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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 23

DEATH AND BURIAL OF SARAH, Genesis 23:1-20.

At length a dark shadow falls over the aged patriarch’s path. The revelations and promises have ceased, his history drops down to the mere facts of domestic life, and hastens to its close. The beloved wife dies and is buried out of his sight, but faith in the word of God abides.

Verse 1

1. A hundred and seven and twenty The only woman whose age is given in the Bible is this mother of the chosen seed . Sixty-two years had passed since she left Haran to wander with her husband she knew not whither, and thirty-seven years since Isaac’s birth .

Verse 2

2. Sarah died in Kirjath-arba To this place Abraham had again brought his family after his residence in Beer-sheba . Genesis 22:19. Kirjath-arba appears to have been the original name of Hebron, named after its founder or distinguished resident, Arba, a chief among the Anakim . Joshua 14:15. Mamre was in the immediate neighbourhood . See on Genesis 13:18.

In the land of Canaan As distinguished from the land of the Philistines . Genesis 21:34.

Came to mourn This implies that he was absent from Hebron when she died . His coming may have been from Beer-sheba, whither he had gone for some business with his distant herdsmen, (comp . Genesis 37:12-17,) or from some other similar field of his flocks; or perhaps from the neighbouring Mamre . Some suppose that the expression is only a formal mode of statement, not necessarily implying absence from home.

To mourn… to weep A great display of loud lamentation and bitter weeping would be made on occasion of the death of one so distinguished as Sarah. This is a part of Oriental reverence and respect for the dead. Comp. Genesis 50:1-4; Genesis 50:10.

Verse 3

3. Stood up from before his dead After being bowed down with the mourning for Sarah, he rose up from the presence of his beloved dead, and went forth to secure a burying place . The standing up and bowing were essential parts of Oriental etiquette . Comp . Genesis 23:7.

Sons of Heth The same as the Hittites, a Canaanitish tribe, sprung from the Heth named in Genesis 10:14, who settled in this part of Canaan . They were, perhaps, only a southern colony of the great people who figure on the Assyrian monuments as Khatti, and on the Egyptian monuments as Khita, whose chief seat was on the Orontes, but whose dominion was widespread over Syria and Asia Minor. They appear to have been a powerful military nation in the time of the later kings of Israel. 2 Kings 7:6-7. Inscriptions recently discovered at Hamah and other places are believed to be records of this ancient and powerful people.

Verse 4

4. I am a stranger and a sojourner Though heir of the world (Romans 4:13) and rich in promised possessions, he confessed himself but a stranger and a pilgrim, (comp . Hebrews 11:13-16,) and never owned a place of rest except his grave .

A possession of a burying place “This is the first mention of burial. It was noted by the heathen historian as a characteristic of the Jews, that they preferred to bury their dead rather than to burn them. Tacitus, Hist. 5: 5. It is observable that this is first mentioned when the first death takes place in the family of him who had received the promises. The care of the bodies of the departed is a custom apparently connected with the belief in their sanctity as vessels of the grace of God, and with the hope that they may be raised again in the day of the restitution of all things.” Speaker’s Commentary.

Verse 6

6. Thou art a mighty prince Hebrews, a prince of God . These Hitties had observed that Abraham was one on whom God had put honour . Compare Abimelech’s words in Genesis 21:22.

In the choice In the one thou may choose for thyself . Abraham had a choice, and in most respectful form he shows (Genesis 23:8-9) that he has already made a choice in the possession of one of the Hittite chiefs . But to obtain it requires diplomacy and tact . If the ancient habits of making a bargain were like the modern in the East, all this generous liberality on the part of the sons of Heth was but a courteous formality, and was so understood by Abraham .

Verse 8

8. He communed with them Thus it appears there was a large amount of talking on the occasion .

Entreat for me He seeks the mediation and help of these Hittites that he may obtain his desire . Much depends, in such transactions, on influence brought to bear on the owner .

