Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Genesis 23:20

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

And the field, etc. were made sure - ויקם vaiyakom, were established, caused to stand; the whole transaction having been regulated according to all the forms of law then in use.

1. In this transaction between Abraham and the sons of Heth concerning the cave and field of Machpelah, we have the earliest account on record of the purchase of land. The simplicity, openness, and candour on both sides cannot be too much admired.

2. Sarah being dead, Abraham being only a sojourner in that land, shifting from place to place for the mere purpose of pasturing his flocks, and having no right to any part of the land, wished to purchase a place in which he might have the continual right of sepulture. For this purpose, 1. He goes to the gate of the city, the place where, in all ancient times, justice was administered, and bargains and sales concluded, and where for these purposes the elders of the people sat. 2. He there proposes to buy the cave known by the name of the Cave of Machpelah, the cave of the turning or the double cave, for a burying place for his family. 3. To prevent him from going to any unnecessary expense, the people with one voice offer him the privilege of burying his wife in any of their sepulchers; this appearing to them to be no more than the common rights of hospitality and humanity required. 4. Abraham, intent on making a purchase, Ephron, the owner of the field and cave, values them at four hundred shekels, but at the same time wishes Abraham to receive the whole as a gift. 5. Abraham refuses the gift and weighs down the silver specified. 6. The people who enter in at the gate, i.e., the inhabitants coming from or going to their ordinary occupations in the country, witness the transaction, and thus the conveyance to Abraham is made sure without the intervention of those puzzlers of civil affairs by whose tricks and chicanery property often becomes insecure, and right and succession precarious and uncertain. But this censure does not fall on lawyers properly so called, who are men of honor, and whose office, in every well-regulated state, is as useful as it is respectable. But the accumulation and complex nature of almost all modern systems of law puzzle even justice herself, and often induce decisions by which truth falls in the streets and equity goes backwards. In the first ages of mankind, suspicion, deceit, and guile seem to have had a very limited influence. Happy days of primitive simplicity! When shall they return?

3. We often hear of the rudeness and barbarity of the primitive ages, but on what evidence? Every rule of politeness that could be acted upon in such a case as that mentioned here, is brought into full practice. Is it possible to read the simple narration in this place without admiring the amiable, decent, and polite conduct displayed on both sides? Had even Lord Chesterfield read this account, his good sense would have led him to propose it as a model in all transactions between man and his fellows. There is neither awkward, stiff formality on the one hand, nor frippery or affectation on the other. Decent respect, good sense, good nature, and good breeding, are all prominently displayed. And how highly laudable and useful is all this! A pedant or a boor on either side might have destroyed the simplicity of the whole transaction; the one by engendering caution and suspicion, and the other by exciting disgust. In all such transactions the beau and the boor are equally to be avoided.

From the first no sincerity can be expected, and the manners of the latter render him intolerable. The religion of the Bible recommends and inculcates orderly behavior, as well as purity of heart and life. They who, under the sanction of religion, trample under foot the decent forms of civil respect, supposing that because they are religious they have a right to be rude, totally mistake the spirit of Christianity, for love or charity (the soul and essence of that religion) behaveth not itself unseemly. Every attentive reader of the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, will clearly discern that the description of true religion given in that place applies as forcibly to good breeding as to inward and outward holiness. What lessons of honesty, decent respect, and good manners could a sensible man derive from Abraham treating with the sons of Heth for the cave of Machpelah, and William Penn treating with the American Indians for the tract of land now called Pennsylvania! I leave others to draw the parallel, and to show how exactly the conduct and spirit of patriarch the first were exemplified in the conduct and spirit of patriarch the second. Let the righteous be had in everlasting remembrance!

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 1-20

- The Death of Sarah

2. ארבע קרית qı̂ryat -'arba‛ “Qirjath-arba‹, city of Arba.” ארבע 'arba‛ “Arba‹, four.”

8. עפרון ‛eprôn “‹Ephron, of the dust, or resembling a calf.” צחר tshochar “Tsochar, whiteness.”

9. מכפלה makpêlâh “Makpelah, doubled.”

The death and burial of Sarah are here recorded. This occasions the purchase of the field of Makpelah, in the cave of which is her sepulchre.

