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The promise fulfilled in the tomb of the patriarchs

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The book of Genesis chronicles the fall of man and the beginning of God's plan of redemption. That plan began with promises made to the people of God: He promised to build a nation, starting with a previously barren couple, Abraham and Sarah, and He promised to provide land for that nation.

At the time of Sarah's death, Abraham was living as an alien in the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised to him and his descendants. When Sarah died, Genesis chapter 23 records that Abraham wept over her and then asked to buy a cave from the natives as a burial site for her.

During that time, it was important that people were buried in their native land. By purchasing a burial site in Canaan, Abraham was standing on God's promise that He would give his descendants that land, and that it would became the native land of Israel. The purchase of that cave was an act of faith in God and in His promise.

Sarah’s death occasioned the purchase of the cave in Canaan, and an adjoining field, however Abraham himself was also buried there when he died and later Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Leah were also laid to rest in that place.

Sarah's death echoes back to the fall and its consequences in Genesis chapter 3, but it also points to a future hope. While death entered the world and God cursed the ground, hints of a reversal were already present, embedded in God’s promise of setting land apart for His people. This burial ground, cursed by the fall, and purchased by Abraham, was a way to lay claim to the promise. And that tomb would remain as a symbol of that promise even while the Israelites were living as slaves in Egypt: their fathers were buried in that native land which the entire nation would come to inhabit.

The significance of the homeland being associated with the place where one's ancestors are buried can be seen in a passage from Nehemiah where Nehemiah, who was living in exile, told the king, "Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate?" There is a strong connection throughout Scripture, all the way to the cross, between the places of death and the places of life, and it is no coincidence that the fulfillment of God's promise began with a tomb.

In the death of the patriarchs, there lived rich hope in the promise of God to His people. Their tombs, set forever in the promised land, foreshadowed the fulfillment of the promise when all of their descendants would also inherit the land. The tomb itself hinted at hope and fulfilled promises for the future, even pointing ahead to another tomb which would reveal even greater promises and the ultimate hope for the people of God.

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