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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 23

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-20

Genesis 23:4. A burying-place. Abraham believed in a future state; therefore he, as well as the other patriarchs, buried his dead. Joseph, actuated by this belief, gave commandment for his bones to be brought out of Egypt. It is the most decent way of disposing of the dead, that the dust may return to its original dust. The practice of burning the dead, and depositing the ashes in an urn, with coins and trinkets, is of great antiquity, and there are few of the ancient nations who did not more or less use this custom. Burrows, containing these urns, abound in this country, in Ireland, and other parts of Europe. Sir Thomas Browne wrote in 1685 his Hydriotaphia, occasioned by the sepulchral urns found in Norfolk; but he has not been able to trace the origin of this custom, which ceased as christianity obtained. The Jews sometimes used it, though a pagan custom. The men of Jabesh, wishing to honour Saul and his sons, burned their bones and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days. 1 Samuel 31:12-13. Hence they regarded cremation as the highest honour they could pay the bodies of their insulted princes. A passage in Amos 6:10, seems to suggest the idea that the custom originated in burning the hut or tent of a man who had died of some contagious disease.

Genesis 23:9. Machpelah. Simply the name of a place; but some contend that it signifies a double cave; that is, a cave within a cave, or one place for the men, and another for the women.

Genesis 23:16. Four hundred shekels of silver, the price no doubt of a large field. Abraham knowing his call, and being assured of the promises, would not bury his dead with the Canaanites. He was judicious and prudent in paying for the field; for had he received it as a gift, the possession might have been disputed by the next heir. Of the shekel see on Exodus 30:13.


In the conversations of these respectable men, we see much politeness and generosity. What a lamentable consideration that persons acquainted with the principles of religion and morality, and with the literature of their age, should be so grossly carried away with wickedness. The seven nations whom God destroyed and cast out were not unacquainted with the covenant of Noah, nor did they want the finest examples in Melchizedek and others. Their depravity therefore must have proceeded from the unrestrained overflowing of original sin, and from a wilful neglect of the true religion. Those who despise the light and the blessings of the covenant, shall in like manner be despised of the Lord.

How highly favoured was Sarah, the wife of faithful Abraham. Her age, her honours, her death, are all recorded in sacred history among the princely patriarchs. St. Paul has paid her still greater honour, in making her a figure of the true church, Jerusalem above, which is free, and the mother of us all. Her conception by the special favour of God, at so advanced an age, made both her and her only son the more illustrious, as figures of the assumption, when the divinity became united to our nature, of the substance of the blessed virgin. Let us learn of Sarah and of her husband to wait in faith and patience the sure accomplishment of all the promises.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 23". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/genesis-23.html. 1835.
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