1 “Now Sarah’s life lasted one hundred and twen...
1 “Now Sarah’s life lasted one hundred and twenty-seven years.” Sarah was last mentioned in 21:12, when she ordered Ishmael’s expulsion, but her part in and reaction to the momentous events in 21:22–22:24 are passed over in silence, according to the narrative a period of nearly thirty-five years. Suddenly, however, her total lifespan (cf. 5:5, 11) and her death are mentioned. The phraseology of this verse is unique (cf. 5:5; 47:28) and has prompted some conjectural emendations, but Sarah is the only patriarch’s wife whose age at death is recorded. Whether her age is supposed to be taken literally is unclear. The midrash saw symbolism in it: 100 stands for great age, 20 beauty, and 7 blamelessness. The number 127 also lends itself to easy arithmetic analysis like the patriarchal ages: 127 = 2 × 60 + 7 (see Introduction).
2 “In Kiryat-Arba (that is Hebron).” Kiryat-Arba is nearly always glossed as Hebron. Hebron (confederation?) seems to be the Israelite name of the city earlier (Judg 1:10) called Kiryat Arba, either “city of Arba” (so Josh 14:15) or “city of four,” and lies about twenty miles (thirty-five kilometers) south of Jerusalem on the way to Beersheba (22:19). It is also very close to Mamre (13:18; 14:13, 24; 18:1; 23:17, 19), where Abraham received the great bulk of the promises recorded in Genesis. The association of Hebron with the promises probably explains the otherwise unnecessary “in the land of Canaan.”
“He came in to mourn for Sarah and weep for her.” The first term (ספד) is used almost exclusively for “bewailing” the dead, while the second (בכה) may cover weeping for joy (33:4; 45:14) as well as in sorrow. But when, as here, בכה is followed by the accusative, it refers always to sorrow prompted by death. The use of both terms together suggests that Abraham did not just weep aloud but carried out other traditional mourning customs, such as rending his garments, disheveling his hair, cutting his beard, scattering dust on his head, and fasting (Lev 21:5, 10; 2 Sam 1:11, 12; 13:31; Job 1:20; 2:12; cf. “Burial and Mourning,” NBD , 170–72). These rites were carried out in front of the corpse, hence the opening “he came in,” i.e., to the tent or part of the tent where Sarah lay; cf. v 3, “he rose up from before his dead wife.”
3–15 The negotiations between Abraham and the Hittites proceed in three stages. Each time, Abraham makes a proposal that the Hittites then accept. First, he asks if he may have somewhere to bury Sarah. Then, he asks if he may buy the cave of Macpelah. Finally, he insists that its owner Ephron name the price. This three-stage development is typical of narrative style (cf. Licht, Storytelling in the Bible, 55–69).
The outstanding characteristic of this account is the courtesy and deference each side shows in the negotiations. Abraham rises and bows to the Hittites before making a request (vv 3, 7, 12). For their part, the Hittites are very polite, calling Abraham “a mighty prince” (v 6), repeatedly protesting their sincerity, “Do listen to us, sir” (vv 6, 11, 13), and offering Abraham exactly what he wants for nothing. This last point may well be typical oriental exaggeration, but it does show the Hittites’ goodwill. Finally, the repeated emphasis on the public nature of the negotiations is evident (cf. vv 10, 11, 13, 16, 18). This was clearly of great importance to make Abraham’s claim to the land clear beyond dispute.
3 “The Hittites,” lit. “sons of Heth.” Heth was a descendant of Canaan, according to 10:15. Their Canaanite affiliation is corroborated in that all Hittites named in the OT have good Semitic names, e.g., Ephron, Sohar, Uriah. “Apart from the expression ‘the land of the Hittites,’ which sometimes denotes Syria, all other references to ‘Hittites’ in the OT are to a small group living in the hills during the era of the Patriarchs and descendants of that group” (H. A. Hoffner, POTT , 213–14). The biblical Hittites have no obvious connections with the better-known Hittites of Asia Minor.
4 “I am just a resident immigrant with you.” Abraham introduces himself with a simple factual statement about his legal situation, which at the same time exposes his vulnerability and need. He is just an “immigrant.” Here the Hebrew has two terms, גר “sojourner” and תושׁב “resident.” The former term is much more common. It denotes foreigners living in an alien land potentially permanently, such as the Israelites in Egypt (cf. 12:10). Such immigrants, being separated from their own people, were particularly prone to exploitation, and Israel is frequently urged to protect them (Deut 14:29). “Resident” is a rarer term than “sojourner” and is often used alongside it, so that they appear virtually synonymous (cf. Lev 25:23; Ps 39:13 ). However, while circumcised “sojourners” could participate in the passover, “residents” could not (Exod 12:19, 45–49), so they were even more on the fringe of society than sojourners. Here the distinction is not important; what the two have in common is stressed by coupling them, “just a resident sojourner,” particularly their lack of land (cf. TDOT 2:439–49).
So Abraham asks, “Give me a burial plot with you” (אחזת קבר “burial plot,” lit. “holding of a grave”). Abraham’s use of the term “holding” (אחזה) is probably significant here. It is used in 17:8; 48:4 of Israel’s eternal possession of Canaan, so it seems that Abraham is asking for ownership of a piece of land for his permanent use as a burial ground (cf. G. Gerleman, ZAW 89  313–25).
“So that I may bury my dead wife properly.” His demeanor and garb no doubt showed that he was in mourning, but now Abraham gives the reason for his request, which no humane person could refuse.1
1 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16–50, vol. 2, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1994), 125–127.
1, 2. The death of Sarah.—2. Ḳiryath-’Arba‘] an old name of Hebron, v.i. —וַיָּבֹא] not ‘came,’ but went in—to where the body lay.—to wail … weep] with the customary loud demonstrations of grief (Schwally , Leben n. d. Tode, 20; DB , iii. 453 ff.).
3–7. The request for a burying-place.—The negotiations fall into three well-defined stages; and while they illustrate the leisurely courtesy of the East in such matters, they cover a real reluctance of the Ḥittites to give Abraham a legal title to land by purchase (Gu. ). To his first request they respond with alacrity: the best of their sepulchres is at his disposal.—3. arose] from the sitting posture of the mourner (2 Sa. 12:16, 20).—the sons of Ḥēth] see on 10:15.
P is the only document in which Ḥittites are definitely located in the S of Canaan (cf. 26:34; 36:2); and the historic accuracy of the statement is widely questioned. It is conceivable that the Cappadocian Ḥittites (p. 215) had extended their empire over the whole country prior to the Heb. invasion. But taking into account that P appears to use ‘Ḥēth’ interchangeably with ‘Canaan’ (cf. 26:34; 27:46; 36:2b w. 28:1, 8; 36:2a), it may be more reasonable to hold that with him ‘Ḥittite’ is a general designation of the pre-Israelite inhabitants, as ‘Canaanite’ with J and ‘Amorite’ with E (cf. Jos. 1:4; Ezk. 16:3). It may, of course, be urged that such an idea could not have arisen unless the Ḥittites had once been in actual occupation of the land, and that this assumption would best explain the all but constant occurrence of the name in the lists of conquered peoples (see p. 284). At present, however, we have no proof that this was the case; and a historic connexion between the northern Ḥittites and the natives of Hebron remains problematical. Another solution is propounded by Jastrow (EB , 2094 ff.), viz., that P ’s Ḥittites are an entirely distinct stock, having nothing but the name in common with either the ‘conventional’ Ḥittites of the enumerations or the great empire of N Syria. See Dri. 228 ff.