Genesis 23:1-2

Sarah is the only woman whose age is recorded in Scripture. She meets with this distinction as the wife of Abraham and the mother of the promised seed. “A hundred and twenty and seven years,” and therefore thirty-seven years after the birth of her son. “In Kiriatharba.” Arba is called the father of Anak Joshua 15:13; Joshua 21:11; that is, of the Anakim or Bene Anak, a tall or gigantic tribe Numbers 13:22; 28; 33, who were subsequently dispossessed by Kaleb. The Anakim were probably Hittites. Abraham had been absent from Hebron, which is also called Mamre in this very chapter Genesis 23:17, Genesis 23:19, not far from forty years, though he appears to have still kept up a connection with it, and had at present a residence in it. During this interval the sway of Arba may have commenced. “In the land of Kenaan,” in contradistinction to Beer-sheba in the land of the Philistines, where we last left Abraham. “Abraham went to mourn for Sarah,” either from Beer-sheba or some out-field where he had cattle pasturing.

Genesis 23:3-16

Abraham purchases a burying-ground in the land. “The sons of Heth.” These are the lords of the soil. “A stranger and a sojourner.” He is a stranger, not a Hittite; a sojourner, a dweller in the land, not a mere visitor or traveller. The former explains why he has no burial-ground; the latter, why he asks to purchase one. “Bury my dead out of my sight.” The bodies of those most dear to us decay, and must be removed from our sight. Abraham makes his request in the most general terms. In the somewhat exaggerated style of Eastern courtesy, the sons of Heth reply, “Hear us, my lord.” One speaks for all; hence, the change of number. “My lord” is simply equivalent to our “Sir,” or the German “mein Herr.” “A prince of God” in those times of simple faith was a chief notably favored of God, as Abraham had been in his call, his deliverance in Egypt, his victory over the kings, his intercession for the cities of the vale, and his protection the court of Abimelek. Some of these events were well known to the Hittites, as they had occurred while he was residing among them.

Genesis 23:7-9

Abraham now makes a specific offer to purchase the field of Makpelah from Ephron the son of Zohar. “Treat for me” - deal, use your influence with him. Abraham approaches in the most cautious manner to the individual with whom he wishes to treat. “The cave of Makpelah.” The burial of the dead in caves, natural and artificial, was customary in this Eastern land. The field seems to have been called Makpelah (doubled) from the double form of the cave, or the two caves perhaps communicating with each other, which it contained. “For the full silver.” Silver seems to have been the current medium of commerce at this time. God was known, and mentioned at an earlier period Genesis 2:11; Genesis 13:2. “A possession of a burying-ground.” We learn from this passage that property in land had been established at this time. Much of the country, however, must have been a common, or unappropriated pasture ground.

Genesis 23:10-16

The transaction now comes to be between Abraham and Ephron. “Was sitting.” The sons of Heth were seated in council, and Ephron among them. Abraham seems to have been seated also; for he stood up to make his obeisance and request Genesis 23:7. “Before all that went in at the gate of his city.” The conference was public. The place of session for judicial and other public business was the gate of the city, which was common ground, and where men were constantly going in and out. “His city.” This implies not that he was the king or chief, but simply that he was a respectable citizen. If Hebron was the city of the Hittites here intended, its chief at the time seems to have been Arba. “The field give I thee.” Literally, have I given thee - what was resolved upon was regarded as done. “In the sight of the sons of my people.” This was a public declaration or deed before many witnesses.

He offers the field as a gift, with the Eastern understanding that the receiver would make an ample recompense. This mode of dealing had its origin in a genuine good-will, that was prepared to gratify the wish of another as soon as it was made known, and as far as it was reasonable or practicable. The feeling seems to have been still somewhat fresh and unaffected in the time of Abraham, though it has degenerated into a mere form of courtesy. “If thou wilt, hear me.” The language is abrupt, being spoken in the haste of excitement. “I give silver.” “I have given” in the original; that is, I have determined to pay the full price. If the Eastern giver was liberal, the receiver was penetrated with an equal sense of the obligation conferred, and a like determination to make an equivalent return. “The land is four hundred shekels.” This is the familiar style for “the land is worth so much.” The shekel is here mentioned for the first time. It was originally a weight, not a coin. The weight at least was in common use before Abraham. If the shekel be nine pennyweights and three grains, the price of the field was about forty-five pounds sterling. “And Abraham weighed.” It appears that the money was uncoined silver, as it was weighed. “Current with the merchant.” The Kenaanites, of whom the Hittites were a tribe, were among the earliest traders in the world. The merchant, as the original imports, is the traveller who brings the wares to the purchasers in their own dwellings or towns. To him a fixed weight and measure were necessary.

Genesis 23:17-20

The completion of the sale is stated with great formality. No mention is made of any written deed of sale. Yet Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remained in undisturbed possession of this burial-ground. Undisputed tenure seems to have been acknowledged as a title. The burial of Sarah is then simply noted. The validity of Abraham‘s title is practically evinced by the actual burial of Sarah, and is recited again on account of the importance of the fact.

