Burial vs Cremation

“Abraham Buried Sarah – Cremation vs Burial”

by Elder Clifford Gowens / First Primitive Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas

“….And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in tile cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same {is} Hebron in the/and of Canaan”. (Gen 23:19)

The question often arises among God’s children as to what is the “proper and accepted” way to dispose of the body of one of our loved ones when they are deceased. Should we bury the body of one who has passed, or should we cremate the body?  When we think of the “proper and accepted” way, we should consider “proper and accepted” to whom? The world of today will accept almost anything, and in many instances funeral directors encourage cremation, giving such reasons as saving valuable cemetery space, or more commonly, saving expenses. But when faced with such decisions, even in times of sorrow of losing a loved one, the child of God should only consider that which is “proper and accepted” with God our creator. If we look into God’s word, the Holy Bible, we will find the proper way to dispose of the body, a way that is accepted by God, the one who created the body.

Example #1. When Abraham’s wife Sarah died, Abraham came to mourn and to weep for her.

(Gen 23:2) And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I {am} a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight. (Gen 23:3,4)

The burial of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, in the cave of Machpelah

Studying this example in context, we see that mourning and weeping is expected at the loss of loved ones.  Furthermore, we learn that it is expected that we remove the body of the dead out of our sight. Abraham purchased a buryingplace and BURIED Sarah.

Example #2. At Jacob’s deathbed, he gives instructions to his children concerning his burial.

And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that {is} in the field of Ephron the Hittite, In the cave that {is) in the field of Machpelah, which {is} before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah. (Gen 49:29-31)

Though they were all in Egypt when he died, Jacob gave orders to BURY him back where his relatives were buried.

Example #3. Also Jacob’s son, Joseph, gave similar charges for his demise, and at this time the children of Israel were in bondage in Egypt and could not immediately return to Canaan as was done with Jacob.

And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel , saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. So Joseph died, [being] an hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt . (Gen 50:24-26)

It was so important to Joseph that he be buried back in the land of Canaan , that he took an oath of his brethren to take his bones back for proper burial, even though it was to be many, many years before they could leave this foreign land.

Some might say that these are only examples of what men have done and provides no proof of an “accepted” way with God.  My belief is that it is proof enough to consider the examples of men that were guided on a daily basis by the God of Heaven.  God, dwelling with these men so closely to guide them in the everyday affairs of their lives, could have directed them to dispose of their dead in several different ways, but the facts are: they BURIED their dead.  It would be presumptuous and not at all like any prophecy of scripture to infer that God would be a constant companion to these men and then forsake them in their hour of greatest need and help. Abraham was a “friend” of God.  Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (prince, or power with God).  Throughout the scriptures God is referred to as the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

Example #4. Yet we have an even better example in scripture to use, one which will surely settle the matter, as it shows action by God Himself.  Notice what occurs after the death of Moses in Deut 34:5,6.

So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab , according to the word of the Lord. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab , over against Bethpeor; but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.

Moses on top of Mount Pisgah

Reading the context of chapter 34, we find no one else present in this scene other than Moses and God.  The ‘he’ in verse 6, is the Lord himself.  Certainly we know that God had the power to burn up or disintegrate the body of Moses, yet he (God) buried Moses’ body.  Now we know for certain God’s “proper and accepted” way of disposing of the body. We can find no greater example than that of God himself, the maker of the body.  God buried Moses.

Before we look at the best example of burial that Scripture gives us, let us look at some examples in scripture of some events concerning disposing of dead bodies that surely displeased God.

And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchres that {were} there in the mount, and sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchres, and burned {them} upon the altar, and polluted it, according to the word of the Lord which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words. (2Ki 23:16)

Here we note that even though it fulfilled prophecy, and even though King Josiah was removing the altars of idol worship, that the burning of the bones of men upon it polluted the altar.  In his anger and hatred for his enemies, he spitefully burned their bones.  He could not hurt them any by burning their bones, so in doing this Josiah was making a “statement” about his enemy’s eternal worth.  By burning the bones on the altar, he contended that God would consume their very remembrance forever.  Also take note of Amos 2:1,

Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Moab , and for four, I will not turn away {the punishment} thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime:

Again we conclude that Moab in great anger declared that his enemies were so corrupt that even God would not have them.  Then see in verses 2 and 3 the “judgment of fire” upon Moab for his evil deeds. Many are the examples in scripture of men that sacrificed bodies by fire and even parents gave up their live children to fire, sacrificing to idols. God always condemns this practice. Why? Because God has reserved fire for His own judgment. God alone has the right to judge by fire.