4. a sojourner and dweller] so Lv. 25:35, 47; Nu. 35:15, and (in a religious sense) Ps. 39:13 (cf. 1 Pe. 2:11). The technical p 337 distinction between נֵּר and תּוֹשָׁב is obscure (v.i. ).—6. O if thou wouldst hear us (rd. לוּ שְׁמָעֵנוּ, v.i. )]. The formula always introduces a suggestion preferable to that just advanced: cf. 11, 13, 15.—נְשִׂיא אֱלֹהִים is more than ‘a mighty prince’ (as Ps. 36:7; 68:16; 104:16 etc.); it means one deriving his patent of nobility straight from Almighty God.—Not a man of us will withhold, etc.] therefore there is no need to buy. Behind their generosity there lurks an aversion to the idea of purchase.—7. The v. has almost the force of a refrain (cf. 12). The first stage of the negotiations is concluded.
1. After ויהיו it is advisable to insert שְׁנֵי (Ba. Kit.: cf. 47:9, 28). The omission may have caused the addition of the gloss שְׁנֵי הַיֵּי שָׂרָה at the end (wanting in 𝔊 ).—2. קרית ארבע (𝔊 ἐν πόλει Ἀρβόκ)] The old name of Hebron (Jos. 14:15; Ju. 1:10), though seemingly in use after the Exile (unless Neh. 11:25 be an artificial archaism [Mey. Entst. 106]). The name means ‘Four cities’ (see on בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע, p. 326). The personification of אַרְבַּע as heros eponymus (Jos. 14:15; 15:13; 21:11) has no better authority (as 𝔊 shows) than the mistake of a copyist (see Moore, Jud. 25). Jewish Midrash gave several explanations of the numeral: amongst others from the 4 patriarchs buried there—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Adam (Ber. R. ; P. R. Eliezer, 20, 36; Ra. )—the last being inferred from הָאָדָם הַנֶּדוֹל in Jos. 14:15 (Jer. OS , 8412). The addition of ⅏ אל עמק (𝔊 ἤ ἑστιν ἐν τῷ κοιλώματι) seems a corruption of אבי ענק (Ba. ) or (with 𝔊 ) אֵם ע׳ in Jos. 15:13; 21:11.—לספד] In Heb. usage, as in that of all the cognate languages, ספד means ‘to wail’; see Mic. 1:8.—4. תּוֹשָׁב] IEz. הוא הגר היושב בארץ. According to Bertholet (Stell. z. d. Fr. 156–166), the תּ׳ is simply a gêr (see on 12:10) who resides fixedly in one place, without civil rights, and perhaps incapable of holding land; see1
1 John Skinner 1851-1925, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, International Critical Commentary (New York: Scribner, 1910), 335–337.
23:1–2 The duration of 127 years for Sarah’s life (v. 1) indicates she lived a long life blessed by God (cf. 24:36; 15:15; 25:8; Ps 90:10; Moses, Deut 34:7; Job, Job 42:16–17).666 This chronological note puts the event thirty-seven years since the birth of Isaac (17:17), making Abraham 137 years old (17:17), and sixty-two years since entering Canaan (12:4). The location of her death is “Kiriath Arba” (v. 2), which is further defined as Hebron (e.g., 35:27; Judg 1:10) in the territory of Canaan (on Hebron, see comments on 13:18). The importance of the geographical notice is the reference to Canaan as the patriarch’s residence and burial (v. 19; 25:9), reminiscent of the promises made to Abraham (12:5; 17:8). Mention of “Mamre” in v. 19 further identifies the site of burial as Hebron, which is the south Canaan home where many important patriarchal activities concerning the promises occurred. “Kiriath Arba” means “city of four” (qiryat ʾarbaʿ), which may originally have referred to a group of four related cities (Aner, Eshcol, Mamre, and Hebron, see comments on 14:14).667
Abraham expresses the customary mourning over the deceased (cf. 37:34–35). Mourning rites in the ancient Near East and in the Bible include many of the same expressions of sorrow, for example, loud weeping, tearing clothes, sitting in dirt, wearing sackcloth, and shaving the head.668 The passage describes the patriarch’s audible cries at the side (bôʾ, “entered”) of Sarah’s body. The terms “mourn” (sāpad) and “weep” (bākâ) are common in the vocabulary of grief over the dead or other disasters. Sāpad and its related noun mispēd (“mourning”) involve crying out, exclamations of grief that may be a ritual lament (e.g., Jer 22:18; 34:5; 1 Kgs 13:30; Amos 5:16), although not the cries of a formal poetic lament (qînâ).669 “Weep” (bākâ) is very common for a wide range of emotions, including joy (e.g., 29:11), but it usually expresses the grief of a person over the dead (e.g., 35:8) or troubling situations (e.g., 1 Sam 1:7–8; Ps 137:1). The term is associated at times with “tears” (dimʿâ, e.g., Isa 16:9); it is related to the verbal expressions of wailing. It occurs often in describing lament over the dead (e.g., 2 Sam 1:11; Isa 15:2–5).670 1
The interchange between the patriarch and the Hittites is a lively encounter that shows Abraham’s elevated place in the eyes of his neighbors. As in the Abimelech treaty, the patriarch though an “alien” (gēr) is well received by the Hittites and is deemed a “mighty prince” (v. 6). The possession of Hittite property is reminiscent of the prophecy in 15:18–20 depicting Abraham’s descendants receiving the land of the indigenous Canaanite populations, including the Hittites. By burying his wife within Hittite borders, the patriarch testifies to his faith in the divine word. This central unit consists of three dialogue parts (vv. 3–6; vv. 7–11; vv. 12–16) and ends in a completed transaction (vv. 17–18).
23:3–4 After an appropriate period of mourning, the patriarch “rose from beside his dead wife”671 to seek property for a burial site from the Hittites. The term “Hittites” appears first in the Table of Nations (10:15, vol. 1A, p. 455) and is listed among the pre-Israelite inhabitants of Canaan (15:20), but their notoriety in the patriarchal accounts is the sale of land for the ancestral burial site at Hebron (25:9–10; 49:29–32). Later, intermarriage with Hittite women by Esau (26:34; 27:46: 36:2) distinguishes him from Jacob, whose wives are from the Terah-Nahor lineage residing in Aram (29:12, 14). The presence of Hittites (bĕnê ḥēt, “sons of Heth”) in the Hebron region, however, is puzzling to historians since the Hittites are not known to have resided in the southern area of Canaan. The problem is created by the term “Hittite,” which can refer to at least three and possibly four different groups.672 The Hittite empire of Anatolia (modern Turkey), probably an Indo-European people, experienced destruction in ca. 1200. The remnants migrated to northwest Syria, where they assimilated with existing Hittite vassal states forming the Neo-Hittite kingdoms (e.g., Carchemish, Aleppo, Hamath), although the entire promised land (from Lebanon and the Euphrates to the Great Sea) was identified at one time as the “land of the Hittites” (Josh 1:4; cf. Judg 1:26). Aramean culture, however, eventually took over these states, and the term “Hittite” lost any remaining ethnic distinction. If the Hittites identified with Hebron, were possibly migrants from Anatolia or Syria, then we have a case of anachronism. Since the Hittites named in the Pentateuch, however, all have Semitic names (e.g., Ephron) and appear to fit in with the social practices of their Canaanite neighbors, it is reasonable to conclude that the Hittites of the Pentateuch were a separate group, not related directly to either the Anatolian or Syrian Hittites. The influence of Hittite culture (vocabulary, social and religious practices) in the Old Testament can be explained as the result of centuries of contact between Israel and those northern states that more directly exhibited Hittite influence.673 Until more information becomes available, the origin of the pre-Israelite “Hittites” remains uncertain.