This chapter is interesting as containing the first record of mourning for the dead, of burial, of property in land, of purchase of land, of silver as a medium of purchase, and of a standard of weight. Mourning for the dead was, no doubt, natural on the first death. Burial was a matter of necessity, in order, as Abraham says, to remove the body out of sight, as soon as it was learned by experience that it would be devoured by beasts of prey, or become offensive by putrefaction. To bury or cover it with earth was a more easy and natural process than burning, and was therefore earlier and more general. Property in land was introduced where tribes became settled, formed towns, and began to practise tillage. Barter was the early mode of accommodating each party with the articles he needed or valued. This led gradually to the use of the precious metals as a “current” medium of exchange - first by weight, and then by coins of a fixed weight and known stamp.

The burial of Sarah is noted because she was the wife of Abraham and the mother of the promised seed. The purchase of the field is worthy of note, as it is the first property of the chosen race in the promised land. Hence, these two events are interwoven with the sacred narrative of the ways of God with man.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Prudence, as well as justice, directs us to be fair and open in our dealings; cheating bargains will not bear the light. Abraham, without fraud or delay, pays the money. He pays it at once in full, without keeping any part back; and by weight, current money with the merchant, without deceit. See how anciently money was used for the help of trade, and how honestly it should be paid when it is due. Though all the land of Canaan was Abraham by promise, yet the time of his possessing it not being come, what he had occasion for he bought and paid for. Dominion is not founded in grace. The saints' title to an eternal inheritance does not entitle them to the possessions of this world, nor justify them in doing wrong. Ephron honestly and fairly makes a good title to the land. As that which is bought, must be honestly paid for, so that which is sold, must be honestly delivered and secured. Let us manage our concerns with punctuality and exactness, in order to avoid contention. Abraham buried Sarah in cave. or vault, which was in the purchased field. It would tend to endear the land to his posterity. And it is worth noting, that a burying-place was the only piece of the land which Abraham possessed in Canaan. Those who have least of this earth, find a grave in it. This sepulchre was at the end of the field; whatever our possessions are, there is a burial-place at the end of them. It was a token of his belief and expectation of the resurrection. Abraham is contented to be still a pilgrim while he lives, but secures a place where, when he dies, his flesh may rest in hope. After all, the chief concern is, with whom we shall rise.
Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 169

In choosing a home, God would have us consider, first of all, the moral and religious influences that will surround us and our families. We may be placed in trying positions, for many cannot have their surroundings what they would; and whenever duty calls us, God will enable us to stand uncorrupted, if we watch and pray, trusting in the grace of Christ. But we should not needlessly expose ourselves to influences that are unfavorable to the formation of Christian character. When we voluntarily place ourselves in an atmosphere of worldliness and unbelief, we displease God and drive holy angels from our homes. PP 169.1

Those who secure for their children worldly wealth and honor at the expense of their eternal interests, will find in the end that these advantages are a terrible loss. Like Lot, many see their children ruined, and barely save their own souls. Their lifework is lost; their life is a sad failure. Had they exercised true wisdom, their children might have had less of worldly prosperity, but they would have made sure of a title to the immortal inheritance. PP 169.2

The heritage that God has promised to His people is not in this world. Abraham had no possession in the earth, “no, not so much as to set his foot on.” Acts 7:5. He possessed great substance, and he used it to the glory of God and the good of his fellow men; but he did not look upon this world as his home. The Lord had called him to leave his idolatrous countrymen, with the promise of the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession; yet neither he nor his son nor his son's son received it. When Abraham desired a burial place for his dead, he had to buy it of the Canaanites. His sole possession in the Land of Promise was that rock-hewn tomb in the cave of Machpelah. PP 169.3

But the word of God had not failed; neither did it meet its final accomplishment in the occupation of Canaan by the Jewish people. “To Abraham and his seed were the promises made.” Galatians 3:16. Abraham himself was to share the inheritance. The fulfillment of God's promise may seem to be long delayed—for “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8); it may appear to tarry; but at the appointed time “it will surely come, it will not tarry.” Habakkuk 2:3. The gift to Abraham and his seed included not merely the land of Canaan, but the whole earth. So says the apostle, “The promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Romans 4:13. And the Bible plainly teaches that the promises made to Abraham are to be fulfilled through Christ. All that are Christ's are “Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise”—heirs to “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away”—the earth freed from the curse of sin. Galatians 3:29; 1 Peter 1:4. For “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;” and “the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” Daniel 7:27; Psalm 37:11. PP 169.4

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