READ THE EXTENDED TEXT: Genesis 23
After giving birth to Isaac, Sarah lived another 37 years to 127 years of age at the time of her death in Hebron. Although God had promised the whole land of Canaan to Abraham, he owned no real estate. The text centers on Abraham purchasing a piece of property where not just Sarah, but successive generations would have a proper burial:
GENESIS 23:16-20 (emphasis added)
“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.
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 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.
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. 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.”
A family tomb was of great consequence in ancient Mid-eastern culture. It was both monument and memorial honoring the deceased. Interment in a designated familial burial site also implied a connection to ancestry.
Abraham’s determination to purchase land in Canaan rather than returning to Haran to bury Sarah is significant. His choice demonstrated commitment to living in the land God had promised. Purchasing a piece of property in the Promised Land was an act of faith that God had given the land to Abraham’s covenantal descendants.
Abraham went to the gate of Hebron to engage in a legal transaction with a Hittite named Ephron, who lived among the sons of Heth. Interestingly, Abraham’s relationship with his neighbors was such that when he explained his need to secure land to inter his wife, they universally offered their choicest burial places.
Although the gesture was meant to honor Abraham, he kindly declined and spoke directly with Ephron who again offered land as a gift. Sounding like beneficence, Ephron’s offer actually inflated the value of the land. He proposed, “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” (Gen. 23:15).
Abraham respectfully declined.
Demonstrating both humility and gratitude, Abraham graciously articulated his desire to ensure a burial site for future generations and requested a formal business transaction giving him undisputed title to the land.
Ephron conceded to Abraham’s request. Without further negotiation, Abraham purchased both the field and the Cave of Machpelah at the proposed price. He counted 400 shekels of silver in the sight of the sons of Heth who witnessed and documented the transaction of Abraham’s legal and permanent purchase of the land.
The account concludes, “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” (v. 20).
Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah and the accompanying field was an investment in God’s promises and their ultimate fulfillment.
Today, the location is called the Cave of the Patriarchs, the second holiest site of the Jewish people. Based on Abraham’s documented purchase of the property as a burial place for his covenantal descendants, there is no question as to the rightful ownership of the property.
1) Bible opened to Isaiah. By, Ken Horn, [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) Ancient Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs Signage. By Daniel from Israel (Hevron e Ma’arat HaMachpela) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement courtesy: MKM Portfolios
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. http://www.charles-e-mccracken-ministries.org