Abraham begins negotiations by citing his social status, “an alien [gēr] and a stranger [tôšāb]” (v. 4), which explains his landless condition. The foreigner motif essential to the Abraham story reappears (cf. comments on chaps. 18–19). “Stranger” (tôšāb), also translated “settler, sojourner,” is a nominal form from “dwell” (yāšab). The terms “alien” and “stranger” appear as synonyms in many contexts (e.g., Lev 25:35; Ps 39:12; 1 Chr 29:15); here the nouns may form a hendiadys, “a resident alien” (NAB , NJPS ). The Levitical code distinguishes the two groups, suggesting that the stranger (tôšāb) has less status than the alien in some social and religious activities (Lev 22:10; 25:6; cf. Exod 12:45).674
Abraham makes the unassuming admission he is a “stranger” (tôšāb), indicating that he had no land, even for his dead. His request for land within Hittite holdings may be exceptional, and to win a hearing he presents himself unpretentiously as no threat. He specifies that his need for the property is as a sepulcher, not a homestead. Perhaps this explains in part the congeniality of the Hittite response (v. 6). “Property for a burial site” (ʾăḥuzzat qeber, vv. 4, 9, 20) indicates a tomb for the dead (49:30; 50:13). By itself ʾăḥuzzâ means “a landed possession” (36:43; 47:11; Lev 25:10), and its appearance here may allude to the earlier promise of a permanent “possession” for Abraham (17:8; cf. 48:4) though he remains “now an alien” (māgôr, “sojourning,” 17:8). The man has no land of his own, but by acquiring Hittite property he demonstrates his reliance on the prior promise of the Lord (cp. Jer 32:6–15). Someday the one man will become a multitude, and his parcel of Hittite land will become a small part of a vast possession.1
1 K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 314–315.
1 All that we know of Sarah’s activities between the age of 90 and 127 is that she gave birth to Isaac and died thirty-seven years later.13 Such phasing out of a biblical character occurs also with Abraham. The only events associated with Abraham during the last thirty-eight years of his life (from age 137 to 175; 25:7) are the selection of a bride for Isaac and his own remarriage.
While Genesis provides the age of each of the patriarchs at their death (Abraham—Gen. 25:7; Isaac—Gen. 35:28; Jacob—Gen. 47:28), Sarah is the only one of the matriarchs whose age at her death is recorded. Rebekah’s death is not even mentioned (apart from the reference to her burial in 49:31), and Rachel’s demise is only briefly noted (35:19). Cassuto explained the 127 years of Sarah’s life as a round number (120) plus an even more significant number (7), and made a comparison with the number of provinces in the Persian empire that Dan. 6:2 (Eng. 1) gave as 120, but which Esth. 1:1; 8:9; 9:30 increased by seven (127).14 It is also possible that Sarah’s life span represents the maximum life span (120; see Gen. 6:3), increased by 7, the number of fullness.15 Gen. 25:20 indicates that Isaac married Rebekah three years after his mother’s death.
2 Chapter 23 shares with ch. 22 the concern to update the narrative to the narrator’s time. Abraham’s name for Moriah persisted into a later period (22:14), and Kiriath-arba had been renamed Hebron by the narrator’s time. Kiriath-arba means “city of four,”16 a tetrapolis. Cf. the name “Beer-sheba,” which means “well of seven.” “Four” more than likely refers to four confederated settlements of families around Hebron. Josh. 15:13 names “Arba” as the father of Anak, who was apparently the progenitor of the Anakim, the dreaded inhabitants of Canaan whom the Israelites encountered (cf. Deut. 2:10–11, 21; 9:2).
Hebron would be an excellent choice of an alternative name for Kiriath-arba if Hebrew ḥeḇrôn is connected with ḫibrum in the Mari documents. Malamat has defined ḫibrum as a “separate union of families closely linked together within the larger unit of the clan or tribe … an association of wandering families which had been drawn into closer union as a result of their nomadic status.”17 In a number of instances the renaming of places is occasioned by a change in ownership. In addition to Gen. 23 cf. Num. 32:42 (Kenath: Nobah); Deut. 3:15 (Argob: Havvothjair); Josh. 15:15–17 (Kiriath-sepher: Debir); Judg. 1:17 (Zephath: Hormah); Josh. 19:47/Judg. 18:29 (Laish: Dan); 2 Sam. 5:7–9 (the stronghold of Zion: city of David).18 With the exception of Gen. 23, however, each of these name changes came about as a result of new ownership claimed through battle and seizure.
3–4 The occupants of Kiriath-arba are called Hittites (lit., “children/sons of Heth”; so Speiser/JB ). Many scholars question a Hittite presence as far south in Canaan as Hebron, just as many doubt the existence of the Philistines in the patriarchal age (see ch. 21). Are the Hittites of Gen. 23 the same as the Hittites who established themselves as a great empire in Asia Minor throughout most of the 2nd millennium b.c.? Or are they distinct?
In favor of the former view (the Hittites of the Bible are the Hittites of the Anatolian-Syrian empire), a minority view to be sure, are the following data. (1) Each of the lists (18 altogether) of nations whom the Israelites are to drive out of Canaan includes the Hittites.19 (2) This listing dovetails with Gen. 10:15, which identifies Heth as the son of Canaan, and with Josh. 1:4, which calls Canaan “the land of the Hittites.” (3) M. R. Lehmann has suggested that the transaction in Gen. 23 between Abraham and Ephron the Hittite is best explained by two laws in the Hittite law code, a code that dates to about the mid-2nd millennium b.c.20 This connection has been denied and challenged by some (see our commentary below), but not convincingly in our judgment. (4) More and more scholars are recognizing the presence of Hittite words behind some of the Hebrew vocabulary of the OT.21 (5) Although his conclusions are debated by many, G. E. Mendenhall has made a strong case for the close parallelism in structure between the Sinaitic covenant (both the initial act and acts of renewal) and second-millennium b.c. Hittite political suzerainty covenants.22 (6) It has often been observed that the names of individual Hittites in the OT seem to be Semitic in meaning: Ephron (Gen. 23), Zohar (23:8), Judith, Beeri, Basemath, Elon (26:34), Adah (36:2), Ahimelech (1 Sam. 26:6), Uriah (2 Sam. 11).23 While the name Ahimelech is patently Semitic, new studies are suggesting that some of the Hittite onamastica of the OT may be analyzed as Hittite or Hurro-Hittite, including the names Ephron and Uriah.24 (7) Ezek. 16:3, 45, “your mother was a Hittite, and your father was an Amorite,” may preserve a memory in Israel’s past of a distinct Hittite presence in Canaan. (8) Archeologists have found near Bethel a crater that dates to the late 1200s and is Hittite in style.25 (9) A text from the Tell el-Amarna collection (14th century b.c.) tells of a letter from Abdu-Ḫeba (or Abdiheba), “king” of Jerusalem, to Pharaoh requesting help against those attacking his city. “Abdi” is Semitic for “servant” and “Ḫeba” is a Hittite or Hurrian goddess. Hence the name means “servant of Heba.”26
Abraham identifies himself to his hosts as a resident alien (gēr-weṯôšāḇ), a combination of terms found elsewhere in the OT.27 The addition of tôšāḇ to gēr indicates even more forcefully that Abraham viewed himself as one with tenant status only before the Hebronite Hittites. Even though the text said that Abraham “sojourned” (gûr) in Gerar (20:1), he did not draw attention to his subordinate status before Abimelech when Sarah was alive. But after her death he is much more deferential to his hosts. Had he called himself only a gēr he would have been drawing attention only to his immigrant status. tôšāḇ adds the element of socioeconomic dependence. The irony is that Abraham, who has been promised the land both for himself and for his descendants, reduces himself to the status of a tôšāḇ without rights, and solicits a piece of property on which to bury his wife.1
18–50, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 125–129.
