The Obituary for the Patriarch Abraham
I suspect that most of you in this room this morning has attended a funeral service. Even though they are an hour of worship, funeral services are different from all others. There are parts in a funeral service that are not included in any other church service. One of those additions to the service is what we call the obituary. Technically, according to the Cambridge dictionary an obituary is “a report, especially in a newspaper, that gives the news of someone’s death and details about their life.” Often the record of the person’s life (what was or will be published in the local paper/online) is recited in the service and called the obituary. It begins with where they were born, parents, family, schooling, work and in the case of a Christian person, where they got saved, where baptized and often their involvement in ministry. The obituary includes those in the family who predeceased them. It concludes with where and when their death occurred.
Often there is another part called the eulogy.
“A eulogy also represents the story of a deceased person's life, but it is shared verbally at the funeral rather than in written form. Because it is an oral history, this story will include much more detail than an obituary.”
These are usually done by friends who knew the deceased quite well and will include significant stories which can be transformative or funny.
Genesis 25 contains what reads like an obituary for Abraham.
5 Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. 6 But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.
7 Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, 10 the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites.[a] There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 11 After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi.
Even though Ishmael and the sons of Abraham’s concubines are mentioned, they are not the focus. Abraham is and the Isaac becomes the focus, he is the son of the promise and he receives the blessing of God, one of the few places in the bible where it says “God blessed.”
Isaac inherits all Abraham owned which was probably considerable, but we are told that Abraham was not a delinquent father, he made sure the other children were given gifts, they were not left empty handed. There is no place for sibling rivalry and Abraham makes sure it does not happen, he sends all the others away to the east.
We first meet Abraham where he is 75 years old, and he is a man of faith for 100 years. He dies at 175. He dies well and Genesis piles on the description for his death. He breathed his last at a good old age, an old man and full of years and he was gathered to his people. He lived a good life up until his death; he was an old man when he died. When I was a bit younger as a pastor, I went to the 90th birthday of a lady in our congregation, she was in the long-term care facility in town and lots of family were around, the staff had done a great job at creating a celebration feeling. I grabbed a chair and pulled it up beside the birthday girl. In our chit chat, I said something about how wonderful it is to have such longevity, to celebrate 90 years. She pulled me close and said, “you know this old age is not all it is cracked up to be.” She lived a few more years yet and despite her statement, she was always a blessing to visit.
Abraham died at a good old age. He is buried at the Cave of Machpelah which you can visit in Hebron today. This is also the burial site of Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah. Isaac and Ishmael are both present at the burial.
The Bible eulogizes Abraham, tells us why he is important and what an incredible contribution he made in the history of salvation. Romans uses Abraham to help us understand justification by faith (Romans 4). Galatians 3 uses Abraham is defining the people of faith. James 2 refers to Abraham as the man who was obedient to God even at the cost of his son, Isaac. God spared Isaac at the last moment. Hebrews tells us most about Abraham’s faith. This is the passage we read (11:8-19).
This morning may be a little review for what you have heard over the past weeks in Genesis. Abraham was a man of faith. This is how Paul refers to him.
Gal 3:9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
There are a few points I would like to draw to your attention regarding the faith of Abraham. He was not a perfect man; he did things that did not honor God still the scriptures call him this great title, the man of faith. We need to remember that he was a human being just like us, he faced the same challenges in life that we do, maybe more. He was given a promise from God and even though the biological clock was ticking loudly, Abraham remained resolute that God would give the child he promised. When God told Abraham to sacrifice the child, he still believed God and would have followed through with the sacrifice in his commitment to obedience. While he was a man of extraordinary faith, it was not impossible faith, it is faith we share as a gift from God.
What do we learn from his life about his faith? I would like to share five aspects to his face that Raymond Brown, former principal of Spurgeon’s College in London helped me with.
It was Responsive Faith (11:8)
God called Abraham to go to a place where he would later receive an inheritance and the author of Hebrews says, as a matter of fact, he obeyed and went. In Genesis 12, God said “go” and Abraham “went!” He is 75 years old, in Haran where God called. Maybe 75 is the old 25. I am pushing 70 and the thought of a whole new venture in a whole other place, away from family and people and places I love would take considerable thought to “go”. I would at least like to know where it is I am going, Abraham set out and off he went with the family entourage. I can imagine Sarah asking, where are we going and Abraham saying I don’t know. I can hear Sarah reply, how should I pack? What should I bring along? Abraham said, bring what you need and want because we are not coming back. He responded to God’s call and went.
God also said to Abraham, (Genesis 22:1ff)
… “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac….
Take your son, your only son … he took his son.
