Tuesday, May 23rd

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Genesis 23

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“…made sure unto Abraham.”

Have you ever been in a position when you felt uneasy about taking a gift? I have. I felt very uneasy because to accept the gift would have put me in a compromising position with the giver. Though meant well, I foresaw a time when the friendship would not exist. As it turned out, I was right. (Many want ‘friendship’ only so long as you do what they think you ought to do! That is – what they do!! When you fail, they leave you high and dry).

As Christians we should be wary about accepting gifts from people, no matter who they are. Some will take gifts from anyone! But, we must be careful. I have, for example, been offered money gifts from individuals, but have declined to accept, because they would have linked me to a person I did not really wish to maintain an association with. I have sometimes been offered lucrative amounts for my ministry, but declined, because of the association they would have had with heretical bodies and people.

A church I once attended was given regular large amounts of cash by a local businessman, who was a ‘deacon’ of that church, though he was unsaved, a known heavy-drinker, and user of bad language! He also gave the church a large ham every year for its Christmas feast, even though he himself never went near the church. One year he gave the usual ham, and it was accepted. I only knew of this odd relationship when the pastor asked me, and two deacons, to re-affirm the man’s deaconship.

When I heard the reason (“He gives us money and a ham at Christmas”) (!!) I protested. The pastor took umbrage and I was forced to resign from the church. Can you see why? As a result it led to the resignation of my whole family. It is indicative of that pastor’s sin, that from that time he has never spoken to any of us, and the deacon who remains now hates us and tells others that we are ‘troublemakers’! Our associations have far-reaching ramifications.

Christians must see beyond what is immediately obvious, for a decision to associate today, can, in the far future, come back upon us like a plague. It is a sign of apostasy and lack of discernment, that so many Christians associate with those they ought not meet with.

In this chapter, Abraham was offered a costly parcel of land as a gift, but he could not trust future ownership to such an informal agreement. One day, those who made the promise would die, and then what? Would the next generation honour the gift? Therefore, Abraham bought the land in front of many witnesses. Think about the associations you have. Are they worth it? Or, are there reservations? Indeed, did you check out who you will associate with, or did you just accept the blanket statement, that they were ‘Christians’? I know that when faced with the claim to be ‘Christian’, few Christians will question the one making the claim. And even fewer would walk away from such an association if problems arise, or if they become aware of doctrinal problems or bad practices.

When we have to ignore or reject an association, we must do so with courtesy, just as Abraham did. We can treat others with respect when they return such respect, but it does not mean we must enter into a more binding relationship. Most Christians remain in, or initiate, associations with others, on an emotional level. This is dangerous and wrong. Emotions can lead us badly astray and keep us linked to people who can damage our faith and character. Think carefully about who you commune with, for those you might wish to be with could be your spiritual enemy, and those you reject may be the very ones you should maintain an association with.

Verses 1&2

  1. “And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah.

  2. And Sarah died in Kirjath-arba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.”

Sarah died at the age of 127, when her son, Isaac, was 27. She died in Kirjath-arba (‘city of Arba’), which was later renamed Hebron (‘association’). This was in Judah, about 20 miles south of Jerusalem (and 20 miles north of Beersheba where Abraham built an altar).

Her death seems to have occurred about a decade or more after the incident when Isaac was to have been sacrificed. She was not in the home last mentioned, Beersheba. It is possible, then, that Sarah was in Kirjath-arba visiting, or was there for some other reason, for the structure of the text suggests her husband, Abraham, was not actually there when she died, but was still at Beersheba. Hence, “Abraham came to mourn”.

Verses 3-7

  1. “And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying,

  2. I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.

  3. And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him,

  4. Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.

  5. And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth.”

Abraham stood up from his dead, suggesting he had been prostrate, or on his knees, before Sarah. When he stood, he spoke to the “sons of Heth”. (Heth = ‘terror’). Heth was the son of Canaan, so Abraham was talking to his descendants, the local Hittites. This does not necessarily mean the local people were at the place where Sarah was. It just means that Abraham spoke to them after he had finished mourning.

