Welcome, and thank you for clicking on the podcast and checking it out, I am your host Randy Duncan, and we are making our way through the book of Genesis, verse by verse.
In the last episode, we covered chapter 22, which is one of my favorite chapters in all of scripture, the Akedah Yitzak, the Sacrafice of Isaac. And in that episode, we discussed how the sacrifice of Isaac was a picture, a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus. I mentioned how both Isaac and Jesus carried the wood for their own sacrifices up the hill, how Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac was a foreshadowing of how God the Father would one day sacrifice His son in that very spot. If you missed the last episode I highly encourage you to give that oen a listen.
And that brings us now to chapter 23, which is a relatively short chapter, only 20 verses. Abraham’s spiritual journey reached its climax in the previous chapter with the sacrafice of Isaac, and so basically, his biography in the Bible is now complete. However, there are a couple of final issues for him to wrap up before we see the transition into his son Isaac becoming the focus
And so we begin, with verses 1- 2, which read…Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.
So of course, the primary theme of and reason for this chapter is the death of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, and her burial. The first matriarch of Israel. It may not be evident to you, or you may have never even thought about it, but Sarah is the only woman whose lifespan is given in the Bible, which is a testimony to her importance.
She dies when Isaac is 37 years old, which was three years before he was married. We will also learn a couple of chapters from now that Abraham outlives Sarah by 38 years.
When I read this, I immediately think of people who survive their spouse, and how difficult it has to be to adjust to life without the person you have been married to. I have witnessed firsthand how my own mother has continued to adjust to life without my father who passed away 17 years ago. Just finding the courage and strength and having the resiliency to continue on after losing the person you were married to for almost 40 years. It must be one of the most difficult things in life to deal with.
But one other note regarding Sarah’s lifespan. Remember that back in Genesis 6, we discussed various possibilities on how to interpret the long lifespans in the early part of Genesis. Some interpret the lifespans, and the actual numbers given, as having other significance, and also convery meaning.
Soon after the flood in Genesis 6, God ordained the lifespans of humans to 120 years. And we do immediately see the lifespans drop dramatically from that point forward until we settle into what we experience today. Well, Sarah lived to be 127 years old. The number 127 connotes 120, plus seven. Seven is the number of completeness in scripture. So there is the thought that Sarah’s number of years represents the full 120 that God ordained, plus 7, which is a sacred and complete number. Thus, together, the 120 and the 7 denote that Sarah’s life was full, complete, and of great importance.
Verse 2 tells us that “ Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her”. Now that verb, “went in” , the Hebrew verb there actually means “to come”, or ”to enter”. And so as it is used here it is a bit ambiguous as to the exact meaning.
And so what commentators wrestle with is determining what it means exactly, Did Abraham “enter” her tent to mourn? Or, did he “come” from Beershaeba to Hebron to mourn? If you interpret as he came from Beersheba to Hebron to mourn, it opens the possibility for some people to speculate that perhaps Abraham and Sarah no longer lived together, perhaps as some sort of fallout over the sacrifice of Isaac. But the truth is, we just don’t know for sure.
Verses 3-4 read, 3 And Abraham rose up from before his dead and said to the Hittites 4 “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”
Let me point something out here about this chapter. You may be familiar with it as titled the Death of Sarah, and I have given it the same title. However, the narrative of Sarah’s death and burial is truly a really brief statement, and it seems to give way to more of what this chapter is really about, which is the acquisition of a burial ground for the family.
It says that Abraham “rose” up. It was customary that mourners would actually sit on the ground
But Abraham goes before the Hittites and tells them that he is a “sojourner and foreigner” in their land. The Hebrew phrase used there is (ger-toshav) (gair-toeshov), which literally means “alien and resident”. That’s important because in those days, if you were an alien resident, you were not allowed to purchase real estate. Remember, this is not Abraham’s land. He is the foreigner, the stranger, he is the resident alien. He owns no land. And because he is a foreigner, he is not even entitled to purchase land.
Think about this…Abraham has done all that God has asked, all that God has commanded. Left his home, left his family, been in precarious situations wth multiple kings, was even prepared to sacrifice his only son, and yet, after all of that, he has not been given the Promised Land. He does not even have a place to bury his own wife. And so now he asks the Hittites for property where he can bury Sarah.
Now, the ESV translates Abraham as saying “give” me land to bury my dead. But the Hebrew verb form used there can mean either to “give, sell, or pay”. Based on the conversation that follows, it is clear that Abraham is asking to purchase land as a burial site. In fact, the word he uses actually denotes an inheritable sepulcher. That may seem like an incidental detail, but it is not. It is key to understanding the rest of the conversation.
We continue with verses 5-9, which say, “The Hittites answered Abraham, 6 “Hear us, my lord; you are a prince of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will withhold from you his tomb to hinder you from burying your dead.” 7 Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land. 8 And he said to them, “If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me and entreat for me Ephron the son of Zohar, 9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as property for a burying place.”
Even the Hittites recognize God’s blessing on and protection of the foreigner Abraham, and so they address him as “mighty prince”, or “a prince of God”. He may be a foreigner, but they treat him with much respect. And the Hittites actually tell him that they will allow him to bury his dead in one of their tombs.