The death and internment of Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah receive a lot of attention here, and the episode is reported in minute detail.
One of the reasons is that this is the first death and burial recorded in Hebrew history. In addition, Sarah is the first of the immediate family of Abraham to be laid to rest, and she is the first matriarch of the Hebrews.
Also, the Cave of Machpelah is the first piece of property that the Hebrews own in Canaan—in the story Abraham will receive clear legal title to the cave and the land around it. It is a sign that the promise of God of a land for the Hebrews is becoming a reality, no matter how slowly.
Finally, much attention is given to this story because the Cave of Machpelah becomes an important patriarchal burial site, and it must have been well known at the time when Genesis was written. Abraham (25:9), Isaac, Rebekah, Leah and Jacob (35:29; 49:31; 50:13) were all interred in the Cave of Machpelah.
23:1–2. And the life of Sarah was 127 years; [those were] the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriath Arba—that is, Hebron in the land of Canaan. Then Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.
The account of Sarah’s death and burial begins with repetition: the author underscores for us the fact that Sarah lived to a good old age. Here is the mother of the Hebrews, the mother of the covenant, the mother of the faithful, the mother of the seed of the woman. It is of momentous importance that she now dies.222
‘And Sarah died’ echoes the oft-repeated refrain that was introduced in Genesis 5. All people, without exception, die. It does not matter that Sarah is the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac; she still dies. Death is no respecter of people. As Sir Walter Scott said, ‘And come he slow, or come he fast, it is but death who comes at last.’
Sarah dies in Hebron. The older name for that city is ‘Kiriath Arba’—the etymology of this name is uncertain. The first part means ‘city’. According to the book of Joshua the second part is named for a person called ‘Arba, the father of Anak (that is Hebron)’ (Josh. 15:13; 21:11). The term ‘Arba’, however, also means ‘four’, and it may refer to a city divided into four quarters (that tradition may be seen in the reference of Numbers 13:22).
Abraham comes ‘to mourn’ and ‘to weep’ for Sarah. The author here is not trying to affect the reader with the pain felt by Abraham. Rather, these two verbs together signify that Abraham carries out the formal rites and customs of mourning for the dead (2 Sam. 1:12; Ezek. 24:16, 23). This is the first account of mourning for the dead in the Bible. But Abraham does not mourn without hope. He is grieved, but not in anguish and despair (see Heb. 11:19). There is ‘a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance’ (Eccles. 3:4).
23:3–4. Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and he spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘I am a sojourner and a stranger among you. Sell me a burial plot among you so that I may bury my dead before me.’
Abraham gets up from before Sarah’s body. Lamenting for the dead in the Old Testament occurs either seated or lying down (2 Sam. 13:31; Ezek. 26:16). The time for mourning is over. He now has to deal with the issue of where to bury her. He speaks to the sons of Heth regarding his legal situation. He describes his position with a hendiadys: ‘a sojourner and a stranger’. Abraham lacks the privileges enjoyed by the citizens of Hebron—in particular, the right to own land. How can he bury Sarah without land to bury her in?
So Abraham enters into official, formal negotiations with the people of the city. This is clear from verse 10 below, in which the discussion is taking place in the gate of the city, the area of judicial decision-making. The patriarch needs the consent of the city’s populace to obtain land for burial, and then he must obtain that land. What he is attempting to buy is a ‘burial plot’ or ‘possession’. The nature of the plot is one that can be passed down from one generation to another: the Hebrew term ‘plot’ often bears the idea of possession that includes future inheritance.223
The sons of Heth are probably Hittites (see 10:15). Yet some scholars argue that the identification is problematic because the Hittites (from the far north) did not have a presence in Canaan at this time. Such a sweeping statement is misleading, however: there is textual evidence that a Hittite migration to the south occurred in the early period of the Late Bronze Age.224 Physical remains of a Hittite presence in Canaan appear as early as the middle of the second millennium B.C. with pottery jugs discovered at Megiddo. Hittite seals, ivories, jewellery and other objects dating from the Late Bronze Age have been uncovered in Canaan.225 1
We have here, 1. Sarah’s age, v. 1. Almost forty years before, she had called herself old, ch. 18:12. Old people will die never the sooner, but may die the better, for reckoning themselves old. 2. Her death, v. 2. The longest liver must die at last. Abraham and Sarah had lived comfortably together many years; but death parts those whom nothing else could part. The special friends and favourites of Heaven are not exempted from the stroke of death. She died in the land of Canaan, where she had been above sixty years a sojourner. 3. Abraham’s mourning for her; and he was a true mourner. He did not only perform the ceremonies of mourning according to the custom of those time, as the mourners that go about the streets, but he did sincerely lament the great loss he had of a good wife, and gave proof of the constancy of his affection to her to the last. Two words are used: he came both to mourn and to weep. His sorrow was not counterfeit, but real. He came to her tent, and sat down by the corpse, there to pay the tribute of his tears, that his eye might affect his heart, and that he might pay the greater respect to the memory of her that was gone. Note, It is not only lawful, but it is a duty, to lament the death of our near relations, both in compliance with the providence of God, who thus calls to weeping and mourning, and in honour to those to whom honour is due. Tears are a tribute due to our deceased friends. When a body is sown, it must be watered. But we must not sorrow as those that have no hope; for we have a good hope through grace both concerning them and concerning ourselves.
Here is, I. The humble request which Abraham made to his neighbours, the Hittites, for a burying-place among them, v. 3, 4. It was strange he had this to do now; but we are to impute it rather to God’s providence than to his improvidence, as appears Acts 7:5, where it is said, God gave him no inheritance in Canaan. It were well if all those who take care to provide burying-places for their bodies after death were as careful to provide a resting-place for their souls. Observe here, 1. The convenient diversion which this affair gave, for the present, to Abraham’s grief: He stood up from before his dead. Those that find themselves in danger of over-grieving for their dead relations, and are entering into that temptation, must take heed of poring upon their loss and sitting alone and melancholy. There must be a time of standing up from before their dead, and ceasing to mourn. For, thanks be to God, our happiness is not bound up in the life of any creature. Care of the funeral may, as here, be improved to divert grief for the death at first, when it is most in danger of tyrannizing. Weeping must not hinder sowing. 2. The argument he used with the children of Heth, which was this: “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you, therefore I am unprovided, and must become a humble suitor to you for a burying-place.” This was one occasion which Abraham took to confess that he was a stranger and a pilgrim upon earth; he was not ashamed to own it thus publicly, Heb. 11:13. Note, The death of our relations should effectually remind us that we are not at home in this world. When they are gone, say, “We are going.” 3. His uneasiness till this affair was settled, intimated in that word, that I may bury my dead out of my sight. Note, Death will make those unpleasant to our sight who while they lived were the desire of our eyes. The countenance that was fresh and lively becomes pale and ghastly, and fit to be removed into the land of darkness. While she was in his sight, it renewed his grief, which he would prevent.1
1 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 54.