Abraham began with a statement of his status, which would have been a typical introduction at that time when amongst non-kinsmen, a courtesy. He was not of their tribe and was travelling through their land, and so had no intrinsic rights. He asked them if he could buy some land (“a possession”) to serve as a “buryingplace with you”; that is, a sepulchre or tomb, qeber. The addition of the words “with you” reinforce the idea that Sarah was not at her home when she died, but was amongst non-kinsmen. He wanted to bury her “out of (his) sight” or, in the ground. (There are other meanings for paniym, but this meaning fits the context).

The locals responded to his request using the title ‘adown’ or ‘lord’. This can, amongst other things, mean master or prophet, or even king. The meaning in this case is ‘prince’, as is given in the text. They referred to him as ‘mighty’, or elohiym, so they recognised him to be a powerful ruler, even though he was not local. They told him that they already had sepulchres, probably caves, and that Abraham could have his choice of any of them.

It is likely that during these negotiations, everyone was seated, for Abraham then stood up and replied, after bowing in respect to the people. Given his status, it is unlikely that the meaning of ‘prostrate’ (on the ground) is meant here. It would have been a half-bow, from the waist. He then made his request.

Verses 8-12

  1. “And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and intreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar,

  2. That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you.

  3. And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying,

  4. Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead.

  5. And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land.”

It seems that Abraham had already chosen a spot, so he wished to speak with the owner, Ephron, son of Zohar. Ephron appears to have been there, but Abraham was going through protocol by addressing the elders and so did not speak to Ephron direct. Ephron (‘fawn-like’) was an Hittite; his father was Zohar (‘tawny’).

Abraham gave them a message for Ephron: that he wished to buy the cave of Machpelah (‘double’ or ‘portion’) in one of his fields, near Hebron (or, as it was then known, Kirjath-arba). He added, ‘tell him I will pay the going rate for the cave, which I want in perpetuity’. Ephron then replied to Abraham’s request, from amongst the crowd, who stood, so it seems, at the city gate.

No, adown, he said, listen to me. I give you the field and the cave freely to bury your dead. Abraham bowed again to the people in courtesy and respect.

Verses 13-20

  1. “And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.

  2. And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him,

  3. My lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead.

  4. And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.

  5. And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in

  6. all the borders round about, were made sure

  7. Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.

  8. And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan.

  9. And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth.”

Abraham did not want the land as a gift. Possibly, he thought that a gift could be revoked, so he wanted a more sure right to the land by buying it. He urged Ephron to take money as payment. Ephron answered: Adown, listen to me. The land is worth 400 silver shekels (132 grains. The weight and worth of a shekel depended on whether it was gold, silver or copper, and was measured as a portion of a talent), but what does that matter between friends? Please, go ahead and bury your dead.’ This might have been a genuine offer of a gift, or it was the offer of a man who wanted political peace with a powerful ruler.

Abraham listened but was determined to buy the land rather than accept it as a gift. He weighed out the 400 shekels of silver, which was “current (money) with the merchants.” That is, it was acceptable money to the traders of the time, in particular, Ephron.

The field was “before Mamre” (Mamre = ‘strength’ or ‘fatness’), or, in front of Mamre, and the deal purchased the whole field containing the cave, plus trees around the edge. They were all “made sure” or quwm, established or confirmed as belonging to Abraham in perpetuity, in front of many witnesses.

The deal done, Abraham then proceeded to bury his wife in the cave that would be used a number of times to bury the patriarchs.

Note:

Mamre, Elonei Mamre, was half-way between Hebron and Halhul – approximately 5 miles distance (Halhul was on what is now called the West Bank). It was significant as the location of a shrine to the pagan Canaanite sky-god, El. It was also the location, later, of one of the three most important markets in Israel. It is said that the graves of Gad and Nathan are there. Muslim tradition places Jonah’s grave there, too. The area around Mamre was probably chosen by Abraham because it was in territory owned by an Amorite chief who helped him fight Chedorlaomer, an area named ‘The terebinths (oaks) of Mamre the Amorite’.

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