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Genesis chapter 23

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

1Now Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3Then Abraham arose from mourning before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, 4I am a stranger and a foreign resident among you; give me a burial site among you so that I may bury my dead out of my sight.' 5The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, 6Hear us, my lord: you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.' 7So Abraham stood up and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. 8And he spoke with them, saying, 'If you are willing to let me bury my dead out of my sight, listen to me, and plead with Ephron the son of Zohar for me, 9that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.' 10Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham so that the sons of Heth heard, that is, all who entered the gate of his city, saying, 11No, my lord, listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.' 12And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. 13But he spoke to Ephron so that the people of the land heard, saying, 'If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me so that I may bury my dead there.' 14Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, 15My lord, listen to me: a plot of land worth four hundred shekels of silver—what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.' 16Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the presence of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency acceptable to a merchant.
Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

New King James Version

What does Genesis chapter 23 mean?

The story of Genesis leaps forward several decades. It's likely been around 20 years or so since Abraham prepared to offer Isaac on the altar. It's been about 35 years since last we saw Sarah, insisting that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away.

Now Sarah has died at the age of 127 years old. That would make Abraham 137 years old and Isaac about 37 years old (Genesis 17:17). We find them living in Hebron, near the familiar area of Mamre, about 20 miles south of what would become Jerusalem (Genesis 23:1–2).

After Abraham mourns for his wife, he approaches the Hittite people of the area with a request. These Hittites would be the descendants of Noah's grandson Canaan, making them part of the original Canaanites. Abraham comes before an assembled group of Hittite landowners or elders, perhaps in the city gate of Hebron.

Abraham presents himself to them as a foreigner and a sojourner. He requests that they give him a piece of property to use as a burial place. Their response is gracious. They know Abraham well. They call him "a prince of God among [them]." Abraham was a foreigner, but he was also quite wealthy and clearly blessed by God in all he did. The Hittites of the area seem to have regarded him as a friend (Genesis 23:3–6).

In fact, the Hittites offer Abraham the choice of any of their own tombs to bury his dead. Abraham, however, wants something more specific. He wants to establish a permanent family burial place of his own in the land of Canaan. He wants to acquire a piece of property that will belong to him and him alone.

Once the Hittites state that they are willing for Abraham to bury his dead in their region, Abraham reveals he has a specific property in mind. He singles out Ephron, son of Zohar, and asks to purchase a cave of his east of Mamre at Machpelah.

A negotiation of sorts takes place, couched in the tradition and customs of Middle Eastern bargaining. Ephron offers to give the cave to Abraham, along with the field attached to it. Abraham insists on paying for it (so there can be no future dispute about who owns it). Ephron dismissively mentions a price of 400 shekels of silver for the cave and field. Abraham immediately agrees, paying out the price on the spot and in full view of the assembled Hittites. Very quickly, the transaction is concluded and signed off by the Hittite elders (Genesis 23:7–18).

Finally, Abraham buries Sarah in the cave he now owns in the promised land of Canaan. Later, Abraham himself will be buried there, then Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Leah. Without a battle of any kind, the people of God have begun their occupation of the land God has promised to give to Abraham's offspring (Genesis 23:19–20).
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