1. And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old.1 It is remarkable that Moses, who relates the death of Sarah in a single word, uses so many in describing her burial: but we shall soon see that the latter record is not superfluous. Why he so briefly alludes to her death, I know not, except that he leaves more to be reflected upon by his readers than he expresses. The holy fathers saw that they, in common with reprobates, were subject to death. Nevertheless, they were not deterred, while painfully leading a life full of suffering, from advancing with intrepidity towards the goal. Whence it follows, that they, being animated by the hope of a better life, did not give way to fatigue. Moses says that Sarah lived a hundred and twenty-seven years, and since he repeats the word years after each of the numbers, the Jews feign that this was done, because she had been as beautiful in her hundredth, as in her twentieth year, and as modest in the flower of her age, as when she was seven years old. This is their custom; while they wish to prove themselves skilful in doing honour to their nation, they invent frivolous trifles, which betray a shameful ignorance: as, for instance, in this place, who would not say that they were entirely ignorant of their own language, in which this kind of repetition is most usual? The discussion of others also, on the word חים, (lives,) is without solidity. The reason why the Hebrews use the word lives, in the plural number, for life, cannot be better explained, as it appears to me, than the reason why the Latins express some things which are singular in plural forms.1 I know that the life of men is manifold, because, beyond merely vegetative life, and beyond the sense which they have in common with brute animals, they are also endued with mind and intelligence. This reasoning, therefore, is plausible, without being solid. There is more colour of truth in the opinion of those who think that the various events of human life are signified; which life, since it has nothing stable, but is agitated by perpetual vicissitudes, is rightly divided into many lives. I am, however, contented to refer simply to the idiom of the language; the reason of which is not always to be curiously investigated.
2. And Sarah died in Kirjath-arba. It appears from Josh. 15:54, that this was the more ancient name of the city, which afterwards began to be called Hebron. But there is a difference of opinion respecting the etymology. Some think the name is derived from the fact, that the city consisted of four parts; as the Greeks call the city divided into three orders, Tripoli, and a given region, Decapolis, from the ten cities it contained. Others suppose that Arba is the name of a giant, whom they believe to have been the king or the founder of the city. Others again prefer the notion, that the name was given to the place from four1 of the Fathers, Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were buried there with their wives. I willingly suspend my judgment on a matter of uncertainty, and not very necessary to be known. It more concerns the present history to inquire, how it happened that Sarah died in a different place from that in which Abraham dwelt. If any one should reply, that they had both changed their abode, the words of Moses are opposed to that, for he says that Abraham came to bury his dead. It is hence easily inferred, that he was not present at her death; nor is it probable that they were separated, merely by being in different tents; so that he might walk ten or twenty paces for the sake of mourning, while a more important duty had been neglected. For this reason, some suspect that he was on a journey at the time. But to me it seems more likely that their abode was then at Hebron, or at least in the vale of Mamre, which adjoins the city. For, after a little breathing time had been granted him, he was soon compelled to return to his accustomed wanderings. And although Moses does not say, that Abraham had paid to his wife, while yet alive, the due attentions of a husband; I think that he omits it, as a thing indubitably certain, and that he speaks particularly of the mourning, as a matter connected with the care of sepulture. That they dwelt separately we shall afterwards see: not as being in different regions, but because each inhabited separate, though contiguous, tents. And this was no sign of dissension or of strife, but is rather to be ascribed to the size of the family. For as Abraham had much trouble in governing so large a herd of servants; so his wife would have equal difficulty to retain her maids under chaste and honest custody. Therefore the great number of domestics, which it was not safe to mingle together, compelled them to divide the family.
But it may be asked, what end could it answer to approach the body for the sake of mourning over it? was not the death of his wife sufficiently sad and bitter to call forth his grief, without this additional means of excitement? It would have been better to seek the alleviation of his sorrow, than to cherish, and even augment it, by indulgence. I answer, if Abraham came to his dead wife, in order to produce excessive weeping, and to pierce his heart afresh with new wounds, his example is not to be approved. But if he both privately wept over the death of his wife, so far as humanity prescribed, exercising self-government in doing it; and also voluntarily mourned over the common curse of mankind; there is no fault in either of these. For to feel no sadness at the contemplation of death, is rather barbarism and stupor than fortitude of mind. Nevertheless, as Abraham was a man, it might be, that his grief was excessive. And yet, what Moses soon after subjoins, that he rose up from his dead, is spoken in praise of his moderation; whence Ambrose prudently infers, that we are taught by this example, how perversely they act, who occupy themselves too much in mourning for the dead. Now, if Abraham, at that time, assigned a limit to his grief, and put a restraint on his feelings, when the doctrine of the resurrection was yet obscure; they are without excuse, who, at this day, give the reins to impatience, since the most abundant consolation is supplied to us in the resurrection of Christ.
3. And spake unto the sons of Heth. Moses is silent respecting the rite used by Abraham in the burial of the body of his wife: but he proceeds, at great length, to recite the purchasing of the sepulchre. For what reason he did this, we shall see presently, when I shall briefly allude to the custom of burial. How religiously this has been observed in all ages, and among all people, is well known. Ceremonies have indeed been different, and men have endeavoured to outdo each other in various superstitions; meanwhile, to bury the dead has been common to all. And this practice has not arisen either from foolish curiosity, or from the desire of fruitless consolation, or from superstition, but from the natural sense with which God has imbued the minds of men; a sense he has never suffered to perish, in order that men might be witnesses to themselves of a future life. It is also incredible that they, who have disseminated certain outrageous expressions in contempt of sepulture, could have spoken from the heart. Truly it behoves us, with magnanimity, so far to disregard the rites of sepulture,—as we would riches and honours, and the other conveniences of life,—that we should bear with equanimity to be deprived of them; yet it cannot be denied that religion carries along with it the care of burial. And certainly (as I have said) it has been divinely engraven on the minds of all people, from the beginning, that they should bury the dead; whence also they have ever regarded sepulchres as sacred. It has not, I confess, always entered into the minds of heathens that souls survived death, and that the hope of a resurrection remained even for their bodies; nor have they been accustomed to exercise themselves in a pious meditation of this kind, whenever they had laid their dead in the grave; but this inconsideration of theirs does not disprove the fact; that they had such a representation of a future life placed before their eyes, as left them inexcusable. Abraham, however, seeing he had the hope of a resurrection deeply fixed in his heart, sedulously cherished, as was meet, its visible symbol. The importance he attached to it appears hence, that he thought he should be guilty of pollution, if he mingled the body of his wife with strangers after death. For he bought a cave, in order that he might possess for himself and his family, a holy and pure sepulchre. He did not desire to have a foot of earth whereon to fix his tent; he only took care about his grave: and he especially wished to have his own domestic tomb in that land, which had been promised him for an inheritance, for the purpose of bearing testimony to posterity, that the promise of God was not extinguished, either by his own death, or by that of his family; but that it then rather began to flourish; and that they who were deprived of the light of the sun, and of the vital air, yet always remained joint-partakers of the promised inheritance. For while they themselves were silent and speechless, the sepulchre cried aloud, that death formed no obstacle to their entering on the possession of it. A thought like this could have had no place, unless Abraham by faith had looked up to heaven. And when he calls the corpse of his wife, his dead; he intimates that death is a divorce of that kind, which still leaves some remaining conjunction. Moreover, nothing but a future restoration cherishes and preserves the law of mutual connection between the living and the dead. But it is better briefly to examine each particular, in its order.
