TorahScope: Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah

Sarah’s life

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

“Life and Death Matters”


by Mark Huey

This week, we begin our Torah reading with some very perplexing verses, “Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. Then Abraham rose from before his dead…” (Genesis 23:1-3a).

When you begin to read the Torah portion Chayei Sarah, you are immediately struck with the oddity that although this text is named the “life of Sarah,” it is not a summation of the life that Sarah lived, but is instead a record of the post-mortem activities of Abraham and his entourage. Little mention is actually made of Sarah’s life, but what follows of her life is a testament to the relationship that existed between the principal Patriarch and Matriarch of our faith. Abraham’s obvious grief is described along with his determination to bury her in the Promised Land.[1] Once Sarah is laid to rest, the focus turns to securing an appropriate wife for Isaac, the son of promise who was born to Abraham and Sarah in their waning years. The reading concludes with additional information about Abraham’s remarriage and his final 38 years prior to his death at the age of 175.[2]

While contemplating these passages about our spiritual forbearers, a number of thoughts came to my mind. After all, it was a sovereign act of the Creator to choose Abraham and Sarah to be the couple from which the nation of Israel would be birthed. What was it about their lives that are so instructional for us today? What can we learn from this parashah that we can impart to our children and to other young people, so that they will follow in the faithfulness of Abraham and Sarah? In considering these questions, we will discover that when reminiscing about future deaths, we are reminded that how we choose to live our life really does matter.

One Flesh

Most of us recall that it was Abram who was called out of Ur to sojourn in the Land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1). But do we remember that at the time of his calling, he was already married to Sarai and that she too was a part of that same calling?

“Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there” (Genesis 11:29-31).

It may seem insignificant to consider that Abram was already married to Sarai at the time of his calling by God, but the fact remains that he was. It is also mentioned that at the time of their departure from Ur, it was already common knowledge that Sarai was barren. She was not producing any offspring or heirs for Abram, but when the time came to depart for Haran, she was among the group that traveled north up the Euphrates River. Often, as was customary in ancient cultures, barren women were set aside or abandoned if they were not producing heirs. But Abram and Sarai appear to have had a relationship that transcended the societal pressures imposed by the lack of progeny. There was something very essential about their relationship that prompted the Creator to chose them to be the first Hebrews to “cross over” the river from the old country (Genesis 14:13).

Millennia later, we can read the oracles of the Prophet Isaiah, as he describes not only the call given to Abram, but also the oneness that existed between the two progenitors of our faith:

“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. Indeed, the LORD will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody” (Isaiah 51:1-3).

YLT renders this verse as, “For—one—I have called him, and I bless him, and multiply him.”[3] When you consider the description asserted by Isaiah, it claims that Abraham and Sarah were “one” when Abram was originally called. In the Biblical understanding of marriage, the two had become basar echad “one flesh,” as stated in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

When Abram was called out of Ur, he was already “one flesh” with his wife Sarai. They exemplified the relationship that God had established in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and experienced some degree of mutual respect, and they no doubt loved one another deeply. A man and a woman becoming one flesh is referred to later by the Apostle Paul to be a “mystery,” that in and of itself, represents the relationship between Yeshua and the ekklēsia:

“[B]e subject to one another in the fear of Messiah. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head[4] of the wife, as Messiah also is the head of the [assembly], He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the [assembly] is subject to Messiah, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah also loved the [assembly] and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the [assembly] in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Messiah also does the [assembly], because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH [Genesis 2:24]. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Messiah and the [assembly]. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:21-33).

It was imperative that the Lord chose a couple exemplifying the essence of oneness, to be the foundation of the one true faith—because ultimately such oneness is elementary to understanding how He relates to His people, and now His people relate to one another in mutual submission. Therefore, it is to the lives and faithfulness of Abraham and Sarah that we, their spiritual descendants, should look.

As we look at the lives of Abraham and Sarah, it is clear that he loved her very much. Even during the trials and tests of Abraham’s life, there is an underlying knowledge that a true loving partnership existed between these two, called out to be the forbearers of our faith. Whether it was departing together from Haran,[5] dealing with the famine in Canaan,[6] migrating to Egypt,[7] conniving Pharaoh,[8] separating from and then rescuing Lot,[9] getting ahead of God’s plan for an heir,[10] or waiting on the promises of a physical heir[11]—it appears that Abraham and Sarah were ultimately able to come into agreement as “one flesh” throughout their lives.

Of course, we always think about the faith of Abraham, who has been commonly labeled the father of our faith (Romans 4:12), and a friend of God (James 2:23). Little mention is made of the faith exhibited by Sarah, and yet, she also is listed among the faithful in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Fame of faith”:

“By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE” (Hebrews 11:11-12; cf. Genesis 15:5; 22:17).[12]

Here, Sarah is noted as one who faithfully considered the Holy One as willing and able to complete the promises He made regarding the birth of a physical heir. When you couple this with the many more references to Abraham’s faith throughout the Scriptures, you can see that the faith component of Abraham and Sarah’s life together was mutually shared. They epitomized and exemplified the awesome power of a husband and wife working faithfully as one flesh, to accomplish what God had called them to do.

