Genesis 23.1-4,19; 24.1-8,62-67; Ps 105; Matt 9.9-13
The last utterance of Sarah recorded in the Bible is her tight-lipped insistence that Abraham ‘Drive away that slave-girl and her son’ [Genesis 21.10]—that is, her maidservant Hagar and the child Ishmael who was Hagar’s son and Abraham’s. Sarah remains taciturn as Abraham saddled his ass to journey to a place where he will sacrifice their son Isaac [22.3]; and silent, too, when they return home, the sacrifice having been aborted. [22.19] The rabbis who comment on these verses make much of Sarah’s apparent aloofness, wonder aloud whether Sarah has died of a broken heart, died from the effect of griefs and grievances too deep to fathom and too heavy to bear.
But Sarah’s death propelled Abraham into action. He had to find a place to bury her. God had promised the land to Abraham [12.7] but, years later, and near to the end of Abraham’s own life, Abraham didn’t possess so much as a square foot of it. He paid the Hittite owners the ‘current commercial rate’ for some land [23.16] and with the title deeds of ‘Ephron’s field at Machpelah opposite Mamre, the field and the cave that was on it, and all the trees that were on it, the whole of its extent in every direction’ [23.17] in his hand, Abraham was no longer a ‘wandering Aramean’ [Deuteronomy 26.5] but a landowner, a home owner, a settler.
Next, Abraham needed to ensure a heritage, descendants to inherit the promises God had made to him. We get the story in a truncated version; it is worthwhile to sit and read the whole of Chapter 24. Like the purchase of land, the process is one of subtlety, negotiation—customs and procedures that seem odd to us but which are to this day commonplace in many parts of the world. It’s not the cinematic story of boy and girl falling in love; rather it is the joining of two families, in the midst of which a young man and a young woman recognise a vocation for each other.
Home and family are deep relationships in every culture, and equally crucial to those who don’t recognise the presence of God in their lives as to those who do. The deep veils by which we hide our secrets from each other are cast aside so that we can give ourselves to another. Relationships can become fraught, almost impossible to bear, but through human relationships the graceful presence of God hovering over us can be revealed as a tie that binds us deeply to the world and the people he has made and has called into life and relationship with him. The home he has promised us is finally neither a smallholding nor a spouse but connexion to all places and all people, and through them, connexion to the Maker and Redeemer and Sustainer himself.