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Buying The Cave Of Machpelah

"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 all the borders round about, were made sure" (Genesis 23:17)

What a peculiar situation we find Abraham in as the 23rd chapter of Genesis unfolds. The man to whom God had promised the entire land of Palestine (Genesis 15:18) now stood negotiating with the sons of Heth for a burial plot in which to inter his beloved Sarah. His descendants had been given by God all the land from the Wadi el Arish river of Egypt to the mighty Euphrates; yet Abraham did not actually possess so much as a parcel of land the size of a burial plot! He indeed possessed great wealth, we know this (e.g, Gen. 13:2, 24:35), but his feet trod upon ground which, at the time, belonged to others.

“I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” (Genesis 23:4)

I am a foreigner and an alien among you, Abraham honestly says to those who currently occupied the land. He was living in a country which he had immigrated to, a land wherein he had no natural inheritance. The only One Who really does own any part of this Earth (Psalm 24:1) had deeded the land to Abraham and his descendants, but Abraham was not to take it by force. So, he negotiates to purchase a piece of the land which he really already owns. Verse 9 of Genesis 23 shows us that Abraham already had in mind a specific section in which he desired to bury Sarah: the Cave of Machpelah. It belonged to a certain man named Ephron; and it would be from him that Abraham must purchase it.

The generous gesturing of the sons of Heth, even Ephron himself, which is described in Verses 6-16, might leave us quite impressed by the absolute magnanimous offerings which they present to Abraham. “In the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead”, they tell him (v. 6). It appears that these most noble gentlemen are proposing that Abraham take from them whatsoever he wishes, no charge attached. But those familiar with the customs and commercial protocols of the Oriental marketplaces, ancient and modern, tell us that such ostentatious pretense is a mere formality with no such actual intention of a one-sided transaction occurring at all. Take it, it’s your, even though it is worth 400 shekels of silver, Ephron says. The price has been stipulated, a price that is agreed by those familiar with the culture to be grossly exorbitant. Nevertheless, the price has been stated and Abraham can in no way accept this piece of land without rendering the amount; lest his honor and reputation be forever damaged.

Verse 17 defines the parameters of the property in question, even mentioning the trees and specific borders that would differentiate the limits of the field from its environs. No doubt about it that this chapter of Genesis was to serve as a perpetual legal document articulating that the Cave of Machpelah, the resting place of the Patriarchs, had been acquired with all propriety.

So, what can be learned by examining such a relatively mundane chapter of Scripture? What applicable truths can the modern child of God glean from this description of Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah? First, we see that there is a dignity with which the servant of God should behave in all of his dealings with those of this world. Any other man in that assembly would have doubtlessly haggled and dickered over the amount quoted for the field, as was likely Ephron’s expectation and reasoning for setting the initial price so high. But Abraham refrains from doing so, silently agreeing with Ephorn’ assertion: What is 400 shekels of silver betwixt me and thee, indeed. The price was unfair, but in Abraham’s economy it was no great loss. Any attempt to secure a lesser amount could have later been construed as duplicity on the part of Abraham. I wanted 400 for it, but that silver-tongued Abraham talked me down to 250, Ephron might have claimed. Since Abraham paid the exact price requested, no such dishonesty could ever be attributed to him. It is certainly not a violation of God’s will to be shrewd in our business dealings, but we must always bear in mind that God is the One upon Whom we rely and we are merely stewards of any finances which come our way. Our character is of far greater importance than our treasure; for we cannot serve God and mammon.

The paradoxical nature of Sarah’s burial was not likely lost on Abraham. For it was only in her death that he had actually acquired even one small portion of the Land of Promise. He would later join her there (Gen. 25:10) and it would only be then that he would cease to be a stranger and sojourner and would take up permanent residence therein. It really is not much different for us. God has promised unto the Christian blessings in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3, 2:6), the fullness of which we will not see in this lifetime. Those blessings were secured by Christ through His death, and it is only after our own death that we shall enjoy them in completeness. Like Abraham, we have those promises now, but until we pass from this life to the next, we shall remain strangers and sojourners in a land that is not our own.

