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Here, we continue our study in Genesis.
19Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.
20Some time later Abraham was told, "Milcah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor: 21Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram), 22Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel." 23Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. Milcah bore these eight sons to Abraham's brother Nahor. 24His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also had sons: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maacah.
Having finished the dramatic narrative of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, Moses finishes this section by first describing Abraham's return from the mountain, then Moses looks ahead to Isaac's future by enumerating the members of the family of Abraham's brother Nahor. Later, in chapter 24, Abraham will send his servant Eliezar to choose a bride for Isaac from Nahor's family.
In our study of chapter 22, we discussed the typology of Abraham's sacrifice, which clearly foreshadowed Christ's sacrifice. The typology continues into this chapter and also into the next chapter. These three chapters mirror the whole of God's plan of redemption. In chapter 22, we saw that Abraham typified the Father, offering His Son (typified by Isaac) as a sacrifice. In chapter 24, Abraham's servant (typifying the Holy Spirit) chooses a bride for Isaac. The typology is strengthened by the fact that Isaac does not appear in the narrative from the time of his sacrifice until he meets his bride in chapter 24. In keeping with the typology, Isaac is not even mentioned here in verse 19 when Abraham comes down from the mountain.
The rest of this chapter concerns the death and burial of Sarah. This also fits into the typology. With Abraham typifying the Father, Sarah can be seen to typify Israel (which is often pictured as the wife of God, e.g. Isa. 54:5; Hos. 2:19). And so, just as Sarah died just after the sacrifice of the son and before his marriage, so did Israel die just after the sacrifice of the Son (in 70 A.D. when Rome destroyed her). Interestingly, Sarah is the only woman in the Bible whose age, death, and burial are mentioned. Perhaps, they mentioned here to support the typology.
1Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. 2She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
And so, the wife and longtime companion of Abraham, the woman who stood beside Abraham throughout his long and eventful life, finally passes on from this life. Peter describes Sarah as an example to be followed by Christian women today: "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelery and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear." (I Peter 3:3-6). Yes, Sarah did stumble (as did Abraham), and Peter acknowledges this when he warns: "Do not give way to fear." But by and large, Sarah was a great woman of faith, who stood by and supported her husband as he listened to and obeyed the Lord.
"She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan" (i.e. in the land of promise), "and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her" (vs. 2). Note that though Abraham was a great man of faith, he did mourn for Sarah when she died. Mourning is natural, and certainly not forbidden to the children of God. Rather, it is expected that since we have a God-given love for life, and a God-given love for our family and friends, we should mourn their passing. Death, after all, is a curse which entered the world when Adam fell.
Abraham's mourning, though, was not a hopeless one. He looked forward to "a better country--a heavenly one" (Heb. 11:16). We mourn even in light of the hope that we have for a glorious life through Christ after death; Christ Himself is our example in this. He mourned, even "wept", over the death of his good friend Lazarus, even though He knew that He Himself would raise him from the dead (see John 11:35). And so, in our time of mourning, we can seek comfort in the arms of Christ, who Himself knows what it is to mourn the death of a friend.
3Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, 4"I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so that I can bury my dead."
5The Hittites replied to Abraham, 6"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."
7Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. 8He 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 9so that 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."
10Ephron 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. 11"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."
12Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land 13and 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 that I can bury my dead there."
14Ephron answered Abraham, 15"Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you? Bury your dead."
16Abraham 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.
17So 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 legally made over 18to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. 19Afterwards Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20So the field and the cave in it were legally made over to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.
At this time, Abraham wanted a place to bury his wife; but wait, he, being the pilgrim that he was, didn't own any land. He never needed to own land up to this time. He did fine as a nomad herdsman, wandering where the Lord led him. But now, he desired to purchase a place to bury his wife, a place he could visit and remember her. So, he went to the Hittites, who were apparently in control of Hebron at the time, saying: "I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so that I can bury my dead" (vs. 4).
In this episode, Abraham gives a lesson on how the godly should conduct business: courteously, with respect, honestly, fairly, following the business customs of the land. Some Christians are lax at obeying the laws and customs of the land when conducting business. They cry, "Persecution!" because of the permits that are required or because of the red tape they have to cut through or because of the taxes they have to pay. They think that since they obey a higher law, they can ignore man's laws and customs. However, as Abraham exemplifies, we are to carry on business in this world professionally, making every effort to follow the laws of the land. As Paul says: "Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody" (Rom. 12:17). "Religion is not intended to decrease, but to increase natural politeness, gentlemanliness, and courtesy,"[Footnote #1] as well as increase our following of customs and obedience to the laws of the land.
The Hittites replied to Abraham's request: "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" (vs. 6). You may ask, "Well, why didn't Abraham take them up on the offer of some free land?" Abraham knew the customs of the land. The Hittites could not, with the cultural emphasis on face-saving, come out and demand a lot of money from a man who was mourning the death of his wife. So, they offered to let Abraham bury his wife at no charge, but Abraham knew this was cultural politeness.
Rather than gauchely accepting this offer, Abraham asked the Hittites to mediate on an offer to buy a burial cave: "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 that 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" (vs. 8-9). Ephron also showed compassion, politeness, and desire not to take advantage of the mourning Abraham: "No, my lord. . . 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" (vs. 11). Abraham responded respectfully: "Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land" (vs. 12). Note well Abraham's courtesy and visible show of respect in bowing before the Hittites, despite the fact that the Hittites were pagans. We also should treat believers and non-believers alike with the utmost respect and courtesy.
Abraham again rejected the free offer of the land, just as he should according to cultural rules, and offers to pay a fair price for the field: "Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so that I can bury my dead there" (vs. 13). Ephron then discretely let Abraham know the price of the field: "Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you? Bury your dead" (vs. 15). Abraham considered this fair, and so, completed the deal: "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" (vs. 16). The exact extent of the purchase was specified as part of the deal: "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 legally made over to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city" (vs. 17-18).
In addition to showing us Abraham's fine example in doing business, this passage is a fascinating historical account of the ancient customs of doing business. Business was usually carried out at the city gate (see vs.10), where the city elders sat. No contracts or lawyers were needed; just the witness of the people. Business was conducted precisely and professionally. The exact price, and exact scope of the land to be purchased was precisely specified publicly, so that any disputes would be easily settled because of the many witnesses to the deal. Business was so much easier then than it is now!
So Father, help us by Your Spirit to treat those around us with courtesy and respect, so that You may be glorified through us. Also, we praise and thank You for Your marvelous Word, the Bible, that we can study to so much profit. We praise You for the types and prophecies that it contains, that strengthen our faith, as we realize that such a magnificent book could only have been inspired by an all-knowing God. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, we pray these things, Amen.
(We will continue our study in Genesis next month.)
1. W. H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary, pg. 203.
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