Summary: I believe that Abraham’s life closes well; and demonstrates for us a bit of the art of dying well which for a Christian demands living well.
"Ars Moriendi" is Latin for "the art of dying" or "the art of dying well". Specifically it refers to a common visual art practice common in the 16th century. Pictures would be carved into wood and then inked and press printed hundreds of times into books. Few of the books contained many words - since most people didn’t -- or couldn’t -- read. Typically the pictures would show a dying man in bed, surrounded by the benevolent figures of family and clergy while demons danced around the bed. The goal was to educate the public about the sanctity of life and the struggle between good and evil.(http://www.stevenmackey.com/pnotes/ArsMoriendi.doc) Ultimately it was a means of teaching the art of dying well. Which meant the art of dying in faith -- so as to escape the demonic hoards gathering ’round the room.
I don’t care much for Ars Moriendi as an art form but dying well for a Christian **should** be second nature.
What does dying well look like? As we come to Genesis 25 and the closing of Abraham’s life we come down to The end of an epic life in 42 words or less (v7-8). I believe that Abraham’s life closes well; and demonstrates for us a bit of the art of dying well.
1. A DEMONSTRATION OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS.
2. A RECORD OF LIVING WELL
The whole episode is surrounded by two genealogies which are in a sense the eulogy for Abraham’s life. Let’s read 25:1-18 < read it>
On the one hand the genealogies themselves tell a story to the Israelites who would read it.
They would explain the relevant history of cultures spread far and wide - from their Arab neighbors (The son’s of Ishmael) to the far east descendants of many of these particular tribes.
On the other hand it would fill Abraham’s eulogy with a DEMONSTRATION OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS.
You and I look at these names and see a bunch of gobbledygook. The Israelites would have recognized it immediately. Bruce Vawter has a helpful analogy that gives us a sense of what is going on here. He suggests, that if we were to record our own history in the following fashion: "The descendants of Europe: Britain, France, Spain …Britain became the father of America, Canada …To Spain also children were born: California, Mexico …The descendants of America: Virginia, Georgia, Carolina …Georgia became the father of Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah..."and so on.(Gibson, John C.L. Genesis : Volume 2. The Daily study Bible series. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, c1981.)
The record of names demonstrates that Abraham was not just the Father of Israel but the Father of MANY NATIONS: which is exactly what God promised him back in chapter 12. It’s a testimony of Gods faithfulness.
2. I would propose that the art of Dying Well can only follow THE ART OF LIVING WELL.
Some would say that "any day above ground is a good day." I’m not so certain that such a phrase reflects Christianity very well. Perhaps "any day above ground is another chance to Serve Him; and every day after is best!" Would be a better way for Christians to view both life and death.
Abraham’s Obituary in verses 7 and 8 reflect a life well lived.
(Gen. 25:7–8). He died "in a good old age" as the Lord had promised him (15:15).
He had walked with the Lord for a century (12:4)
and had been "the friend of God" (James 2:23).
Verse eight says that he died "an old man and full of years." Other translations lean towards the translation "Satisfied with life" as the NASB does. It’s actually a better translation from the Hebrew. For Abraham to be satisfied with life indicates that as he looked back at the last 175 years - even if he saw rising and falling - he was pleased with what he saw in his past. He had no regrets.
The Greek Philosopher Epicurus is quoted as saying, "The art of living well and the art of dying well are one. " Abraham lived the truth of the statement that dying well means living well. Living well means living faithfully not perfectly.
Abraham had most certainly not been perfect - contrary to the teachings of the Jewish scribes. Some of his warts were written down for us to see in God’s word. Early on he had faith issues as he waited 25 years for a son God had promised - so he jumped the gun and took Hagar as his concubine, and along came Ishmael. He also had a habit of lying and trying to pass his wife off as his sister in order to save his own hide as if God couldn’t do that for him.
While he hadn’t been perfect he had lived by faith. Whenever he did fail - the Bible shows Abraham going back to the land of Canaan and returning to an altar he had made in the past or constructing a new one. He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness and he ultimately was willing to faithfully sacrifice his own son whom he loved; because God had asked him to.