Years after the Lord’s test for Abraham, Sarah died in the land of Canaan. The following event recorded how Abraham came to mourn for his wife and how Abraham requested Ephron the Hittite to purchase his field as a burial place for Sarah. The chapter will bring us deeper into Abraham’s act of faith as a proof of his belief in God’s previous promises.
Did You Know...?
- Kirjath Arba (23:2) in Hebrew can literally be translated as “city of Arba.” The original name of the city was Hebron. The name ‘Arba” is originated from its founder, one of the Anakim. According to the book of Joshua 15:13, Arba was the father of Anak.
- Hittites (23:3): According to Genesis 10:15, Heth was the son of Canaan. Hence, the Hittites were the descendants of Heth.
- A Mighty prince (23:5): this title in Hebrew can literally be translated as “the one lifted up of God.”
- Machpelah (23:9) was the place where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah were buried (Gen 23:19, 25:9, 49:31, 50:13). Throughout history, over the cave an ancient Christian church was erected, probably in the time of Justinian, the Roman emperor. Later, this church has been converted into a Mohammedan mosque. [ref]
- Four Hundred Shekels (23:15): The word “Shekel” in Hebrews literally means “a weight.” Here, shekel used for the first time, was not a stamped coin but a piece of metal of definite weight. According to Exodus 30:13, a shekel equaled to twenty gerahs or beans. Coined money was unknown to the Hebrews until after the captivity. [ref]
How old was Sarah when she died? And where did she die?
What did Abraham do in response to the death of his wife?
How could Abraham, a foreigner and a visitor, be considered as a mighty prince by the sons of Heth?Hide Answer
Though Abraham was a foreigner and a visitor in the land of Canaan, he was considered by the sons of Heth as a mighty prince or literally ‘the one lifted up of God’ (Gen 23:5-6). Not only was Abraham given a title ‘the mighty prince,’ but he was also accepted and respected with such a title from the sons of Heth. Such a high consideration to a foreigner and a visitor from the local residents shows that there was a strong connection between Abraham’s title and God’s providence throughout his life in the land of Canaan.
Share your personal experience on how others “can see Jesus in you.”(The answer is empty)Hide Answer
Why did Abraham bury Sarah in the land of Canaan instead of her homeland?Hide Answer
Abraham’s decision to bury Sarah in the land of Canaan shows the continuation of his faith from the previous chapter. Previously, in Genesis 22, the test of Abraham proved that he feared God and trusted on God’s promise. The decision to bury Sarah in the land of Canaan, though Abraham and his wife were but foreigners and visitors, shows Abraham’s strong belief in God’s promise and God’s confirmation of such a promise (Gen 12:1, 15:7, 17:8, 22:17). Abraham buried Sarah there because he believed that the land of Canaan was the land of promise which God had given to him.
Starting from Abraham’s decision to bury Sarah in Canaan, the faith of God’s Promised Land was passed down from generation to generation even up to the generation of Joseph. Though Sarah’s family was still in Mesopotamia, Abraham decided to bury his wife in the promised land of God, Canaan. In the time of Joseph, he had a similar faith with Abraham that his bones must be carried out from Egypt along with the children of Israel whom God would lead to the land of which God had sworn to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob (Gen 50:24, 25). At the end, in the time of Joshua, the bones of Joseph were buried at Shechem, the land of Canaan (Josh 24:32).
What can we learn from our forefathers’ faith regarding their burial in the promised land?Hide Answer
As foreigners, Abraham and Sarah were willing to be buried in the foreign land because of their trust in God’s promise. Similarly, though Joseph was living in Egypt, he commanded his bones to be carried out from there, knowing that God would bring the children of Israel to the promised land. The writer of the book of Hebrews mentions that Joseph gave such a command by faith (Heb 11:22). Moreover, the book of Hebrews also states that the forefathers desired a better, that is, a heavenly country (Heb 11:16). Because of such a hope, though they had not received the promises, they had seen them afar off, assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Heb 11:13). Likewise, we should emulate the faith of our forefathers, confessing that our lives on earth, our belongings, our achievements are but temporary and fleeting. By embracing these facts, we will prepare ourselves better to desire the promised heavenly country of God.
