Introduction: Abraham, like most Bible characters, had his high and low points. The highest point, arguably, would be the episode where he was commanded to offer Isaac as a burnt offering but was stopped before he actually did so (Genesis 22). The last years of Abraham’s life don’t have much coverage in the Scriptures but they do merit at least one final look.
1 The death of Sarah
Text, Genesis 23:1-2, KJV: 1 And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
Verse 1 states Sarah died when she was 127 years of age. Her age when she, then known as Sarai, married Abram (as he was then known) in Ur of the Chaldees is never stated, but she was 65 when they arrived in Canaan—and, when they arrived in Egypt (Genesis 12). She was 90 when Isaac was born—the first miracle baby in the Bible, born to a barren woman—and was known for laughing (and lying) when the LORD renewed His promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 19).
Besides these facts, we really don’t know much about Sarah other than she was a believer in the God of Abram/Abraham (would she have gone with him on his journey otherwise?) When this happened is never specified, as is the case with many Old Testament saints. She did have a bit of a vindictive spirit, such as when Hagar, her female Egyptian servant, became pregnant with Abram’s child (and heir)—and then was so furious at this that she kicked Hagar out of the household (Genesis 16). The irony is that she had suggested Abram take Hagar as a second wife so that Hagar could give Abram the child Sarai never could (at the time, or so she thought). And over 13 years later, when Isaac, her own son, was born and weaned, Sarah saw Ishmael, son of Hagar “mocking”. The precise action is not stated but Sarah, again, was so furious she demanded Abraham cast her and her son out of the household: this time, for good.
Sarah’s last years, after she weaned Isaac, are passed over in silence but she no doubt gave Abraham and Isaac the best she had to offer. Even so, she is mentioned three times in the New Testament, Romans 9:9, Hebrews 11:11, and 1 Peter 3:6. But eventually her earthly journey was completed, and she died. Abraham mourned for her and wept for her but he knew he had to find a burial place. The rest of this chapter describes how Abraham negotiated with the residents of the land to find a suitable place, a cave, where he could bury Sarah’s body. He did this, and then decided it was time to do something for his son, Isaac.
And Abraham had some very specific guidelines in place.
2 A bride for Isaac
Text, Genesis 24:1-9, KJV: 1 And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. 2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: 3 And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell: 4 But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac. 5 And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest? 6 And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. 7 The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father's house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence. 8 And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again. 9 And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and sware to him concerning that matter.
Sarah, Abraham’s wife, had died at the age of 127; Abraham would be 137 and Isaac 37 at this time. Although Isaac was his legitimate son, and heir, Isaac was still single. Why he hadn’t married before this time is not mentioned in the text but there is a clue in verse 3. Abraham did not, quite specifically, want Isaac married to any of the (pagan?) “ . . daughters of the Canaanites” who were living near Abraham’s home. This was wise: a marriage between a believer and unbeliever seldom works well. Paul would emphasize this, many years later, in 2 Corinthians 6:14, warning believers to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.
Again, verse 1 stated that the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. This was true in so many aspects: silver, gold, cattle, servants, even armed men (318 had gone with him to rescue Lot several years before, Genesis 14), and a son—his heir. But unless that heir would marry and have at least one son himself, the promises made to Abraham would never be fulfilled.
So, Abraham decided to take action. Verses 2-9 record the conversation between Abraham and his “eldest servant’, who may have been Eliezer of Damascus but this is not certain. Abraham’s command was to find a suitable bride for Isaac, but she had to be from Abraham’s country and his kindred—to marry close kin, such as first cousins, was acceptable in those days. Of course, Abraham gave him an escape, so to speak, when he told the servant, “If she won’t come back with you, then you’re clear from this oath. Just DO NOT take my son there with you!”
The rest of this chapter details the servant’s prayer, and how God led Rebekah, niece of Abraham, to the very place where the servant was waiting—even before he finished praying for guidance! Rebekah agreed to go back with the servant, setting an example for many women who leave the land of their birth and youth to take residence in another place. Blessings to Rebekah, for being willing to forsake what she already had, in order to receive so much more!
