June 28, 2014

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe.                                                           

                

Lesson II.F.1: Death and Burial of Sarah. (Gen. 23:1-20)                                                                 

 

Gen. 23:1-20 (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.

3 And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying,

4 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.

5 And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him,

6 Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.

7 And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth.

8 And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and intreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar,

9 That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you.

10 And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying,

11 Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead .

12 And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land.

13 And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.

14 And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him

15 My lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead.

16 And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.

17 And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure

18 Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.

19 And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan.

20 And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth.

 


Commentary

 

1 And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah.

 

And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old

The death of Sarah occurs soon after the account of Abraham’s offering of Isaac. She went to be with the Lord at the ripe old age of 127. Since she was 90 when Isaac was born, that would make him 37 when Sarah died.


These were the years of the life of Sarah

“These were the years of the life of Sarah” is a repetition of the first clause; an emphatic repetition designed to impress the Jewish mind with the importance of remembering the age of their ancestress and mother of the faithful—“Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement” (1 Peter 3:6).

 

 

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.

 

And Sarah died in Kirjatharba

“Sarah died in Kirjatharba,” or city of Arba. Abraham had lived there before, but that was forty years earlier. When they moved there from Beersheba is not said. “Kirjatharba” probably got its name from a giant or great man called Arba, who lived and ruled in those parts. Arba is mentioned in the following verses:

  • “And the name of Hebron before was Kirjatharba; which Arba was a great man among the Anakims. And the land had rest from war” (Joshua 14:15).
  • “And unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh he gave a part among the children of Judah, according to the commandment of the LORD to Joshua, even the city of Arba the father of Anak, which city is Hebron” (Joshua 15:13).

 

The city got its name from one of the following sources:

  1. The four Anakims or giants that dwelt there.
  2. The four famous couples buried there, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah; but, if this is true it must have been named in anticipation, since all except Adam and Eve, and Sarah were still alive or had not yet been born.
  3. Arba, a great man among the Anakims, and the father of Anak. He may have come into the vicinity during the forty years Abraham was gone from there.

 

The same is Hebron, in the land of Canaan

The original name of the city was “Hebron” and afterwards it was changed to “Kirjatharba.” Abraham and Sarah had lived there many years prior,—“Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD” (Genesis 13:18)—and Sarah died and was buried there, to be joined in death years later by Abraham. The name was changed back to Hebron some four hundred years later during the conquest of Canaan. This was a very ancient city, built seven years before Zoan in Egypt—“And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)” (Numbers 13:22)—probably by a tribe of Semites on their way to the Nile Delta. It lies upon the very border of the Negeb of Judah, about twenty-two miles south of Jerusalem. Though Arba is called “the father of Anak,”—“And unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh he gave a part among the children of Judah, according to the commandment of the LORD to Joshua, even the city of Arba the father of Anak, which city is Hebron” (Joshua 15:13)—yet the literal meaning, City of Four (arba being the Hebrew numeral four)coupled with the fact that Hebron means alliance (Genesis 13:18), suggests that its building was the result of the union of four families; and afterwards, Arba may have been often used for the name of the city. At the time of the conquest of Palestine there were descendants of Anak still dwelling there, and apparently they had restored the old title, but were expelled by Caleb,—“And Caleb drove thence the three sons of Anak, Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai, the children of Anak” (Joshua 15:14)—who took it as his possession. It is still an important town, with a population of 17,000 Moslems and about 600 Jews.

 

And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her

There has been considerable speculation concerning the phrase “Abraham came to mourn for Sarah,” some of which are mentioned here:

  1. Aben Ezra observes, that, when Sarah died, Abraham was in another place, and therefore is said to come to mourn for her.
  2. The Targum of Jonathan states, “And Abraham came from the mount of worship (Moriah), and found that she was dead, and he sat down to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.”
  3. One unknown source relates, that, upon hearing of the offering=up of Isaac, she swooned away and died.
  4. At this point, Abraham may have been residing in different places, and apparently he was at Beersheba or in Gerar when Sarah died at Hebron, where probably he had left Isaac in charge of his mother and the cattle.
  5. But the meaning may be as simple as this; that he went from his own tent to Sarah's, where her corpse was. Genesis 24:67, seems to support the idea that Abraham and Sarah maintained separate tents—“And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.”

