Genesis 23:1-20 “Abraham Purchases a Burial Plot”

Posted on November 7, 2010. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Genesis 23:1-20 “Abraham Purchases a Burial Plot”

Sunday, November 17, 2010

Bryan E. Walker


Read Genesis 23





  1. II.                 Theological Analysis: Looking for a Country of His Own
    1. C.                 Application- How Should Christians Mourn?


1. Understand first, that death is an enemy. 1Cor.15:26 “The last      enemy to be destroyed is death.” Man was created by God with conditional immortality. He was to dwell in the presence of God and partake of the Tree of Life forever. But sin entered in and the penalty for sin is death, Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23. It is common to accept death as a relief from suffering, but all too often I think we fail to see death as an enemy. Certainly in our church now we can recognize death as an enemy since we have lost one of our youth to a drunk driver. But when our loved ones grow old or very ill and the suffering is great, we tend to welcome death. Even lost people, those who do not have a saving relationship with God through Jesus tend to look at death as preferable to a life of suffering. A few weeks ago an acquaintance of mine committed suicide. It was shocking. He was an ex-con, he had gotten laid off from a job about a year ago and had not been able to find work. Since he had no money he couldn’t afford car insurance, yet he kept on driving until he got involved in a minor traffic accident and lost his license for no insurance. He was divorced and had not been able to see his daughter in months because she and the mother live in a different city. He was behind on his child support payments. He got turned down for a job because he could not produce a driver’s license. He lost all hope and killed himself. I have done two teenage suicide funerals and one murder-suicide funeral of an older couple; people lose hope and think that to be dead would be better than to go on living. But for the lost, death does not bring relief, it ushers them into the eternal fires of hell; you go from suffering here to an everlasting suffering there. As Dante has carved into the gates of hell, “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”. So we must understand that death is an enemy.

  1. 2.      But the Christian has hope, so even though we are to consider death an enemy, 1Thess.4:13 tells us that we are not to grieve as others do who have no hope. We do have hope that our loved ones who depart us in the flesh are present with the Lord, Phil.1:21-23 and Luke 23:42-43.
  2. 3.      How should we grieve? Tears, sobbing, even wailing over the death of a loved one are appropriate for the Believer. In our culture we do not tear our clothes or throw dirt, but we do often find that we cannot eat. Although, in my Baptist experience I have seen that eating after a funeral is a tradition as church members and friends bring lots of food or even have a communal meal at the church afterwards. We have a tradition of bringing flowers, a sign of life, to funerals. In the funerals that I conduct I present a theology of death and the gospel as well as speak encouraging words of counsel to the family and friends.
  3. 4.      What do you think of the use of funeral homes instead of the local church? Cremation instead of burying? Donating of organs or even of the whole body to those who need them? Were you aware that funeral home companies long ago lobbied for a lot of laws that would guarantee them business? But then again, would you really want to bury your loved ones in your back yard? Or in the church yard?
  4. 5.      What are some memorable funerals you have attended? What made them memorable? Any particularly bad funerals? What do you like to see/hear at a funeral?
    1. D.          Abraham Begins Negotiating for a Burial Plot, vss.3-6

1.“And Abraham rose up…” vs. 3. As an expression of his grief Abraham would likely have been sitting on the ground, in the dust. Notice that the first two discussions with the Hittites begin with Abraham rising and speaking followed by a response by the Hittites in vs. 3 and vs. 7, and the third round of talks begins in vs. 12 with Abraham bowing and speaking. A very structured account that followed the customs of the day.

