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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary
Genesis 23

 

 

Verse 1

Genesis 23:1 And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.

Ver. 1. And Sarah was a hundred, &c.] It is observed by divines, that God thought not fit to tell us of the length of the life of any woman in Scripture, but Sarah, to humble that sex, that because they were first in bringing in death, deserved not to have the continuance of their lives recorded by God’s pen.


Verse 2

Genesis 23:2 And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same [is] Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.

Ver. 2. And Sarah died.] The Jews would persuade us that the devil represented to her the offering of Isaac, whereat she took sick and died. This is but a mere conceit of theirs; for Abraham then dwelt at Beersheba, now at Hebron.

And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah.] So she was the first that we read of mourned for at death; and it is mentioned as an honour to her. Solon’s Mors mea ne careat lachrymis , is to be preferred before Ennius’s Nemo me decoret lachrymis . It is one of the dues of the dead, (a) to be lamented at their funerals; and the want of it is threatened as a curse in many scriptures. It is a practice warranted by the best in all ages; and mourn we may in death of friends, so we mourn (1.) in truth, and not feignedly; (2.) in measure, and not as men without hope. For the first, how grossly did Tiberius dissemble at the death of Augustus, (b) and at the funeral of Drusus! Whereupon Tacitus makes his note, Vana et irrisa vero et honesto fidem adimunt . So when Julius Caesar wept over Pompey’s head, presented to him in Egypt, they that saw it, laughed in their sleeves, (c) and held them no better than crocodile’s tears. So the mourning that Nero and his mother made over the Emperor Claudius, whose death they had conspired and effected, was deep dissimulation. (d) This is no less hateful, than to mourn heartily, but yet immoderately, is unlawful. Here Jacob forgat himself, when so overgrown with grief for his Joseph, [Genesis 37:35] and Rachel for the rest of their children, that they would not be comforted. [Jeremiah 31:15] So David for his Absalom: Alexander the Great for his friend Hephestion; when he not only clipped his horses’ and mules’ hair, but plucked down also the battlements of the walls of the city, &c. The soldiers of Pelopidas (e) were no less excessive, when for grief of his death they would neither unbridle their horses, nor untie their armour, nor dress their wounds. Something here may be yielded to nature, nothing to impatience. Immoderate sorrow for losses past hope of recovery is more sullen than useful. Our stomach may be bewrayed by it, not our wisdom. The Egyptians mourned seventy days for Jacob: Joseph (who had more cause, but with it more grace) mourned but twenty days. God flatly forbade his people those heathenish customs, of shaving their heads and cutting their flesh, [Leviticus 21:1] in token of mourning for the dead. We read in the gospel of minstrels and people making a noise (f) at the terming-house, as they call it. [Matthew 9:23] And the Jews that were comforting Mary, when they saw her rise up hastily and go forth, followed her, saying, "She goeth unto the grave to weep there". [John 11:31] Such customs, it seems, they had in those days among them, to provoke themselves to weeping and lamentation; which was, saith one, (g) as if they that have the dropsy should eat salt meats. How much better father Abraham here, who came indeed from his own tent to Sarah’s, to mourn for her (as good reason he had), but exceeded not, as the Jews think is signified by that one letter less than ordinary in the Hebrew word for weep (Libcothah) used here in the text. {Hebrew Text Note} Baal-turim gives but a bald reason of it: Parum flevit; erat enim vetula ; Abraham wept not much for her, she being but an old wife, and past her best. Buxtorf gives a better: Potius quia luctus eius fuit moderatus . And therefore also in the next verse it is said, that he stood up from before his dead - where in likelihood he had sat a while on the earth, as was the manner of mourners to do [Job 2:12-13 Isaiah 47:1] - to take order for her burial, as having good hopes of a glorious resurrection. Excellent for our purpose is that of St Jerome, Lugeatur mortuus, sed ille quem Gehenna suscipit, quem Tartarns devorat, in cuius poenam aeternus ignis aestuat. Nos, quorum exitum Angelorum turba comitatur, quibus obviam Christus occurret, &c., gravemur magis, si diutius in tabernaculo isto habitemus . Mourn for none, but such as are dead in their sins, killed with death, as those in Revelation 2:23.


