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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Genesis 23

 

 

Verse 17-18

DISCOURSE: 38

ABRAHAM PURCHASING A BURYING-PLACE IN CANAAN

Genesis 23:17-18. And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the care which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession, in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.

THERE is something in a holy life which wonderfully conciliates the minds of men. At first indeed, like a strong influx of light, it offends their eyes; and the beholders, unable to bear the effulgence of its beams, turn away from it, or perhaps desire its utter extinction. But when it has shone for a long time before them, and they have had sufficient opportunity to contemplate its worth, they are constrained to acknowledge, that “the righteous is more excellent than his neighbour:” and they begin to venerate the character, whose virtues at first were occasions of offence. We have a striking instance of this in the chapter before us. The children of Heth were not acquainted with Abraham’s principles: but they had seen his exemplary deportment for many years: and when the death of his wife necessitated him to ask a favour at their hands, they were as glad to confer it, as he could possibly be to receive it. The purchase of a burying-place does not indeed appear at first sight to be an incident worthy of notice: but in the present instance there is much that deserves attention. We would make some remarks upon,

I. The manner in which the agreement was made—

No records, human or divine, afford us a more admirable pattern for transacting the common business of life than the history before us. All parties seemed to be penetrated with the same spirit: they vied with each other in all that was amiable and praiseworthy. We may notice in particular,

1. Their courteousness—

[Abraham, in his address to the chief persons of the city, testified all the respect due to their character, “standing up before them, and bowing to them:” and they, on the other hand, addressed him as “a mighty prince,” whom they were forward and happy to oblige. It were well if, in all our intercourse with mankind, we were careful to maintain a similar deportment. But there are many Christians who seem almost to forget that God has said unto them, “Be courteous [Note: 1 Peter 3:8.].” They are arrogant and assuming towards their superiors; they are haughty and imperious towards their inferiors; they are ready to claim as their right what they ought to ask as a favour; and, if they grant a favour, they confer it in so ungracious a way, as to destroy all sense of obligation in him who receives it. Some allowance indeed must be made for natural disposition, and for defects of education: yet, after all, the Christian ought to be the most polite of men, because he ought to feel in his heart all that others express in their conduct: he should “esteem others better than himself [Note: Philippians 2:3.],” and “prefer them in honour before himself [Note: Romans 12:10.],” and make himself the servant of all for his Master’s sake [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:19.]. He should have in subjection all that pride and selfishness, that stimulates to contention [Note: Ephesians 4:31-32.] ; and maintain in exercise that divine philanthropy, which is the foundation and cement of all civilized society [Note: Colossians 3:12-14.]. “Whatsoever is lovely and of good report,” he should revolve it in his thoughts, and manifest it in his actions [Note: Philippians 4:8.].]

2. Their equity—

[Gladly would Ephron have given to Abraham both the sepulchre which he desired, and the field in which it was contained: but Abraham entreated that he might be permitted to pay for it a valuable consideration. Accordingly the price was fixed on the one part with perfect equity, and paid, on the other, with perfect cheerfulness. Would to God that all men would adopt this mode of dealing, and buy and sell according to this pattern! Would to God that even professed Christians would copy after this example! How much falsehood, how much imposition, would then be avoided! Solomon has drawn to the life the characters of many, who depreciate every thing which they wish to buy, and then go away boasting of the advantageous bargains they have made; “It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer; and when he is gone his way, he boasteth [Note: Proverbs 20:14.].” But this is beneath the character of a good man. We should not wish to obtain more, or to pay less, for a thing, than it is worth. We should not advance the price on account of the purchaser’s necessity, or refuse what is right on account of the necessity of the seller: but, whether we buy or sell, should act towards our neighbour as we in a change of circumstances would have him do to us.]

3. Their prudence—

[To Abraham especially it was of importance that the purchase should be known and ratified. Had he accepted the sepulchre as a present, or bought it in a private way, his title to it might at some future period have been disputed, and his descendants been deprived of that which he was desirous of securing to them. But all fears of this kind were effectually prevented by the publicity of the transaction. The chief persons of the city were not only witnesses of it, but agents, by whose mediation Ephron was induced to conclude the bargain. Moreover, all who went in or out of the gate of the city, were witnesses; so that, after possession was once taken, no doubt could ever arise respecting the transfer of the property, or the title of Abraham’s descendants to possess it.

How unlike to Abraham are many who call themselves his children! They embark in business, and enter into contracts, without due consideration: they transact their affairs without order, and leave them in confusion: and thus by their indiscreet conduct they involve their names in disgrace, and their families in ruin. Let us learn from him: let us act with caution: let not even affliction itself render us inattentive to the welfare of our posterity: let us conduct ourselves conformably to that sage advice of Solomon, “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house [Note: Proverbs 24:27.].” In other words, Let deliberation and foresight so regulate our conduct, that they who succeed us may applaud our wisdom, and reap the benefit of our care.]

