Sarah’s Death and Burial

Genesis 23:1-20

At the age of 127, Abraham’s beloved wife, Sarah, passes away. He sets out to find an appropriate burial site in his adopted home-town of Hebron for his departed. In an elaborate bargaining ceremony, Abraham negotiates the price for a double-cave, the Cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the Hittite, settling at last on a price of four hundred silver shekels.

 

The name Hebron in Hebrew, the Israel Bible points out, comes from the same root as the word chaver, or friend. The Sages taught that Chevron is a contraction for chaver and na’eh, meaning agreeable. Thus, the city’s name demonstrates that Abraham, who settled there, was the first ‘agreeable friend’ of God, or as it says in Isaiah 41:8, “The seed of Abraham, My friend.”

 

Although Abraham had already lived in the Land of Israel for over sixty years, this is the first mention of him or his family members purchasing land. The Israel Bible cites Rabbi Moshe Lichtman, who notes that the juxtaposition of loss to the purchase highlights a fundamental truth about the Holy Land: it is acquired through suffering. Only after feeling the pain of losing a loved one did Abraham acquire his first portion of the land. However, the Sages taught in Ethics of the Fathers (5:26), “According to the suffering is the reward.”

 

Virtual Classroom Discussion

If Ephron the Hittite was willing to give Abraham the Cave of Machpelah for free, why do you think Abraham insisted on paying for it?

Comments ( 15 )

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  • Hector Zuniga

    Every piece of land have his price, and must paid according the agreements between whom buy and whom sell. Nothing strange on this. Documents is a must in such transactions. On those particular sales, from so long time ago, is difficult for any body to, prove any thing about. The only credible narrative is the records over such transactions register in the Bible.

  • Damian Sco

    Strikes me the Price itself was important. 400! If buying was all that was legally required I assume ONE shekel would suffice, but 400. Hmmm could it be the coming years spent in Egypt that was being alluded to? I wonder.

  • RenjitThomas

    Purchasing a land is a mean of ownership that the society accept you to keep to .If Abraham hadn't purchased it it may have been a source of contention in future

  • Herman Arentsen

    yes I agree that an official "document" or an agreement with witnesses was necessary not getting later on the heirs to demand "their" property. The seemingly nice gesture to become the owner for nothing is an eastern way of raising the price and making it dependable of the sellers demands.

  • Angela B

    On my second sentence above, I meant "I realize that…"

  • Angela B

    I agree with you all. I reaise that when it comes to the land, a price is always paid in order to prove ownership, only that the means differ depending on the government (order) of the day. In Abraham's time, the order of the day required purchase; prior to 1948, it required negotiation and good will; in 1967, it required physical war. In all aspects, we see a price.

  • SueJean Heinz

    While Elohim has promised to give the Land to Avraham, there is still the worldly aspect that land has value and ownership and to properly transfer the land in the eyes of the people that lived there, a price must be paid. Otherwise, the ownership of the land would always be a source of contention as it is today because there are so many that discredit the Scriptures as being a true record of this transaction.
    *
    When we look at Elohim's promise to "give" Avraham the Land, we see that Avraham had the means to pay the exorbitant price and we know that everything Avraham had came from Elohim. So isn't it reasonable to say that Elohim "gave the Land" to Avraham in HIS own way?

    • Doreen Poole

      I agree. Abraham had to purchase it otherwise the ownership would always be credited as a gift and not obtained from Elohim, but with the help of others.

  • Sheila

    Thank you all for your insights Cannot add anything more. Just love the way the Lord is showing the world that the land of Israel belongs to Him and his people.

  • Herman

    The first real property Avraham ownned. Undeniabel, it had been an official act (in the gate) There were witnesses. Man’s mind is sometimes so treacherous. Makpela means also double. Did Avraham pay the double price ?

    • Ahuva Balofsky (Moderator)

      In a way, Abraham did pay double. According to the Sages, the price of 400 silver shekels which he paid was outrageously high by the standards of the time.

  • Ahuva Balofsky (Moderator)

    Both Magda and Jayne make good observations. As Abraham says earlier to the King of Sodom, he doesn’t want anyone but God to be credited with his successes. Likewise, Abraham would not want Ephron to hold a claim over him in the future. Payment would also assure that nobody would have future competing claims over the land.
    Paying for something may also increase one’s appreciation for it. Something one receives for free may be easily abandoned, whereas when one invests in something, he or she is more likely to treat it with care. Perhaps for this reason Abraham insists on paying. He can not only show his respect for the Land of Israel (and specifically the Cave), but also communicate to future generation how greatly he values it.

  • Jayne

    This is the first commercial transaction in the Bible and as such has great significance.
    By paying Ephron future generations could not accuse the Jews of having stolen the Cave as they surely would.

  • Magda

    My first thought was that Abraham didn’t want to ‘owe’ Ephron anything, he wanted fair exchange. Then I was reminded that there were more places in the Bible that were purchased with cash by Abraham and his descendants and found the answer in the “Related Resources” section right on this page: The other two are the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (Abraham bought a field and a cave east of Hebron from the Hittites (Genesis 23:16-18), King David bought a threshing floor at Jerusalem from the Jebusite Araunah (2 Samuel 24:24), and Jacob bought land outside the walls of Shechem from the Shechemites (Genesis 33:18-19)).
    As the Israel365 ‘Related Resources’ points out, these are the three hotly disputed locations in the Holy Land. My question is: were the children of Abraham, Izaac and Jacob supposed to buy land that God actually had given to them?
    Your reference to the suffering of Abraham (loss of his wife Sarah) before he ‘legally’ acquired land, also made me think that he would properly have held that piece of land more dear because of the connection with his loved one. The amount of suffering seemingly required for the modern day people of Israel to regain their land is beyond human understanding (mine anyway).

    • Gillian Morland

      Also the threshing floor at Ornan that David fought for but he also put a down payment on it which I understand to be the Temple Mount.These places are very important to the Lord which are now being disputed by Muslims.God will not allow his enemies to take away what rightly belongs to his people

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