How did Ephron answer Abraham’s request of the burial property? Was Ephron as generous as he had claimed?Hide Answer
At first, in the presence of the sons of Heth, his people, Ephron stated that he was willing to give the field and the cave that was in it to Abraham to bury his dead (Gen 23:10-11). But in response to Abraham’s offer to pay for the field, Ephron answered that the land was worth four hundred shekels of silver—which was deemed a very considerable sum of money in that time. And to belittle such an expensive price, Ephron argued that the money was a trivial matter for him (Gen 23:15). Ephron was not as generous as he had claimed.
What teaching can we learn from Ephron and his successive replies to Abraham?Hide Answer
Although Ephron seemed to be generous about his land, his later words showed the true desire of his heart. The expensive sum of money was shrouded by Ephron’s claim of generosity and the belittlement of the money’s importance to him. He wanted the people to acknowledge his generosity but at the same time, he also wanted the money.
This event is similar to what Ananias and Sapphira did to the apostle Peter. In the book of Acts 5:2-3, after they sold their possession, they laid the money at the apostle’s feet while keeping part of the money for themselves. Not only did they want the apostle and the congregation to acknowledge their sacrifice, they also wanted part of the sum of money for themselves.
Today, the two events above can serve as a warning to our heart and motive. The Lord Jesus warns us in the gospel of Matthew 5:37 that our ‘yes’ should be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ should be ‘no.’ In other words, we should not let our words and intent be shrouded by deceitful motives or selfish ambitions.
Why did Abraham refuse Ephron’s offer and insist on purchasing the land?Hide Answer
Though Ephron said that he would give to Abraham the field and the cave which was in it, Abraham insisted on purchasing the land (Gen 23:11-13). Abraham’s intent on purchasing the land legally, instead of just receiving the generous offer as a polite gesture, reflected his belief that the land was promised by God also to Abraham’s generations (Gen 22:17). As a foreigner and a visitor, Abraham deemed that legal purchase of the land was a necessary act to legally secure the land for his descendants in the presence of the native Canaanites.
What was the significance of this purchased land in relation to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:17?Hide Answer
Apart from the purchased land of the Hittites that became the forefathers’ family burial place, the purchased land in Canaan became the precursor for the fulfilment of God’s promise. In Genesis 22:17, the Lord promised to Abraham that his descendants would “possess the gate of their enemies.” Although purchasing a burial land in the land of the Hittites for his family did not equal to possessing the gate of his enemies, the act of purchasing itself served as a proof of his faith that the promise would come true. The book of Hebrews tells us that the forefathers, including Abraham, only saw the promises afar off, yet they were assured of them and embraced them (Heb 11:13). Later, the promise mentioned in Genesis 22:17 was fulfilled in the times of Joshua, where the Israelites succeeded in defeating the Canaanite kings, including the Hittites’ land (Josh 12:8).
Why was Abraham willing to bury his wife in the land of Canaan but refused to let his son find a wife from the land of Canaan?Hide Answer
Abraham’s decision to bury his wife in the land of Canaan reflected his faith in God regarding the Promised Land (Gen 15:7). His refusal to let his son find a wife from the land of Canaan also reflected his faith to God’s promise. Abraham’s refusal meant that he was carefully selecting a wife for his son for the purpose of building godly descendants. In Genesis 17:8f, the Lord said to Abraham that He would be a God to him and his descendants as an everlasting possession. But in turn, Abraham and his descendants must keep God’s covenant.
Therefore, to keep God’s covenant, Abraham was willing to leave behind his family back at Ur, who served other gods (Josh 24:2), and Abraham followed the LORD (Gen 12:4). Once in the book of Leviticus, the writer mentioned how the LORD warned the children of Israel neither to “do according to the doings of the land of Canaan” nor to “walk in their ordinances” (Lev 18:3) when they came into the land of Canaan (Lev 14:34). Similarly, such a warning had been obeyed by Abraham, the forefather of the children of Israel. Though the LORD promised to give him the land of Canaan (Gen 12:7), Abraham carefully safeguarded his son from “the doings of the land of Canaan” or “their ordinances” by not giving his son marriage to a Canaanite daughter.
There are a few example in regards to taking a wife from the Canaanite people. When Esau took wives from the Hittites, the wives caused a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 26:34-35). Even in the book of Leviticus, God commanded the Israelites not to do according to the doings of the land of Canaan, including the matter of sexual morality and marriage (Lev 18:3-7). Thus, Abraham’s refusal to take a wife from Canaan for Isaac reflected his effort in preserving the faith in God for his son and his descendants after him.