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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Genesis 23

 

 

Verse 1

And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah.

Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old, ... - the only woman in Scripture whose age, death, and burial are mentioned, probably to do honour to the venerable mother of the Hebrew people.


Verse 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. Sarah in Kirjath-arba - i:e., the city of Arba; an Anakite chief. A Rabbinical tradition, which Jerome embodied in his commentary, interprets the name Kirjath-arba as signifying 'the city of the four'-namely, Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who are alleged to be buried in its neighbourhood. But none of the fathers who preceded Jerome have mentioned this legend; and it is superfluous to add that it has no Scriptural foundation.

The same is Hebron in the land of Canaan. Hebron is generally regarded as a name of later origin, bestowed upon it after the conquest of Canaan by Caleb, who received that town and the neighbouring grounds as his allotted portion. But this, though a common, is an erroneous opinion; and satisfactory evidence will be produced afterward (see the note at Joshua 14:15; Judges 1:10) to prove that Kirjath-arba became the designation of the place after the time of the patriarchs, when, upon the expulsion of the Hittites, it fell into the possession of the Anakim, and that the Hebrews, who, on their entrance into the promised land, called it Hebron, only restored its original name - i:e., the Place of Alliance, founded on circumstances in the history of their great ancestor (Genesis 14:13).

Hebron was one of the most ancient cities in the world (Numbers 13:22). Robinson says that it stood in 'the vale of Hebron,' on the identical spot occupied by the modern town (El Khulil). But others, who have more leisurely and carefully reconnoitered the ground, conclude, from the traces of ruins still visible among the vineyards on the brow of the adjoining hill, Jebel Beilun, that the site of the ancient city must be sought for 'further to the north, if not on the hill at the western side of the wady' ('Tent and Khan').

It was not, however, in the town, but in the neighbouring grove at Mamre (Genesis 13:18), that Abraham's encampment was pitched. The clause "in the land of Canaan" is added, to show that Sarah died and was buried in the land of promise.

Abraham came to mourn for Sarah. ... Since Sarah had reached so advanced an age, and must have long

been exhibiting signs of gradual decay, it cannot be supposed that, at such a time, Abraham would remain with his flocks in the distant pasture lands around Beer-sheba, and leave his venerable partner alone at Hebron. We must assume that he had removed with his whole establishment some time before, to his favourite camping ground at Mamre. He came from his own tent to take his station at the door of Sarah's (Numbers 19:14). The corpse being laid near the open door, the mourners sat before it. The 'mourning' describes his conformity to the customary usage of sitting on the ground for a time (Isaiah 47:1); while the 'weeping' indicates the natural outburst of his sorrow, accompanied by his attendants with the vehement outcries, the beating of the breasts, and other violent gesticulations, which Orientals use in expressing grief. The two words, "mourn" and "weep for her," may be considered as indicating the natural sorrow for the loss of a wife, and the funeral usages in honour of the dead.


Verse 3

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

Abraham stood up, ... Eastern people are always provided with family burying-places; even nomadic shepherds have their ancestral sepulchres; but Abraham's life of faith-his pilgrim state-had prevented him acquiring even so small a possession (A. 7, 5). Spake unto the sons of Heth. No mention is made of Mamre, whence some have concluded that he and the other Amorites had been dispossessed, and that a Hittite tribe was now master of Hebron; while others suppose that the Amorite chiefs, as their name indicates, frequented the mountainous neighbourhood; while "the sons of Heth," elsewhere called "the children of the land," resided in towns and villages. This may account for a nomadic shepherd. like Abraham, having little acquaintance with the principal resident proprietor, or perhaps local ruler (Genesis 23:10), in Hebron, bespeaking their kind offices to aid him in obtaining possession of a cave that belonged to Ephron, a wealthy neighbour.


Verse 4-5

I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.

No JFB commentary on these verses.


Verse 6

Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.

Thou art a mighty prince - literally, a prince of God.

None of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre. The Septuagint renders it: 'none of us shall prevent you burying your dead in his sepulchre.' But this gives a totally different meaning. It implies a permission to use; whereas our version expresses a free offer of possession.


Verse 7-8

And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth.

No JFB commentary on these verses.


Verse 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 buryingplace amongst you.

Machpelah - signifies double. [The Hebrew text has Makpeelaah (Hebrew #4375); the Septuagint, to speelaion to dipoun, the double cave.] It was probably a cave hewn out of the solid rock, and divided into two parts, as was usual in the graves of the rich.