4. I am a stranger and a sojourner with you. This introductory sentence tends to one or other of these points; either that he may more easily gain what he desires by suppliantly asking for it; or that he may remove all suspicion of cupidity on his part. He therefore confesses, that since he had only a precarious abode among them, he could possess no sepulchre, unless by their permission. And because, during life, they had permitted him to dwell within their territory, it was the part of humanity, not to deny him a sepulchre for his dead. If this sense be approved, then Abraham both conciliates their favour to himself, by his humility, and in declaring that the children of Heth had dealt kindly with him, he stimulates them, by this praise, to proceed in the exercise of the same liberality with which they had begun. The other sense, however, is not incongruous; namely, that Abraham, to avert the odium which might attach to him as a purchaser, declares that he desires the possession, not for the advantage of the present life, not from ambition or avarice, but only in order that his dead may not lie unburied; as if he had said, I do not refuse to continue to live a stranger among you, as I have hitherto done; I do not desire your possessions, in order that I may have something of my own, which may enable me hereafter to contend for equality with you; it is enough for me to have a place where we may be buried.
John Calvin and John King, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 575–580.
Ver. 1. And Sarah was 127 years old, &c.] This following immediately upon the account of the offering up of Isaac, led many of the Jewish writers to conclude, that Isaac was then 37 years of age, as he must be when Sarah his mother was 127, for he was born when she was 90 years of age; but this seems not to be observed on that account, but to give the sum of her age at her death, since it follows: these were the years of the life of Sarah; who, as it is remarked by many interpreters, is the only woman the years of whose life are reckoned up in Scripture.
Ver. 2. And Sarah died in Kirjath-arba, &c.] Which was so called, either, as Jarchi says, from the four Anakim or giants that dwelt here, Josh. 15:13 or else, as the same writer observes, from the four couple buried here, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah; but then it must be so called by anticipation; rather, as Aben Ezra thinks, it had its name from Arba, a great man among the Anakim, and the father of Anak, Josh. 14:15 though some take it to be a Tetrapolis, a city consisting of four parts; but be it as it will, here Abraham and Sarah were at the time of her death; when they removed from Beer-sheba hither is not said: the same is Hebron, in the land of Canaan; so it was afterwards called: here Abraham and Sarah had lived many years ago, see ch. 13:18 and hither they returned, and here they ended their days and were buried: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her; Aben Ezra observes, that, when Sarah died, Abraham was in another place, and therefore is said to come to mourn for her; and the Targum of Jonathan is, “and Abraham came from the mount of worship (Moriah), and found that she was dead, and he sat down to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.” Othersu report, that, upon hearing of the offering up of Isaac, she swooned away and died. But the meaning is, that he came from his own tent to Sarah’s, see ch. 24:67 where her corpse was, to indulge his passion of grief and sorrow for her; which, in a moderate way, was lawful, and what natural affection and conjugal relation obliged him to. The Hebrewsw observe, that, in the word for weep, one of the letters is lesser than usual, and which they think denotes, that his weeping for her was not excessive, but little; but both phrases put together seem to denote that his sorrow was very great; and the one perhaps may refer to his private, and the other to his public mourning for her, according to the custom of those times.
Ver. 3. And Abraham stood up from before his dead, &c.] The corpse of Sarah, by which he sat pensive and mourning, perhaps upon the ground, as was the custom of mourners, Job 2:13 where having sat awhile, he rose up and went out of the tent, to provide for the funeral of his wife as became him: and spake unto the sons of Heth; the descendants of Heth the son of Canaan, see ch. 10:15 who wore at this time the inhabitants and proprietors of that part of the land where Abraham now was: saying; as follows:
Ver. 4. I am a stranger and a sojourner with you, &c.] Not a native of the place, only dwelt as a sojourner among them for a time; but had not so much as a foot of ground he could call his own, and consequently had no place to inter his dead: give me a possession of a burial-place with you; not that he desired it as a free gift, but that he might be allowed to make a purchase of a piece of ground to bury his dead in; so the Targum of Jonathan, “sell me a possession,” &c. see ver. 9 and this he was the rather desirous of, not only because it was according to the rules of humanity, and the general custom of all nations, to provide for the burial of their dead; but he was willing to have such a place in the land of Canaan for this purpose, to strengthen his faith and the faith of his posterity, and to animate their hope and expectation of being one day put into the possession of it; hence the patriarchs in after-times, as Jacob and Joseph, were desirous of having their hones laid there: that I may bury my dead out of my sight; for, though Sarah was a very lovely person in her life, and greatly desirable by Abraham, yet death had changed her countenance and was turning her into corruption, which rendered her unpleasant, and began to make her loathsome; so that there was a necessity of removing her out of his sight, who before had been so very agreeable to him; and this is the case of the dearest relation and friend at death.1
1 John Gill, An Exposition of the Old Testament, vol. 1, The Baptist Commentary Series (London: Mathews and Leigh, 1810), 158–159.
23:1 Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old.
Since the promised child was to come from Sarah, her death makes it finally certain that Isaac is the only hope for the promise. Abraham has other sons through Keturah after Sarah’s death, but only Isaac can be the promised heir. Sarah lived 37 years after the birth of Isaac and therefore saw him grow into a mature man, although he was not yet married when she died. Isaac married at age 40 which is extraordinarily late for an ancient Near Eastern man. The long life of Sarah shows God’s blessing on her.
23:2 She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
The arrangement at Beersheba with Abimelech evidently did not last since Abraham lived at Hebron when Sarah died. The old name for Hebron, Kiriath Arba, is given. The audience is reminded of the obvious, that Hebron was in the land of Canaan. The point may be to emphasize that Sarah, the matriarch of the nation, died in the Promised Land, not outside of it. It is difficult to know just exactly what to infer from the fact that Abraham “went” to mourn over Sarah. Did he have to travel? Or is this just a way to slow the narrative down to show the importance of this event. The mourning was not merely something formal. He also wept over her. She was not merely a means to an end as she seemed to be earlier in the Abrahamic narrative.
23:3 Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, 23:4 “I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”
Abraham had evidently been with Sarah at her death, or at least he had spent some significant time sitting beside her dead body. He spoke to the Hittites who were the specific people occupying the area near Hebron. The Hittites mentioned here have no clear connection with the more famous Hittites of ancient Anatolia (Turkey). Here they control part of the hill country in what was later called the tribe of Judah. Abraham acknowledges that his residence is only temporary. He is an “alien” (גֵּר, gēr) and a “sojourner” (תּוֹשָׁב, tôšāb), both terms implying transitory residence. With such a social status he has no inherited or other rights to the land. He therefore asks for the opportunity to buy a burial site that would become his permanent possession.1
1 Paul Kissling, Genesis, vol. 2, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 2009), 203–204.
Sarah lived a hundred and twenty-seven years: or “Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old” (tev , reb , niv ).
The heading and blank space will be sufficient in many translations to show that a new story begins here. However, in some languages it may be necessary to link chapter 23 with what has gone before, and also to state at the outset that Sarah died. This may be done by saying, for example, “Some time later” or “After many years”; then the information in verse 2 may need to be shifted to the opening. Another possibility is to keep the order as in the Hebrew text (seen in rsv ) but to make verse 1 a time clause and verse 2 the main clause. For example, “Years later when Sarah was … she died at.…” Another model again is given in the translation “Sarah lived on until she became old and she died. At that time she was 127 years old.”
These were the years of the life of Sarah: on the basis of 25:7; 47:28, we normally expect the years of the life of Sarah to occur before Sarah lived … years. Furthermore, this phrase is lacking in both the Septuagint and Vulgate. hottp explains that this phrase has been added by later copyists and recommends that it be omitted or, if footnotes are used, that it be placed in a footnote. However, it gives no significant information, and placing it in a footnote will be of little value. Most modern translation omit it from the text and do not include it in a footnote.
