to note that during the early stages of Eliezer’s search, he often deferentially referred to the Lord as Abraham’s God, despite the fact that it is apparent that Eliezer obviously had a belief in the same God as his master Abraham:

“He said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl to whom I say, “Please let down your jar so that I may drink,” and who answers, “Drink, and I will water your camels also”—may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to my master” (Genesis 24:12-14).

Throughout the excursion, Eliezer displayed total dependence and faith upon the Lord to help him fulfill his mission. When he arrived at the spring used by the residents around Nahor, he implored the Lord to grant him success for the sake of his master Abraham. As a number of young girls arrived at the spring, Eliezer asked the Lord to have the girl destined to be Isaac’s wife respond favorably to his request for water. Providentially, the girl who responded was Nahor’s granddaughter Rebekah, who was closely related to his master Abraham:

“Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder. The girl was very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her; and she went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her, and said, ‘Please let me drink a little water from your jar.’ She said, ‘Drink, my lord’; and she quickly lowered her jar to her hand, and gave him a drink. Now when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, ‘I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking.’ So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. Meanwhile, the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the LORD had made his journey successful or not. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels in gold, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father’s house?’ She said to him, ‘I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.’ Again she said to him, ‘We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in.’ Then the man bowed low and worshiped the LORD. He said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the LORD has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers’” (Genesis 24:15-27).

Note that during this encounter around the spring, Eliezer silently observed the actions of Rebekah, and subsequently bestowed upon her some gold jewelry as he waited to find out some details about her family. Upon learning that she was the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah and Nahor, he was elated because from the many years he had served Abraham and Sarah, he obviously knew that these were their relatives (Genesis 22:20-24). With such knowledge, Eliezer bowed low and worshipped the Lord. His mission to find a wife suitable for Isaac was off to a good start. However, he did not want to kidnap the young maiden, but instead, desired for her to willingly return with him to become the wife of Isaac.

Rebekah’s Relatives

When Abraham’s servant encountered Rebekah’s family, her cunning brother Laban is introduced. Laban had taken note of the gold jewelry given to his sister (Genesis 24:30), and so he went to the spring to ask Eliezer to come to their communal household to stay, and have his fellow travelers and camels watered and fed (Genesis 24:31). Despite the hospitality rendered by Rebekah’s relatives, Eliezer was on a mission for his master Abraham. Before he ate, Eliezer relayed the commission of Abraham, along with the progress that had been made at the spring with Rebekah to Laban and their father Bethuel (Genesis 24:34-48). After repeating the testimony, both Laban and Bethuel acknowledged that the matter was from the Lord, and that He had spoken, having indicated that this family worshipped the same God as Abraham and Eliezer. When Eliezer received this affirmation, coupled with the statement that Rebekah was to be the wife of Abraham’s son, he bestowed gifts upon both Laban and her mother:

“‘So now if you are going to deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, let me know, that I may turn to the right hand or the left.’ Then Laban and Bethuel replied, ‘The matter comes from the LORD; so we cannot speak to you bad or good. Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.’ When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the LORD. The servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother” (Genesis 24:49-53).

At this point, Eliezer relaxed and spent the night, but his mission was not yet complete. He had the permission of Rebekah’s family, but there was an attempt to delay their return to Canaan. In the morning, Eliezer requested to leave with Rebekah, but her brother and mother asked that she stay for ten days before departing. Faithful Eliezer was relentless. He wanted to return immediately with the prospective wife for Isaac, so to comply with his wishes, her relatives asked if she wanted to go. The response was a resounding yes, so she was released with her nurse and a wonderful blessing for her and her future descendants:

“Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night. When they arose in the morning, he said, ‘Send me away to my master.’ But her brother and her mother said, ‘Let the girl stay with us a few days, say ten; afterward she may go.’ He said to them, ‘Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.’ And they said, ‘We will call the girl and consult her wishes.’ Then they called Rebekah and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ And she said, ‘I will go.’ Thus they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham’s servant and his men. They blessed Rebekah and said to her, ‘May you, our sister, become thousands of ten thousands, and may your descendants possess the gate of those who hate them.’ Then Rebekah arose with her maids, and they mounted the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed” (Genesis 24:54-61).

Rebekah Marries Isaac

Upon returning to the region where Abraham and Isaac were encamped, the mission to find a wife for Isaac came to a beautiful conclusion. Abraham’s desire to find a wife who knew and worshipped the same God he served, was completed. Our Torah portion conveys the union of Isaac and Rebekah, in terms that indicate their suitable match:

“Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev.  Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming. Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel. She said to the servant, ‘Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?’ And the servant said, ‘He is my master.’ Then she took her veil and covered herself. The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Genesis 24:62-67).

