Studies in Torah

Genesis 23:1-25:18: Believers’ bargain bonanza from Sarah and Rivkah

Why did Abraham the nomadic “father of faith” pay so much for a tomb for his wife Sarah? What’s the connection between Abraham’s and King David’s picking a certain son as the successor over other, older sons? Are does the symbol of a well in the account of Yitzkhak marrying Rivkah and in Yeshua’s encounter with the Samaritan woman teach us about the Mashiakh’s work of bringing new life out of death? These are questions tackled in this discussion of the Torah portion חיי שרה Chayei Sarah (“life of Sarah”), covering Genesis 23-25.

Genesis 23 is primarily about a business contract, which was negotiated in a very public manner. Abraham comes to bury his wife. He asks for the cave but he ends up buying the entire field around that cave, which faces Hebron. He didn’t buy Hebron itself.

Abraham paid 400 silver shekels for the cave of Machpela and the surrounding field. (Photo by Magda S from free images.com)
Abraham paid 400 silver shekels for the cave of Machpela and the surrounding field.

He pays 400 silver shekels for the cave and the field. That is about $60,000 today. It seems like a really good deal, but back then, that was a lot of money. Abraham grossly overpaid for this land.

Abraham was a very wealthy man, and was a merchant shepherd by trade. He certainly had the money.

Why didn’t he accept the cave for free? Abraham’s intent is never to receive anything for free. He never wanted anyone to claim any ownership over him. He was in debt to no one. He did not want any strings attached to the people of Canaan.

Negotiation and haggling are the norm in Middle Eastern culture but Abraham did not haggle.

I don’t know what attachment that Abraham may have had to the cave of Machpelah that he was willing to pay a ridiculous amount of money for the cave. He already knew that God had already promised his descendants all the land of Canaan for free.

One reason he bought the land is that once he had paid that claim, no one could claim that he did not have a right to be in that land. In as sense, he was no longer a sojourner.

It’s why Yitzkhak (Isaac) was never allowed to leave the land of Canaan his entire life. Abraham had left Canaan for a time, as did Ya’akob (Jacob) but Yitzkhak never left Canaan his entire life.

There aren’t many examples of haggling in the Bible. One of the few examples is when Abraham haggled with God over how many lives to save in Sodom. It’s not the way God deals with His people and not the way He teaches His people to deal with each other.

Abraham had a plan from the beginning that he was not in the mood to haggle but it is possible that the sons of Heth didn’t really believe that or they were so used to haggling that they couldn’t imagine proposing a straight forward transaction.

Not from among the Canaanites

“Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in every way. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, ‘Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live.'” (Genesis 24:1–3 NASB)

Abraham and Eleazar are swearing an oath to each another under the covenant of circumcision. They didn’t have a Bible to swear on. They had the covenant of circumcision which was given by God as a witness to their oath. This meeting was a last will and testament for Abraham. He didn’t know if he would live to see Eleazar return from Aram or not. Regardless if Abraham lives or dies, this is the agreement between them should be fulfilled.

I won’t go into all the reasons that Abraham didn’t like the Canaanites but I can say that it had little to do with idolatry. Laban’s house had just as many idols as any pagan house would have had.

The issue with the Canaanites was due to a deep sexual immorality that was the norm among the Canaanite women. They used their bodies to manipulate their men. Their sexual immorality made them undesirable wives. Sarah didn’t like the Canaanite women, Rivkah didn’t like them.

Hagar didn’t like Canaanite women, either. Hagar went all the way back to Egypt to find a wife for Ishmael. She didn’t like them for the  same reason that Sarah and Rivkah (Rebecca) didn’t. Esau liked them and took two Canaanite women as wives.

Eleazar knew that he would find the woman who God chose for Yitzkhak, but Eleazar’s main concern is whether she will consent to come with him or not.

What would the job description of Yitzkhak’s wife look like? What kind of person is fit to be Yitzkhak’s wife? Luke 9 gives us a clue.

“As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”” (Luke 9:57–62 NASB)

If you plow a field by hand, you have to continue to look forward to the end of the field, if you look back, the line will be crooked and not fit for planting. If we drive our cars looking off and back rather than forward, we will be a danger to others. When God tells you to go, you go right away, without delay. Rivkah had goal: to be a part of God’s kingdom.