 

 Abraham would naturally have felt deep loss at the death of his beloved Sarah. He did not only perform the ceremonies of mourning according to the custom of those times, but did sincerely lament the great loss he had sustained, and gave proof of the great affection he felt for her. Therefore, two words are used to describe his remorse over her passing; “mourn” and “weep.” The Hebrews observe, that, in the word for “weep”, one of the letters is lesser than usual, and which they think denotes, that his weeping for her was not excessive, but little; but both words taken together seem to denote that his sorrow was very great; and the one (mourn) perhaps may refer to his private, and the other (weep) to his public mourning for her, according to the custom of those times, which included sitting on the ground for a time, while "weeping" and wailing for the departed.

 

 

3 And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying,

 

And Abraham stood up from before his dead

“From before (literally, from over the face of) his dead,”—although Sarah was “dead”, she was still “his." During the days of mourning he had been sitting on the ground (the custom of mourners); and now, his grief having weakened, “Abraham stood up,” and he goes out to the city gate (the place where business is transacted), to provide for the funeral of his wife. Eastern people are always in possession of family burying-places; but Abraham's life of faith—and above all his pilgrim state—had prevented him from acquiring a plot of ground he could call his own. Speaking of Abraham, Stephen, when making his defense, said—“And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. (Ac 7:5).

 

And spake unto the sons of Heth, saying

 Abraham went to the city gate and addressed the descendants of Heth, the son of Canaan: “And Canaan begat Sidon his first born, and Heth” (Genesis 10:15). The “sons of Heth” were at this time the inhabitants and landlords of that part of the land where Abraham was now living.

 

The Hittites were descendants of Heth, and it now appears that all the land was the property of the Hittites, a race who, while the Israelites sojourned in Egypt, became so powerful that they were able to compete for empire with the Egyptians themselves. Their capital was Emesa in Northern Syria. The settlements of Hittites in the North of Palestine may have extended in groups and families southwards and some of them settled in the territory around Hebron.

 

4 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.

 

I am a stranger and a sojourner with you

Abraham describes himself with a familiar phrase, “a stranger and sojourner.” That would be like saying, “I am a foreigner and I don’t know how long I am going to stay.” (For other verses with the word “sojourn” see Leviticus 25:231 Chronicles 29:15Hebrews 11:9.) The same phrase is employed by St Peter in 1 Peter 2:11—“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims [sojourners], abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul,—to describe the shortness and uncertainty of life on earth, and to indicate that our true citizenship is in heaven. The “stranger,” in the Hebrew, belongs to the phraseology of nomad life; “the sojourner,” of settled life (though for a temporary duration). Abraham admits he is a stranger, not a Hittite; a sojourner, a dweller in the land, not a mere visitor or traveler.

 

Give me a possession of a buryingplace with you

He did not expect to be given land as a free gift,  but that he might be allowed to purchase a piece of ground to bury Sarah in; thus the Targum of Jonathan has “sell me a possession” (notice the emphasis in verse 9, that he insists on paying a fair price for the land.). Abraham wanted to bury Sarah for all the same reasons we have for burying our loved ones who have died; because humanity demands it, and it is the general custom of most nations. But Abraham wanted to have “a burying-place” in the land of Canaan for reasons unrelated to civilization and traditions. First, he wanted to strengthen his faith and the faith of his posterity, and to animate their hope and expectation of one day having possession of it; hence, in later times the patriarchs Jacob and Joseph were desirous of having their bones buried there. But it was more probably due to his strong faith that the land would yet belong to his descendants, which naturally led him to crave a resting-place in the soil with which the hopes of both himself and his descendents were identified

 

While strangers could graze their cattle upon the open pasturelands of Hebron, yet the consent of the citizenry seems to have been necessary before Abraham could occupy any spot permanently (See Genesis 15:13;Genesis 20:15). Before he could own any piece of the land a public contract and purchase agreement was required, which must be ratified not merely by the seller but by the consent of all the tribe, convened in full assembly at the gate of the city. Thus, in spite of his power and wealth, Abraham, as far as his legal position towards the inhabitants was concerned, was merely a stranger and sojourner—“By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise” (Hebrews 11:9),--and could secure a resting-place for his dead wife only by their consent.

