In Genesis 23:4-6 Abraham says, “Here I am, a stranger and a foreigner among you. Please sell me a piece of land so I can give my wife a proper burial.” The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Listen, my lord, you are an honored prince among us. Choose the finest of our tombs and bury her there. No one here will refuse to help you in this way.”
This exchange between Abraham and the people he was living among could have gone another way. Instead of being welcomed and helped the people could have turned their backs on Abraham and not been so generous in their response to Abraham’s need. In this story we see a picture of how God’s people should live in their respective cultures.
Just like Abraham, we are foreigners and strangers in our own lands. Hebrews 11:13 says of those who followed God that they were “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” The Apostle Paul reiterates this in Ephesians where he tells us that we are citizens of heaven primarily. There is a sense in which Christians live in this tension of being part of a culture, but separate from it. And in this light one can easily see how we could be rejected by the culture in which live.
This is why the response in Genesis 23 is so interesting. Abraham, an actual foreigner, is treated with great respect and even called “an honored prince.”
As I read this I asked myself, “should this be the way Christians are treated?” There will always be critics of Christianity, especially from those who are threatened politically by our views. But what about the general population? I believe, and Abraham shows us, that Christians can have a very positive and ingratiating relationship with those in our communities. What were some of the characteristics of Abraham that caused him to be so embraced by the culture around him?
He played by the rules of the day and did not expect special treatment. Notice that he did not expect to be treated any differently than anyone else. Not only that, but he insisted on buying the land to bury his wife for full price. He also was consistently honest about his shortcomings and He always gave God the credit for his prosperity.
What can you learn from this? For me I know I sometimes think I am owed something by this world. And that belief will sometimes come off as arrogant or separatistic. Christians have a distinct way of separating themselves from what’s going on around them and in doing so they create a chasm between their faith and the reality of those they live among. The cool thing about Abraham was that he lived out his faith in front of these people. They saw how he almost sacrificed Isaac and how he constantly treated people fairly. They saw that when caught in a lie (like pretending your wife is your sister) he would quickly own up to it.