All these people were still living by faith when they died.

‘Til death do us part. It’s a well-known part of the marriage vows, hinting at the eventual reality of becoming a widow or widower. This coming week in our Genesis preaching series, Abraham faces the challenge of burying his 127 year-old wife Sarah in the land of promise, honoring her life as he lays her to rest.

Their marriage had not been a bed of roses. At God’s command they had left Haran, and that must have been difficult for Sarah, leaving family behind. Then there was the matter of her beauty and Abraham’s fear, and the “agreement” they entered into which endangered her and brought disrepute on the name of the Lord.

In his first epistle, Peter commends Sarah’s courage in the way she “did what was right and did not give way to fear.” 1 PETER 3:6

But we also know that she had her failures, as in that moment of weakness when she suggested to Abraham that he impregnate Hagar, which he unfortunately did. Later on, the son Ishmael and his mother had to be sent away to bring peace. But as we will see this Sunday, as the burial cave is bargained for, nothing was too good for Sarah, and her husband beautifully honored her as the surrounding culture took it all in.

John Piper reminisced on his marriage to Noel…….”I can remember the way it was the first time we held hands in 1966. It was not a small thing. It was romantic and sexual. Today we still hold hands. Often it is a sign of truce. I’m done being angry and I want things to be good. Other times it means: I’m glad you’re with me as we go to the doctor. Other times: God was good to give you to me. It’s different. The fruit has ripened. It is not flush with spring green. It is gnarled and worn with thick skin. When you live through fire, the fruit has to develop very thick skin to protect the vital, succulent core.  We know everything there is to know now about each other’s failures. Past failures. Ongoing failures. There is no idealization any more. Marriage is risky business and should not be entered without a huge confidence in the sovereignty of God.”

Without giving a reason, God told the prophet Ezekiel that his wife was going to die, and he was not allowed to even show emotion or mourn. John Piper in a poem imagines the prophet and his wife having a conversation about it, trying as best they could to say goodbye.

He ate his figs and barley cake
In silence. “Mara, can you take
A walk with me? This morning’s word
Has been the hardest that I’ve heard.”
They walked in silence for an hour,
And then he gathered all his power
And said, “The God of Abraham,
The God who calls himself I AM,
Demands that you must die tonight.”
But Mara’s eyes remained as bright
As ever in her life. “I know,”
She said, “Last night he came to show
Me in a dream.” And then she took
Ezekiel’s hands and said, “The Book,
Remember where we used to read
How God would someday come and lead
Us in the path of endless joy,
And how at last he would destroy
Our blinding sin and let us see
His face in all its majesty?
O dearest Zeke, last night I saw
Another world without a flaw
Beyond what we could ever know,
And I could scarcely wait to go…
O not that I could ever love
You less, but I have seen above
That everything you’ve preached is true.
Weep not, great seer, for me nor you;
I am the proof of all you’ve said;
Tomorrow I will not be dead,
Nor you, and it will not be long
Till you have joined the endless song.
Press on, Ezekiel, rejoice
With heart and soul and mighty voice.
Make music to the coming King,
Come walk with me and we will sing.”

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. HEBREWS 11:13-16