Verse 3

Genesis 23:3 And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying,

Ver. 3. And Abraham stood up from before his dead.] So she is called eight several times in this chapter; to note that death makes not any such divorce between godly couples and friends, but that there remains still a blessed conjunction between them, which is founded in the hope of a happy resurrection. (a) Job’s children were still his, even after they were dead and buried. How else could it be said, that God "gave Job twice as much of everything as he had before," [Job 42:10; Job 42:13; Job 1:2] since he had afterwards but his first number of children, viz., "seven sons and three daughters"?


Verse 4

Genesis 23:4 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.

Ver. 4. That I may bury my dead out of my sight.] She that had been "the desire of his eyes," [Ezekiel 24:16] the sweet companion of his life, is by death so defaced, that he loathes to look on her. This we are to think on in our mourning for the dead; to bewail the common curse of mankind, the defacing of God’s image by death through sin, &c. And yet to comfort ourselves in this, that these "vile bodies" of ours, shall once be "conformed to Christ’s glorious body," [Philippians 3:21] the standard in incorruption, agility, beauty, brightness, and other most blessed and inconceivable parts and properties.


Verse 5

Genesis 23:5 And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him,

Ver. 5. And the children of Heth answered Abraham.] "With good words and comfortable". {as Zechariah 1:13} "Be pitiful, be courteous". [1 Peter 3:8]


Verse 6

Genesis 23:6 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.

Ver. 6. Thou art a prince of God amongst us.] That is, excellent or prosperous, as Genesis 21:22; and it was their ingenuity and candour to acknowledge it. God’s people are "princes in all lands" [Psalms 45:16] Kings they are in righteousness and peace; but somewhat obscure ones, as was Melehizedek, and therefore little set by. [1 John 3:1-2] Unkent, unkist, as the northern proverb is. So was Christ the heir of all. But "we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him"; that is enough for us. In the meantime, "the righteous is more excellent than his neighbour" (let him dwell by whomsoever), and shall be more prosperous, if it may be for his good.


Verse 7

Genesis 23:7 And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, [even] to the children of Heth.

Ver. 7. Abraham stood up and bowed himself, &c.] It is very comely in Christians to salute willingly; and in words and gestures to show civil respect even to wicked men. Abraham’s behaviour to these Hittites may shame the most Christians; yea, the very Hittites themselves may teach them good manners. Even the savage cannibals, saith a grave divine, (a) may receive an answer of outward courtesy. If a very dog fawn upon us, we stroke him on the head, and clap him on the side. Much less is the common band of humanity untied by grace. If Elisha bade his man, or our Saviour his disciples, salute no man by the way, that was for haste’s sake; they should not hinder themselves in their journey by overmuch courtesy. Our Saviour was sweet and sociable in his whole conduct, and the proud Pharisees upbraided him for it. He never refused to go to any man’s table when invited, yea, to Zaccheus’ he invited himself, not for the pleasure of the dishes, but for the benefit of so winning a conversation. Courtesy allureth men’s minds, as fair flowers do their eyes. Pomponius Atticus so carried himself at Athens, ut communis infimis, par principibus videretur. (b) Alexander the Great, got the hearts of his foot soldiers, by calling them pezetairouv , his fellow footmen, (c) Aristotle, the better to insinuate into his hearers, read not to them (as other philosophers used to do) from a lofty seat or desk, but walking and talking with them familiarly, as with his friends, in Apollo’s porch, he made them great philosophers. (d) Vespasian was as highly esteemed by the people for his courtesy, as Coriolanus contemned and condemned of all for his rusticity. With one churlish breath Rehoboam lost ten tribes, whom he would, and might not, recover with his blood. But whatsoever David did pleased the people. What a deal of courtesy passed between Boaz and his reapers! "The Lord be with you," said he; "The Lord bless thee," said they. [Ruth 2:4] The Turks’ salutation at this day is, Salaum aleek, Peace be to thee: the reply is, Aleek salaum, Peace be to thee also. (e) The Romans had their χαιρς and their υγιαινε, answerable to our Good day, and Good evening. (f) That finger next to the thumb they called Salutaris, because they put that finger to their mouth (as at this day the Roman dames do) when they saluted any. (g) Charles V is renowned for his courtesy: when he passed by John Frederick the elector of Saxony, he always took off his hat and bowed to him, though he were his prisoner, and had been taken by him in battle. And when he had in his power Melancthon, Pomeran, and other divines of the reformed religion, he courteously dismissed them. (h) As he is the best Christian that is most humble; so is he the truest gentleman that is most courteous. Your haughty upstarts, the French call gentle-villains.