 

In those times of simple faith, Abraham was known as “a prince of God,” since it was well-known that He had been favored by God. Following his call he had been delivered from Egypt, was victorious over the kings, interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah, and protected the court of Abimelech. Some of these events were well-known to the Hittites, because they had occurred while he was residing among them.This request by the heir of Canaan was proof that he sought for his real inheritance, a better country, even a heavenly one—“But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:16). 

 

That I may bury my dead out of my sight.

Though Sarah was a very beautiful person in life, and greatly loved by Abraham, yet death had changed her countenance, corrupted her flesh, and made her unpleasant and loathsome, so that it was now necessity to remove her from his sight. The bodies of those most dear to us decay, and must be removed from our sight.

 

 

5 And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him,

6 Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.

 

And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him

“And the children of Heth answered Abraham” in a very civil and respectful manner,saying to him, as follows:

 

[From Abraham’s negotiations with the people of Heth, and from many other transactions related in the Scriptures, it seems as if kings and magistrates in those days did nothing of a public nature while acting on their own, but in conjunction with the people; and that the people had a great deal to say in all affairs.]

 

Hear us, my lord

One person spoke, yet he spoke in the name of the princes among them, the heads of their families, who were present on that occasion, saying, “Hear us.” He doesn’t call Abraham “our lord”, but “my lord”; addressing him very respectably, and imploring him to hear what he had to say on the behalf of all those present.

 

Thou art a mighty prince amongst us

Though he called himself a stranger and a sojourner, yet they had a high opinion of him, as a person of great wealth and substance, and of great power and authority; and who lived like a prince, and was a powerful one, having a large number of servants under him. Or, more probably "a prince of God" is meant; one raised up to grandeur and dignity by Him; who was always with Him, and in His favor; and by whom he was highly honored, and had great value as a friend of His.

 

In the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead

The phrase “the choice of” would be expressed today as “the pick of.” They had many sepulchers, since each family had its own, therefore they make Abraham a very kind, generous, and respectful offer, which is, that he can bury his dead in the choicest of them, the most grand and magnificent, or in which of them he chooses.

 

None of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead

They show great respect for the aging patriarch. In essence, they tell him, “There is not a man among us who would deny you the use of his sepulcher to bury your dead in; and therefore, you need not hesitate to make use of any that you may judge to be proper and convenient. No doubt the speaker had taken pains to know full-well the mind of those in whose name he addressed Abraham.

 

It is a mistake to suppose that this acceptance of the patriarch’s proposal contained the idea that he might select a sepulcher without paying for it. The payment, in true Oriental fashion, is kept in the background, but is pre-supposed on both sides. After the acceptance of his proposal, it was Abraham’s turn to name the burying-place he wished, and the owner next consents, but while treating the purchase-money as a matter of small importance, he nevertheless asks a very high price, to which Abraham at once consents.

 

 

7 And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth.

 

And Abraham stood up

After finishing his speech to the sons of Heth, Abraham sat down and waited for them to answer him (v. 4); or perhaps they invited him to sit down in order to show the respect they had for him. Then the person speaking for the children of Heth stood up and responded with the words recorded in verses 5 and 6, and he sat down, signaling that he was finished. Once again it was Abraham’s turn to speak, so he “stood up.”

 

And bowed himself to the people of the land

Abraham bowed to the crowd gathered at the gate of the city, but particularly to the princes and the governors of the people, who managed all public affairs in the people’s name. This was an act of respect which had its roots in ancient times, but is still rendered as part of modern Oriental manners. It shows that he was grateful for the honor they had done him, and the great courtesy with which they had treated him. The scene creates an ironical contrast with the time when his descendants would conquer the Canaanites and possess their country.

