- Locate the passage
Sarah’s death provides the occasion for Abraham’s first official land “ownership” in the land the Lord promised him. He was recognized by Abimelech to have dug a well in Beersheba, but here he acquires land.
The passage is narrative. It records the conversation between Abraham and the sons of Heth as they negotiate a price for the land.
- Determine the structure of the passage
23:1-2 – Abraham mourns the death of Sarah
23:3-16 – Abraham negotiates for a burial site for Sarah and his family
23:17-20 – They were deeded
- Exegete the passage
The fact that Abraham desired land in Canaan as opposed to Haran demonstrates his commitment to this land and his affirmation of the Lord’s promise to him. This land will become significance throughout the Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph narratives. Although Joseph ascended to the next-to-highest position in Egypt, upon his death, he wanted to be buried (as did Jacob before him – Gen. 49:29-32) in this same family burial plot that Abraham procures in this pericope (Gen. 50:24-25). In this sense, Abraham, like Jeremiah (Jer. 32:1-15) is expressing hope in God’s promise to one day occupy the land.
The negotiation is dominated by both sides appealing to the other to “listen.” The Hb. “shama” is used six times (23:6, 8, 11, 13, 15, 16). Three times the sons of Heth appeal to Abraham to “listen;” twice Abraham appeals to them to “listen;” and once the text records that Abraham listened to them.
The phrase “bury my (your) dead” occurs seven times in this pericope; each side in the discussion alternates using the phrase (Abraham, sons of Heth/sons of Heth, Abraham, sons of Heth, Abraham, sons of Heth). This chapter is the only chapter in the Old Testament where this phrase occurs.
23:2-3 – Abraham carries out the customary mourning (Hb. “bacah” or weeping) for Sarah before he stood up from before her (lit. “from the face of her;” cf. Gen. 23:4, 8)
- The phrase “he stood up” occurs twice in the passage (23:3, 7) both times in addressing the sons of Heth
23:4 – “Give” me property
- One of the meanings of “Nathan” here is “sell.” Abraham is not asking (cf. 23:9) that the land be given to him at no cost. He expects and prefers to acquire it legally for full price likely to avoid the questions of ownership as he had experienced with Abimelech and the well (Cf. 21:25-32).
- The Hb. “achuzzah” refers to land or a physical place. The word occurs three times in this passage (23:4, 9, 20) and becomes a theme and suggests a connection to the fulfillment of God’s promise of the land. This grave site became God’s down payment of a future possession of all the land God had promised.
23:4 – “Out of my sight”
- This phrase occurs twice in the text (23:4, 8)
- “from before my face”
23:6 – You are a mighty prince
- The Hb. “a prince of God” with Elohim used as an adjective for “mighty”
- They seem to recognize the Lord’s Divine favor on Abraham
23:7-9 – Abraham bows (cf. 23:12) as a sign of respect and humility. It is also clear that Abraham already knew the specific piece of property that he wanted to possess.
23:9 – “full price”
- Like David (Cf. 1 Chron. 21:22, 24) after him where this same phrase is used, Abraham insists on passing the full price for the land.
- Abraham’s use of the jussive form of “nathan” suggests that he expects to pay the full price for the land
- Ephron, the owner of that piece of land, uses the perfect tense of the same verb suggesting that he will give the land to Abraham at no cost.
- Perhaps Abraham has finally learned the folly of profiting at others’ expense.
23:17, 20 – The field and the cave … were “deeded”
- In both verses (17, 20) the verb “deeded” occurs as the first word in the verb emphasizing the legal transfer that has occurred.
23:18 – In the presence of sons of Heth
- These served as witnesses to the transaction of the land
- Let the structure of the text drive the sermon
Exp. This passage reveals Abraham’s grief in loss, but hope in death.
Exp. Although, God’s name does not occur in this passage, the hope of His promise dominates the narrative.
Exp. The passage shows Abraham trusting God for today and tomorrow.
- Trusting God through our pain
- Living our faith even in our sorrow. The frequent references to death in the passage reveal the realities of our grief and drive the actions of the Patriarch.
- Abraham continues to live out his faith by honoring his wife and showing respect for others. More significantly, Abraham demonstrated his faith by not attempting to bury Sarah in their native land. Instead, Abraham believed that this land would be their heritage because God had already promised to give it to him as an inheritance.
- It’s easy to follow God in the good times, but can we still trust Him in and with our pain.
- Abraham also secured enough land for his family. Thus, by purchasing a significant piece of property that would be sufficient for future generations, Abraham demonstrated his faith that God would allow future generations to dwell in this land.
- Trusting God for our provisions
- Trusting God to provide rather than manipulating wealth at the expense of others
- Like David did not want to offer God anything that cost him nothing, Abraham did not want to acquire possession of the promised land by manipulating others on account of his grief.
- Trusting God in His promise
- Hope in God’s Promise (like Jeremiah)
- Abraham had learned to believe in God’s promise even before he had seen the fulfillment of it. He believed God would give him offspring even before he had a child; now he claimed that God would give him and his descendants the land even before he possessed any of it.