Adam Clarke Commentary
The age and death of Sarah, Genesis 23:1, Genesis 23:2. Abraham mourns for her, and requests a burial-place from the sons of Heth, Genesis 23:2-4. They freely offer him the choice of all their sepulchers, Genesis 23:5, Genesis 23:6. Abraham refuses to receive any as a free gift, and requests to buy the cave of Machpelah from Ephron, Genesis 23:7-9. Ephron proffers the cave and the field in which it was situated as a free gift unto Abraham, Genesis 23:10, Genesis 23:11. Abraham insists on giving its value in money, Genesis 23:12, Genesis 23:13. Ephron at last consents, and names the sum of four hundred shekels, Genesis 23:14, Genesis 23:15. Abraham weighs him the money in the presence of the people; in consequence of which the cave, the whole field, trees, etc., are made sure to him and his family for a possession, Genesis 23:16-18. The transaction being completed, Sarah is buried in the cave, Genesis 23:19. The sons of Heth ratify the bargain, Genesis 23:20.
And Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years old - It is worthy of remark that Sarah is the only woman in the sacred writings whose age, death, and burial are distinctly noted. And she has been deemed worthy of higher honor, for St. Paul, Galatians 4:22, Galatians 4:23, makes her a type of the Church of Christ; and her faith in the accomplishment of God‘s promise, that she should have a son, when all natural probabilities were against it, is particularly celebrated in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hebrews 11:11. Sarah was about ninety-one years old when Isaac was born, and she lived thirty-six years after, and saw him grown up to man‘s estate. With Sarah the promise of the incarnation of Christ commenced, though a comparatively obscure prophecy of it had been delivered to Eve, Genesis 3:15; and with Mary it terminated, having had its exact completion. Thus God put more honor upon these two women than upon all the daughters of Eve besides. Sarah‘s conception of Isaac was supernatural; she had passed the age and circumstances in which it was possible, naturally speaking, to have a child; therefore she laughed when the promise was given, knowing that the thing was impossible, because it had ceased to be with her after the manner of women. God allows this natural impossibility, and grants that the thing must be the effect of Divine interposition; and therefore asks, Is any thing too hard for God? The physical impossibility was in creased in the case of Mary, she having no connection with man; but the same power interposed as in the case of Sarah: and we find that when all aptitude for natural procreation was gone, Sarah received strength to conceive seed, and bore a son, from whom, in a direct line, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, was to descend; and through this same power we find a virgin conceiving and bearing a son against all natural impossibilities. Every thing is supernatural in the births both of the type and antitype; can it be wondered at then, if the spiritual offspring of the Messiah must have a supernatural birth likewise? hence the propriety of that saying, Unless a man be born again - born from above - born, not only of water, but of the Holy Ghost, he cannot see the kingdom of God. These may appear hard sayings, and those who are little in the habit of considering spiritual things may exclaim, It is enthusiasm! Who can bear it? Such things cannot possibly be.” To such persons I have only to say, God hath spoken. This is sufficient for those who credit his being and his Bible; nor is there any thing too hard for him. He, by whose almighty power, Sarah had strength to conceive and bear a son in her old age, and by whose miraculous interference a virgin conceived, and the man Christ Jesus was born of her, can by the same power transform the sinful soul, and cause it to bear the image of the heavenly as it has borne the image of the earthly.
Sarah died in Kirjath-arba - Literally in the city of the four. Some suppose this place was called the city of the four because it was the burial place of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; others, because according to the opinion of the rabbins, Eve was buried there. with Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah. But it seems evidently to have had its name from a Canaanite, one of the Anakim, probably called Arba (for the text, Joshua 14:14, does not actually say this was his name), who was the chief of the four brothers who dwelt there; the names of the others being Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. See Judges 1:10. These three were destroyed by the tribe of Judah; probably the other had been previously dead.
Abraham came to mourn for Sarah - From Genesis 22:19 of the preceding chapter it appears that Abraham had settled at Beer-sheba; and here we find that Sarah died at Hebron, which was about twenty-four miles distant from Beersheba. For the convenience of feeding his numerous flocks, Abraham had probably several places of temporary residence, and particularly one at Beer-sheba, and another at Hebron; and it is likely that while he sojourned at Beersheba, Sarah died at Hebron; and his coming to mourn and weep for her signifies his coming from the former to the latter place on the news of her death.
Abraham stood up from before his dead - He had probably sat on the ground some days in token of sorrow, as the custom then was, (see Tobit 2:12, 13; Isaiah 47:1; and Genesis 37:35); and when this time was finished he arose and began to treat about a burying place.
I am a stranger and a sojourner - It appears from Hebrews 11:13-16; 1 Peter 2:11, that these words refer more to the state of his mind than of his body. He felt that he had no certain dwelling place, and was seeking by faith a city that had foundations.
Give me a possession of a burying place - It has been remarked that in different nations it was deemed ignominious to be buried in another‘s ground; probably this prevailed in early times in the east, and it may be in reference to a sentiment of this kind that Abraham refuses to accept the offer of the children of Heth to bury in any of their sepulchers, and earnestly requests them to sell him one, that he might bury his wife in a place that he could claim as his own.
Thou art a mighty prince - נשיא אלהים (nesi Elohim), a prince of God - a person whom we know to be Divinely favored, and whom, in consequence, we deeply respect and reverence.
Entreat for me to Ephron - Abraham had already seen the cave and field, and finding to whom they belonged, and that they would answer his purpose, came to the gate of Hebron, where the elders of the people sat to administer justice, etc., and where bargains and sales were made and witnessed, and having addressed himself to the elders, among whom Ephron was, though it appears he was not personally known to Abraham, he begged them to use their influence with the owner of the cave and field to sell it to him, that it might serve him and his family for a place of sepulture.
And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth - And Ephron ישב (yosheb), was sitting among the children of Heth, but, as was before conjectured, was personally unknown to Abraham; he therefore answered for himself, making a free tender of the field, etc., to Abraham, in the presence of all the people, which amounted to a legal conveyance of the whole property to the patriarch.
If thou wilt give it - Instead of, if thou wilt give it, we should read, But if thou wilt sell it, I will give thee money for the field; כסף (keseph), silver, not coined money, for it is not probable that any such was then in use.
The land is worth four hundred shekels of silver - Though the words is worth are not in the text, yet they are necessarily expressed here to adapt the Hebrew to the idiom of our tongue. A shekel, according to the general opinion, was equal to two shillings and sixpence; but according to Dr. Prideaux, whose estimate I shall follow, three shillings English, four hundred of which are equal to sixty pounds sterling; but it is evident that a certain weight is intended, and not a coin, for in Genesis 23:16 it is said, And Abraham weighed וישקל (vaiyishkol), the silver, and hence it appears that this weight itself passed afterwards as a current coin, for the word שקל is not only used to express a coin or piece of silver, but also to weigh; See note on Genesis 20:16.
Current with the merchant - עבר לסחר (ober lassocher), passing to or with the traveler - such as was commonly used by those who traveled about with merchandise of any sort. The word signifies the same as hawker or peddler among us.
All the trees that were in the field - It is possible that all these were specified in the agreement.
And the field, etc. were made sure - ויקם (vaiyakom), were established, caused to stand; the whole transaction having been regulated according to all the forms of law then in use.
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