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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

Genesis 23

Verses 1-2

The Death of Sarah

v. 1. And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old; these were the years of the life of Sarah. She thus lived to a ripe old age and saw her son Isaac grow up to full manhood, for the latter was now thirty-seven years old. Meanwhile Abraham had moved back to Hebron.

v. 2. And Sarah died in Kirjath-arba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. It appears from Joshua 14:15 and Judges 1:10 that Hebron, one of the very oldest settlements in Canaan, for a while bore the name of its conqueror, Arba of the Anakims, but the original name was restored by the children of Israel. Here Sarah died. And Abraham came, that is, he went about, he made preparations for the customary period of mourning, the lament for the dead.

Verses 3-9

Abraham Negotiates for a Burial-Place.

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

v. 4. I am a stranger and a sojourner with you; give me a possession of a burying-place with you that I may bury my dead out of my sight. That Abraham observed the usual period of mourning did not in any way conflict with his faith. Sarah had been his wife, a believer in the true God, in spite of all her weaknesses, the mother of all believing women. He had loved her dearly, as a faithful husband should, and she was his even in death. He now left the tent where Sarah lay in state, and appeared in the gate of the city, the customary assembling-place of the people, where all business was commonly transacted. The children of Heth, the Hittites, were living there, for Hebron was located in Hittite country, although not far from that of the Amorites on the west. As a stranger and a nomad in their midst he now negotiated for a burial-place, first of all for Sarah, his wife.

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

v. 6. Hear us, my lord; thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchers bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulcher, but that thou mayest bury thy dead. The narrative presents a beautiful scene of politeness, simplicity, kindness, frankness, humility, modesty, not unmingled with some shades of avarice, as one commentator remarks. Abraham had come to purchase a piece of ground, but with true Oriental ceremoniousness the men of the city drew out the negotiations, paying Abraham the compliment that they considered him a prince of God in their midst, and that he had but to pick out any burial-place which might suit his fancy, and they would feel honored in having him accept it as a gift.

v. 7. And Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth. This ceremonial, rising and bowing, on the part of Abraham signified that he deeply appreciated their compliments and their kindness in making such a liberal offer.

v. 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,

v. 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 burying place amongst you. Abraham continued to conduct his business with all circumspection and politeness, begging the men present to intercede for him with Ephron, a man of some importance in the community, if that was in agreement with their ideas. For this Ephron was the owner of a piece of ground which contained a cave known as Machpelah, which Abraham thought would suit his purposes very well. For full silver he wanted to buy it, that is, he wanted to pay what the land was worth, since he intended to use it for a perpetual place of burial for his family. Believers will always do well if they do not place themselves under obligations to unbelievers, since the result may often react upon their Christianity.

Verses 10-16

The Purchase of Machpelah

v. 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,

v. 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. The same Oriental politeness continued to be exercised throughout. The offer of Ephron, the Hittite, made before the ears of all the members of his tribe and of all his fellow-citizens, was hardly intended seriously; for if Abraham had accepted his offer, he would, according to custom, have expected a very rich counter-present, and, in case Abraham chose to purchase the land, Ephron's offer was designed to prevent any abatement of the price he had fixed in his mind.

v. 12. And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land. He once more gratefully acknowledged the kind intention of the Hittites, also in this offer as made by Ephron; he was not to be outdone in politeness.

v. 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. The words of Abraham at this point indicate some measure of agitation and a shade of impatience: But if thou-Oh, that thou wouldest listen to me! As he had indicated from the start, he did not want the cave as a gift, but had come prepared to pay for it.

v. 14. And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him,

v. 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. Ephron here named his price: "The field-four hundred shekels silver; between me and thee, what is that?" It is named in courtly terms and intimates an apology for the demand, since Abraham would insist upon having it thus. The silver shekel being worth about 50 cents, the piece of land with the cave Machpelah cost Abraham two hundred dollars. "A piece of land of so little value could not be the matter of a long transaction between two rich men. "

v. 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. There were no stamped coins with a fixed value in Canaan at that time, but there seem to have been pieces of silver of a definite weight, which could readily be weighed out. In a transaction such as that recorded here, these pieces were weighed out in order to show that no fraud was being attempted. Abraham weighed out full measure, as it was required with the merchants, in honest business Christians, as the apostle rightly says, will avoid even the appearance of evil. Abraham here gave evidence of his faith by buying a small piece of land in the country which was promised to his descendants, being sure that the Lord would keep His promise.

Verses 17-20

The Burial of Sarah

v. 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

v. 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. The language is that of a formal instrument used in the transfer of real estate; the location of the field is given: before Mamre, over against the grove of Mamre, adjoining the cave Machpelah, which was at one end of it; the description of the property is accurate and includes even the trees on the plot itself and on its borders on every side. The field was thus conveyed to Abraham with all the appurtenances thereof, the record of the transaction being very minute and the witnesses expressly mentioned.

v. 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. That was the object of the purchase of this field with its cave, which from its name may have had two entrances or been a double cavern.

v. 20. And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a burying-place by the sons of Heth. By burying his wife in Canaan, in the Land of Promise, Abraham confessed that Sarah took part in the promised blessing, that her body was buried in the sure hope of the future resurrection by virtue of the redemption of Christ. In that sense the cemeteries of Christian congregations are truly God's acres, from which He will, on the last day, gather the harvest of rich fruit.

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Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Genesis 23". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/genesis-23.html. 1921-23.