The religion of Jesus Christ requires civility and good manners, and those gestures which express it, and every professor of it should carefully avoid rudeness and foolishness. “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.”

 

Even to the children of Heth

This seems to be added to distinguish the “important people” from the common people. “Since Joseph was governor of all Egypt and in charge of selling grain to all the people, it was to him that his brothers came. When they arrived, they bowed before him with their faces to the ground” (Gen. 42:6). This verse describes the scene when Joseph reunited with his brothers after many years of separation. They bowed down before him, with their faces to the earth; not only bowed the knee as the Egyptians did, but prostrated their whole bodies, stretching out their hands and feet, and touching the ground with their faces, after the manner of the eastern countries, at least some of them; and of Canaan; and thus they submitted themselves to him in the most humble manner.

 

 

8 And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and intreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar,

 

And he communed with them

He entered into a conversation with them on the subject of obtaining a burial place for his departed wife, Sarah.

 

Saying, if it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight

Abraham must have had some place in mind that belonged to one of the local families, otherwise they could have no objection to him burying his wife anywhere else. Of course, it is possible that they had said what they did in order to seem generous and accommodating. But, if they really meant what they said and wanted to provide him with a place for burying his dead, then he had this favour to ask of them.

 

Hear me, and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar;

“Zohar” is thought to be an important man among the Hittites, and he had a field with a cave in it, near where Abraham had settled, which made it very convenient for him. It appears from verse 10 that this man was present at the time, but Abraham did not think it would be proper for him to speak directly to him; and therefore he requests that the princes of Heth make a united request to Ephron for the favor mentioned in the next verse, which he supposed they would not be opposed to do, if they really wanted to honor Abraham and show him the respect they had just indicated. And, if Ephron was present, as he seems to be, it was a very honorable, and modest appeal to him through his brethren, which he could not refuse without appearing rude and selfish in the eyes of his neighbors.

 

Some have said that Zohar was the ruler of the city, but this is doubtful. Somebody made this interesting observation: “There is scarcely anything in the habits of Orientals more annoying to us Occidentals than this universal custom of employing mediators to pass between you and-those with whom you wish to do business. Nothing can be done without them. A merchant cannot sell a piece of print, nor a farmer a yoke of oxen, nor any one rent a house, buy a horse, or get a wife, without a succession of go-betweens. Of course Abraham knew that this matter of the field could not be brought about without the intervention of the neighbors of Ephron, and therefore he applies to them first.”

 

“Entreat for me” means, “make this deal for me—use your influence with him.” So, Abraham approaches the individual with whom he wishes to do business, very cautiously. It is very likely that Abraham had already seen the cave and field, and had found out to whom they belonged, and that they would answer his needs, therefore, he went to the gate of Hebron, where the elders of the people sat to administer justice, and where bargains and sales were made and witnessed, and there he made his request to the elders. The burial of the dead in caves, both natural and artificial (dug out of a hillside), was customary in this Eastern land. The field seems to have been called Makpelah (meaning, “doubled”), so called because of its double form, having two adjoining caves. We learn from this passage that property in the form of land had been established at this time. Much of the country, however, must have been open, or unappropriated pasture ground.


9 That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you.

 

That he may, give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field

Abraham provided a description of the plot of ground he wished to purchase and even gave the name of its owner—the tract of land, containing the field with a cave in one corner, and which all belonged to Ephron. We are not told why he wanted this particular field, but the reason may have been one of the following:

 

  1. Adam and Eve were buried there, Or
  2. It is highly probable that this cave had never before been used as a burying place, which was not the case with most of the others. He did not want to bury his dead beside Heathens and idolaters who are unacquainted with the resurrection of the dead, and would have no part in the first resurrection, which Abraham believed in, and hoped for.