“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

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10 responses

  1. Loren! Thank you for delving into this! I have wrote a couple of poems about this and have been captured by this portion of scripture. Now you have made it all clearer to me, how it was never really intended to be freely given. Aha! I just sensed from it that He cared about the details of our lives and how we did “business” with each other. It has helped me to not always care so much about the money part of things, but more about the relationship side, the God honoring aspects. Blessings! Deb

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  2. Hi Loren,

    I have never looked at this piece of scripture quite like you presented. I do know that the culture of the middle east, having lived there for many years, is one of haggling over price. No one goes to the market and pays the asking price — it is expected that the consumer will haggle. The price quoted is always high to leave room for haggling.

    I never thought about that since Abraham paid the full price, no one could come back and say anything negative about Abraham paying a lesser price.

    We are certainly sojourners in this world. We are not citizens here but in the home that our Redeemer has prepared for us.

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  3. Loren,

    God has wonderful ways of teaching us about our heavenly home and assuring us of our rightful claim through faith in Christ Jesus, who paid the full price for us.

    Another interesting note is in Genesis 49 and 50, where Jacob tells Joseph that he is about to die and orders Joseph to have him buried in the cave at Machpelah — his inheritance in the Promised Land….. It is good to know that the full, unhaggled price was paid for our resting place, even though it was unfairly high….. No one can claim that not enough was paid.

    Margaret

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  4. Thanks, Deb.

    I would be interested in reading your poems about this. Did you publish them on your website?

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  5. I think that haggling is such an intricate part of Middle Eastern business affairs that it immediately grabs the attention of all who witness it when someone does not try to haggle over the price (either that, or they realize they are dealing with someone unfamiliar with the culture). I am obviously just speculating, but I feel that the Sons of Heth must have been impressed by the grace with which Abraham behaved by simply paying the price and going on about his business.

    Notice also that Abraham merely asked for the cave to bury Sarah in. Ephron decided to sneak in the whole field with the deal! Again, Abraham did not balk at this, but simply paid the price and behaved with great dignity. I am certain that this must have impressed those assembled that day that this man’s eyes were set firmly on that which is above, not just the things of the Earth.

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  6. Actually Loren . .. this is so weird , but I DID post a little devotion and a poem about just that a couple of days ago. ! Then I get this from you and I thought, OH NO! ha! I messed up! ha! It was posted for April 4th, titled Paying the Price. I will look up the other one I did and send it to you when I find it. This will sound weird too, but I even used this one time when dealing with a situation where my daughter was given a perm that didn’t turn out right. The hair dresser agreed to re-do it, but was going to do a different one that would normally cost more money, but she wasn’t going to charge us anything for it. I had just read about Abraham and his purchase for burying Sarah, and thought I should pay her more for it all the same. I did and shared about Jesus at the same time. :) However misguided it might have been! ha! Thanks for asking and helping me to learn! God bless you! deb

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  7. Excellent comments, Margaret, thanks!

    I honestly hadn’t really thought of it that way, but you’re right. The Lord Jesus didn’t hesitate to pay the required price to secure our resting place, either, though it cost Him so much. Thanks for reminding us of that!

    “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

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  8. WOW!! I actually wrote this post on April 4th and set it to be published on Monday morning….In other words, you and I were probably writing our posts on Genesis 23 at about the same time :) Talk about unity in the Spirit! It just so happened that this was the next topic I came to in my study through Genesis.

    I loved your poem, beautiful! And that is so cool about your witness to the beautician; I bet it got her attention when you agreed to pay the full price. This is exactly the kind of thing I was thinking about when Abraham agreed to pay the full price. It is these instances when we do not act as others would, when we do not seek to gain or even accept a financial advantage that others sit up and take notice. What a powerful testimony for our Lord!

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  9. I am thanking Him tonight as you reveal that we were writing together in the Spirit. That blesses me so much, that He would confirm us in our efforts to encourage others in His name! Definitely a WOW moment! :) You can probably tell that I feel like I bungle things alot, so thank you for covering me with grace . . .like Jesus! Blessings , deb

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  10. that was beautiful, you wealthy in it, a authored.

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