Genesis 23 - Tomb of the patriarchs

Gen 23:1-2

Now the life of Sarah was 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. Sarah died in Kiriath-Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.
  • In Hebrew, this passage is known as “Chayei Sarah,” meaning the “life of Sarah.” The phrase is mentioned twice in verse one. Her death is only mentioned once in verse two.
  • The sages teach the righteous live twice (once in this age and once in the age to come), but only die once in this age. Of course, Christianity holds this view also.
  • “Adam and Eve brought death into the world, but Abraham and Sarah brought the resurrection of the dead to the world.”
  • Jewish tradition is not to be taken literally. It is meant for us to see the spiritual truth behind the tradition, or in the Christian’s case, the foreshadowing of the literal work Jesus will do.
  • In this case, through Sarah, God first brought life to the dead
  • Rom 4:19-21 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; [20] yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, [21] and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.
  • Sarah is the only woman in Scripture whose age, death, and burial are recorded. Sarah holds a special place among biblical women as the mother of the Hebrew people.
  • Heb 11:11 By faith even Sarah herself received the ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
  • Jewish tradition holds a cause-and-effect relationship between the binding of Isaac and the death of Sarah.
  • She died of shock the moment Abraham received the command.
  • Since she was 90 when Isaac was born and, according to this reckoning, 127 when she died, Isaac was 37 when he was bound.
  • Recall from the end of chapter 22, we were told about the birth of Rebekah.
  • According to the sages, this teaches us that before one righteous person dies, another is born into the world.
  • Joshua 14 tells us that the Anakim inhabited Kiriath-Arba at the time of the conquest.
  • This is where an 85-year-old Caleb, one of the two spies along with Joshua who brought back a good report to Moses, reminds people he wanted to take the land 45 years ago. He still wants to take it, despite the presence of giants in the land.
  • Jos 14:11-15 “I am still as strong today as I was on the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in. [12] “Now then, give me this hill country about which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the LORD will be with me, and I will drive them out just as the LORD has spoken.” [13] So Joshua blessed him and gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh as an inheritance. [14] Therefore, Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he followed the LORD God of Israel fully. [15] Now the name of Hebron was previously Kiriath-arba; for Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim. Then the land was at rest from war.
  • We need to be like Caleb in the presence of the giants around us.

Gen 23:3-4

Then Abraham arose from mourning before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, “I am a stranger and a foreign resident among you; give me a burial site among you so that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”
  • Heb 11:9 By faith (Abraham) lived as a stranger in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;
  • Now, Abraham was not only a stranger and foreigner, he was alone and did not possess any land to bury Sarah.
  • As evidence that Abraham had fully left his father’s household, he does not go back to Paddan Aram for her burial as would have been expected.

Gen 23:5-9

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 graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.” So Abraham stood up and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead out of my sight, listen to me, and plead with Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.”

Gen 23:10-11

Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham so that the sons of Heth heard, that is, all who entered the gate of his city, saying, “No, my lord, listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.”
  • The city gate was where official business took place.
  • Caves are where burials took place.
  • Often, a family had their dedicated cave.
  • We don’t know for sure whether Ephron was being magnanimous or whether he had an angle in offering the field as well as the cave.
  • Not all commentators view this as him offering it free of charge.
  • Assuming Ephron was going to gift it, despite Ephron’s offer to formally notarize the gift, Abraham presumably believed a formal transaction would better support a claim by him or his descendants to the property.

Gen 23:12-15

And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. But he spoke to Ephron so that the people of the land heard, saying, “If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me so that I may bury my dead there.” Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, “My lord, listen to me: a plot of land worth four hundred shekels of silver—what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.”
  • Many commentators suggest this was a ridiculously outrageous price because Ephron was expecting Abraham to haggle.
  • Note Abraham only wants the cave but is willing to buy the entire field.
  • This seems to be a parallel of the “Pearl of great price” parable in Matthew 13.

Gen 23:16-18

Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the presence of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency acceptable to a merchant. So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who entered the gate of his city.
  • To Ephron’s surprise, Abraham doesn’t haggle.
  • Abraham wasn’t going to tarnish the memory of Sarah by haggling over her resting place.
  • When we are in the world, there are times we need to operate under the restraints of frugality and good stewardship. Negligent overpaying is wasteful and betrays a lack of appreciation for the gifts God has provided.
  • There are also times where being financially stingy is inappropriate and communicates the wrong message about the One we serve and seek to honor..

Gen 23:19-20

After this, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron), in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth.
  • Not only is Sarah buried here, but Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are also buried here.
  • Throughout the Torah, private property is endorsed.
  • Today, the site is revered by both Jews and Muslims.
  • On our recent Israel trip, we talked about the term “conquer the land.”
  • It doesn’t always have to be a military conquest, though that is usually what we think of.
  • Abraham planted trees and purchased property as his way of conquering the land and establishing roots, both literal and figurative, in Eretz Iarael, the land promised to him.
  • During the Muslim period, a Mosque was built over the site as Muslims also venerate Abraham. Today Hebron is under control of the Palestinian Authority, but Jews are allowed to access the holy site.
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