 

For as much money as it is worth he shall give it me, for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you

“For as much money as it is worth” or, "for the full asking price," or the “full weight,” for money was paid by weight in those times, as it was here (v. 16). Abraham did not desire to have it as a free gift, or at a bargain price; he was very willing to pay the full value of it. Silver and gold seems to have been the medium of commerce at this time. Both were known, and mentioned at an earlier period: 

  • “The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold” (Genesis 2:11).
  • “And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:2).

 

“A buryingplace amongst you”is an unfortunate translation, since Abraham did not want Sarah to be buried amongst the Hittites, but required only that the sale would be properly certified. The Hebrew reads “Let him give it me in the midst of you (that is, in a general assembly of the people), for a possession and a buryingplace.”

 

 

10 And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying,

 

And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth

The transaction now comes to be between Abraham and “Ephron.” The sons of Heth were seated in council, and Ephron was among them. Abraham seems to have been seated also; for he stood up to make his bow and request “And Ephron dwelt among” is another mistranslation. The Hebrew says, “Ephron was sitting in the midst of the Hittites.” He was "sitting" among the children of Heth in the gate of the city where all business was transacted. But, though a chief man among them, he was probably unknown to Abraham. At these assemblies, held at the gate of the city, every free-born citizen had a right to be present, and matters were settled by common consent. Since Ephron was the owner of the cave, his approval was necessary, and Abraham deals with this hurdle by requesting that Ephron’s fellow-citizens do him the favor of interceding with Ephron on his behalf.

 

 And Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth

He may have stood-up in the assembly when he heard his name mentioned, and answered Abraham himself. This does not imply that he was the chief magistrate, but only that he was a prominent citizen. Here, “audience” is literally “ears,” as it is in verses 13 and 16. This passage from the Book of Ruth indicates that witnesses were necessary to certify the legal transfer of property: “And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi. Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day. And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem” (Ruth 4:9-11).

 

Even of all that went in at the gates of his city

“His city” is Kirjatharba, which was afterwards called Hebron (v. 2), where he may have been born, and where he now lived; and perhaps he owned property there. He was now at one of the gates of this city, where the assembly of the princes was held; it being the custom to hold assemblies on matters of business, and settling disputes. The city gate was a public area, where multitudes were continually passing and socializing, and so everyone had the opportunity of hearing, and of being witnesses.

 

“All that went in” meansall the citizens and inhabitants. The assembly was open to everyone, at least as far as listening.


Saying

As follows: 

 

 

11 Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead .

 

Nay, my lord, hear me

Or rather, “not so, my lord;” not that he denied his request entirely, or refused him the cave in any case, but that he should not buy it from him, but instead, he would give it to him, and therefore he desires that he would listen to what else he has to say.

 

The field give I thee, and the cave that is therein I give it thee

Here is a great show of generosity, but it was only a show; for while Abraham wanted only the cave, Ephron joins “the field and the cave (which lay in one corner of the field)”; and though he offered them both as free gifts, he, of course, expected some costly presents in return, without which, he would not have been satisfied. The patriarch, knowing this, wished to make a purchase and asked the terms.Only the cave had been mentioned, but for its unobtrusive possession the land around it was necessarily included. In the triple repeated “give I it thee,” there is the same courtly idea as in Genesis 23:6, that they were not buying and selling, but making mutual presents.

 

“The field give I thee” is literally, “have I given thee”—that which was decided upon was regarded as done. He offers the field as a gift, with the Eastern understanding that the receiver would make an ample compensation. This mode of dealing had its origin in genuine good-will that was intended to gratify the wish of another as soon as it was made known, and as far as it was reasonable or practicable. The feeling seems to have been still somewhat fresh and unaffected in the time of Abraham, though it has degenerated since then into a mere form of courtesy. Perhaps, I have been too hard on Ephron, and possibly the offer to sell the entire field when he might have secured a good price for the cave alone was an indication of Ephron's good intentions. At least, it seems questionable to conclude that Ephron's generous phrases, which have now become formal and hollow courtesies indeed, meant no more in that simpler age when the ceremonies of interaction were newer, and more truly reflected its spirit.