Verse 8

Genesis 23:8 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,

Ver. 8. If it be your mind that I should bury my dead.] Alexander the Great lay unburied thirty days together. His conquests above ground purchased him no title for habitation underground. So Pompey the Great,

Nidus pascit aves, iacet in qui possidet orbem,

Exiguae telluris inops .” - Claudian.

Ut cui modo ad victoriam terra defuerat, deesset ad sepulturam , saith Paterculus. So William the Conqueror’s corpse lay unburied for three days; his interment being hindered by one that claimed the ground to be his. (a) Abraham therefore doth well to make sure of a place of sepulture for him and his; and this at Hebron - which signifieth society or conjunction - for there lay those reverend couples, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, &c. These died upon the Promised Land, and being there buried, kept possession, as it were, for their posterity; as those that are dead in Christ do of heaven, for the saints that survive them. Sepulchres are symbols of the communion of saints, and of the resurrection of the dead. Hence the Hebrews call church yards Bethchajim, the house of the living. (b) Job also calls the grave "the congregation house of all living". [Job 30:23] As the apostle after him calleth heaven "the congregation house of the firstborn". [Hebrews 12:23] The Hebrews call it gnolam hammalachim, the world of angels; and the author to the Hebrews, saith that the saints are come by Christ "to an innumerable company of angels". {πανηγυριν, Hebrews 12:23} When godly men die, they are said to be gathered to their people. They do no more than repatriasse , as Bernard hath it; they are not put out of service, but removed only out of one room into another, out of the outter houses into the presence chamber. They change their place, but not their company, as good Dr Preston said upon his death bed. They are gathered by Christ’s hand, as lilies, [Song of Solomon 6:2] and transplanted into the Paradise of God. And this, Plotinus the Philosopher had a notion of, when breathing his last, he said, That in me that is divine, I resign up to the First Divine, that is, to God. (c) As for the body it is but the case, the cabinet, the suit, the slough, the sheath of the soul, as Daniel calleth it. Scaligeri quod reliquum est ,{ d} was Julius Scaliger’s epitaph. It returns to its original dust, and is sown as seed in the ground till the resurrection. [1 Corinthians 15:35]


Verse 9

Genesis 23:9 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.

Ver. 9. For a possession of a burying place.] It is remarkable that the first purchase of possession mentioned in Scripture, was a place to bury in, not to build in. The Jews also had their sepulchres hewn out long before their deaths, to mind them of their mortality. Joseph of Arimathea had his tomb in his garden, to season his delights with the meditation of his end. The Egyptians had a death’s head carried about the table at their feasts. The emperors of Constantinople had a mason who came to them on their Coronation Day with choice of tomb stones, and these verses in his mouth -

Elige ab his saxis ex quo (invictissime Caesar)

Ipse tibi tumulum me fabricare velis .”

Our first parents, saith one, {a} made them garments of fig leaves; but God, misliking that, gave them garments of skins. So in the gospel he cursed the fig tree, which did bear only leaves to cover our sin, but commended the Baptist who did wear skins to discover our mortality.


Verse 10

Genesis 23:10 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,

Ver. 10. And Ephron dwelt.] Or, was sitting, sc., as a city counsellor.


Verse 11

Genesis 23:11 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.

Ver. 11. The field give I thee, &c.] A brave speech of a bountiful spirit, to a stranger especially; and in that respect beyond that of Araunah the noble Jebusite to David, his liege lord; "All these things did Araunah as a king give to the king". [2 Samuel 24:23] Indeed, to give is a kingly employment; making men like to "the Father of lights, from whom comes every good gift and perfect giving". [James 1:17] Kings are styled benefactors; (a) and of the ancient kings of Egypt it is recorded, and was rehearsed among other of their praises, that they were ευμεταδοτοι, και κοινωνικοι, "willing to distribute, ready to communicate," which are the apostle’s two words in 1 Timothy 6:18. Cyrus took more delight in giving than possessing, as his soldiers could say of him in Xenophon. (b) It is not only better, but sweeter to do good, than to receive good, said Epicurus. (c) It is a "more blessed" thing, saith our Saviour. Titus would say, when he had done no good, he had lost a day: et molestius erat Severo Imperatori nihil peti, quam dare . Our General Norrice, like that Bishop of Lincoln, never thought he had that thing, which he did not give. Few such now-a-days.


