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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 23

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Introduction

CHAP. XXIII.

Sarah dies. Abraham agrees with the children of Heth for the possession of a burying-place; and buries Sarah in a cave of the field of Machpelah.

Before Christ 1859.

Verse 1

Genesis 23:1-2. Sarah was an hundred, &c.— It has been observed, that Sarah is the only woman whose entire age is recorded in Scripture. She died in Kirjath-arba, or the city of Arba. It is the same which was afterwards called Hebron. Kirjath-arba signifying properly "the city of four;" the Jews will have it to be so called, because Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were buried there. But it is more reasonable to suppose, from Jos 14:15 that it had its name from Arbah, the father of the Anakims.

Verse 2

Genesis 23:2. Abraham came to mourn Not came from any particular place, or tent, as some would have it; but went forth, ויבא vaiabo, to make a public mourning, or funeral lamentation for this faithful and long-approved companion of his life and labours. It is not possible for us to determine, what particular rites of mourning, or what sort of solemnities were then used at funerals. It should seem from Genesis 23:3, that the corpse was publicly carried forth; as Abraham rose up from before it, to obtain a proper burying-place. See Genesis 3:10.

REFLECTIONS.—Sarah first pays the tribute of nature; and Abraham, justly afflicted with her loss, with tears of no fictitious grief, laments the partner of his cares, who had been so long the comforter of his pilgrimage. Note; 1. Death will part the nearest relatives: let us remember and provide against it. 2. Tears are due to the memory of our departed friends. 3. The great support under such afflictions is, when, though we mourn, we can say, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.

See commentary on Gen 23:1

Verse 4

Genesis 23:4. I am a stranger, &c.— There is something affecting in the venerable patriarch's declaration and request: a stranger in the land of promise, and inheriting no part of it, he requests the possession of a burying-place only for his beloved wife, himself, and family. The Orientals, as Le Clerc observes, seem to have had the same notion about burying-places, which afterwards prevailed among the Greeks and Romans, namely, that it was ignominious to be buried in another's ground; and therefore every family, the poorer sort excepted, had a sepulchre of their own, nor would suffer others to be interred with them. One cannot fail to remark, that interring seems to have been the most ancient, as well as the most natural way of disposing of the dead. "To me," says Cicero, "that appears to have been the most ancient kind of sepulture, which Cyrus, in Xenophon, is said to have made use of. For thus the body is returned to the earth whence it was taken, and so placed and situated, is hid as it were in the womb of the common mother." De legibus, lib. ii. c. 22.

Verses 5-6

Genesis 23:5-6. The children of Heth answered, &c.— The people of Heth no sooner hear, than they grant with one voice, and in the most respectful manner, the petition of Abraham. They call him a mighty prince, in the Hebrew, a prince of God, i.e.. a prince of distinguished greatness and worth, peculiarly favoured and blessed of God, and so regarded by men. Abraham was well known, as he had long dwelt and distinguished himself among that people. See particularly in ch. 14: the account of his confederacy with Mamre, chief of the Hittites, against Chedorlaomer.

Verse 9

Genesis 23:9. Cave of Machpelah Machpelah, in the Hebrew, signifies double; and possibly the cave might be so called, either from having a double entrance, or from being double, one cave within another, as was common: or might it not be called double afterwards, from Abraham and Sarah's being both buried there? This cave, observe, was at the end of the field: the ancients were wiser than to have their burying-places in the midst of cities, much less in the midst of temples! This was left for more modern and refined vanity and absurdity. The same custom of burying in the fields, gardens, &c. prevailed in our Saviour's time. See John 11:30-31; John 11:38. Matthew 27:7; Matthew 27:66.

Verse 10

Genesis 23:10. And Ephron dwelt, &c.— The original word ישׁב (iosheb) signifies sat, and implies, that Ephron had a seat in their council. See Psalms 119:23. He appears to have been a ruler or principal person among them, by Abraham's requesting others to address him. It is ingeniously remarked by Dr. Shuckford, that one would be almost led to think the children of Heth had no king, as Abraham made his application to no particular person, but stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth, Psalms 119:7. And when Ephron and he bargained, their agreement was ratified by a popular council, Psalms 119:10; Psalms 119:13. If Heth was the king of the country, his people had a great share in the administration: and indeed most of the kingdoms in or near Canaan, seem to have been originally so constituted, that the people in them had great liberties and power. Thus it was at Shechem, where Hamor was king: the prince determined nothing, wherein the people were concerned, without communion with the men of his city about it. See ch. Genesis 34:20; Genesis 34:24.

Verse 15

Genesis 23:15. Four hundred shekels, &c.— Money, and pieces of money, have been mentioned before, but this is the first place in which shekels are mentioned. Prideaux, who has given us the best estimation of Hebrew and Attic coins, reckons a shekel to be equivalent to three shillings of English money; so that the sum, which Abraham paid for his new purchase, will amount to sixty pounds sterling. But what is that, said Ephron politely, betwixt me and thee? this is too inconsiderable a matter to merit attention: pay it, if it please you best; if not, accept the land as my present, and bury your dead.