At one hundred and thirty-seven years of age, Abraham established a principle for his descendants, regarding how followers of the Creator God should approach entanglements with those who do not know or worship Him. Abraham was unwilling to be beholden to the residents of Heth, when it came to finding a gravesite for his beloved Sarah. But even more critical, he was making sure that any life partner for his beloved Isaac was from a family who knew the same God. Abraham, and even Sarah, knew the unique call that was upon Isaac, and that through him, all of the blessings promised to Abraham would be manifested. In order to assure a continuance of those blessings, Abraham was compelled to find a wife who was suitable for Isaac. By choosing faithful Eliezer as his trusted agent to accomplish his intention, Abraham confidently knew that God would honor His promises to Isaac.

Abraham’s Final Days

According to the balance of Chayei Sarah, Abraham lived for thirty eight more years after Isaac was married to Rebekah. It is during this period of his life that he fathered six more sons with Keturah, so that the promise that he would be a father of a multitude of nations could continue to be fulfilled (Genesis 17:4-5). The principle to preserve those following the distinctive faith, which Abraham had in the Lord, was evident, even as his death approached. It must be remembered that Abraham knew that the son of promise was his beloved son Isaac, whom he had with Sarah. Abraham also understood that the blessings he had received were to be passed along to Isaac and his descendants. Prior to dying, he gave the great bulk of his possessions to Isaac, after he had bestowed some gifts upon his other six sons, and sent them to the land of the east to avoid even greater sibling rivalry that was already evident between Isaac and Ishmael, his son by Hagar:

“Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan became the father of Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim and Letushim and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah and Epher and Hanoch and Abida and Eldaah. All these were the sons of Keturah. Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east. These are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife. It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi” (Genesis 25:1-11).

Paradoxically, when Abraham died and was buried in the cave of Machpelah, the proceedings were attended by both Isaac and Ishmael, after their half-brothers had been sent away. The animosity between these two sons had not abated because of Ishmael’s unique birth, and the Lord’s promises to Abraham regarding Ishmael’s future descendants (Genesis 17:18-20). Distinctions were to exist between the descendants of Isaac and Rebekah, and Ishmael’s descendants, because Ishmael took a wife from Egypt with her beliefs in other gods (Genesis 21:20-21).

Despite the blessing of many children, Ishmael did not receive the blessing of marrying a wife who had belief in the God of Abraham and Sarah, whom Isaac received when Rebekah became his wife. There has been a millennia-old conflict that has ensued between followers of the God of Abraham and Isaac, and those who have claimed the line of Ishmael as being the line of blessing. Such people seem to have inherited the rebellious traits of Ishmael, which have been passed down for generations:

“The angel of the LORD said to her further, ‘Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; And you shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. He will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers” (Genesis 16:11-12).

Abraham’s Distinctive Faith

When we consider the life example of Abraham and his wife Sarah, it is clear to me that the two of them had a rather distinct faith in the Holy One. Having left the pagan culture of Ur, and having ventured by faith into the Land of Canaan, they understood how critical it was to keep their focus on the Lord God who had chosen them for their special mission to be a blessing to humanity. Through the trials and tests of life, they learned to trust in the Almighty, but also knew that the lures of the world and the temptation to be entangled with others serving different, false gods, were to be avoided. The principle of being equally yoked to others of like mind—especially as it concerns life partners—is discernable in the decisions they made, and is most noted in the search for Isaac’s wife. Years later in the Book of Deuteronomy, the principle, to not be unequally yoked, is graphically defined by using the example of not yoking an ox with a donkey when it comes to plowing soil:

“You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (Deuteronomy 22:10).

This theme of avoiding entanglements, with those who do not know the Lord, is more specifically addressed by the Apostle Paul, who warned the Corinthians about the perils of being bound together with unbelievers:

“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Messiah with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE [Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27]. Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,’ says the Lord. ‘AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN [Isaiah 52:11; Ezekiel 20:34, 41]; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

While reflecting upon some of the decisions made by Abraham as he was approaching the end of his life, as noted in this week’s Torah reading, perhaps it would be beneficial for you to contemplate where you are in your own walk of faith. Are you mindful of the distinct faith that you have in the Creator God, through the redeeming blood of the Messiah Yeshua? Are you diligently striving to avoid being bound with unbelievers in your daily affairs? Are you praying for godly spouses for your children and grandchildren? Are you working to pass on your faith to your children and sharing it with others, who, like Eliezer, might be a part of your immediate surroundings in the family, neighborhood, or at work?

There is much to be thankful for as we all consider just where we are in our walk of faith. Perhaps now the words of Isaiah 51:1-2 mean so much more as we consider the lives of Abraham and Sarah? May we, by faith, pursue righteousness as we seek the Lord—and avoid being bound with those who do not believe—just like the distinctive faith of Abraham.