Sarah Laid to Rest

When Sarah died and it came time to lay her body to rest, the grieving Abraham secures a gravesite for her near Hebron. Through the years of sojourning and various encounters with the Almighty, Abraham was absolutely convinced that he and his descendants would be given the land that was promised to them. He did not even consider burying Sarah in any other place than the Land of Canaan. He inherently knew that it was critical for Sarah to be buried in the land that was promised to them and their descendants after them.

We read that he actually purchases a cave at Machpelah, so that there would never be an argument that the land was not deeded or owned by him (Genesis 23). This is reminiscent of an oath that Abram made with the Lord years earlier regarding accepting anything from the inhabitants of the Land of Canaan:

“Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, “I have made Abram rich.” I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share’” (Genesis 14:22-24).

The scene that takes place as the transaction for a burial cave is completed with honor, and Abraham reflects the character of a man who will not just take anything for convenience’s sake.

A Wife for Isaac

In his advanced years, having observed the ways of the Canaanite peoples, Abraham knew that in order to give his son Isaac the best possible chance of maintaining a proper relationship with the Lord, it was imperative that he locate a wife for him. The best choice for a wife would not be among the native women. Abraham decided that he would send his servant Eliezer back to the land of Haran to find a suitable wife for Isaac:

“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).

Abraham knew the special “one flesh” relationship he had with Sarah. He understood the importance of becoming one flesh with his wife. He intrinsically knew that the chances of becoming one flesh were greatly improved if you found a mate who had a similar background and upbringing. As he surveyed the Canaanite field around him, he concluded that his son could best find someone like his mother among those from his own ethnic and social background. He commissioned Eliezer with an oath to find a wife from the women in Haran, who came from his family, who still lived in the region. At this time in his life, Abraham was faithfully confident that the Lord was going to send an angel ahead of his servant to find a wife for Isaac:

“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’” (Genesis 24:6-7).

This statement is evidence of Abraham’s great faith in his God. Later we discover, at the end of this parashah, that Abraham’s faith is rewarded as Rebekah returns with Eliezer and becomes the wife of Isaac. We are told that Isaac, the son of the promise, is greatly comforted by her appearance and his consequent marriage to her:

“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 24:67).

Here, the cycle of love and faith is restored as Isaac and Rebekah carry on the “one flesh” tradition of Abraham and Sarah. Another great love story unfolds, as they also become “one flesh.” Their faith was also great in that Isaac had been obedient to follow Abraham to Mount Moriah for the binding.[13] Likewise, Rebekah had, without reservation, departed from her family to go to a land that she had never seen (Genesis 24:12-65). In the story of both Abraham’s son and his daughter-in-law, we witness a proper model of what is expected to become one flesh, as had been modeled by Abraham and Sarah.

Equal Yoking

As we reflect on Chayei Sarah, we are reminded of the benefits and the blessings of equal yoking, especially in the marriage covenant. We see examples of how the faith and love of Abraham and Sarah established a pattern that eventually blesses their descendents throughout the generations. It is also critical to understand that as parents, they had the responsibility to live a life that allowed them to have input into the life choices of their son Isaac. This is a great pattern that we should seek to emulate.

Do we take our responsibilities toward our children as seriously as Abraham and Sarah? Are we concerned about their long-term happiness and productivity in their relationship with the Lord? If we are, then we should be living a life that is pleasing to Him. By exhibiting such an example, as we approach the inevitable reality of death, we will be thankful that our lives mattered. We will be confident that our children will be able to pass on the blessings to their progeny that we have imparted to them. Hopefully, we will better understand the blessings that the Psalmist says results from walking in His ways:

“A Song of Ascents. How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways. When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, you will be happy and it will be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children like olive plants around your table. Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. The LORD bless you from Zion, and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. Indeed, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!” (Psalm 128:1-6).

Here, the Psalmist says that you will be blessed to see your children’s children. But most importantly, you will be blessed if you will be able to witness your children passing on the faith by which you lived your life, to your grandchildren! As you approach death, you will understand that your life and how you faithfully lived it truly did matter.


NOTES

[1] Genesis 23.

[2] Genesis 25:1-11.

[3] Heb. ki-echad qera’tiv v’avar’keihu v’ar’beihu.

[4] Grk. kephalē.

Editor’s note: The husband being the “head” of his wife relates to him actually being her source, as Paul bids the husbands in Asia Minor to love their wives the same as their own bodies (Ephesians 5:28). For a more detailed examination of this, consult the commentary Ephesians for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[5] Genesis 12:1-5.

[6] Genesis 12:10a.

[7] Genesis 12:10b.

[8] Genesis 12:11-20.

[9] Genesis 13:1-13; 14:1-16.

[10] Genesis 16.

[11] Genesis 18:9-15.

[12] Editor’s note: Do note that there are some translation disagreements for Hebrews 11:11-12, most notably reflected in the NIV rendering: “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.” This would reflect more on Abraham’s ability to consummate the act of conception, given his old age. Obviously, both Abraham and Sarah had to have faith in order to conceive Isaac.

This is due to the fact that the clause eis katabolēn spermatos is translated literally as “to the laying down of seed.” For a further discussion, consult the commentary Hebrews for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[13] Genesis 22:1-18.


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