Peace, a friend of mine called me to inform me that she lost her elder brother earlier this morning. Like me, she’d also lost her father some months before I lost mine, before later losing my elder sister. I could sense she was distraught and so I consoled her the best I could, then sent her an SMS much later. This same morning I learnt that a neighbour who lost his wife last week, was telling sympathizers how he now greatly misses her, while confessing that he never really had time to pay her so much attention while she was alive. They’d just been married five years with two kids. The reality is death is much a part of life that we must deal with, and there’s no running from it whilst we’re still here.
Incidentally, our next story is related to death, this time of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. In Genesis 23:1, we are told that “… Sarah was a hundred and twenty years old, …. (2)and Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn (as it comes to the bereaved to do, after the loss of a loved one) for Sarah, and to weep for her.” Nothing out of the ordinary here, as Abraham did the same thing anyone would’ve done under the circumstance. There was a snag however, which is the fact that Abraham been a sojourner occasioned by his wanderings, couldn’t just up and bury his wife, seeing as he had not land to himself.
So, he approached the sons of Heth, the aboriginals of the place of his sojourn, with the words “…. give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight” (4). To which they replied him thus, “… thou art a mighty prince among us”, by first acknowledging Abraham’s greatness that may hint at the possibility of an Abraham mighty enough to take any land he wished for, especially knowing within him that even that was part of the land YAHWEH had promised him, as well as his descendants, yet he humbled himself to ask of the owners of the land, a piece of it, to bury his late wife.
The sons of Heth further told Abraham that, “… in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead” (6). We are told that Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, in utmost respect for the love they showed him by offering him any sepulchre of his choice. I have witnessed negotiations made before burials, in fact two this year alone, and though I may not know how these things go in the west, but in Africa, they are a big deal (some of which I have written about in my “THE IGBO AND FUNERALS” series) and humility, understanding and compromises from and of all sides involved is key to having a successful burial and funeral for the dead. Abraham was quintessential in his approach.
Having earned their confidence, he went further to appeal that they “… entreat for me (Abraham) to Ephron the son of Zohar, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a burying place amongst you”. (8-9) If you follow the dialogue in that chapter, you’d find that even Ephron acquiesced to Abraham’s request, and the latter paid four hundred shekels of silver demanded by the former for the piece of land, “… and the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city”, (17-18) and it still is to this day, for any tourist wishing to see the cave.
Hence Abraham managed to secure for himself prime property for a burial place for his wife, by HUMILITY and not with the arrogance that most wealthy people in our day and time display as regards land, even when it is to build factories that will in turn help the inhabitants of the land, or condos that most aborigines won’t be able to afford, just because they have the listening ear of the politician in power, or an administrator they have bought off to do their bidding. It is the lack of diplomacy following numerous land-grabbing activities, even by government that births activism and reactionary acts by militants or so called “freedom fighters”, against what the media see as refusal by people to welcome developmental strides, without looking at foundational issues of lack of respect for aborigines, and this is the same story whether you’re in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, or Dakota in the United States.
And so, “….Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan” (19), without rancour (either as a result of Abraham trying to use his influence and wealth to subvert the will of the common people in order to acquire the piece of land he wanted, or from a disagreement during negotiations especially on the agreed amount to pay for the land), which could’ve been the case considering his status as a stranger and sojourner in the days where there were no common cemeteries, and caves were locations of choice to inter the dead.
If you have been following the story of Abraham, especially those associated with his relations with and to people, where agreements were to be made, you’d find that he was such an agreeable fellow, eager not to offend the people on the other side, sometimes even when he’s been taken advantage of and his interests facing jeopardy. Surely, his attributes, chief of all would be his humility which endeared him to all those he encountered in his journey of life, of which we would do well to emulate. Shalom!
– Genesis Chapter 23 Verses 1-20, THE WORD OF YAHWEH, © 2000