Verse 12

Genesis 23:12 And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land.

Ver. 12. Abraham bowed down himself.] Civil courtesy is a Christian duty. Religion teacheth not a severe austerity of carriage, or rusticity; but humanity and a genuine affection.


Verse 13

Genesis 23:13 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.

Ver. 13. I will give thee money.] Full money, as he had said, [Genesis 23:7] or as much money as it is worth. Such is the care of the conscientious, that they had rather lose of their own, than usurp of another’s. And that he gives a just price for the field, was an act of great wisdom; for hereby he provided that his posterity might not hereafter be put beside it.


Verse 14-15

Genesis 23:14 And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him,
Genesis 23:15 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.

Ver. 14, 15. What is that between me and thee?] Who both are great friends, and well underlaid. See a like kind contestation between David and Araunah, 2 Samuel 24:22-23.


Verse 16

Genesis 23:16 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.

Ver. 16. In the audience of the sons of Heth.] Whom he takes to witness, and so provideth for his security and quietness afterwards; as did also Jeremiah in the purchase of his uncle’s field. Wisdom and circumspection are to be used in contracts and covenants.

Current with the merchant.] It may well be said of money hoarders, they have no quicksilver, no current money.


Verse 17

Genesis 23:17 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

Ver. 17. Which was in Machpelah.] Where was a double cave, one within another: and haply one for men, and another for women. This was not that purchased burying place whereof Stephen spake, [Acts 7:16] for that was in Sychem, this in Hebron; that was bought of Emor the father of Sychem, this of Ephron.


Verse 18

Genesis 23:18 Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.

Ver. 18. Unto Abraham for a possession.] Thus Abraham, as a purchaser, had some land in Canaan; but not as possessed of it by God’s gift, which is St Stephen’s sense. [Acts 7:5]


Verse 19

Genesis 23:19 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.

Ver. 19. And Abraham buried Sarah his wife.] The last office of love to bring the deceased saints honourably to their "long home," [Ecclesiastes 12:5] to lay them in their last "bed," [Isaiah 57:2] to put them into the grave, as into a haven and harbout, where they may rest from their labours, "till their change shall come." [Job 14:14] This is to "deal kindly with the dead"; [Ruth 1:8] "to show mercy to them," [2 Samuel 2:5] especially when "the mourners go about the streets," [Ecclesiastes 12:5] when there is a "great mourning made over them," as for Stephen, [Acts 8:2] and a "great burning for them," as for Asa, [2 Chronicles 16:14] - of whom also it is further added, as an honour, that he was "buried in his own sepulchre, which he had dug for himself among the kings of Israel in the city of David, and laid in the bed that was filled with sweet odours," &c. Of Joram, Joas, and Ahaz, it is expressly noted in the Chronicles, that they were buried in the city of David, but not in the sepulchres of the kings of Judah. A worse place was thought good enough for them, unless they had been better. As of Tiberius the emperor it is storied, that he was so hated for his tyranny, that when he was dead, some of the people would have had him thrown into the river Tiber; (a) some, hanged up at such another place as Tyburn. Others also made prayer to mother Earth, to grant him, now dead, no place but among the wicked. (b) Contrarily when Dio died, the people of Syracuse would have gladly redeemed his life with their own blood; which because they could not, they buried him very honourably in an eminent place of their city. (c) Whereas anciently, as Lambinus well noteth, (d) kings and princes, in Homer and other poets, are not read to have been buried, but without the gates, somewhere in the fields and gardens; as the patriarchs also were, looking for the return of that everlasting spring.


Verse 20

Genesis 23:20 And the field, and the cave that [is] therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth.

Ver. 20. Were made sure] sc., by witnesses, without writings: but now it is hard to be sure of anything; there is so much robbery and rapine amongst the sons of men.

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Genesis 23:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/genesis-23.html. 1865-1868.

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