If the manner of forming this agreement is profitable, much more shall we find it profitable to consider,

II. The ends for which it was made—

There was much more in the mind of Abraham than was known to the people among whom he sojourned. Besides the immediate and ostensible reason of making that purchase, he had others that were no less important. We shall mention them in their order. He bought the field,

1. To bury his wife—

[Sarah had lived with him to a good old age. But the dearest relatives, how long soever their union may continue, must part at last [Note: This idea is judiciously put into the mouths of both the parties at the time they betroth themselves to each other at the altar; “Till death us do part.”]. And when the time of separation is come, the most beloved object ceases to please. The soul having taken its flight, the body hastens to putrefaction; and we are as glad to have it removed out of our sight, as ever we were to enjoy communion with it. To give it a decent interment, and drop a tear over it at the grave, is the last office of love which we are able to shew to our clearest friend: and he who lives the longest, has only to perform this painful office the more frequently, till he sees himself, as it were, forsaken by all, and left desolate, unknowing, and unknown. O that we could all bear this in mind! We are born to die: the moment we drew our breath, we had one breath less to draw. Every hour we live, we approach nearer and nearer to our grave. If we continue our course, like the sun, from its rise to the meridian, and from its meridian to the close of day, still every moment shortens our duration; and while we are speaking to you now, we are hastening to the chambers of death. Let husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends who are to each other as their own soul, remember this. Let them sit loose to each other; and let the time that they enjoy the society of their friends, be regarded by them as the interval allotted to prepare for their interment.]

2. To express his confidence in the divine promise—

[God had promised to him and to his seed the land wherein he sojourned. But Abraham had continued there above sixty years without gaining in it so much as one foot of land [Note: Acts 7:5.]. But was the promise therefore to be doubted? No. It was not possible that that could fail. Abraham was as much assured that the promise should be fulfilled, as if he had seen its actual accomplishment. Under this conviction, he purchased the field as a pledge and earnest of his future inheritance. In the prophecies of Jeremiah we have a similar compact made with precisely the same view. The prophet had foretold the speedy desolation of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the restoration of the Jews to their own land after a captivity of seventy years. His uncle’s son, alarmed, as it should seem, by the approach of the Chaldean army, determined to sell his estate; and offered it to Jeremiah first, because the right of redemption belonged to him. By Gods command Jeremiah bought the inheritance; and had the transfer signed and sealed in a public manner; and buried the writings in an earthen vessel; that, being preserved to the expiration of the Babylonish captivity, they might be an evidence of his title to the estate. This was done, not that the prophet, or his heirs, might be enriched by the purchase, but that his conviction of the truth of his own prophecies might be made manifest [Note: Jeremiah 32:6-16; Jeremiah 32:42-44.].]

3. That he might perpetuate among his posterity the expectation of the promised land—

[It was to be four hundred years before his seed were to possess the land of Canaan. In that length of time it was probable that the promise itself would be forgotten; and more especially during their Egyptian bondage. But their having a burying-place in Canaan, where their bones were to be laid with the bones of their father Abraham, was the most likely means of keeping alive in every succeeding generation the hope of ultimately possessing the whole land. Accordingly we find, it did produce this very effect: for as Abraham and Sarah were buried in that cave, so Isaac and Rebekah were, and Jacob and Leah, notwithstanding Jacob died in Egypt [Note: Genesis 25:9-10; Genesis 45:28; Genesis 49:30-32; Genesis 50:13.]. And Joseph also, though buried in Egypt, gave commandment, that when the Israelites should depart out of Egypt to possess the land of Canaan, they should carry up his bones with them, and bury them in the sepulchre of his progenitors [Note: Genesis 50:24-25 with Hebrews 11:22.].]

Address—

1. Let us seek an union that shall never be dissolved—

[All earthly connexions must sooner or later be dissolved: and when once they are broken by death, they are terminated for ever. But an union formed with the Lord Jesus Christ shall never cease. If we are grafted into him as the living vine, we shall never be broken off: if we are made living members of his body, he will suffer nothing to separate us from him. Death, so far from destroying that union, shall confirm it, and bring us into a more intimate enjoyment of it. Let us then seek that union which is effected by faith in the Lord Jesus. If we consider only the present happiness arising from it, it infinitely transcends all other: but if we regard its continuance, the longest and dearest connexions upon earth are not worthy a thought in comparison of it.]

2. Let us look forward to the possession of the heavenly Canaan—

[There is “a promise left us of entering into rest,” even into “that rest which remaineth for the people of God.” But we may experience many difficulties and trials in our way thither. Nevertheless “the promise is sure to all the seed:” and “our Forerunner is already entered” into heaven, to take possession of it for us. Nay more, he has given us his “Holy Spirit to he a pledge and earnest of our inheritance.” Let us then be contented to live as pilgrims and sojourners in this world; and make it our chief labour to keep our title to that inheritance clear. Let us he anticipating the time when the promise shall bring forth, and all the seed of Abraham rejoice together in its full accomplishment.]

3. Let all our intercourse with men be worthy of our professions and expectations—

[If we have indeed been chosen of God to an eternal inheritance, we should shew a deadness to the things of this world, and an amiableness in the whole of our deportment. It is a shame to be outdone by heathens in any thing. We should excel in courteousness and generosity, in prudence and equity, as well as in heavenly-mindedness and devotion. In short, we should endeavour in all things to “walk worthy of our high calling,” and to “shew forth the virtues, as well as the praises, of him who hath called us to his kingdom and glory.” Such behaviour will go far towards conciliating our enemies. It will “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men;” and “make those ashamed, who falsely accuse our good conversation in Christ:” and, our light shining thus with uniform and engaging splendour, will constrain many to “glorify our Father that is in heaven.”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 23:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/genesis-23.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 5th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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