REFLECTIONS.—Abraham in the land of promise had neither house to cover his head, nor sepulchre to bury his dead: but his present situation obliges him to make application for so needful a place. We have here,

1. His application to the children of Heth. He was a stranger among them, and therefore begs the favour to obtain some small spot for a burying-ground. The beautiful Sarah was now no longer pleasing; she must be hid from his sight. Note; (1.) Death makes strange alterations on the fairest face. (2.) The death of others should remind us of our own; we are but strangers in this world, and sojourners, as all our fathers were. (3.) We should beware of overmuch sorrow, and endeavour on religious principles to alleviate that grief, which, if excessive, may hurt ourselves, but cannot profit the dead.

2. His application is received with the most generous offer of one of the best of their sepulchres. Though he called himself a stranger, they acknowledged him a great prince.
3. Their civility meets with a respectful return. He bowed himself in acknowledgment of the favour. It is our duty to be courteous. He begs them to intercede with Ephron to sell the cave of Machpelah. It is no unlawful coveting to desire to purchase what our neighbour can conveniently spare, and we need.
4. Ephron's generosity. He offers to give it; and when Abraham would fain pay him, he mentions the value in such a way, as intimates his readiness to yield it without any consideration. It was prudent and just in Abraham, who was rich, to press the purchase. We should not needlessly be obliged to others. It was noble in Ephron to offer it: it shewed a contempt of worldly wealth, and a pleasure to oblige Abraham, which manifested how much he valued his friendship. Note; (1.) It is well so to behave, as to make our friendship valued and sought. (2.) We find a generosity often among those who pretend not to Christianity, which is a severe reproach on niggardly professors of it. (3.) Between true friends nothing should be reserved. An union of heart will ever in some sort make community of purse. We shall say, What is that between me and thee?

Verse 16

Genesis 23:16. Abraham weighed, &c.— They did not tell the money, as we do now, but gave it out by weight. In time, convenience taught men to give it a public stamp, in order to denote its value: yet it continued to be weighed among the Jews, in David's time; see 1Ch 21:25 and even till the captivity. Indeed, as Bp. Patrick observes, the very word shekel comes from shakal, to weigh. The same custom of weighing prevailed among the Romans till about the four hundred and seventy-fifth year of Rome.

Verse 17

Genesis 23:17. Which was in Machpelah Houbigant is of opinion, that the original word rendered Machpelah, refers to the field, not to the cave; and he renders the passage, possessio agri Ephron, qui erat in eo flexu qui ad Mambre vergebat, tam agri, quam speluncae, omniumq; arborum, quae, &c. "the possession of the field of Ephron, which was in the turning which leads to Mamre, of the field as well as the cave, the trees, &c. that were there." It cannot be supposed, that this cave, where Sarah was buried, had ever been used for that purpose by the Hittites. It was dedicated by Abraham to the immediate use of his own family: and it was secured to him in the presence of the children of Heth, Gen 23:18 who were witnesses to the transaction, and to whom consequently he might appeal in case any controversy should arise.

Verse 18

Genesis 23:18. Before all that went in at the gate See Gen 23:10 and ch. Genesis 19:1. The authors of the Universal History observe, that gates of cities in those days, and for many centuries after, were the places of judicature and common resort. Here the Governors, or elders of the city, met to hear complaints, administer justice, make conveyances of titles and estates, and to transact all the affairs of the place; whence that verse in the Psalms, they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate, i.e.. when they are accused by them before the court of magistrates. It is probable, that the room or hall where the magistrates sat, was over the gates. How considerable they became in time for largeness and sumptuousness, appears by the two kings of Israel and Judah being present at one of them in all their royal splendor, and convening thither four hundred priests of Baal, besides their own guards and officers. It seems as if these places had been at first chosen for the conveniency of the inhabitants, who being all husbandmen, and forced to pass and repass morning and night as they went and came from their labour, might be more easily called as they went by, whenever they were wanted to appear in any business. These gates were likewise markets for provisions like those of the Romans, as appears by the prophet Elisha's foretelling an incredible plenty to happen next day in the midst of a famine, at the gate of Samaria. What the number of magistrates was, how far their power extended, and how many orders of them there were, is not to be gathered from Scripture; only it is plain there could be but few of the latter, since in the time of Joshua, we can find but four sorts of them, viz. the elders, the heads of the people, the judges, and the officers. Abraham therefore could not make his purchase from Ephron the Hittite, without having recourse to the city-gates.

REFLECTIONS.—Abraham preferring the purchase, Ephron accepts the money, and conveys to him the field where the cave stood, with all its appurtenances. Abraham is put in possession, and the children of Heth witness the bargain; and there Sarah's corpse is deposited. Learn hence, 1. Fair reckonings make fast friends. 2. Fidelity in our agreements and bargains is to be scrupulously observed. 3. The decent care of a burial may be considered as a profession of our hope of the resurrection of the body. 4. While we are so solicitous in general for a burying-place for our bodies in the earth, let it quicken us to greater solicitude, to secure a resting-place for our souls in heaven.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 23". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/genesis-23.html. 1801-1803.
 
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