Summary: Abraham secures a resting place within the Promised Land.
We’re seeing a changed man in Abraham. He was afraid of death, but in the last chapter he showed faith that God can raise the dead back to life and that He keeps His promises. Now there’s another trial in his life when Sarah passes away:
And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
Here we see the curse of Adam taking its toll again. The serpent lied to Eve when he said, “You will surely not die.” Even these people who are chosen by God from all the people of the earth still have to face their own mortality. But it’s interesting to me that Sarah’s death (at least as far as the chapters go) immediately follows the “life” of Isaac. Abraham figuratively received Isaac back from the dead (Heb. 11:19), but then he literally loses Sarah.
What may be more interesting about chapter 23 is that only 2 verses describe her death and burial, but 18 describe how Abraham purchased her burial plot. At first, it may seem like Moses got it backwards. Shouldn’t we read more about how she died and what it meant for Abraham? But the point you have two remember when reading this chapter is that Moses’ intention isn’t to be dramatic or to pull our heartstrings—the whole Bible is a book about how God has chosen His people, made them a promise, and then how He has fulfilled His promise. The story we read in chapter 23 isn’t primarily about how Sarah dies but how Abraham receives land—Promised Land. Up to now he’s been living in a tent on the plains owned by a man named Mamre. Not long ago he was able to secure the rights to use a certain well at Beersheba, but he still didn’t own the land. What we’re going to see today is how this stranger and sojourner acquires the first little spot of land that will one day be called Israel.
3And Abraham stood up from before his dead,
That is that he stopped his time of mourning,
and spake unto the sons of Heth,
Now, you’ll remember Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. His son, Ham, mocked and Canaan was cursed because of it (Gen. 9:20-25). Well, Canaan had children of his own, and one of them was a boy named Heth (Gen. 10:15). The men dealing with Abraham in chapter 23 are Heth’s children, and they’re Canaanites who are under the curse. Abraham’s line comes from Noah too, but he’s from Noah’s other son, Shem (Gen. 11:10, 26). So that makes Abraham and the sons of Heth distant cousins. So he spoke to them,
saying, 4I am a stranger and a sojourner with you:
A lot of people have been born since Noah; Abraham is so distant from his cousins that they don’t know each other. He’s a stranger and only a temporary resident. But that’s about to change:
give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.
In other words, “I’ve got no place to bury my dead since I’m just a stranger here.”
5And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him, 6Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us:
He’s done some mighty things while living here. He captured his nephew back from the Elamite king, he’s made a bargain with the king of Gerar, and everybody knows God is with him. So they’re willing to give him whatever he needs.
in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.
The leaders of the city met at the gates (see verse 10) to conduct official business. So this conversation isn’t just a little deal between Abraham and another man; this is a legal contract made in front of the leaders of the city at the gates (or, as we might understand it, in a court of law).
7And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth. 8And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and intreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar,
Now, Ephron is actually in the crowd, but Abraham’s following protocol. There’s one main speaker for the group, so Abraham asks him to ask Ephron,
9That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you. 10And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying, 11Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead.