In our study of Genesis chapter twenty three, we will look at Abraham's purchase of a burial plot for Sarah and its implications for today.
Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
As they say, Sarah lived to a ripe old age but then she died. Hebron is a city that is in what is called the West Bank today. There have been many disputes over the city but it is still a part of Israel even though it is somewhat controlled by the "Palestinian Authority". As we saw in chapter 22, Abraham was in Beersheba and we do not know why Sarah was in Hebron. When he found out, he went to mourn for her.
Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, 'I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.' The Hittites replied to Abraham, 'Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.'
Abraham asked the local people to sell him a burial plot for Sarah but they offered him a tomb for free because they had great respect for him. This reminds us of our calling to be "in the world but not of the world". Abraham was in the land of Canaan but was considered, by himself as well as others, to be a foreigner. He was not from that land and people knew that he was different. We all have to ask ourselves whether people can tell that we are foreigners in this world or whether we blend in. As we see here, the locals can respect you but they need to still know that you belong to a heavenly kingdom.
Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. He said to them, 'If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.'
Abraham replied to their generous offer by asking to buy the cave of Machpelah. We see from this that he had already done the leg work and found the spot. Surely, he was led there by God and it reminds us of the fact that we must be listening to God in order to be led by Him.
Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. 'No, my lord,' he said. 'Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.'
The owner of the cave was listening and offered to give not only the cave but also the field to Abraham. He was not only giving Abraham the cave but also the field which would have been giving away his food or income.
Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land and he said to Ephron in their hearing, 'Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.'
Abraham insisted on paying for the land and the cave but we do not know why. Abraham was a wealthy man so he would have had plenty of money to buy it but the Hittites were trying to give him a gift.
Ephron answered Abraham, 'Listen to me, my lord, the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.' Abraham agreed to Ephron's terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.
The negotiations settle on a price and Abraham counts out the money. So, why did he not accept the gift? We see the answer in Abraham's previous dealing with the king of Sodom (Genesis 14). He knew that his wealth had come from God and not men. He did not want any man to be able to take credit for the blessing that God had given him.
So Ephron's field in Machpelah near Mamre - both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field - was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city.
So Abraham bought the field in Machpelah which we have already saw is Hebron in what is called the "West Bank" today. There were witnesses there, as required by tradition and law. The Machpelah purchase was, in fact, an acknowledgement that the land of Canaan was Abraham's new homeland.
Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan.
Abraham buried Sarah in the cave and Abraham would be buried there as well. Today, the Ibrahimi Mosque is built on the site and it is also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs. As of the 1993 Oslo Accords, political control of the area has been given to what is known as the Palestinian Authority.
So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.
Here, we see again that the land was sold to Abraham who is the father of the Judeo-Christian faith. After Abraham's death, the property would have been given to his son Isaac and passed on through the generations. One day, Hebron as well as all of the earth, will be claimed by its right owner which is Jesus Christ.