  1. 2.          Who were the Hittites? The Hittites had a kingdom that was in central Turkey, Anatolia, and it would not have been unusual to have a variety of people groups with trading delegations in other places. But here is seems as if the Hittites were the rulers of the city, sitting in the gates. Another problem is that the Hittite Empire we know about came after Abraham’s time, the first Hittite dynasty being about the 18th century BC and Abraham is likely closer to 2000 BC. This is not an insurmountable problem however as the Hittite people likely existed prior to the first dynasty we know of. But, when both geography and timing are somewhat out of place it should give us pause. Are we in fact talking about the same people group? Maybe not but Gen. 10:15 mentions Heth as a son of Canaan, grandson of Noah, and the Hittites are mentioned throughout Israel’s history. Waltke writes, p.317, “…the Hittites of the patriarchal accounts have Semitic, not Hittite, names…” Victor P. Hamilton, pp.126-128 supports the presence of the Hittites in Canaan due to the large amount of biblical testimony of such. The bottom line is that in the ancient world there was a lot of travel and mixing of people’s groups before the great empires came into being and the overwhelming amount of textual evidence seems to weigh in favor of there being Hittites in Abraham’s Canaan. See Exodus 3:8; Deut.7:1; Joshua 1:4; 3:10; Judges 3:5.
  2. 3.          Mathews writes, pp.317-318, “The presence of Hittites (bene het, ‘sons of Heth’) in the Hebron region, however, is puzzling to historians since the Hittites are not known to have resided in the southern area of Canaan. The problem is created by the term ‘Hittite’, which can refer to at least three and possibly four different groups….Until more information becomes available, the origin of the pre-Israelite ‘Hittites’ remains uncertain.”
  3. 4.          The introduction of the Hittites here also points us forward to the marriage of Esau to two Hittite girls in 26:34f, and 27:46, where they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.
  4. 5.          “I am a sojourner and a foreigner among you.”, vs.4 Abraham begins his negotiations by humbling himself by admitting he is but a sojourner and foreigner in their midst.The simplest way to understand these terms is to say that Abraham was a “resident alien”, not a citizen, of Canaan, and is therefore not allowed to own land under most circumstances. The way to obtain land, as shown in the case of Dinah in Gen. 34:20-22, is through intermarriage. And this, the Patriarchs would not do. Waltke writes, “Marriage with the Hittites, whose moral practices were otherwise repulsive to the godly patriarchs, is unthinkable to Abraham (cf. 26:34-35; 27:46…), p.318.
  5. 6.          Abraham as a sojourner is a type for Israel during their Exodus and wandering in the wilderness in Moses’ day and most especially he is a type for all Christians, who know that this world is not our home and our true citizenship is in heaven. This is pictured in Moses’ day by the actual wanderings by Israel as they lived in tents for 40 years, but is best seen by the Tabernacle, constructed in the wilderness under God’s specific instructions. God dwelled with Israel in the wilderness in the Tabernacle, a huge tent. In Israel’s later years, the prophets would at times point to Israel’s time in the wilderness as the time when they were closest to God. So, too, the author of Hebrews points out (11:13-16) that Abraham and Sarah were strangers and exiles on the earth but also that God has prepared for them a city. We too are to desire a “better country”. Here is a good song by the old Christian Rock band, Petra, that communicates this idea:

  1. 7.          Application: Do we consider ourselves as strangers and aliens, sojourners, in this world? Or are we too in love with this world? How do we balance being responsible citizens of America, Texas and Ft Worth with knowing our true citizenship is in heaven and that this world will always essentially hate us when we identify with Christ?
  2. 8.          “give me property among you for a burying place…” the word used for burial place means “holding of a grave” (Gordon Wenham, p.127) and indicates permanency, he wants to use it not just to bury Sarah, his beloved wife of over 100 years, but for his family that will come in later generations.
  3. 9.          “Hear us, my lord; you are a prince of God among us.” Abraham is recognized as being blessed by God; he is respected by the Canaanites for his past deeds, his wealth, and his character. Hamilton makes the case for translating “prince of God” as “God’s elect one” (p.129) which definitely has theological implications. Hamilton writes, “The expression is too graphic to be a greeting of formal courtesy.” Application: while on the one hand we realize that this world is not our home and that if we proclaim the gospel verbally and with our lives and actions, identifying with Christ in all we do, this world will hate us, it is also true that if we live our lives with the fruit of the spirit being visible, our excellence will draw men to us with respect, and then beyond us, to Christ. Our lives should be neon signs pointing others to Jesus in such a way that those around us understand that we are the elect of God, princes and princesses of the Creator of the universe.
  4. 10.      “Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs…” Although the Hittites are being very complimentary and respectful, basically saying that Abraham is “among us”, they nonetheless offer him less than what he requested. They offer him the use of one of their tombs when he was asking to purchase a family burial plot. Waltke writes, p.318, “…while the Hittites are willing to grant this mighty prince the right to bury his dead on their land, they are reluctant to give him a permanent possession there.”
  5. E.           The Second Round of Negotiations for a Burial Plot, vss.7-11
    1. 1.      “Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites…” vs.7 This is a remarkable sign of respect and humility to the Hittites after they had just called him a prince. Application: all too often we as Christians can allow our contempt for the sinfulness of the world, and the evil worldviews of those around us, affect how we treat others. While we are called to be the salt of the earth and light of the world, called to speak the truth of God’s Word into a sinful world, we are to do this with love and respect. This gets complicated when the world believes that our very attempt at argumentation is disrespectful.
    2. 2.      “Entreat for me Ephron the son of Zohar…the cave of Machpelah…” vs.8,9 Abraham makes the request now more personal. The name Ephron is Semitic, not Indo-European as the classical Hittites would be. He requests a specific place that includes a cave’ convenient for burials.
    3. 3.      “For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as property for a burying place.” Vs.9 this is legal language which stresses that Abraham wanted not just a temporary place, not a borrowed tomb, but a place that he would own and that would be passed down to his descendants after him. It would be recognized as a legal transaction by all the residents.
    4. 4.      “…Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing …of all who went in at the gate of his city” vs.10 The transaction is taking place in public for all to hear and see, making the deal between Ephron and Abraham undeniably legal and binding. Christians should do every thing we can to conduct our business in an above board, legal and transparent manner. A large number of Christian ministries and churches conduct their business in either a sloppy or illegal manner.
    5. 5.      “No, my lord…I give you the field, and I give you the cave…” vs.11 Ephron is seemingly offering the cave and the field as a gift to Abraham. Is this merely bargaining language or is the offer genuine? We don’t know.
    6. F.            The Third Round of Negotiations, vss.12-16
      1. 1.      “Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he said…I give the price of the field…” vss. 12-13 Just as Abraham did not accept a reward from the king of Sodom, so now he does not accept a gift from this Canaanite. He does not want to be enriched by these idolaters. At the same time, he is treating them in a very polite manner and conducting his business legally. If he accepts the tomb and field as a gift, it may be contested in the future.
      2. 2.      “Ephron answered Abraham…four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me?” vss.14-15 We do not know the value of land back then, but some commentators have hinted that they thought the price was high. The text however gives us a clue when Ephron admits, “what is that between you and me?” These are both wealthy men and the price of this field was not going to put a dent in Abraham’s wealth, nor would it seriously enrich Ephron.
      3. 3.      “Abraham…weighed out for Ephron the silver…” vs.16 They did not have coins yet so they used chunks of silver and a set of agreed upon scales. The shekel was a weight designation for a lump of uncoined metal. The use of coins did not occur until about 700BC, and the shekel became a coin eventually, as seen in the NT.
      4. G.          Conclusion of the Burial, vss.17-20
        1. 2.         “So the field of Ephron in Machpelah…and all the trees…was made over to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites…” vss.17-18 the first word in the Hebrew in this sentence is “made over to” or “deeded” emphasizing the legal aspect of the deal. Notice all the detail that is included: the exact location, both parties of the sale plus witnesses, the special features of the property that would add to its value- trees and a cave. In some ancient land deals the trees were actually counted since trees were a prime resource. The details are repeated for emphasis in vss. 19-20 for emphasis as well as completing the bookends for Moses in relation to vs.2.
        2. 3.         “…to Abraham as a possession…” All of God’s promises of this land to Abraham and his descendants in 13:15-17; 15:7-18; 17:8; 22:17 begin here with this burial plot. Hamilton writes, (p.136) “Perhaps the story of Abraham’s purchase of the land serves as a model to later Israel that the taking of their land will also be costly. Nothing will come easily or automatically. Israel taking over Canaanite land will be as difficult as Abraham taking over Ephron’s land. But the cost will be moral, not monetary. Abraham’s descendants will gain possession of the land not by putting up a large amount of silver shekels, but by obeying Yahweh and his decrees.”

