Genesis Chapter 23  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Genesis 23
Gen 23:1(top)
Gen 23:2

“Kiriath-arba.” “Kiriath-arba” means “the town of Arba,” who was one of the Nephilim.

[For more on Arba and Kiriath-arba, see commentary on Josh. 14:15 and Joshua 15:13.]

Gen 23:3

“rose up from before his dead wife.” The Bible does not give the details of Sarah’s death, but both Abraham and the Hittites would have been close by, because the custom was to bury a person the same day that they died. Abraham, who had been mourning beside his wife of what was almost certainly over 100 years, stood up and spoke to the Hittites, who had likely come to pay their respects to Abraham when they heard that Sarah had died. Abraham was a good and godly man, and there is no indication in the text that Sarah’s death was a surprise, so no doubt Abraham’s request for the cave of Machpelah was well thought out.

“sons.” The Hebrew word is “sons,” but often it is translated “children.” In this case, it means descendants, but the ones Abraham would have negotiated with would have been the men of the tribe.

Gen 23:4

“Give.” In this case, “give” is idiomatic for “sell,” and that was well understood.

Gen 23:5(top)
Gen 23:6

“mighty ruler.” The Hebrew uses the word Elohim here like an adjective, which is a standard idiomatic use in Hebrew. Thus the literal Hebrew phrase, “ruler of God,” means ruler with God-like characteristics, or “mighty ruler.” It is not as if the Hittites recognized Abraham’s God as “the” God, or in this case even “a” god. “Ruler” (often translated “prince,”) likely refers to a tribal chief. Abraham was indeed a mighty tribal chief among them. His encampment likely numbered in the hundreds.

Gen 23:7

“Abraham rose up.” It seems to be the custom that negotiations were normally carried out while sitting down, perhaps because they normally took so long (Gen. 23:10; Ruth 4:1-2). The fact that Abraham “rose up” before he started to speak likely signifies the fact that he thought of this negotiation as of particular importance. He was asking for a permanent possession of land in the Promised Land. He would have sat back down again after making the request.

“bowed down.” The common biblical way of bowing down before people or God was to fall to one’s knees and bow the upper body and face to the earth, as we see here.

[For more on bowing down, see commentary on 1 Chron. 29:20.]

“sons of Heth.” Genesis 10:15 tells us that Heth was a son of Canaan, so it makes sense that he and his descendants would settle in the land of Canaan. It is possible that these Hittites are related to the Hittites of Asia Minor that we today know as Turkey, but it is also possible that the name is the same but the people are not related.

Gen 23:8

“mind.” The Hebrew is nephesh (#05315 נֶפֶשׁ), often thought of and translated “soul,” but very often used in the Old Testament for the person himself or herself. In this case, nephesh is used for the activity of the mind: one’s thoughts and emotions. In this verse it could be translated, “If it is how you feel,” or “If you are thinking that,” or even, as some versions, “If you agree.”

[See Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul.’”]

entreat Ephron the son of Zohar for me.” We learn from the context that Ephron was sitting right there with Abraham and the elders of the Hittites, but culture and custom directed that it was wise for Abraham to use intermediaries. When someone of lesser status, power, or influence (in this case, Abraham), wanted something from someone of greater position (in this case, Ephron, who owned the land), the best way to move forward in the biblical culture was to secure an intermediary or intermediaries who had influence with the one from whom the favor was desired. Thus Abraham, instead of looking at Ephron and saying, “I want to buy your cave,” asked the Hittite elders to entreat Ephron to sell the cave.

[For more on the use of intermediaries, see commentary on John 12:21.]

Gen 23:9

“that he owns.” Abraham, an astute businessman, is making sure that Ephron does indeed own the field and thus has the right to sell it. It is amazing how many real estate transactions occur and the buyer later finds out that the person who “sold” the land did not have clear title. Anyone buying or selling land can learn things from Abraham.

“which is at the end of his field.” Abraham is making it clear that he does not want to buy all of Ephron’s land, only the cave.

“full price.” The Hebrew is “full silver,” and reflects the custom of trading using precious metals by weight. Coins had not been invented yet. Abraham is also making sure the Hittites know he is buying the land as a permanent possession, he is not just using the cave to bury Sarah.

“property.” God had promised Abraham the land, and so he knew that someday it would be his and his descendants, but how that would happen had not yet been revealed. Nevertheless, Abraham takes a stake in the Promised Land by buying a burial site for his property. See commentary on Genesis 23:4.

Gen 23:10

“all those who entered the gate of his city.” This idiomatic expression means more than, “those who go in and out of the city,” it refers to the “elders at the gate,” the important people and decision-makers in the city. Obviously, the whole city was not present for the negotiations between Abraham and Ephron, but the important people of the city were all there. The gate of the city was not just a door, it was a “gate area,” usually with an inner and outer gate, and places for sitting inside the gate area.

Gen 23:11

“I give you the field.” It is unclear exactly what Ephron is saying here (and it may have been unclear to Abraham too). It may be that he is going back to the original Hittite position in Genesis 23:6, that Abraham was welcome to use the cave and the field as well, but Ephron was reluctant to sell it; or it may have been that Ephron was using an oriental custom of giving something away in full knowledge that custom would dictate that Abraham then would have to make certain gifts or concessions back to Ephron, and Ephron knew Abraham was rich and powerful. What is clear from oriental custom is that Ephron was not simply giving Abraham the field and cave. Abraham was not deterred by this unclear negotiation, and clearly insisted on paying for the cave, at which point Ephron decided upon what he considered a fair price and Abraham paid it.

Gen 23:12(top)
Gen 23:13

“in the hearing of the people of the land.” Abraham, the wise negotiator, makes the deal in a loud enough voice that everyone can hear it.

“price.” The Hebrew is “silver.”

“Take it from me.” In other words, “Accept it from me.” Abraham knows the deal is not done until Ephron takes the silver. Then everyone knows the cave is sold. It is always good in negotiations if something physical changes hands; that avoids misunderstandings and “he said she said” later. The wisdom of the transfer of something physical was passed down in the culture and we see in the time of the Judges that one person gave the other his sandal (Ruth 4:7-9).

Gen 23:14(top)
Gen 23:15

“400 shekels.” If the shekel of Abraham’s time is the same as later shekels, it was 11 or 11.5 grams, or about .4 ounces. So 400 shekels would be about 10 pounds or 4.6 kilograms. This seems to be a lot of money for the field, but we don’t know how big it was (see commentary on Gen. 24:22).

Gen 23:16(top)
Gen 23:17

“all the trees.” When someone buys a field today it is understood that he is buying the trees in it too, but that was not necessarily the custom in ancient times. The trees, especially any kind of fruit or olive trees, were very valuable in producing a cash crop every year, so they had to be clearly included in the price. One of the reasons that Israel was so denuded before the British took over after WWI was that the Turks who possessed the land since the 1500s taxed not only the land, but every tree, so many landowners cut down all their trees to save tax money. After that, the goats foraged the land and kept more trees from growing up. Worse, the weather over the centuries washed away much of the topsoil and left the country of Israel looking like a rocky desert. When the Jews regained possession in 1948 they started planting trees and controlling the goats and the land is slowly recovering.

Gen 23:18(top)
Gen 23:19(top)
Gen 23:20(top)

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