We may read this and ponder, wondering how God made it known to Abraham. If God “said” to me what he said to Abraham, would I not second guess what I though God said. That may be the case but there is much God has said, revealed to prophets, apostles and gospel writers where God speaks, we call it God’s word, we hold it in our hands and we are called to faithfully respond to the voice, the word of God. John Piper wrote a book called What Jesus Demands of the World. He listed all the imperatives, commands in the gospels and he found about 500 of them. You can see what they all were in that book, or you can read the gospel and hear Jesus for yourself. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “how responsive are we to Jesus words, how conscientious am I in responding to my Master and Lord who has given me these imperatives in the gospels. We have not yet gone to the rest of the Bible.
Maybe you could have a notebook and pen with your when you read and when you come to one of these commands, like seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness or do not worry, take note and stop, ask yourself what it will mean for you to seek first the kingdom of God today or to not worry as Jesus told us. Abraham heard God, obeyed, and went. How responsive are we to what Jesus has said in this book?
It was Courageous Faith (11:8, 13)
We simply read, the Lord said, … So, Abraham went as the Lord told him (Genesis 12:1,4). What kind of courage does it take for a man who is 75 years old to pick up all he has and move to a place God would show him. Here Abraham has no destination.
You may do your vacation this way. You have no fixed destination; you will know where you are going when you get there. You decide to go west, and you will stop where we want. The only plan you have is to be back by in 10 days. If you see something you want to stop and look at you will stop, if you see a restaurant, you want to eat at you will stop. That kind of vacation would drive some people insane. They plan differently, they have Google maps on for days before they go, they check the websites, places to visit in North Battleford, in Lloydminster, in Vegreville and Edmonton. It’s a long way to Vancouver via Jasper but you check them all out and set up an itinerary with a set amount of time allocated to a particular place. You know where you are staying, and you know where you will have supper on day 6. You rule that vacation with a rod of iron, there is no deviation from the plan. Abraham’s trip was not like that, he just knew he would take the next step in front of him, not knowing where the next would lead.
We have friends who were in a successful business in Alberta. Separately they sensed the call of God to serve in mission. They were in their 50’s. They sold the business, applied to a mission, was assigned to a French speaking country in Central Africa where my friend applied his administrative skills in managing a hospital. They had to come home around the time of Covid and today they serve immigrants in Winnipeg. When they said yes to serve in mission, they had no idea where they would be and today they are impacting the lives of scores of people from all over the world and are still ready to move if God calls and opens the door.
Abraham went, armed with a promise, one that was bigger and seemingly impossible but be believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. He went by faith, courageous faith.
It was Costly Faith (11:9, 17)
Genesis 12:5 tells us he set out from Haran leaving his relatives and father’s house except for Lot and brought all his possessions and all the people in his employ. Tina and I have done our share of moving in the past 14 years and even with free cardboard boxes (I felt like I was on first name with the folks at the liquor store) and U Haul it is a challenge. I did not have pets (except for a few fish from Meadow Lake to Nipawin – they survived the move) to move let alone flocks and herds. But God said to Abraham “go” and he went and arrived at Canaan. He left his father’s household. If it was not for the promise of God, he would never have done it.
I was 17 and sensed the call of God to vocational ministry. I scouted around the UK for Bible Colleges because that is what I thought you should do. A man who had a significant influence on my life told me about Millar Memorial Bible Institute in Pambrun, Sk. It had never occurred to me that leaving the UK was a possibility. It was 1973 in Northern Ireland, there was much unrest, the village I lived in had its share of bombing and murder of local residents. The thought of moving sounded wonderful for about 3 seconds. I had never been away from home except for holidays, I was not the adventurous type, I like to follow others, my whole family was there, go to Canada. No way. I dismissed the idea, but at this time I was reading in my devotions from Luke 18 and read these verses,
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
It was like Jesus was talking directly to me in that little back bedroom in our house. I said, “yes way” and in September 1973, I arrived in Pambrun to move forward in preparation form ministry. 50 years later the promise of Jesus to his disciples has been fulfilled in my life multiple times, having left my biological family I have been received and accepted in the family of God everywhere I have gone. Did I think of it as costly? Not really, I just went, and I suspect Abraham was the same.
Abraham had a greater challenge in his faith, a higher cost still to come. Genesis 22 tells the story that Hebrews refers to in 11:17ff. “Take your son, your only son and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.” I cannot imagine the thoughts that went through Abraham’s head. I suspect the emotions were like a raging ocean but tucked in his mind with all the turmoil was the knowledge of the promise, God has been faithful, God did not give us Isaac for the story will end this way. Even if I obey, God will keep his promises, so he obediently went to the edge and he passed the test of faith. None of us can fathom that step of faith but no matter what God asks of us, no matter how costly, we can trust God that he will keep his promises.