 

Observe the successive stages in the negotiation: Abraham in Genesis 23:9 asks to buy the cave only; Ephron in Genesis 23:11 offers to give him the whole field and the cave in it for nothing; Abraham in Genesis 23:13 offers to pay for the field; Ephron in Genesis 23:15 mentions the price for the land; Abraham in Genesis 23:16 properly pays for the field and the cave (see Genesis 23:17).

 

In the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee

In Abraham’s time, grants, or contracts, were made before all the people, or their representatives. And the gates of cities were in those days, and for many centuries after, the places for transacting business and settling disputes. We may observe that Abraham finds favor with people everywhere he goes. And we don’t need to wonder about this, considering what a principled, honest, upright, and generous character he was. Undoubtedly, however, the unusually high regard he found among all people was chiefly due to the providence of God; for the Scriptures always teach us to ascribe our finding favor with men to the divine blessing.

 

Three times Ephron says, “I give it thee”, to show that he freely gave it, and that Abraham was welcome to it, and to confirm the transaction in front of all the people. “In the presence (sight) of the sons of my people” was a public declaration or deed before many witnesses.

 

Bury thy dead

In the cave, at once, immediately, without any more ado.

 

 

12 And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land.

 

He had been sitting, while Ephron was speaking. Now he rises to his feet and bows to the assembly there at the gate of the city. This gesture on the patriarch’s part is the Oriental method of returning thanks for the granting of a request, and of giving much honour both to them and Ephron; and signifying that he had something else to say, and desired to continue to speak to them. Abraham had bowed to them earlier (v. 7). The next step is to fix the price.

 

 

13 And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.

 

And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land

He addressed himself to Ephron who spoke last, with an audible voice, so that all could hear him.

 

Saying, but if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me

The words are very concise and abrupt, and at this point indicate some measure of agitation and a shade of impatience: “But if thou wouldest listen to me!” He had indicated from the start that he did not want the cave as a gift, but had come prepared to pay for it. The Targum of Jonathan is, “if thou art willing to do me a kindness, hear me; it will be taken as a favor to permit me to speak once more, and to grant what I shall ask of you.”

 

There are some who are of the opinion that Abraham did not know Ephron by face or that he was present at the time, but that is not likely, since Abraham had lived in those parts long enough to be well known himself, and therefore, must know his neighbors; and since he had lived here before, he could not help but know so great a prince as Ephron, whose city he dwelt in.

 

Instead of, “if thou wilt give it,” we should read, “But if thou wilt sell it, I will give thee money for the field;” silver, not coined money, for it is not likely that coins were in use at that time. It expresses simply a strong desire that Ephron will listen to and grant his next request. He prudently chose rather to buy it than to receive it as a gift, partly because it would be more certain to stay in the possession of him and his ancestors, and partly because he didn’t want to be under any obligation to his pagan neighbors.

 

I will give thee the money for the field

Abraham did not choose to receive it as a free gift, but to purchase it instead, so that ownership would be assured for him and his posterity; for though Ephron was now in this generous mood, he might change his mind, and afterwards rebuke Abraham for taking advantage of him, should they have a falling-out, or his successors might claim it again, and dispute his right to it. Abraham answers in short, broken sentences, acknowledging the generous offer, but insisting on the payment of the price. Here, however, he makes an offer for “the field,” not merely for “the cave in the end of the field” (v. 9). He politely declines to notice the suggestion of a gift, but offers to buy.

 

“I will give thee money” suggests the full price, as he had said (v. 7), or as much money as it is worth. Good men like Abraham would rather lose money, than to take advantage of another person. He was wise to give a just price for the field, since that would not allow Ephron or his posterity to dispute his ownership on the basis of having been cheated by Abraham. Abraham was rich in silver and gold, and therefore thought it unjust to take advantage of Ephron’s generosity. Perhaps, also, there may be weight in Le Clerc’s observation: “The Orientals,” says he, “seem to have had the same notions about burying- places, which prevailed among the Greeks and Romans, namely, that it was ignominious to be buried in another person’s ground: and therefore every family, the poorer sort excepted, had a sepulchre of their own, in which they would not suffer others to be interred.”