Conclusion: This chapter is not some break in the flow of Abraham’s story and has its rightful place. In chapter 22 Abraham had to face the death of Isaac alone (Sarah is nowhere mentioned) and in chapter 23 he faces the death of Sarah alone (Isaac is nowhere mentioned). The death of Sarah causes us to consider death ourselves. The business dealings of Abraham with the Hittites gives us some moral instruction on how to conduct ourselves in today’s business world. But the overwhelming purpose of the chapter is to demonstrate that the Promises of God were coming to pass, if only in a burial plot. Abraham was a sojourner, a resident alien, who was looking for a better country. Peter writes, (1Peter2:11-12) “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

            And from 1John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

            Are we clinging to the promises of God? Is our desire and our gaze directed at Heaven or on this world? This world is not our home, we are looking for a better country. Andrew Peterson’s song “The Far Country” expresses the concept well




 Boice, James Montgomery. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 2, Genesis 12:1-36:43. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI. 1985 (pp.240-245).

Calvin, John. The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Genesis. Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh, Scotland originally published in 1554 (pp.574-584).

Hamilton, Victor P. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI 1995 (pp.117-136).

Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26. Broadman&Holman: Nashville, TN 2005 (pp.306-321).

Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI.1998 (pp.405-413).

Sailhamer, John H. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2, “Genesis”, Frank E. Gaebelein, editor. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 1990 (pp.171-173).

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI. 2001 (pp.311-323).

Wenham, Gordon J. The Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 2, Genesis 16-50. Word Books: Dallas, TX. 1994 (pp.118-131, 156).



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One Response to “Genesis 23:1-20 “Abraham Purchases a Burial Plot””

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The brethren of The Messiah are but “aliens and pilgrims while the earth” for their “citizenship is in Heaven”!

So it is that they are exhorted to:

“Love Not The World”

”For the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one”…….(I John 5:19)

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world will pass away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of The Only True GOD will abide for ever.”(IJohn2:15-17)

“If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John15:19-20)

“Where do wars and fighting among you come from? Do they not come of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is to be at enmity with The Only True GOD? Therefore whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of The Only True GOD.” (James 4:1-4)

“The world cannot hate you; but the world hates Me, because I testify that the works of this world are evil.” (John 7:7)” and “The Messiah gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of The Only True God, Our Father.”(Gal 1:4)

The Messiah testified: “If the world hates you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”(John 5:18) Truly, Truly, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life in this world shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall have it unto life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)

John testified: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13) “ James testified, “Whoever would be a friend of this world is the enemy of GOD”(James4:4)

“Come Out of her, MY people”!

Global warming, polluted air, land and waters, toxic wastes, sexual perversion, evil inventions of destruction, greed, hate, carnal warfare, dis-ease(no-peace),,etc,, are all destructive processes that have their root in “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life” all of which fuel the fires of mankind’s “imag”ination ;-(

“Come out from among them and be separate”!

Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it’s systems of religion, for “the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one” indeed and Truth……

Truth IS, a lie never was and is not…….

Abide in Truth……. francis

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