It was Patient Faith (Genesis 21:5)
At 75, God called Abraham and promised,
2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
A great nation, a great name. a great blessing to the nations through you was a promise that I am sure Abraham found hard to wrap his head around. A little later there is a promise of a son who would be his heir and the offspring from him would be like the stars in the sky (Gen. 15:4-5). He and Sarah were not able to have children and now the Lord promises a son. I am sure Abraham thought, thank you Lord and daydreamed what it would be like to have a son. But by the next year there was no son or the next year or the one after that. Abraham believed God; Abraham believed the promise even though there was no son. 24 years later (Abraham was doing the math, the likelihood for a son was becoming more and more slim but Abraham believed God). God reminded Abraham of the promise. Abraham was told the name he would give the son and that he would be borne by this time next year (17:19, 21). He was 100 years old when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5).
Through this process, Abraham believed God and patiently waited 25 years for God to fulfil the promise. He is the model of faith in the promises of God. The Lord he believed and trusted is the One we gather in this place today and worship, give thanks to and patiently trust in His faithfulness. Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful”. You may be praying, and you are not sensing an answer, be patient, God is faithful.
It was Radical Faith
It was faith that acted against all logic and common sense. Abraham, your wife is 90 years old, and she will have a son next year, that is radical faith. Sarah had trouble with it and thought it was some kind of joke, she laughed at the idea, but Abraham believed God. By that time next year, Sarah held little Isaac in her arms, The Lord was faithful!
How would Abraham explain to those around him that he offered Isaac as a burnt offering to the Lord. I am sure Isaac was the delight of Abraham’s life, that Abraham often told the story of how he was miraculously born and now he was to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. But Abraham believed God and was obedient to the call to go to Mount Moriah and offer his son. The sacrifice was made in Abraham’s head as he journeyed up to Mount Moriah. Yet he was not in grief because he believed that even if he went through with the sacrifice, God would raise Isaac up from the dead and the promise would remain.
This is radical faith that we cannot come close to grasping. Yet you and I have sat in a number of church membership meetings where a growth project was considered. How many decisions were made in light of our perceived means, can we afford it? I wonder how much we missed by our trusting in what we have more than what God provides. In some of those moments when a decision was made to make a hire, to trust God for money when it seemed there was no known earthly source and God provided from the most unexpected sources and the most amazing ways God provides.
We sat one night as a membership discussing the need for another staff member. The treasurer let us know that there was no way we could afford another salary, that money was not there. A man who generally said very little in these meetings spoke up and said, “we can’t not do this” and all of a sudden, the mood in the meeting changed, there were a few comments that everybody would need to step up in their giving. Someone called for the question, a motion was made, it was seconded and the decision to hire was easily past. We never looked back, the hire was paid, the church had more money in the bank than ever. If we would have waited for the money to be there, the church would still not have added a staff member and that was over 25 years ago.
Abraham trusted God for 100 years and at 175 he died. He lived in tents all his life, but he looked for the city with foundations, the city God designed and built. He died seeing his promised son, but he never did see the descendants who are like the stars in the sky; you and me. He died believing God, that God would fulfil the promise even though he only got a small taste of the fulfilment. There was so much more.
Abraham was a man with faith that responded to God, it was courageous, it was costly, it was patient, and it was radical. We could leave here today and think how great a man of faith Abraham was. We could think that the story of this man is so far from the people you and I are that we would just leave it at that and maybe wonder what it was like for him. In reality Abraham was in a less favourable place than you and I when it comes to faith. Abraham was a human like you and me. If Abraham hit his thumb with a hammer, his nail would have turned black like yours and mine and if a knife slipped and cut his finger, the blood that came out was red, like you and me. When he came in from what he was working on that day, he was hungry. He too got tired and need to sleep like us. Abraham was a man just like us. The faith that Abraham lived out is the same faith we profess.
He did not have the Scriptures, word of God; he did not have the history of God’s faithfulness to the promises still he believed God and it was counted for righteousness.
If I were to be the presenter of Abraham’s eulogy, this is what I would have shared. When you lie here at the front of this church and people gather for your funeral, someone will probably present a eulogy or a tribute or personal recollections. How will they refer to your faith? How will they speak of your walk with God? Will words like courageous, sacrificial, patient even radical be mentioned? Or will it get a short mention, or will it be impossible to speak about you without reference to your faith in Jesus and how it publicly it showed in how you lived. Before you ask what, I should do, you might want to ask yourself, what am I doing in response to everything Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19). We serve the same God, and he has given us the faith to do what he has called us to do. May we be obedient to the Him and be faithful servants to the glory of God.