But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. (2Pe 3:7)

We learn from 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 1, verses 8 and 9, that God, in flaming fire takes vengeance on the wicked with punishment of everlasting destruction from His presence. When we burn our bodies, we are in effect “judging” our bodies. Even though this is surely not our purpose when we cremate (burn) the bodies of our loved ones, we are certainly, though ignorantly, judging our bodies as “not worth saving”. When men of old burned the bodies of their enemies they were declaring (judging) that these are men of such corruption that God would not have them, and they are only worthy to be burned.  Whether intentional or not, when we cremate our body we are contending that we have no redemption in Christ and are worthy to be burned. Jesus Christ, by his death on the Cross, redeemed us by His blood, wholly, body, soul, and spirit.

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly, and {I pray God} your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Th 5:23)

And because He died for the body also, He is coming again to raise our bodies, and change and fashion it like unto His own glorious body. (John 5:28; Phil. 3:21)

From 1 Corinthians 15:52-55 we learn that our bodies (corruption) will be changed (incorruption), not exchanged. Neither death nor the grave will have victory over the bodies, but rather the very dust of our corrupted body will be gathered together again and changed and made a glorious body.

Surely we do not wish to cast such an adverse reflection on the sacrifice of the Son of God, who endured the fires of the wrath of God on Golgotha , so that we would not have to endure the fires of eternal judgment.  He took our place in judgment, delivering us from ever having to face God’s righteous judgment.  We can and should show proper respect for that which Jesus purchased by following His example, burying our bodies.

Now we come to the most important example of all. Remember that even Jesus’ body was buried in a tomb for three days and nights.  Sin is that which consumes us and brings us to death.  Man is by nature a sinner, and always proves this is true by his practice. The Bible teaches us that the wages of sin is death.  We also learn in Romans 5:12 that all mankind are sinners, thus all mankind die.  No act of man can bring redemption to himself nor remove the pronouncement of death that came by sin.  Man’s case is forever helpless and hopeless based upon his own power. Unless there is an intervention of higher power, man’s body could never be resurrected to live again.  When Jesus was made flesh by the virgin birth, he being made in our likeness with a human body, was thus able to become a sin bearer, taking our place in judgment on the cross. When God “laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6), He bore our sins in His own body, suffered the judgment, shed His blood, and died, all for us. He suffered in His own body the penalty of sin (death), freeing His elect from the sentence of death. Then His body was taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb. After three days and nights, the Spirit of God visited the tomb and raised Jesus’ body to life immortal. He took our place in death and the grave! He represented us in death, the grave and also in the resurrection of His body! God manifested to man His great power and love for us in the person, the life, death, and resurrection of His Son. Jesus died not only for our souls but also for our bodies. This, His greatest example of His will, directs us to follow His will in hope and expectation of the resurrection of OUR bodies.  Jesus’ body was buried!

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus wrapping Jesus’ body in linen clothes to bury

Often the question arises and needs to be addressed, “But what about the bodies of those that are cremated, and what about the bodies of those that are consumed in fires, and in wars? Isn’t God able to resurrect the bodies that are burned, even if the ashes are consumed or scattered to the wind?  Yes, a thousand times, yes!  For the God that first took the dust of the ground and formed man out of it, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, there is no hindrance to Him to gather again the ashes and dust of the bodies, though they be scattered to the four corners of the earth, and fashion them again into an incorrupt spiritual body.  God sees every sparrow when it falls, has the hairs of our head numbered, and can and will speak, and all will come forth at the sound of his voice. Every molecule of dust and ashes will obey His word. What power! What glory!

Now consider if God can and will raise our bodies no matter where they are, why did Joseph want his bones buried not in Egypt but in the promised land?  For the same reason that makes “burial” proper disposal of our bodies. It shows respect to that which Christ has purchased by His own blood by His death. Egypt is representative of the sinful world we were in by nature, separated from God by sin.  Deliverance from Egypt across the Red Sea for the nation of Israel is representative of the deliverance from sin we have in Jesus.  Joseph desired a proper burial that would declare his belief in the resurrection of the body through the promise of redemption by the Lord.

In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began,’ (Tit 1:2)

This could not be properly and completely shown if his body was left in Egypt .  This is a type, and does not mean that a body in the literal land of Egypt cannot be raised.  But having Joseph’s body taken back to the Promised Land wonderfully proclaimed his faith in God, and His redemption, and faith in the resurrection of the body.  In fact, John 5:28 teaches that every body that has ever lived, just and unjust, will be resurrected, either to life or to damnation.

Thus we discern, that for the believer in God, in order to show proper reverence to the Son of God and His redemption, and to declare our confidence in His return to resurrect our bodies, by examples found in God’s word, we have only one choice to make when our bodies lay down to sleep in Jesus. That choice is that which has been employed throughout all ages, and the only choice that is “proper and accepted” with God, BURIAL.

In Love for His Cause,

Elder Clifford Gowens

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