Richard Agee

Genesis 23: Abraham buys grave cave from Hittites to bury Sarah

Richard AgeeThis chapter sounds like a drawn-out real estate transaction, but it shows two things: Abraham was so important that Hittites, people of a major international power at the time, had great respect for him. Abraham’s first title to land in Canaan was to bury Sarah, who was very significant as the mother of the promised son by way of God, Yitskhak.

Some believe that Sarah died right after the sacrifice of Yitskhak, but a simple reading of the first verse shows this is not the case. When Yitskhak was sacrificed, he was a lad, which in Hebrew, means he was less than 20 years old when he was sacrificed. Sarah died at the age of 127, which means that Yitskhak was about 37 years old when she died. He was no longer a “lad” when Sarah died. It was another three years before Abraham went out to find Yitskhak a wife. Sarah did not die because Yitskhak was sacrificed.

Sarah was the mother of the promised seed, not only of Yitskhak, but of Messiah. She was chosen for that role that no one else could fill.

The fact that we know how old Sarah was when she died was very significant. We know how old she was at many of the milestones in her life that she shared with Abraham because they were recorded in Scripture. The ages of the other matriarchs, even the Virgin Mary herself, are not recorded but Sarah’s was. God spoke to Sarah, she was a prophetess. We don’t think of her that way but anyone who hears God’s words and shares them is a prophet.

She died at a place called Kiriath-arba, which later came to be called Hebron. Kiriath-arba means “the city of four giants.” It was an important city in those days. When they changed the name to Hebron (Strong’s 2275a), which means “association.” It was named as a memorial to the confederacy that Abraham had with the Canaanites, as recorded in Genesis 14, when he went to war to liberate the four cities from Eastern control and to rescue Lot and his family.

When one reads Gen. 23:8-9, we see that Abraham had approached the elders of the Hittites to purchase a burial place for Sarah. Abraham’s reputation preceded him to this meeting, but he owns no land and has no territorial rights in the land.

In Gen. 23:3, we read, “Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ….” The sons of Heth had come to Abraham’s home, where Sarah’s body was still resting. The Hittites knew who they were visiting, they addressed Abraham in this way in Gen. 23:6, “Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us….” He still had this reputation among the Canaanites at 137 years old. They still respected him after all these years.

In some English translations, it says that Abraham asked Ephron to “give” him the cave, but he was not asking for a “gift” in the sense of asking for something for free. It’s just like when we go to the grocery store. We “give” them money and they “give” us the groceries in our cart. Abraham was wanting to purchase the cave and he was asking for the Hittite elders to help witness and seal whatever deal came out of the negotiations.

The Hittites weren’t coming there to refuse Abraham. They said to him, “…bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.” The Hittties told Abraham that no one will refuse his request because they had respect for Abraham.  He called the meeting to ask for the cave of Machpelah, which was owned by Ephron the son of Zohar, so that he could bury Sarah there. Ephron’s name is an interesting name. The root of his name means “fawn” or “young stag” (Strong’s H6085 and H6082). Ephron was not among the ruling class of the Hittites, but he was not in a possession to refuse Abraham.

Ephron however, didn’t want to just sell the cave, he wanted to also sell the field that was around the cave. Ephron asked for 400 shekels for the cave and the field. Abraham agreed to that. There was no underhandedness here. He was not ripped off. It was a simple business transaction, witnessed by the elders of the community. He now owns a small part of the land that he passed on to Yitskhak and Yakov and their descendants. It had to be a big enough area for Abraham and his 300+servants with their families. Looking at it that way, 400 shekels was a very fair price for that much land.

Where is God involved in this story? Do you see His name here? Does this mean Abraham was acting outside God’s will here? He wanted to bury Sarah near the place he built his first altar to God. After 137 years, Abraham did not forget where he began his sojourn.

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