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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 23

 

 

Verses 1-20

Genesis 23. Abraham Purchases the Cave of Machpelah as a Burying-place of Sarah.—This chapter belongs to P, as is shown by its legal precision and the wordiness of its style, by numerous characteristic expressions, and by the later references in P (Genesis 25:9 f., Genesis 49:29-32, Genesis 50:13). It shows how Abraham acquired property by purchase in Canaan, an earnest of ultimate possession of the whole, and perhaps inculcates by his example the duty of acquiring a family grave, to which importance was attached. Gunkel thinks that the story is old, and its original form was designed to emphasize that the sanctuary at Machpeiah belonged, not to the Canaanites who claimed it, but to Israel, since Abraham had purchased it with full legal formalities and for the full price. P incorporated it because the Edomites, who had been pushed by the Arabs into S. Judah, were contesting the claim in his day. Since he could recognise the legitimacy of no sanctuary but Jerusalem, he emphasizes the point that Abraham acquired it simply as a family grave. The cave is now covered by a mosque, which is itself in a sacred enclosure. No Christians have entered it in modern times save royal personages accompanied by members of their suites. The cave itself is quite inaccessible. The reference to Hittites, children of Heth, so far S. as Hebron creates difficulty. Possibly the Hittite empire reached so far; possibly these Hittites are quite distinct from their famous namesakes; possibly we have simply to do with a vague use by P of Hittites in the sense of Canaanites.

The wailing for Sarah past, it remains to dispose of her body. Abraham asks the Hittites for a burying-place. They offer to this "prince of God" (mg.) the choicest sepulchres. Often it is thought that the extreme and long-winded politeness is but the Oriental way of conducting a bargain. This is to some extent correct, but it is not unlikely that the reluctance to sell was sincere. They do not want this stranger to have any of their land in his own legal right; they prefer that he should simply have the use of one of their own sepulchres. Abraham presses his point, and names the place. He wants the cave merely, but Ephron, if he is to sell it, means to have the whole field taken with it. He offers it in the conventional way as a gift. Abraham, of course, insists on paying the price, which by once more offering it freely Ephron contrives to let him know! Accordingly the money is paid and the purchase executed with all due formalities, and in the cave Sarah is buried.

Genesis 23:2. came: i.e. into the room where the dead body lay.

Genesis 23:9. Machpelah is not the name of the cave simply (cf. Genesis 23:17; Genesis 23:19).

Genesis 23:10. that went in at the gate: the citizens who are entitled to sit in the city gate and discuss its affairs.

Genesis 23:15. four hundred shekels of silver: this weight of silver would now be worth about 55; but its actual purchasing power would be very much more (cf. Genesis 20:16). The description of it as "current with the merchant" is not quite clear. It may refer to the quality of the silver or to the weight of the ingots, or perhaps even to coined shekels, which seem to have been in use as early as this time.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 23:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/genesis-23.html. 1919.

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