 

Take it of me

Take the purchase money, which is the full worth of the field.

 

And I will bury my dead there

Or “then will I bury,” and not before.

 

 

14 And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him

 

And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him. The following words:

 

 

15 My lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead .

 

My lord, hearken unto me

Since you insist on buying the field, and not receive it as a gift, then I will tell you what it is worth.


The land is worth four hundred shekels of silver

“Four hundred shekels of silver” is equivalent to $51,200.00 (1 shekel=$128.00). This figure, of course, would vary according to the price of silver. In any case, it was a significant amount, but since we don’t know the size of the tract, there is no way to compute the price per acre.

 

What is that betwixt thee and me?

This was a trivial amount to two men as rich as Abraham and Ephron, so he says, “This is such an insignificant sum, that it doesn’t matter whether you pay me or not; or what difference could it make between two such friends, whether it was paid for or not, it was not worth speaking of; or else the sense is, it is a good bargain, the sum is so small, and the property is so clearly worth it, that nothing more needs to be said about it.

 

Both men are rich: the figure could not possibly be a hindrance to the bargain. The important thing is that he, the owner, is willing to sell. Abraham will, therefore, of course purchase the property.

 

Bury therefore thy dead

“Bury therefore thy dead” in it, and don’t concern yourself with it any longer.

 

 

 

16 And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth,

 

And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron

He agreed at once to give him the sum proposed, either believing it to be a fair price, and he was satisfied with it, and willing to pay him the money; or he was in no humor to bargain with him for a lower price. 

 

And Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver

Notice that the scales were ready. “Weighed” is the appropriate word for the payment of money in days when money was not coined—money had no mark or stamp upon it to show its value, and therefore was not counted out by pieces, but weighed. Coined money doesn’t seem to have been in use among the Israelites before the time of Exile. The price of an article was reckoned by the weight of metal—silver or bronze or gold—given in exchange for it. The metal might consist of bars or rings. Compare these verses:

  • “And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances” (Jeremiah 32:10). 
  • “When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it” (Joshua 7:21) Possibly, “a wedge of gold” was a bar, or ingot.

 

The silver was weighed-out in the presence of the assembled witnesses. This is still common in many parts of the East, for although coins now have a definite name, size, and value, yet every merchant carries a small apparatus by which he weighs each coin to see that it has not been tampered with.

 

Which he had named, in the audience of the sons of Heth

Ephron had named his price of 400 shekels of silver (v. 15), so that all assembled at the city gate were witnesses of the bargain, of the price set by Ephron, and of the payment of it by Abraham. 

 

Four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.

“Current money with the merchant” denotes the medium used by merchants for buying and selling. The idea is that merchants would be knowledgeable of the value of the money (silver in this case), and were careful not to accept any that was bad. Therefore, any money they would accept in payment, would be accepted anywhere.

 

 

17 And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure

 

And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah

This and the following verses contain the legal language used to describe the property being purchased. Today, we would call it a deed of sale; such information was included in Hebrew contracts. Notice the minute details, the particular mention of “the field,” “the cave,” “all the trees,” “all the border,” “made sure,” “in the presence of,” “all that went in at the gate of his city.” They are going to have no lose ends by making sure the property is correctly described, and all the terms of the deal spelled-out, so there can be no confusion or uncertainty on either side.

 

Which was before Mamre

The field Abraham purchased must have been near to (before) where he made his home, for we read in Genesis 13:18, “Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD. “Dictionary.com” gives this definition for Mamre: “manliness. The name of the place in the neighborhood of Hebron where Abraham dwelt (Gen. 23:17, 19; 35:27); called also in Authorized Version (13:18) the "plain of Mamre," but in Revised Version more correctly "the oaks [marg.,'terebinths'] of Mamre." The name probably denotes the "oak grove" or the "wood of Mamre," thus designated after Abraham's ally. This "grove" must have been within sight of or "facing" Machpelah (q.v.).The site of Mamre has been identified with Ballatet Selta, i.e., "the oak of rest", where there is a tree called "Abraham's oak," about a mile and a half west of Hebron. Others identify it with er-Rameh, 2 miles north of Hebron.

