The final chapter in the life of Abraham ends the same way his life began. In Genesis 12, God began with the promise to bless Abraham; at the end of this passage we see those blessings continued in Abraham’s son, Isaac (Genesis 25:11).
God gave Abraham 175 years of life on this earth, and then he breathed his last “at a good old age and full of years.” Not only was it a life full of years, but it was a life filled with trials and temptations, failures and victories, tears and laughter. As we reflect on the life of Abraham, we are compelled to ask if Abraham’s journey was worth all the trouble he endured. God had made several promises to Abraham. Called by God when he was seventy five years old, Abraham traveled with God for the next one hundred years. Through his pilgrimage he became known as the friend of God. Was living as a nomad in a foreign land worth giving up the wealth and luxury of the metropolis in Ur? What did his faith accomplish for him?
He was promised the whole land of Canaan, yet at his death all he owned was a cave. He was promised that he would be the father of a multitude; at his death all of his sons but Isaac had been sent away. As he had lived, so also Abraham died—a man of faith. During his life he saw only the beginning of the promises God had given him fulfilled, but he trusted that He who began a good work in him would see them to completion.
Father of a Multitude
The death of Abraham is sandwiched between two genealogies. The first lists Abraham’s children by his second wife, Keturah; the second lists his grandchildren, the twelve sons of Ishmael. At the age of 125 years, Abraham was surrounded by preschoolers and teenagers. His two oldest grandchildren were born to Isaac and Rebekah—Jacob and Esau—and were already fifteen years old. In addition, Abraham, who thought he was too old to father a child at the age of one hundred (Genesis 17:17), became the father of six more sons through Keturah. These two genealogies are strategically placed to illustrate that God had indeed been faithful to His promise. Certainly Abraham had to be keenly aware that God had made him “exceedingly fruitful” (Genesis 17:6).
Although the opening verse of this chapter identifies Keturah as Abraham’s wife, she is referred to as a concubine a few verses later and again in 1 Chronicles 1:32. It is possible that she lived in Abraham’s home during the time of Sarah, much like Hagar. Like Hagar, she would have had certain rights within the family structure, but not those of Sarah, who had been the primary wife.
None of the sons born to the concubines of Abraham would be allowed to interfere with the covenant promise that God had given to the patriarch. That promise was for Isaac alone (Genesis 21:12). To insure that the promise would go to the one whom God intended, Abraham gave his other sons various gifts—dividing his material inheritance among them—and sent them on their way as he had done with Ishmael. There was no pleading with God that these children, too, would receive God’s blessing as he had done with Ishmael before Isaac was born (Genesis 17:18). There was no keeping aside any of the sons should something tragic happen to Isaac. There was complete faith that the promise would continue and that it would be through Isaac alone.
Keturah’s sons moved east, where they established their own households, multiplied, and fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. Isaiah prophesied that some of the sons of Keturah would one day return to the land of the promise to bring praise to God. They would be riding camels, bringing with them good news and gifts of gold and frankincense (Isaiah 60:6, 7). It is interesting to notice that while all the other sons established themselves in “the land of the east,” Isaac, the son to whom all the land is promised, was left without any real estate to call his own.
The Bible often ascribes old age as a reward to those who are special servants of the Lord. Those who died “full of years” were God-fearing, ever-trusting people. Abraham had accomplished all that God had called him to do. He had set off to an unknown land and had been a blessing to those around him. Abraham had seen the very beginnings of the fulfillment of the promises God had given to him.
The phrase “gathered to his people” could not mean that Abraham was buried with his family, because Sarah’s body was the only one in the family tomb. This phrase, often used in the Scripture, is the first indication that there is life beyond the grave. It refers to the destiny of the spirit rather than the destiny of the body.
Abraham did not doubt that his Friend would be faithful even in the end of his life. He did not doubt that the blessing of the nations would come through his offspring. With peace of mind, having lived most of his life in obedience to the Lord, Abraham was content to leave this world behind and gain entry into the eternal city not built by human hands, but built by God.
The Return of Ishmael
Abraham’s two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried their father in the cave of Machpelah where his wife had been buried earlier. Years earlier, when God told Abraham that Ishmael was not the promised son, Abraham had asked for a blessing on the son whom he dearly loved. At that time, God promised Abraham that he would bless Ishmael. He would become the father of twelve rulers and be a great nation. Even though Ishmael was not the child of the promise, God kept His promise to Abraham.
The last time the brothers had seen one another had been many years earlier at the feast celebrating the fact that young Isaac had been weaned (Genesis 21:8). At that time Sarah insisted that Hagar and her son be sent away because she had seen the young teenager mocking Isaac.
That young teenager returned to bury his father—except that he was now ninety years old and had twelve sons of his own. The two brothers put aside whatever differences may have remained to honor their father. Years later, the cave of Machpelah would be opened again as two feuding brothers, Jacob and Esau, put aside their differences to bury their father, Isaac.
After tying up all the loose ends, as it were, the Book of Genesis is ready to move the covenant promises to the next generation. Rebekah had entered Sarah’s tent as an indication that she was the new matriarch (Genesis 24:67). Not only had Isaac taken over the family farm, but given to him were the covenant promises with all their responsibilities. The focus shifts to Isaac as the next patriarch. Being full of years, Abraham breathed his last. His satisfaction in life came not from the years that God had given him, but from the faith he had in the one, true, living God. Like Simeon in the New Testament, he could say:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29–32).
Like Abraham, we must live by faith. All around us we see death and decay. We witness the effect of sin all around us and within us. We cry out for peace, but there is no peace to be found in the world. Like Abraham, we must look to God for salvation.
Paul writes, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). How great are the promises that God has given to us—forgiveness of sin and eternal life. That is the gift that has been promised to all who trust in the sacrifice that Jesus, God’s Son, made on the cross at Calvary.
Like Abraham, we still have to face death, but it is only to shed our mortal, sinful bodies in anticipation of the new, perfected, and glorified body. Death has lost its sting; Christ has won the victory. Faith must look beyond this present world and see the joy of everlasting life prepared for us through the death of Jesus Christ.
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:8–10).
Points to Ponder and Discuss
1. Did God fulfill all the promises that He gave to Abraham? Which ones did Abraham live to see? Which ones did he hold on to by faith?
2. Who was Keturah?
3. How are the opening verses of this chapter a surprise to the reader?
4. How did Abraham handle the distribution of his inheritance? How does that relate to the promises God had given to the patriarch?
5. Do you think that Abraham was ready to accept his approaching death? Why?
6. What covenantal responsibilities were passed on from Abraham to Isaac?
7. Was it more difficult for Abraham to walk by faith than it is for us today?
8. What promises has God given to you? Has He fulfilled those promises? How?