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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Genesis Chapter 23

- The Death of Sarah

2. ארבע קרית qı̂ryat-'arba‛, "Qirjath-arba', city of Arba." ארבע 'arba‛, "Arba', four."

8. עפרון ‛eprôn, "'Ephron, of the dust, or resembling a calf." צחר tshochar, "Tsochar, whiteness."

9. מכפלה makpêlâh, "Makpelah, doubled."

The death and burial of Sarah are here recorded. This occasions the purchase of the field of Makpelah, in the cave of which is her sepulchre.

Gen 23:1-2

Sarah is the only woman whose age is recorded in Scripture. She meets with this distinction as the wife of Abraham and the mother of the promised seed. "A hundred and twenty and seven years," and therefore thirty-seven years after the birth of her son. "In Kiriatharba." Arba is called the father of Anak Jos 15:13; Jos 21:11; that is, of the Anakim or Bene Anak, a tall or gigantic tribe Num 13:22; 28; 33, who were subsequently dispossessed by Kaleb. The Anakim were probably Hittites. Abraham had been absent from Hebron, which is also called Mamre in this very chapter Gen 23:17, Gen 23:19, not far from forty years, though he appears to have still kept up a connection with it, and had at present a residence in it. During this interval the sway of Arba may have commenced. "In the land of Kenaan," in contradistinction to Beer-sheba in the land of the Philistines, where we last left Abraham. "Abraham went to mourn for Sarah," either from Beer-sheba or some out-field where he had cattle pasturing.

Gen 23:3-16

Abraham purchases a burying-ground in the land. "The sons of Heth." These are the lords of the soil. "A stranger and a sojourner." He is a stranger, not a Hittite; a sojourner, a dweller in the land, not a mere visitor or traveller. The former explains why he has no burial-ground; the latter, why he asks to purchase one. "Bury my dead out of my sight." The bodies of those most dear to us decay, and must be removed from our sight. Abraham makes his request in the most general terms. In the somewhat exaggerated style of Eastern courtesy, the sons of Heth reply, "Hear us, my lord." One speaks for all; hence, the change of number. "My lord" is simply equivalent to our "Sir," or the German "mein Herr." "A prince of God" in those times of simple faith was a chief notably favored of God, as Abraham had been in his call, his deliverance in Egypt, his victory over the kings, his intercession for the cities of the vale, and his protection the court of Abimelek. Some of these events were well known to the Hittites, as they had occurred while he was residing among them.

Gen 23:7-9

Abraham now makes a specific offer to purchase the field of Makpelah from Ephron the son of Zohar. "Treat for me" - deal, use your influence with him. Abraham approaches in the most cautious manner to the individual with whom he wishes to treat. "The cave of Makpelah." The burial of the dead in caves, natural and artificial, was customary in this Eastern land. The field seems to have been called Makpelah (doubled) from the double form of the cave, or the two caves perhaps communicating with each other, which it contained. "For the full silver." Silver seems to have been the current medium of commerce at this time. God was known, and mentioned at an earlier period Gen 2:11; Gen 13:2. "A possession of a burying-ground." We learn from this passage that property in land had been established at this time. Much of the country, however, must have been a common, or unappropriated pasture ground.

Gen 23:10-16

The transaction now comes to be between Abraham and Ephron. "Was sitting." The sons of Heth were seated in council, and Ephron among them. Abraham seems to have been seated also; for he stood up to make his obeisance and request Gen 23:7. "Before all that went in at the gate of his city." The conference was public. The place of session for judicial and other public business was the gate of the city, which was common ground, and where men were constantly going in and out. "His city." This implies not that he was the king or chief, but simply that he was a respectable citizen. If Hebron was the city of the Hittites here intended, its chief at the time seems to have been Arba. "The field give I thee." Literally, have I given thee - what was resolved upon was regarded as done. "In the sight of the sons of my people." This was a public declaration or deed before many witnesses.

He offers the field as a gift, with the Eastern understanding that the receiver would make an ample recompense. This mode of dealing had its origin in a genuine good-will, that was prepared to gratify the wish of another as soon as it was made known, and as far as it was reasonable or practicable. The feeling seems to have been still somewhat fresh and unaffected in the time of Abraham, though it has degenerated into a mere form of courtesy. "If thou wilt, hear me." The language is abrupt, being spoken in the haste of excitement. "I give silver." "I have given" in the original; that is, I have determined to pay the full price. If the Eastern giver was liberal, the receiver was penetrated with an equal sense of the obligation conferred, and a like determination to make an equivalent return. "The land is four hundred shekels." This is the familiar style for "the land is worth so much." The shekel is here mentioned for the first time. It was originally a weight, not a coin. The weight at least was in common use before Abraham. If the shekel be nine pennyweights and three grains, the price of the field was about forty-five pounds sterling. "And Abraham weighed." It appears that the money was uncoined silver, as it was weighed. "Current with the merchant." The Kenaanites, of whom the Hittites were a tribe, were among the earliest traders in the world. The merchant, as the original imports, is the traveller who brings the wares to the purchasers in their own dwellings or towns. To him a fixed weight and measure were necessary.

Gen 23:17-20

The completion of the sale is stated with great formality. No mention is made of any written deed of sale. Yet Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remained in undisturbed possession of this burial-ground. Undisputed tenure seems to have been acknowledged as a title. The burial of Sarah is then simply noted. The validity of Abraham's title is practically evinced by the actual burial of Sarah, and is recited again on account of the importance of the fact.

This chapter is interesting as containing the first record of mourning for the dead, of burial, of property in land, of purchase of land, of silver as a medium of purchase, and of a standard of weight. Mourning for the dead was, no doubt, natural on the first death. Burial was a matter of necessity, in order, as Abraham says, to remove the body out of sight, as soon as it was learned by experience that it would be devoured by beasts of prey, or become offensive by putrefaction. To bury or cover it with earth was a more easy and natural process than burning, and was therefore earlier and more general. Property in land was introduced where tribes became settled, formed towns, and began to practise tillage. Barter was the early mode of accommodating each party with the articles he needed or valued. This led gradually to the use of the precious metals as a "current" medium of exchange - first by weight, and then by coins of a fixed weight and known stamp.

The burial of Sarah is noted because she was the wife of Abraham and the mother of the promised seed. The purchase of the field is worthy of note, as it is the first property of the chosen race in the promised land. Hence, these two events are interwoven with the sacred narrative of the ways of God with man.

Next: Genesis Chapter 24