Which is in the end of his field. In patriarchal times the pastures on the mountains, and throughout the country at large, were an open common, occupied by a number of independent tribes; while the lands in the neighbourhood of towns, being cultivated, were divided into small portions, or separate fields, which became the exclusive possession of certain proprietors. Though fences, such as are raised in this country, are entirely unknown in the East, the extent of the separate fields was well defined; and, in the absence of any natural boundaries, some large stone, or heap of stones, served as a landmark to determine the limits of each owner's property (see Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17; Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28).


Verse 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,

Ephron dwelt - literally, was 'sitting' among the children of Heth in the gate of the city, where social intercourse was enjoyed, and all business was transacted. But though a chief man among them, he was probably unknown to Abraham.


Verse 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.

Ephron answered, Nay, my lord, ... Here is a great show of generosity, but it was only a show-a characteristically Oriental scene; for while Abraham wanted only the cave, he joins "the field and the cave;" and though he offered them both as free gifts, he of course expected some costly presents in return, with which he would not have been easily satisfied. The patriarch knowing this, wished to make a purchase, and which he would not have been easily satisfied. The patriarch knowing this, wished to make a purchase, and asked the terms.


Verses 12-14

And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land.

No JFB commentary on these verses.


Verse 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.

The land is worth four hundred shekels, ... - as if Ephron had said, Since you wish to know the value of the property, it is so and so; but that is a trifle which you may pay or not, as it suits you. He spoke in the common forms of Arab civility, and this indifference was mere affectation.

What is that betwixt me and thee? Since the attitudes of respect which the usages of social life in the East require were carefully observed on this occasion, we should expect to find similar politeness in the tone of the language; and yet Ephron, while addressing Abraham, who was his equal, if not his superior, puts himself first. However contrary to our notions of good breeding, this is the customary practice in the East (cf. 1 Samuel 24:12).


Verse 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.

Abraham weighed ... the silver. The term shekel-the original word retained by our translators, and signifying weight-is used to denote not a coin, but determinate piece of silver, bearing a stamp indicating its fineness and quantity, probably made upon it by the Phoenician merchants. Silver was, in very ancient times, employed as money in preference to gold-of the use of which in pecuniary negotiations Scripture furnishes no instance before the reign of David. (2 Samuel 24:24; 1 Chronicles 21:25). The price, amounting to fifty pounds, which, notwithstanding the professedly proffered generosity of Ephron, was probably an exorbitant sum-far above the real value of the property-was paid in presence of the assembled witnesses; and it was weighed. The practice of weighing money, which is often in lumps or rings stamped each with their weight, is still common in many parts of the East; and every merchant at the gates or the bazaar has his scales at his girdle. The Hittites, being of Phoenician origin, were acquainted with the usages of trade; and hence, we find that, while at a time long subsequent to this-in the days of Jacob-barter was the simple method of exchange practised in Mesopotamia, in Canaan the natives made payments in money 'current with the merchant.'


Verse 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

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 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 field of Ephron was made sure unto Abraham for a possession. This is the earliest instance of a transference of property on record. There was no attorney, no parchment, no seal or signature attached to a deed, no register house in which to deposit it among the municipal archives of Hebron. It was entirely an oral transaction; yet the act of conveyancing was marked by a particularity of details and specifications-field, cave, ilexes, "in all the borders round about," - as minute as could be done in a modern legal document; and, being completed in the presence of known witnesses-probably the elders and magistrates-was considered, according to the notions and customs of patriarchal times, as binding as the strictest forms of written law could have made it. On the part of Abraham, however, this was not simply a commercial transaction: it was an act of faith, performed in steadfast regard to the promise. It was an earnest of the future possession of the land by his posterity, which in consequence of the public compact with the children of Heth, became universally known.


Verse 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.

Abraham buried Sarah. Thus, he got possession of Machpelah, and deposited the remains of his lamented partner in a family vault, which was the only spot of ground he owned. It is said that the cave of Machpelah was 'at the end of the field'-before, i:e., over against, Mamre, the same as Hebron; and all writers, from Josephus downward, who have described this interesting sepulchre, represent the spot as at, or in Hebron, not near it (see list of them in Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' vol. 2:, pp. 435-9). It is now covered by a colossal structure, in the form of a parallelogram, called the Haram, erected by Jewish hands, long before the destruction of the nation-as early, according to some, as the time of the monarchy under Solomon or David; and others even go so far as to maintain that the huge compact stones in the quadrangle may be remanent portions of the monuments which, according to Josephus, Abraham himself reared. Thus the Jewish, Christian, and Mohammedan possessors of the land have all united in preserving the identity of the sacred tomb, which, there is every reason to believe, is at present concealed by the superincumbent edifice of the Haram, but the interior of which, with its venerable relics, it may be confidently expected, will be ere long opened for the inspection of the Christian world, (see further the note at Genesis 50:13.)

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 23:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/genesis-23.html. 1871-8.

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Saturday, January 25th, 2020
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