3 His own new bride and children
Text, Genesis 25:1-10, KJV: 1 Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah. 2 And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 And Jokshan begat Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim. 4 And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 5 And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. 6 But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country. 7 And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years. 8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. 9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; 10 The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.
The text reports that Abraham took another wife named Keturah, perhaps three years after Sarah had died. Some have wondered how he could father more children because he was so old (maybe 140 by this time!) but that is not a problem. The same God Who could provide a babe for a barren womb, long after the mother-to-be would have been able to bear a child, could provide additional strength or whatever was needed for Abraham too.
Keturah was the mother for an additional six children of Abraham, named and listed in verses 2 and 3. Abraham, though, never wavered for a moment and made sure Isaac received all he had. Moses wrote that Abraham gave gifts to “the sons of the concubines” and sent them away into the east country; nothing is mentioned about the gifts or where exactly these children settled. Even more troubling is that nothing is mentioned about the faith, if any, of these sons. Did they worship the God of Abraham? Or, did they lapse into idolatry after they had departed from Abraham and his influence?
But even more puzzling is the final destination of the six sons of Keturah. What happened to them? Did they stay with Abraham, even after his death? Or did they, too, leave and dwell somewhere else? We are not told, and perhaps it is best just to note that Abraham must have loved these additional children.
After all of this, the children and the departures, Abraham’s life finally came to an end. He was 175 years of age when this happened. And what a life! He had left, at God’s command, Ur of the Chaldees when he could have become very rich. He and other family members stopped for a period of time in Haran, where his father, Terah, died. After that, he and his household traveled through the land of Canaan, even taking an unauthorized detour into Egypt—with almost disastrous results (Genesis 12). Genesis 13-25 gives more information about him. But there’s a little bit more to the story, the last look, at Abraham. And it’s in a different part of the Bible.
4 His last recorded words
Text, Luke 16:19-31, KJV: 19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
After Abraham gave final instructions to his oldest servant about finding a bride for Isaac (Genesis 24:2), Scripture does not record one other word of his in the Old Testament. That doesn’t mean he was forever silenced, though: he did have one other conversation with a most unlikely person! In Luke 16, the Lord Jesus Christ related the true story about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus and what happened after each man died. Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom”, the place of comfort for the righteous dead—like Lazarus, David, and the other Old Testament saints. The rich man died and opened his eyes in the flames of Hell (Hades, in the Greek). Each man had lived very different lives on earth; now, each had a very different destiny after each had died.
What no one had ever known is that after death, the dead could apparently see from one “abode” to the other. The rich man could see Abraham—and knew him—and could even speak to him. Abraham, in turn, could also speak to the rich man—and did so. The conversation started with the rich man asking for a single drop of water, but he asked Abraham to send Lazarus! Why didn’t he ask for someone else? Eventually the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus back, from the dead, to warn the rich man’s five brothers not to wind up in Hell as he had. Abraham said even if someone did rise from the dead, they wouldn’t be persuaded. Abraham also reminded the rich man that the writings of Moses and the prophets were available and these writings should be heeded. And with that, these are the last recorded words of Abraham.
Conclusion: a review or study of Abraham’s last several years, based on the limited information recorded in the Scriptures, is not that easy. He probably had many responsibilities, managing his livestock, providing for an protecting his male and female servants, plus raising Isaac and his other children, and who knows what else. This is remarkable because he didn’t have one recorded word of Scripture in written form. But where he went, he talked with God, and built altars to show the God he worshiped was different from the idols other people worshiped.
We’ll never know how much good he did while he lived on this earth, nor the extent of the damage caused by his mistakes and sins. We do know that he was one of the greatest of the Old Testament saints, living for God, the True and the Living God, in a very pagan world. May we, too, live for God as faithfully as Abraham did, even to the end of our earthly journeys.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).