Open your bibles and read Genesis Chapter 23 vs. 1-19. This is a short chapter with one specific point, to record the death of Abraham’s wife Sarah.
Overview of Chapter: Sarah gave birth to Isaac at 90 and lived to be one hundred and twenty-seven years old. Sarah died in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn and weep for her. When Sarah died, they were in a foreign land and Abraham had to find a place to bury his wife. Abraham humbled himself to the sons of Heth saying, “I am foreigner among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead.” The sons of Heth answered saying “Hear us, my lord: you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place.” Abraham stood up, bowed to the people of the land, and said, “If it is your wish that bury my dead out of my sight hear me, and meet with Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he has, which is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price, as property for a burial place among you.” Now Ephron was a Hittite dwelling among the sons of Heth and he responded in front of all who were at the gate of the city (Remember from earlier lessons how we learned important business took place at the city gate?) Ephron said in front of everyone “I will give you the field and the cave that is in it. I will give it to you to bury your dead.” The Abraham bowed again and said “If you will give it, please hear me. I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there. ” And Ephron answered Abraham, saying “My lord, listen to me; the land is worth 400 Sheckles of silver. What is that between you and me? Just take it!” But Abraham weighed out the silver and gave it to Ephron with the sons of Heth as witness. Afterward the field, the trees in the field and the cave were all deeded to Abrahm, and he buried Sarah there.
Lessons from today’s Scripture:
- In Abraham’s day, death and burial were steeped in ritual and traditions. Failing to honor a dead person demonstrated the greatest possible lack of respect. An improper burial was the equivalent of a curse. Mourning was an essential part of the death ritual. Friends and relatives would cry loudly for the whole neighborhood to hear. Because there were no funeral homes or undertakers, these same friends and family would help prepare the body for burial, which would usually take place the same day because of the hot climate. **
- Abraham was in a foreign land looking for a place to bury his wife. Strangers offered to help him because he was a “mighty prince,” and they respected him. Although Abraham had not put down roots in the area, his reputation was above reproach. Those who invest their time and money in serving God often earn a pleasant return on their investment – a good reputation and the respect of others. **
- The polite interchange between Abraham and Ephron was typical of bargaining at that time. Ephron graciously offered to “give” his land to Abraham at no charge; Abraham insisted on paying for it; Ephron politely mentioned the price but said, in effect, that it wasn’t important. Abraham paid the 400 pieces of silver. Both men knew what was going on as they went through the bargaining process. If Abraham had accepted the land as a gift when it was offered, he would have insulted Ephron, who would have then rescinded his offer. Many Middle Eastern shopkeepers still follow this bargaining ritual with their customers. ** While reading this I thought of times I’ve seen this even today “Oh I like that..” “Here, you can have it” “Oh I couldn’t!” “Yes please I insist” “Well, let me give you something for it then I can’t just take it” “Oh it’s not a big deal. I think it was only like $50 or something when I bought it a couple of years ago and I’ve had it a minute.” “Well it’s still worth $50 to me – here please take this.” “Are you sure?” “Yes! Please!” “Well, OK….” Why do we go through all that? Obviously it stems from the days and times of father Abraham. 🙂
- 400 Shekels of silver was a high price for the piece of property Abraham bought. The “sons of Heth,” or “Hittites” weren’t thrilled about foreigners buying their property, so Abraham had little bargaining leverage. Ephron asked an outrageous price. The custom of the day was to ask double the fair market value of the land, fully expecting the buyer to offer half the stated price. Abraham, however, did not bargain. He simply paid the initial price. He was trying not to take anything he didn’t deserve. Even though God promised the land to Abraham, he didn’t just take it from Ephron. ** Previous to the last year or two this is how it worked in the housing and property market here in the US. You would list and ask around $10 – $15 thousand more than your bottom dollar because you knew that buyers would want to negotiate and try to get a reduced price. You raised the price, they offered less, you accepted and everyone thought they won. Today everything is a bit different with homes in bidding wars and going for more than the asking price.
Some chapters are very exciting and surprising, and others just teach us a bit of history. If I had not read the customs of the day and discovered what life was like at that time (thanks to my study bible) I would have just thought Ephron was a super nice guy trying to bless Abraham. 🙂 I hope you are enjoying gaining knowledge and understanding as much as I am!! Be blessed and have a GREAT day!
PS – For now we are going to keep moving right on through Genesis daily and most likely move on to Exodus. Hope you’ll join us!
**Notes taken from Life Application Study Bible.