And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is Hebron) in the land of Canaan: Kiriath-arba means “City of four” and is found elsewhere in 35:27; Neh 11:25. It is regularly used for Hebron in Josh 15:13, 54; 20:7; 21:11, and is said in Josh 14:15 and Judges 1:10 to have been the older name for Hebron. tev and others translate it “Hebron.” Speiser says “Kiriath-arba—now Hebron.” neb/reb have “Kiriath-arba, which is Hebron.” Unless there is a reason to retain the ancient name, translators are advised to use “Hebron.” Land of Canaan is often called “the area [region, country] called Canaan.”
Went in to mourn for Sarah: went in in this context may refer to going inside the tent where her body was kept. Mft says “after going indoors.” Went in, however, may signal that Abraham performed or carried out the rites of mourning, or, as frcl says, “Abraham celebrated the mourning.…” Note tev “Abraham mourned her death.”
Mourn and weep are understood as two verbs in which the second describes the action of the first; that is, “he wept in mourning,” or more generally “he mourned.” Mourning rites involved wailing or weeping, as seen in 2 Sam 1:12; 3:31–32; 1 Kgs 13:30; Zech 12:10–12. A common way of expressing Abraham’s mourning is “Abraham cried very much for some time when Sarah died.” In translation it is important that the description of mourning represent biblical practice. It may be appropriate to say in a footnote, for example, “This is equivalent to the custom called …,” in which a local mourning custom is referred to.
Rose up from before his dead: the position of the mourner is described as sitting on the ground in Job 2:13. Rose up probably refers to getting up from the ground and ending the period of mourning. However, in the context of what follows, it may simply be saying that Abraham left one place to go to another; tev has “He left the place where.…” His dead refers to the corpse of Sarah, but translators should use the normal way of referring to the body of a dead person in their own culture; note tev “his wife’s body.”
The rsv text gives the impression that Abraham finished mourning for Sarah and then immediately began speaking to the Hittites, as if they were in the place where he was mourning. It may be necessary to separate the two events in time and space. Accordingly we may translate the first part of this verse “When Abraham had finished the time of mourning for his dead wife, he went to speak to the people called Hittites.” Other ways of expressing the change of scene that is involved here are “… he left that place where the body was, and went to see the headmen of the town” and “… he got up from his dead wife, and went to the meeting place at the town gate where all the important people were.” The conversations, according to verse 10, take place at the gate of the city.
Hittites translates the Hebrew “sons of Heth.” For discussion of Hittites see 10:15. The Hittites or “sons of Heth” are one of several ethnic groups who occupied ancient Canaan before the arrival of the Israelites. See 15:19–21; Num 13:29; Deut 7:1. To avoid identifying these people near Hebron with the historical Hittites who lived north of Phoenicia, some translators retain the literal expression. frcl says “the descendants of Heth,” Speiser “the children of Heth,” tob “the sons of Heth.” Translators may say Hittites or follow one of the models cited.
At this point of the narrative the negotiation begins between Abraham and the Hittites for his purchase of a piece of land. It is important for translators to understand that what the parties actually say is not to be taken at face value but has its meaning in the context of the negotiation, which both parties know will lead to a sale. Note particularly the comments below on the Hebrew word “give,” which can also mean “sell” in a context like this. In a text like this it is important that readers clearly understand the real intentions of the speakers, even if their apparently polite and generous words are reproduced in translation.
I am a stranger and sojourner among you: stranger translates a word referring to one who is not a native of the country and so a “foreigner,” “alien,” “outsider.” Sojourner translates a word meaning “settler,” one who occupies land but does not own it. The complete idea of both expressions may be stated as “settled foreigner,” “land-using foreigner.” tev has “foreigner living here among you,” and frcl “I live as a foreigner among you.” Another possible model is “I live here in your place, but I am a stranger.” As a foreigner Abraham does not own property, and therefore the burial place for Sarah would have to be on another person’s property, unless Abraham can acquire ownership of some land.
Give me is addressed to the Hittites in the plural. The unmarked meaning of the Hebrew word is translated give, but in the context of a business negotiation, it is far more likely to carry the sense of “give for a price” or “sell.” Speiser and tev have “sell.” reb has “make over to me some ground,” that is, “transfer ownership to me.” njb says “Let me have,” which indicates a request to purchase.
Property among you for a burial place translates Hebrew “a burial place among you.” tev translates this as “some land,” and the context makes clear that this is for a burial place.
That I may bury my dead: it should be noted that this expression or similar ones occur almost like a refrain in this chapter. The expression in one form or another is repeated in verses 6 (two times), 8, 11, 13, 15, and in the summary verse 19, in which Sarah’s name is used. Abraham asks that the local Hittite land owners sell him a burial ground so he can bury Sarah, his dead wife. We may translate “Sell me a piece of land where I can bury my dead wife,” “Sell me a burying ground so I can place my dead wife there.”
In some languages it is necessary in this speech for Abraham to speak of his situation first before presenting his request for land; for example, “My wife has died, and so now I want to buy.…” This whole verse may also be expressed in indirect speech, as in “… he asked them about buying a small piece of land to bury the body. He had to buy land from them because he was a stranger in their country.”
Out of my sight: one thought regarding this phrase is that a dead body was considered taboo or unclean and needed to be placed out of contact with the living. The dead body must be disposed of by burial. Some English translations use the expression “remove my dead for burial,” which has the sense of disposing of or putting away the dead body. However, the expression “so that I may bury” includes disposing of the body and therefore putting it out of … sight.1
1 William David Reyburn and Euan McG. Fry, A Handbook on Genesis, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1998), 504–508.
Ver. 1.—And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old (literally, and the lives of Sarah were an hundred and twenty and seven years); so that Isaac must have been thirty-seven, having been born in his mother’s ninetieth year. Sarah, as the wife of Abraham and the mother of believers (Isa. 51:2; 1 Pet. 3:6), is the only woman whose age is mentioned in Scripture. These were the years of the life of Sarah—an emphatic repetition designed to impress the Israelitish mind with the importance of remembering the age of their ancestress.
Ver. 2.—And Sarah died in Kirjath-arba—or city of Arba, Abraham having again removed thither after an absence of nearly forty years, during which interval Murphy thinks the reign of Arba the Anakite may have commenced, though Keil postpones it to a later period (cf. Josh. 14:15). The same is Hebron—the original name of the city, which was supplanted by that of Kirjath-arba, but restored at the conquest (Keil, Hengstenberg, Murphy; vide ch. 13:18)—in the land of Canaan—indicating that the writer was not then in Palestine (‘Speaker’s Commentary’); perhaps rather designed to emphasise the circumstance that Sarah’s death occurred not in the Philistines’ country, but in the promised land (Rosenmüller, Keil, Murphy). And Abraham came—or went; ἦλθε (LXX.), venit (Vulgate); not as if he had been absent at her death (Calvin), either in Beersheba, where he retained a location (Clarke), or in Gerar, whither he had gone to sell the lands and other properties he held there (Luther), or in the pasture grounds adjoining Hebron (Keil, Murphy); but as addressing himself to the work of mourning for his deceased wife (Vatablus, Rosen müller), or perhaps as going into Sarah’s tent (Maimonides, Ainsworth, Wordsworth, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’)—to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. “To arrange for the customary mourning ceremony” (Keil); the first verb, מָפַד (cf. σφαδάζω), referring to the beating of the breast as a sign of grief (cf. 1 Kings 14:13); and the second, בָּכָה, to flow by drops, intimating a quieter and more moderate sorrow. Beyond sitting on the ground and weeping in presence of (or upon the face of) the dead, no other rites are mentioned as having been observed by Abraham; though afterwards, as practised among the Hebrews, Egyptians, and other nations of antiquity, mourning for the dead developed into an elaborate ritual, including such ceremonies as rending the garments, shaving the head, wearing sackcloth, covering the head with dust and ashes (vide 2 Sam. 3:31, 35; 21:10; Job 1:20; 2:12; 16:15, 16). Cf. the mourning for Patroclus (‘Il.,’ xix. 211–213).