Verse 9

9. Machpelah This is to be regarded as a proper name applied both to the cave and to the field in which it was located . Comp . Genesis 23:17; Genesis 23:19. The Septuagint and Vulgate render it as an adjective the double cave; and perhaps two compartments or two entrances into the cave may have occasioned the name Machpelah, which is derived from כפל , caphal, to double. Gesenius, however, gives this root the sense of to divide, and to Machpelah the sense of portion, part, lot. There is little or no doubt that this important cave is now covered by the Mosque of Hebron, of which a cut is given herewith. It has been kept hermetically sealed for ages and since the Mohammedans possesed it, no Christian has been permitted inside the mosque except the Prince of Wales and his attendants, who in 1862, after much effort and diplomacy, were allowed to go in and look upon the cenotaphs which are supposed to stand above the several tombs. Into the cave, of course, they could not enter, and it is believed that no one has entered it for more than a thousand years. See the account of the prince’s visit, and a plan of the interior of the mosque, in Stanley’s History of the Jewish Church, vol. i, Appendix 2.

For as much money as it is worth Hebrews, for full money. Abraham will have a complete bargain; no gift, no half-price, no misunderstanding, from which any after strife might come.

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Verse 10

10. Ephron… at the gate of his city Here note that the scene has changed . Those children of Heth with whom Abraham first communed (Genesis 23:8) on the purchase of the cave, have broken the matter to the owner, and he now appears sitting ישׁב at the gate, where all such business is publicly transacted in the audience, or hearing, of all that congregated there, and speaks . See further on Genesis 23:17.

Verse 11

11. Give I thee Three times over this princely son of Zohar offers to give field, cave, and all. And yet, doubtless, like the modern sheik, he would expect a splendid present in return, or, by his show of kindness and profuse liberality, prevent Abraham from objecting to his price when once named.

Verse 12

12. Bowed Thus again (comp . Genesis 23:3; Genesis 23:7) he courteously acknowledges the friendly spirit and generosity of these Hittites .

Verse 13

13. But if thou wilt Hebrews, only if thou would that thou wouldst hear me . There is a tender emotionality about his words . He is in no mood to parley long .

I will give thee money Or, I have given thee money; that is, I have purposed in heart to buy the field for money; I will have it in no other way .

Verse 15

15. Four hundred shekels of silver A nearer approach to the sense here would be four hundred weight of silver, for the payment was by weight, not in coins . We have no means of knowing the value of a shekel of silver in Abraham’s time . The silver shekel of New Testament times has been estimated at sixty cents, four hundred of which would accordingly be $240. But probably the four hundred weight of silver which Ephron named was of much greater value.

Verse 16

16. Abraham weighed… the silver “Ancient money, being uncoined, was weighed instead of being counted . Even to this day the Oriental merchants weigh the silver and the gold which are the medium of traffic; not only the bullion, but the coined pieces also, lest some dishonest trader might pass upon them a coin of light weight . The ancient Egyptians, and some other nations, used rings of gold and silver for the same purposes that coins are now used.” FREEMAN’S Handbook of Bible Manners and Customs.

Current money Hebrews, silver passing to the merchant. That is, such as passed among the merchants of that time.

Verse 17

17. Field… cave… trees… borders Observe how every thing is specified The importance of this is still understood . “It is not enough,” says Thomson, “that you purchase a well-known lot; the contract must mention every thing that belongs to it, and certify that fountains or wells in it, trees upon it, etc . , are sold with the field . If you rent a house, not only the building itself, but every room in it, above and below, down to the kitchen, pantry, stable, and hen-coop, must be specified . ” Land and Book, vol . ii, p . 383 .

Made sure The same word is repeated in Genesis 23:20. This possession was publicly and legally confirmed to Abraham . On this Dr . Thomson also writes: “When any sale is now to be effected in a town or village, the whole population gather about the parties at the usual place of concourse . There all take part, and enter into the pros and cons with as much earnestness as if it were their own individual affair . By these means, the operation, in all its circumstances and details, is known to many witnesses, and the thing is made sure, without any written contract. In fact, up to this day, in this very city of Hebron, a purchase thus witnessed is legal, while the best-drawn deeds of a London lawyer, though signed and sealed, would be of no avail without such living witnesses.”

Verse 19

19. After this, Abraham buried Sarah He has now one secure possession wherein to bury his dead . Here he himself was afterwards buried, (Genesis 25:9,) and here also Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah . Genesis 49:31; Genesis 50:13. Is it not noticeable of Abraham and his seed that their first and last possession in the land of promise is a grave?

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 23". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-23.html. 1874-1909.