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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 23

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Genesis 23:0


Death and Burial of SarahSarah's Death and BurialAbraham's Purchase of a Family Burial PlaceSarah Dies and Abraham buys a Burial GroundThe Tomb of the Patriarchs
Genesis 23:1-16Genesis 23:1-16Genesis 23:1-16Genesis 23:1-2Genesis 23:1-2
Genesis 23:3-4Genesis 23:3-6
Genesis 23:5-6
Genesis 23:7-9Genesis 23:7-11
Genesis 23:10-11
Genesis 23:12-13Genesis 23:12-16
Genesis 23:14-16
Genesis 23:17-20Genesis 23:17-20Genesis 23:17-20Genesis 23:17-18Genesis 23:17-20
Genesis 23:19-20

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 23:1-16 1Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, 4"I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight." 5The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, 6"Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead." 7So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. 8And he spoke with them, saying, "If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, 9that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site." 10Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, 11"No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead." 12And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. 13He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, "If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there." 14Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, 15"My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead." 16Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard.

Genesis 23:1 The rabbis say that when Abraham returned home and told Sarah what he had done, in response she issued seven loud cries and died. Her death is recorded in chapter 23. Whether this is true or not, we can certainly see where the rabbis got their interpretation!

Genesis 23:2 "Kiriath-arba" This name (BDB 900) is made up of

1. "Kiriath" means "city"

2. "Arba"

a. usually translated "city of four" (i.e., Anak and his three sons or four villages together)

b. the same root means ambush (BDB 70)

c. a person's name, one of the Anakim, Joshua 14:15; Joshua 15:13; Joshua 21:11

See Special Topic: Giants.

"Abraham went in to mourn Sarah and weep for her" One wonders how long this mourning and negotiating with the locals lasted. The body of Sarah would deteriorate quickly in this climate (see the chapter on Death and Funeral Rites" in Ancient Israel: Social Institutions, vol. 1 by Roland deVaux, pp 56-61). Today in Israel (which still does not embalm) one must be buried within twenty four hours.

Genesis 23:3-13 What follows through the rest of the chapter is a record of the dialogue (using formalized and standard Oriental customs) between the local inhabitants near Hebron and Abraham. Note the formalities expressed in IMPERATIVES (note paragraphing of TEV).

1. "give me," Genesis 23:3, BDB 678, KB 733, Qal IMPERATIVE in the sense of a request

2. "burial site," Genesis 23:3 (lit. possession for a burying place), BDB 868, KB 1064, Qal COHORTATIVE

3. "hear," Genesis 23:6, BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERATIVE (used by the sons of Heth to Abraham)

4. "bury your dead," Genesis 23:6, BDB 868, KB 1064, Qal IMPERATIVE (this was not what Abraham wanted to do, i.e., bury Sarah on one of their lands)

5. "hear," Genesis 23:8, same as #3, but Abraham speaks to them

6. "approach" (or entreat), Genesis 23:8, BDB 803, KB 910, Qal IMPERATIVE (as request)

7. "give," Genesis 23:9, BDB 678, KB 733


b. Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

(Ephron responds in Genesis 23:11 [three Qal PERFECTS], but this is not a literal offer of a gift of the land, rather part of the expected negotiations; it basically denotes a pending sale)

8. "hear," Genesis 23:11, same as #3 and #5 (Ephron speaks to Abraham and offers the cave and the field)

9. "bury," Genesis 23:11, same as #4

10. "listen" (lit. "hear"), Genesis 23:13, same as #3,5,8 (Abraham speaks to Ephron)

11. "hear," Genesis 23:15, same as #3,5,8,10 (Ephron speaks to Abraham in such a way about the price of the field that all negotiation over the price is excluded, and this was apparently a high price)

Much of this dialogue seems formal or repetitious to us, but it was the expected protocol of Canaanite society in the second millennium B.C.

Genesis 23:3 "the sons of Heth" The name Heth (תח, BDB 366) is an ancestor of the Hittites (יתח, BDB 366, cf. Genesis 10:15; 1 Chronicles 1:13). See Special Topic: PRE-ISRAELITE INHABITANTS OF PALESTINE.

Genesis 23:4 "a stranger and a sojourner" These two terms have different connotations, but are probably here a hendiadys.

1. "a stranger" (BDB 158) implies an alien resident, cf. Genesis 15:13; Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19; Deuteronomy 23:8

2. "a sojourner" (BDB 444) is an alien just passing through with no legal rights, Leviticus 22:10; Leviticus 25:40

Possibly taken together, they imply someone who moved into an unsettled area, but did not own land. See article on "Resident Aliens" in Ancient Israel: Social Institutions, vol. 1, by Roland deVaux, pp. 74-76.

Genesis 23:6 "you are a mighty prince" The term translated "mighty" is the term elohim (BDB 43), which can be used of

1. God, see Special Topic: Names for Deity

2. judges

3. angels

4. here denoting a powerful, local, family leader

The translation "mighty" comes from the root meaning of el (BDB 42, cf. 1 Chronicles 12:22; Psalms 68:15; Jonah 3:3). Some commentators want to translate it "prince of God."

The term translated "prince" (BDB 672) means "one lifted up" (from basic root, BDB 669). The NASB translates it as

1. "prince" in Genesis 17:20; Genesis 25:16; Genesis 34:2

2. "leader" in Exodus 16:22; Numbers 1:16, Numbers 1:44; Numbers 2:3; Joshua 22:32

3. "ruler" in Exodus 22:28; Exodus 34:31; Exodus 35:27; 1 Kings 11:34

4. "chief" in Joshua 13:21

In this highly stylized negotiation this is a polite title of respect. The Hittites are not making a religious statement.

Genesis 23:9 "the cave of Machpelah" This seems to be a cave (common burial place) located in the district of Machpelah, an outlying region from Hebron toward Mamre (cf. Genesis 13:18; Genesis 14:13; Genesis 18:1).

Several of Abraham's family were buried here.

1. Sarah, Genesis 23:19

2. Abraham, Genesis 25:9

3. Isaac, Genesis 35:29

4. Rebekah and Leah, Genesis 49:31

5. Jacob, Genesis 50:13

Genesis 23:10 "at the gate" This would have been the place where local leaders met for fellowship, commerce, and legal matters.

"the Hittite" See Special Topic: Pre-Israelite Inhabitants of Palestine.

Genesis 23:15 "shekels" See Special Topic: Ancient Near East Weights and Volumes.

Verses 17-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 23:17-20 17So Ephron's field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over 18to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth.

Genesis 23:17 "were deeded over" The VERB (BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal IMPERFECT) means to raise or stand up. It came to refer to legal transactions as being established. Abraham now officially owned land in Palestine/Canaan. He was no longer a sojourner and alien.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 23". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/genesis-23.html. 2021.
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