Finding a resting place for the wife
- 23:1 Sarah lived 127 years.
- 23:2 She died in Kiriath-arba, now called Hebron in Canaan.1 That’s where Abraham mourned his wife, crying.
- 23:3 Abraham left the body of his wife unburied, and he went to talk to his Hittite neighbors.
- 23:4 “I’m a stranger here, an immigrant in this land. I need to buy some property so I can bury my dead.”
- 23:5 Abraham’s Hittite neighbors told him,
- 23:6 “Listen, you are a powerful and respected leader here. Bury your dead on the best burial land you can find. You can have any land you want for a cemetery.”
- 23:7 Abraham bowed respectfully to the folks.
- 23:8 “If you’re okay with me burying my dead here, would you please ask Zohar’s son Ephron
- 23:9 if he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, at the end of the field he owns? I’ll pay the full price, and you can witness the transaction.”
- 23:10 Ephron was sitting right there among the Hittites. He answered Abraham.
- 23:11 “Please, sir, listen. I’m giving you that field with the cave—here and now, in the presence of all of these witnesses. Take it. Bury your dead.”
- 23:12 Once again Abraham bowed respectfully before the people.
- 23:13 With everyone listening, Abraham told Ephron, “Please, I need you to listen to me. I’ll pay you the full price for the field. Please accept this payment so I can feel a sense of closure on the matter. Then I can bury my dead.”
- 23:14 Ephron answered Abraham.
- 23:15 “Please listen, sir. The land is worth 400 silver coins.2 But what’s that among friends? Go and bury your dead.”
- 23:16 Abraham weighed out that amount of silver in the presence of all the people, and he gave it to Ephron.
- 23:17 Ephron’s entire field along with its cave in Machpelah, east of Mamre, also known as Hebron,
- 23:18 became Abraham’s property. The Hittites witnessed this transaction at the city gate.
- 23:19 Abraham buried his wife Sarah in Canaan, in the cave beside the field of Machpelah, near Mamre.
- 23:20 Ownership of the field and its cave transferred from the Hittites to Abraham. The land became his permanent possession. He used it as a burial site.
Israel and Palestinian territories.
Literally 400 shekels, about 10 pounds; 4.6 kg.
Author Stephen M. Miller reports some background about Abraham’s negotiations with a Hittite man named Ephron for the cave Abraham wanted to use to bury Sarah (A Visual Walk Through Genesis, page 105). Apparently when Ephron said, “I will give you the land” (23:11 NCV), that could have been a polite way of saying “Make your best offer,” or “I’ll loan you the land.” If that was the custom of the day, as some scholars guess, what do you think of a custom like that?
When Abraham insists on paying the full price, Ephron says, “The property is worth only 400 pieces of silver. Why should we haggle over such a small amount? Take the land. It’s yours” (23:15 CEV). Given what Miller reports about the polite customs of the day, what do you think would have happened if Abraham had done just that—taken the land without paying a shekel?
People who could afford a family tomb didn’t have to bury their dead in the ground. Many of us have heard a little bit about those ancient burial customs. We know a bit about it because of the story of Jesus. What have you heard about these burial customs?
A large mosque sits above what tradition says was the cave in which Abraham buried Sarah. In the article “World’s Oldest Jewish Shrine,” page 104, in A Visual Walk Through Genesis, Miller reports that this large building that dominates the cityscape of Hebron started out as a mausoleum built by the Jewish King Herod the Great (ruled 37-4 BC). Over the centuries it changed hands several times. Christians turned it into a church in the AD 300s. Muslims turned it into a mosque when they conquered the land in the 600s. Crusaders took it back. Then Muslims. Then Jews in the 1940s during their war of independence. It’s now controlled by West Bank Palestinians. What do you think is the value of a shrine like this? What’s the point?
LIFE APPLICATION. “Sacred spaces” is a phrase that has become popular among ministers. Many Christians have great regard for churches, chapels, and memorials. What is one of your sacred spaces—a place where you sometimes feel particularly close to God?
LIFE APPLICATION. Abraham did not want to bury Sarah on the cheap. Are we like that today with our loved ones? And are we prone to be taken advantage of because of that? If so, what kind of advice should we give someone who is burying a loved one and who seems to be going overboard with the expenses?