John Sedgwick was a Major General in the Union army during the American Civil War. On May 9th 1864 he was directing artillery positions in the early stages of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House when he saw many of his men taking cover. Knowing that the Confederate army marksmen were around 1,000 yards away, he uttered the words for which he has become famous;
“Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”
Sadly for Sedgwick, they could and in fact they did. He died instantly moments later, having been shot by one the Confederate marksmen 1,000 yards away. It was an ignominious end to someone who was highly regarded both by his superiors and his own men. Today we are looking at Abraham’s death; he is described as dying at ‘a good old age’. How do we remember Abraham?
From the passage we learn that Abraham had other sons apart from Isaac and Ishmael. It could mean that he took another wife after the death of Sarah or that he had a concubine (Keturah) much earlier. The word ‘took’ in verse 1 can also be translated ‘had taken’. He was by this time a very rich man and he gave gifts to all his sons. I suppose from what we know of Abraham, they would have been generous gifts but he made a clear distinction in the way he dealt with Isaac. We have the contrast between the natural births and the supernatural birth of Isaac. We are not to choose which of our children to favour but we have to choose what is spiritual over what is of the flesh on a daily basis. This is a subject to which we will return.
Abraham died in faith. He acted in faith time and time again. God had blessed him with a son through Sarah and with long life as he had promised (15:15). We’ve already thought of the verses in Hebrews that refer directly to this passage (Hebrews 11:13-16).
The death of Abraham didn’t mean the end for God’s promises; Isaac continued to live in Canaan. Abraham may have died but God blessed Isaac. Abraham is a huge figure in the Bible. It could be said that the rest of the Old Testament is about his descendants. He is mentioned 67 times in the New Testament but eventually he died yet God’s work went on.
The last words we heard from Abraham were his instructions to his servant in chapter 24 but that isn’t the last we hear from him. In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells of a beggar who died and was then carried to Abraham’s side. Jesus speaks of a conversation between Abraham and a rich man. In Matthew 22:31-32 Jesus is being questioned by the Sadducees who believed in Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) but not in the resurrection. He says;
“But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
As far as Jesus was concerned; Abraham was living long after his earthly life was over.
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore
Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before, oh my soul
I’ll worship your Holy name (10,000 Reasons – Matt Redman)