Genesis 23:1-20

1 Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 

So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.

Then Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying,

 “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”

And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him,

 “Hear us, my lord: You are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place, that you may bury your dead.”

Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.

And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish that I bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and meet with Ephron the son of Zohar for me,

that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he has, which is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price, as property for a burial place among you.”

10 Now Ephron dwelt among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the sons of Heth, all who entered at the gate of his city, saying,

11 “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field and the cave that is in it; I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead!”

12 Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land;

13 and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “If you will give it, please hear me. I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.”

14 And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him,

15 “My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.”

16 And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants.

17 So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded

18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.

19 And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.

20 So the field and the cave that is in it were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as property for a burial place.

By the time of Sarah’s death, the family had apparently  moved from Beersheba back to Hebron, which was also known as Kirjath-Arba (the “city of Arba,” the father of the Anakims), where they had lived many years earlier.

Sarah died in Hebron, still in Canaan, the land to which they had migrated, and she died without seeing the fulfillment of the promises (Hebrews 11:13). Sarah died at the age of 127, there in Hebron, and it is significant that she is the only woman in all Scripture whose age at the time of death is given. … Peter’s reference to her (1 Peter 3:5-6) indicates that, as Abraham was considered father of those who believe, so Sarah was considered mother of all believing women.  For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are [or better, ‘have become’] if you do good and are not afraid with any terror [or, ‘with hysterical fears’].” — Morris, page 386.

At least so far as the record goes, Abraham did not yet own any of the land himself, and so had to purchase hurriedly a plot of ground for a burying place. The only purchase of property he ever made in the land of Canaan was for a grave. The altars and wells which belonged to him were his by result of building them himself, and probably were on land which he was only using or leasing. Though he had many possessions, he himself had no certain dwelling place. “By faith, he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles” (Hebrews 11:9). …

In accordance with the exaggerated formalities of purchasing and selling that have long been practiced in the East, Abraham first asked for someone to mediate between him and Ephron, to transmit his request to be allowed to purchase the land. Although it is difficult to distinguish how much of the Hittite response was sincere and how much mere custom, it does seem significant that they called Abraham “a mighty prince [literally ‘prince of God’] among us.”

Abraham himself was obviously sincere in his offer, as well as respectful and humble before the Hittites. He did not haggle, as they perhaps expected him to, nor would he accept their offer to let him use their sepulchers or to give him their land. Almost certainly, these offers were merely opening gestures of politeness which they expected no one to take seriously. — Morris, pages 387-388.

As far as Stephen’s statement that Abraham had purchased the field in Shechem is concerned (Acts 7:16), Abraham lived another thirty-eight years after Sarah died (Genesis 17:17; 23:1; 25:7). During that period he meet and married Keturah and had six more sons. It seems plausible that he might have purchased a second parcel of ground for use by his second family, in the region near Shechem, where he had built his first altar in Canaan (Genesis 12:6-7). When Abraham died, however, he was buried with Sarah in Mamre. Keturah and her sons may not have retained possession of the Shechem property, selling it or losing it somehow to the Hivites who had become the chief inhabitants of the region. then, about eighty-five years after Abraham’s death, when Jacob came to the Schchem area, knowing that this tract had once belonged to his grandfather, he purchased it back again. As Abraham had built an altar there, so Jacob then did the same. — Morris, pages 389-390.

Hebron has especial significance for the Jewish people (whose current access to it, seeing that it is in the West Bank, is highly restricted) since it is also the burial site of Sarah (23:19), Isaac (39:29), Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob (49:31; 50:13, Acts 7:16), and is also the city from which David ruled for seven and a half years over Judah before being recognized as king by all twelve tribes (see 2 Samuel 5:3-5). — Wechsler, page 215.

Because Abraham realizes that the Hittites do not recognize his divine right to the land, he does what is necessary to ensure his actual possession of the land will be respected by going through the culturally accepted process of commercial transaction. — Wechsler, page 216.

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