Genesis Chapter 23: Sarah Dies, Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah

Feb 17th, 2010 | By | Category: Genesis, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Genesis Chapter 23: Sarah Dies, Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah

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

Sarah was 127 years old when she died. This verse may be the only recorded life span of a woman in the Scriptures. Isaac would have been 37 years old at this time.

Gen. 23:2 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 died in Hebron, the very place where she and Abraham had been years before in the plains of Mamre when the angel told Sarah that she would bear a son in her old age and then told Abraham that Sodom would be destroyed. Sarah would be buried in Hebron, where the cave of Machpelah was.

The fact that Abraham went to see her shows that they were apart at the time of her death. Abraham rushed to Hebron from Beersheba to be with her and to mourn and weep. Sarah had probably been visiting friends in Hebron, for she and Abraham had lived there earlier.

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

Gen. 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.

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

Gen. 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.

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

Gen. 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 entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar,

Gen. 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.

Why were the children of Heth so solicitous to please Abraham by answering his request? (1) This incident took place in Hebron, where Abraham had dwelled and was told that Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed and that Sarah would bear a son, Isaac. (2) Abraham lived in Mamre in Hebron at the time he went to rescue Lot (Gen. 13:18; 14:1-16). Hence Abraham was known in the area, and now the children of Heth called him a “mighty prince among us”; that is, they had a healthy respect for Abraham. The ancients viewed Abraham as a mighty warrior. Abraham had accompanied the 318 men who went to rescue Lot. Tradition says that his father, Terah, had been a warrior too.

The sons of Heth were Hittites. The term “Canaanites” can be used specifically to refer to a people related to Canaan, Noah’s descendant, or generally to designate the people of Palestine, who included Amalekites, Amorites, etc.).

Abraham wanted to bury Sarah right there in Hebron, where she had died. And he knew what site he desired and who owned the site: Ephron, the son of Zohar. He wanted the cave of Machpelah in the end of the field, and he would pay what it was worth. The sons of Heth were receptive, and so was Ephron.

Acts 7:5 states that God gave Abraham “none inheritance” in the land, yet He promised to give Abraham an inheritance “for a possession.” The word “possession” was used here in Genesis 23:4, when Abraham said to the sons of Heth, “Give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” The fact that Abraham bought this little plot does not violate the statement in the Book of Acts because the inheritance would be what God would give him, not a forced acquisition.

Gen. 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,

Gen. 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.

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

Gen. 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.

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

Gen. 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.

Gen. 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.

Notice the polite procedure. Ephron said Abraham could have the land gratis, but Abraham paid the 400-shekel value, as he was actually expected to do.

Abraham wanted the field in addition to the cave. The field was well defined because trees bordered it (verse 17). The cave was originally a double cave. Machpelah means “winding,” “spiral form.” Six people would eventually be buried in the cave of Machpelah: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah (Gen. 49:28-33; 50:13,14).

No written deed or paper was involved, and nothing was signed. The purchase was just an oral agreement that was witnessed by others. The land was specified accurately before the children of Heth and passersby. By word of mouth, the transaction would be known and passed on. To this day, Machpelah is recognized as Abraham’s acquisition.

Comment: It is unusual that the three patriarchs most closely connected with the Abrahamic promise were all buried together, as if that promise was locked up for a future revealment.

Reply: It does seem providential because the covenant was verified several times to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Q: Is it possible those three will be brought forth as resurrected Ancient Worthies at that very spot? That would be very dramatic. Just as a tomb was specially provided for Jesus to call Lazarus forth, so it would seem that something special might occur here—especially since both Arabs and Jews revere the spot as Abraham’s burial place. Also, the cave has a hole on top that goes way down to the burial chambers below.

A: That resurrection scenario would be dramatic, and such a potentiality exists. If that occurs, the three would be pleasantly surprised to see one another. They would be raised in a state of perfect health and manhood and thus not recognize one another immediately but would make inquiries of each other and then rejoice at the discovery.

The weighing of the money for the oral deed would have been done ceremoniously before witnesses and with scales. To weigh 400 shekels would take a little time. Money would have been weighed the same way with Boaz when the nearest of kin declined to marry Ruth and the refusal was made public by Boaz (Ruth 4:1-12).

Gen. 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

Gen. 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.

Gen. 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.

Gen. 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.

Trees served as a boundary of the land Abraham bought. The field and the cave were “before” Mamre, that is, to the east of Mamre.

(1987–1989 Study)

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