We know what kind of person Abraham is looking for: a woman who is willing to join Yitzkhak without delay.

“Then Abraham said to him, ‘Beware that you do not take my son back there! The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.’” (Genesis 24:6–8 NASB)

However, Abraham tells Eleazar that Yitzkhak is not to go back there under any circumstance. Yitzkhak is later told directly by God not to go to Egypt. Abraham went to Egypt and Jacob later went to Egypt but God wanted Yitzkhak to have a unique attachment to the land

Yitzkhak is a messianic figure. He plays that role most of his life, except at the time when he tries to bless Esau instead of Jacob.

Abraham was promised a land where his descendants were to live forever. Yitzkhak was born in and received the promise, symbolically and part of that symbolism is that Yitzkhak was born in and died in the promised land. When you receive your promise, would you ever give it up? No. Would you want to give it up? No.

Yitzkhak lives in the promised land, preparing it for his descendants. He is to mold the land to match its promise. Yitzkhak is the one who prepares the place.

Yitzkhak never fought back when his wells were stolen and covered. Messiah Yeshua said to turn the cheek.

There are several men who have a messianic role, and play out different aspects of the messianic destiny but only Messiah Himself did them all.

Omens are dumb and pointless, but we take a completely arbitrary thing and use it to make a decision. That is stupid.

Eliezer did not ask for an omen. He was asking God to show him the character of the woman who God had chosen for Yitzkhak. The kind of person who says, “I’ll do it myself” is a different person than then one who will send someone out to do her work.

Rivkah’s family were a wealthy family. Rivkah’s family could have easily sent out one of her family’s servants to go gather the water but she went out herself.

herd of wild camels in Israel
These are wild camels near Beersheba, it’s still an impressive caravan nonetheless and imagine having to feed and water them all by yourself as Rachel did? (BiblePlaces.com)

What kind of girl offers to draw out 150 gallons of water for 10 camels? That is a strong woman, not just physically but mentally, too.

Each bracelet he gave Rivkah had 10 shekels of gold. She was also given a nose ring. All this reminds me of the symbolism in Revelation when God puts his mark on the head and the hands of His servants.

Abraham’s household was a household of prayer. Abraham prayed, the servant Eliezer prayed and the first time Rivkah sees Yitzkhak, she finds him praying.

“Now Yitzkhak had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev. Yitzkhak went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming.” (Genesis 24:62–63 NASB)

Life after Sarah

In Genesis 25, Abraham starts a second family but they are not to inherit the promise. He did make sure that these younger sons as well as Ishmael were sent away, far away so they knew they did not receive the promise.

Yitzkhak and Ishmael are not the only descendants of Abraham. They are all important in their own way, even though the ultimate promise was transmitted through Yitzkhak alone.

Insights from the Writings

The haftarah (parallel) reading is 1Kings 1. This reading might give us some insight about why Abraham would start a second family after the promised son, Yitzkhak, was born.

David knew that the promise of his throne was to go through Solomon, not through any of the older sons. But unlike Abraham, he was not as forthright with them on this issue. This is why several of his sons organized rebellions to try to take the throne.

But deep down Adoniyah (Adonijah) knew he was in rebellion against God’s will in his matter. He didn’t invite the prophet or the promised heir to his “coronation.”

When David was shown his error, he did go about to correct it. Every descendant of Abraham other than Yitzkhak is second place. Every descendant of David other than Solomon is second place.

Even though all the male descendants of Abraham were circumcised, only Yitzkhak received the eternal promise. All the descendants of Abraham became great nations, had great kings, etc. But the eternal promise, the promise of the Messianic line, was given to Yitzkhak.

The well that Rivkah drew from is a symbol. Remember the woman at the well with Yeshua. What did he ask for? A drink of water? What did Eleazar ask for? A drink of water. They are all sitting a wells, asking for water. Yosef (Joseph) was thrown into a well until he was sold away. The well is a symbol of death, to bury someone, but it is also a sign of a new life.

You go down into death and draw out water, which is a gift of life. Rivkah gave the servant and his camels water, which saved their lives, but Rivkah’s life was saved as well.

Summary: Tammy.


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