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Sorrow's Pull

Words by Shelley Johnson | Illustrations by Marie Warner Preston

As he mourns the loss of his beloved wife Sarah, Abraham demonstrates to us the importance of creating space for our grief and allowing ourselves to find comfort in the presence of God. Join us as we consider how to live with hope-filled faith in the midst of loss and suffering.

As I recently attended a friend’s funeral, the irony of death did not escape me: The one who dies is made whole and given eternal life in Heaven, while those still on earth are left to feel death’s grip and sorrows. For those of us who remain, when grief threatens to swallow us whole and keep us rooted in the soil of sadness, we find it difficult to rise up and move on.

This is where we find Abraham—at the bedside of his beloved wife, Sarah, who has died in the land of the Hittites. Though the words are few, we are given a glimpse of the depth of Abraham’s sorrows as he kneels “to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her” (Genesis 23:2). His tears reflect the genuine nature of his grief, going beyond the dutiful mourning expected of a husband in this ancient time and culture.

In spite of sorrow’s pull, Abraham is able to resist. He has faithfully remained at his bride’s side, lamenting his loss, but now he rises (v.3), intentionally stepping away from the grasp of grief. There is work to be done.

Even though God had promised Abraham Canaan, we realise that Abraham has not yet been given this inheritance (Acts 7:5). He owns no land, which means he has nowhere to bury Sarah. So, having risen from Sarah’s side, he sets out to talk with the Hittites, seeking a plot of land with which to honour the matriarch of his family.

At the city gate, Abraham’s humility leads him to first confess himself to be an alien and stranger among the Hittites (Genesis 23:4)—despite having lived among them for several decades—and then to bow down before them (vv.7 & 12). With great regard, Abraham acknowledges his place among the Hittites. He is not of their people and refuses to presume on their hospitality, yet he is in need of their generosity.

The Hittites’ response reflects their respect for this “mighty prince” among them (v.5): They make multiple offers of the free use of burial chambers and even the gift of a field and cave (v.11). Their admiration of Abraham shines in every offer for him to bury his dead among their own.

Not wanting to risk future generations questioning this burial site’s ownership, Abraham insists on paying for the field in Machpelah, affording us a glimpse of ancient Near Eastern culture where transactions such as this happened publicly and were sealed by words. Even as the transaction is secured, Ephron seems reluctant to discuss the price, saying, “But what is that between you and me?” (v.15), indicating that he values his relationship with Abraham more than money—a sure sign of respect.

Full of sorrow, Abraham buries his wife in the cave of Machpelah (v.19). His great loss motivates this man of God to purchase a field in a land that is not yet his own, and it becomes a down payment of faith that one day God will fulfil His promise to him.

We can live in the same type of hope-giving faith. When we feel the weight of sorrow’s pull, we can turn to our Father for help. Sitting in His presence and dwelling on His words of hope change us. When we recall His promises to be our strength (Philippians 4:13), to always be with us (Matthew 28:20), and to give us comfort (Matthew 5:4), we are supernaturally supported, able to rise up and keep moving forward in a faith that was paid for by our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Where do you need to allow yourself to feel sorrow’s pull and create space to grieve? What might that look like, and how can you invite God into your mourning?

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