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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Genesis 23

Verses 1-2

Sarah is the only woman whose age is mentioned in the Scriptures, because as the mother of the promised seed she became the mother of all believers (1 Peter 3:6). She died at the age of 127, thirty-seven years after the birth of Isaac, at Hebron, or rather in the grove of Mamre near that city (Genesis 13:18), whither Abraham had once more returned after a lengthened stay at Beersheba (Genesis 22:19). The name Kirjath Arba, i.e., the city of Arba, which Hebron bears here and also in Genesis 35:27, and other passages, and which it still bore at the time of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites (Joshua 14:15), was not the original name of the city, but was first given to it by Arba the Anakite and his family, who had not yet arrived there in the time of the patriarchs. It was probably given by them when they took possession of the city, and remained until the Israelites captured it and restored the original name. The place still exists, as a small town on the road from Jerusalem to Beersheba, in a valley surrounded by several mountains, and is called by the Arabs, with allusion to Abraham's stay there, el Khalil, i.e., the friend (of God), which is the title given to Abraham by the Mohammedans. The clause “ in the land of Canaan ” denotes, that not only did Sarah die in the land of promise, but Abraham as a foreigner acquired a burial-place by purchase there. “ And Abraham came ” (not from Beersheba, but from the field where he may have been with the flocks), “ to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her, ” i.e., to arrange for the customary mourning ceremony.

Verses 3-16

He then went to the Hittites, the lords and possessors of the city and its vicinity at that time, to procure from them “a possession of a burying-place.” The negotiations were carried on in the most formal style, in a public assembly “of the people of the land,” i.e., of natives (Genesis 23:7), in the gate of the city (Genesis 23:10). As a foreigner and sojourner, Abraham presented his request in the most courteous manner to all the citizens (“all that went in at the gate,” Genesis 23:10, Genesis 23:18; a phrase interchangeable with “all that went out at the gate,” Genesis 34:24, and those who “go out and in,” Jeremiah 17:19). The citizens with the greatest readiness and respect offered “the prince of God,” i.e., the man exalted by God to the rank of a prince, “the choice” ( מבחר , i.e., the most select) of their graves for his use (Genesis 23:6). But Abraham asked them to request Ephron, who, to judge from the expression “his city” in Genesis 23:10, was then ruler of the city, to give him for a possession the cave of Machpelah, at the end of his field, of which he was the owner, “for full silver,” i.e., for its full worth. Ephron thereupon offered to make him a present of both field and cave. This was a turn in the affair which is still customary in the East; the design, so far as it is seriously meant at all, being either to obtain a present in return which will abundantly compensate for the value of the gift, or, what is still more frequently the case, to preclude any abatement in the price to be asked. The same design is evident in the peculiar form in which Ephron stated the price, in reply to Abraham's repeated declaration that he was determined to buy the piece of land: “a piece of land of 400 shekels of silver, what is that between me and thee” (Genesis 23:15)? Abraham understood it so ( ישׁמע Genesis 23:16), and weighed him the price demanded. The shekel of silver “current with the merchant,” i.e., the shekel which passed in trade as of standard weight, was 274 Parisian grains, so that the price of the piece of land was £52, 10s.; a very considerable amount for that time.

Verses 17-19

Thus arose ( ויּקם ) the Abraham for a possession; ” i.e., it was conveyed to him in all due legal form. The expression “the field of Ephron which is at Machpelah” may be explained, according to Genesis 23:9, from the fact that the cave of Machpelah was at the end of the field, the field, therefore, belonged to it. In Genesis 23:19 the shorter form, “cave of Machpelah,” occurs; and in Genesis 23:20 the field is distinguished from the cave. The name Machpelah is translated by the lxx as a common noun, τὸ σπήλαιον τὸ διπλοῦν , from מכפּלה doubling; but it had evidently grown into a proper name, since it is sued not only of the cave, but of the adjoining field also (Genesis 49:30; Genesis 50:13), though it undoubtedly originated in the form of the cave. The cave was before, i.e., probably to the east of, the grove of Mamre, which was in the district of Hebron. This description cannot be reconciled with the tradition, which identifies Mamre and the cave with Ramet el Khalil, where the strong foundation-walls of an ancient heathen temple (according to Rosenmüller's conjecture, an Idumaean one) are still pointed out as Abraham's house, and where a very old terebinth stood in the early Christian times; for this is an hour's journey to the north of modern Hebron, and even the ancient Hebron cannot have stretched so far over the mountains which separate the modern city from Rameh, but must also, according to Genesis 37:14, have been situated in the valley (see Robinson's later Biblical Researches, pp. 365ff.). There is far greater probability in the Mohammedan tradition, that the Harem, built of colossal blocks with grooved edges, which stands on the western slope of the Beabireh mountain, in the north-western portion of the present town, contains hidden within it the cave of Machpelah with the tomb of the patriarchs (cf. Robinson, Pal. ii. 435ff.); and Rosen. is induced to look for Mamre on the eastern slope of the Rumeidi hill, near to the remarkable well Ain el Jedid.

Verse 20

The repetition of the statement, that the field with the cave in it was conveyed to Abraham by the Hittites for a burial-place, which gives the result of the negotiation that has been described with, so to speak, legal accuracy, shows the great importance of the event to the patriarch. The fact that Abraham purchased a burying-place in strictly legal form as an hereditary possession in the promised land, was a proof of his strong faith in the promises of God and their eventual fulfilment. In this grave Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, were buried; there Jacob buried Leah; and there Jacob himself requested that he might be buried, thus declaring his faith in the promises, even in the hour of his death.

Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Genesis 23". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.