Abraham then rose, and bowed to the Hittites. This is a very humbling gesture for someone whom the Hittites just addressed as a mighty prince. But it is an act of gratitude and respect on Abraham’s part. And he actually tells them, that if they are willing to let him bury his dead, to go and plead with Ephron, the son of Zohar. This is a rare identification of a non-Israelite by his father’s name, which suggests that Zohar was an outstanding man among the Hittites.
And what does Abraham want them to plead with Ephron about? To sell him the cave of Machpelah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price. So Abraham is asking to be allowed to buy the cave of Machpelah at full price.
But the problem is that in the ancient world, owners usually didn’t sell their land to any outsiders. There was often times an emotional attachment to land in the ancient near east. There was a sense of responsibility to the family, and the clan, and to future descendents, and to hold onto what they had inherited.
Referring to the cave of Machpelah, Machpelah is a term meaning “two-fold”, “double-cave” or “split cave”. It is unclear whether the tomb chambers were side-by-side or above one another.
Most often, a family tomb was used by several generations. The body was laid in a sort of shelf, along with some other grave goods, such as personal items, trinkets, weapons, etc. Later on, the skeletal remains would be removed and placed in another chamber, or moved to an ossuary box, or maybe even just swept to the back of the tomb to make room for another burial.
Now, I don’t want to just skip over this here, because it’s important. Not only will Sarah be buried here, but as we will see later on, Abraham will be buried here too. As well as Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah. This is a historcal site to the Jewish people. In fact, after the Western Wall in Jerusalem, this has remained the most sacred monument of the Jewish people, and is located in present-day Hebron, which is located 20 miles south of Jerusalem
So, just a quick 20-second history lesson is in order here. During the Byzantine period, a church was built over the tomb, but Jews were still allowed to pray in the area. But after the Arab invasion and conquest of Israel in the 7th century, the church was converted into a mosque. Jews and Christians were then forbidden to enter. After that, “infidels” were even forbidden to ascend beyond the seventh step of the outer wall. This situation lasted for 700 years until Hebron was liberated by Israeli Defense Forces in June of what year? For you prophecy and history buffs? You guessed it, 1967. At that time, Jews, Christians, and Muslims were given freedom to worship inside.
And now, back to the story. Verses 10 -11… 10 Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, 11 “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the sight of the sons of my people I give it to you. Bury your dead.”
So Ephron agrees to give Abraham the cave, as well as the field, to bury his dead. And he did so in the presence of all the people, so now Abraham’s claim to the propery is a bit more secure. Ephron willingly gives it to Abraham, including descriptions, in front of witnesses, at the city gate, which was the usual place for legal transactions.
12 Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. 13 And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” 14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, listen to me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” 16 Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants.
So after Ephron offers to give Abraham the land to bury his dead, Abraham responds by basically turning down the offer! So why in the world would Abraham turn down the offer for a free tomb to bury Sarah?? Abraham is probably aware of how gifts of land are unstable. He is aware that Ephron’s heirs could lay claim to the land after Ephron died if it was viewed as a donation of sorts. And so he seeks to pay full price for the land, to make it all the more legal. He wants a final sale of the property, thereby cementing and assuring his claim to the land.
In the course of the conversation, Ephron nonchalantly names 400 shekels of silver as the price, and Abraham agrees to pay full price, or literally “at full silver”. It says that Abraham weighed out 400 shekels. He weighed out the silver on scales because at that time there was no such thing as coinage. Coins weren’t a thing until somewhere around the 7th century BC. BTW, 400 shekels of silver was a lot of money, more money than a common laborer could expect to earn in a lifetime.
The last verses of this chapter, V17-20, are a summary of the transaction, and sort of reads a bit like a legal document. V17 begins, …17 So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over 18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.
Yep, sounds a bit like a legal document for a real estate purchase. It includes the identity of buyer and seller, the location of the property, a description of the property, the presence of witnesses in a public proceeding, etc.
And although much of this chapter focuses on the real estate transaction, let’s not forget why it is taking place, and that is because Sarah has died. And Abraham is trying to honor her by giving her the burial she deserves. He is purchasing a tomb for her, and for future family members.
This piece of land also provides hope and a promise of the whole land, and it is the first piece of real estate in the Promised Land, and was purchased by a founding father. This marks the beginning of these alien residents seeking a homeland. Abraham could have simply buried Sarah in a Hittite tomb as the Hittites suggested and would have allowed him. But by securing a piece of real estate in the land that God had promised him, Abraham demonstrates his commitment to that promise, and his belief that his descendents would inherit the land.
I mentioned earlier that this site is the second most venerated site for the Jewish people. And I can certainly see why. This is where the first patriarchs and matriarchs are buried. But as Christians, we look to a different tomb. We look at an empty tomb.
And just as Abraham looked at Sarah’s tomb as a commitment to God’s promise, as Christians, we should view Christ’s empty tomb as God’s promise as well. The resurrection provides proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be. John 11:25 we read the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,