 

The field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure

“The field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about” are the details contained in the contract which are similar to the legal descriptions found in modern deeds. It is not enough that you purchase a well-known lot; the contract must mention everything that belongs to it, and certify that fountains or wells or caves in it, trees upon it, etc., are sold with the field. There were no written documents involved with the sale, so the transaction was “made sure” by announcing all the particulars to people gathered at the city gate who were witnesses to the agreement.

 

 

18 Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.

 

Unto Abraham for a possession

This small plot of land is Abraham’s now, to be enjoyed by him and his posterity forever, as his own property, and purchased by his money. For the first time he owns land in Palestine, but it is not the gift God promised him, which is the point of Stephens statement in Acts 7:5: “And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.” Abraham would never see God’s promise fulfilled, but his posterity would.

 

In the presence of the children of Heth

Ephron honestly and fairly provides him with a good title to the land. The field, with all its accessories, is conveyed to Abraham and his heirs for ever, in open court, not by writing (it does not appear that writing was used at that time) but by a solemn public declaration before witnesses. They gave their approval to the sale, and were witnesses of the bargain, and of the payment of the money by Abraham, and of the surrender of the field to him, for his own use:

 

Before all that went in at the gates of his city

It is not Abraham's city, for he had none, but Hebron is called Ephron's city, here and in verse 10. All that went in” denotes the children of Heth and all the inhabitants of the place; or else it refers to the princes of the people that composed the assembly Abraham addressed, as well as the common people, the inhabitants of the place. One commentator takes them to be the travelers that passed through the gates of the city. However, the purpose of the expression is to show the public manner in which this affair was transacted, and that  Abraham was firmly established as the new legal owner of the field (there were no written documents to confirm and record business transactions at this early date.).

 

 

19 And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan.

 

And after this

After this sale was concluded, the bargain struck, the money paid, and possession secured.

 

Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah,

Before Mamre; The same is Hebron in the land of Canaan

And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife—we can only imagine what the funeral rites consisted of. And later on he was buried there, and also Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah—“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;” (Genesis 25:9). Rachel alone of the great patriarchal family was not buried there.

 

 

20 And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth.

 

And the field, and the cave that is in the corner of the field was made a sure possession of Abraham by the sons of Heth, who were witnesses of the transaction between Abraham and Ephron. It was made even surer by Sarah's being buried in it, which amounted to taking possession of it, for the purpose for which it was bought. And it was a pledge and down payment on the future possession of the land of Canaan by the seed of Abraham: this was the first piece of ground in it possessed by Abraham and his seed.

 

The completion of the sale is stated with great formality. No mention is made of any written deed of sale. Yet Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remained in undisturbed possession of this burial-ground. Undisputed occupancy seems to have been acknowledged as a title. The burial of Sarah is then simply noted. The validity of Abraham's title is practically demonstrated by the actual burial of Sarah.

 

This chapter is interesting because it contains the first record of mourning for the dead, of burial, of property ownership in land, of the purchase of land, of silver as a medium of purchase, and of a standard of weight. Mourning for the dead was, no doubt, a natural reaction. Burial was a matter of necessity, in order, as Abraham says, to remove the body out of sight, as soon as it was learned by experience that it would be devoured by beasts of prey, or become offensive by putrefaction. To bury or cover it with earth was an easier and more natural process than burning, and was therefore practiced earlier and more generally. Property in land was introduced where tribes became settled, formed towns, and began to practice farming. Barter was the early mode of accommodating each party with the articles he needed or valued. This led gradually to the use of the precious metals as a "current" medium of exchange - first by weight, and then by coins of a fixed weight and known stamp.

 

The burial of Sarah is noted because she was the wife of Abraham and the mother of the promised seed. The purchase of the field is worthy of note, as it is the first property of the chosen race in the Promised Land. Hence, these two events are interwoven with the sacred narrative of the ways of God with man.

 

Make a Free Website with Yola.