Ver. 3.—And Abraham stood up—during the days of mourning he had been sitting on the ground; and now, his grief having moderated (Calvin), he goes out to the city gate—from before (literally, from over the face of) his dead,—“Sarah, though dead, was still his” (Wordsworth)—and spake unto the sons of Heth.—the Hittites were descendants of Heth, the son of Canaan (vide ch. 10:15). Cf. “daughters of Heth” (ch. 27:46) and “daughters of Canaan” (ch. 28:1)—saying.
Ver. 4.—I am a stranger and a sojourner with you. Gër, one living out of his own country, and Thoshabh, one dwelling in a land in which he is not naturalised; advena et peregrinus (Vulgate); πάροικος καὶ παρʼ ἐπίδημος (LXX.). This confession of the heir of Canaan was a proof that he sought, as his real inheritance, a better country, even an heavenly (Heb. 11:13). Give me a possession of a burying-place with you. The first mention of a grave in Scripture, the word in Hebrew signifying a hole in the earth, or a mound, according as the root is taken to mean to dig (Fürst) or to heap up (Gesenius). Abraham’s desire for a grave in which to deposit Sarah’s lifeless remains was dictated by that Divinely planted and, among civilised nations, universally prevailing reverence for the body which prompts men to decently dispose of their dead by rites of honourable sepulture. The burning of corpses was a practice common to the nations of antiquity; but Tacitus notes it as characteristic of the Jews that they preferred interment to cremation (‘Hist.,’ v. 5). The wish to make Sarah’s burying-place his own possession has been traced to the instinctive desire that most nations have evinced to lie in ground belonging to themselves (Rosenmüller), to an intention on the part of the patriarch to give a sign of his right and title to the land of Canaan by purchasing a grave in its soil—cf. Isa. 22:16 (Bush), or simply to anxiety that his dead might not lie unburied (Calvin); but it was more probably due to his strong faith that the land would yet belong to his descendants, which naturally led him to crave a resting-place in the soil with which the hopes of both himself and people were identified (Ainsworth, Bush, Kalisch). That I may bury my dead out of my sight—decay not suffering the lifeless corpse to remain a fit spectacle for grief or love to gaze on.1
1 H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Genesis, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 290–291.
1 사라가 백이십칠 세를 살았으니 이것이 곧 사라가 누린 햇수라
2 사라가 가나안 땅 헤브론 곧 기럇아르바에서 죽으매 아브라함이 들어가서 사라를 위하여 슬퍼하며 애통하다가
3 그 시신 앞에서 일어나 나가서 헷 족속에게 말하여 이르되
4 나는 당신들 중에 나그네요 거류하는 자이니 당신들 중에서 내게 매장할 소유지를 주어 내가 나의 죽은 자를 내 앞에서 내어다가 장사하게 하시오
1 사라가 백이십칠 세를 살았으니 이것이 곧 사라가 누린 햇수라
· 사라가 맨 마지막으로 언급된 것은 그녀가 이스마엘을 쫓아내라는 명령을 했을 때였지만 (Gen 21:12: 하나님이 아브라함에게 이르시되 네 아이나 네 여종으로 말미암아 근심하지 말고 사라가 네게 이른 말을 다 들으라 이삭에게서 나는 자라야 네 씨라 부를 것임이니라) 거의 35년간 중요한 사건이 있을 때도 그녀에 대한 언급이 없었다 (Gen 21:22-22:24). 그러다가 족장의 아내 중에서는 유일하게 그녀의 수명과 죽음이 언급되고 있는 것은 그녀가 그만큼 구원의 계보에서 중요한 위치를 차지하고 있다는 뜻이다 (Gen 5:5: 그는 구백삼십 세를 살고 죽었더라; Gen 5:11: (에노스) 그는 구백오 세를 살고 죽었더라; Gen 47:28: 야곱이 애굽 땅에 십칠 년을 거주하였으니 그의 나이가 백사십칠 세라). 유대인이 탈무드를 해석학적 주석을 한 미드라쉬는 127세라는 숫자에서 100은 많은 나이, 20은 아름다움, 7은 흠이 없는의 뜻으로 해석한다. 족장들의 아내들 중 유일하게 사라의 수명이 언급되고 그녀의 죽음과 매장에 대한 반복되어 언급되는 것은 그녀가 히브리인들의 어머니요, 약속의 어머니요, 믿음의 어머니요, 여자의 후손의 어머니가 되기 때문이다.
· ‘햇수’로 번역된 ‘삶’이 히브리어는 복수형인 ‘하임 (הַיִּים; lives)’으로 되어 있어 인생의 수 많은 우여곡절과 영고성쇠 희로애락의 모든 것을 포괄적으로 표현한 것으로 보인다.
2 사라가 가나안 땅 헤브론 곧 기럇아르바에서 죽으매 아브라함이 들어가서 사라를 위하여 슬퍼하며 애통하다가
· 키르얏아르바는 헤브론의 옛 이름으로 (Judg 1:10: 유다가 또 가서 헤브론에 거주하는 가나안 족속을 쳐서 세새와 아히만과 달매를 죽였더라 헤브론의 본 이름은 기럇 아르바였더라) ‘헤브론’은 ‘연합’이란 뜻으로 팔레스타인 요르단강 서안 지구 남부에 위치한 도시로 요르단강 서안 지구에서 가장 큰 도시이며 비에르쉐바로 가는 길에 (Gen 22:19: 이에 아브라함이 그의 종들에게로 돌아가서 함께 떠나 브엘세바에 이르러 거기 거주하였더라)예루살렘에서 남쪽으로 30km 정도 떨어진 지점과 해발 930m에 달하는 지점에 위치한다. 팔레스타인인 약 165,000명과 유대인 약 500명이 거주하며 이 중 유대인은 이스라엘 정착촌과 옛 시가지 주변에 거주한다. 이 곳은 아브라함이 하나님께로부터 엄청난 언약들을 받은 마므레 근처에 있는 도시로 (Gen 13:18: 이에 아브람이 장막을 옮겨 헤브론에 있는 마므레 상수리 수풀에 이르러 거주하며 거기서 여호와를 위하여 제단을 쌓았더라; Gen 14:13: 도망한 자가 와서 히브리 사람 아브람에게 알리니 그 때에 아브람이 아모리 족속 마므레의 상수리 수풀 근처에 거주하였더라 마므레는 에스골의 형제요 또 아넬의 형제라 이들은 아브람과 동맹한 사람들이더라; Gen 14:24; Gen 18:1; Gen 23:17; 19) 서기전 2000년대부터 사람이 살아온 오랜 고대도시이다. 헤브론은 고지에 세워진 도시지만 토양이 비옥하고 물도 풍부해 농사가 잘 되는 곳이다. 유대교와 기독교, 이슬람교의 성지로 여겨지며 유대교에서는 예루살렘에 이어 두 번째로 큰 성지로 여겨지며 4대 성지 가운데 하나로 여겨진다. 아브라함과 이삭, 야고보의 무덤이 있던 곳으로 추정되는 막벨라 동굴(이브라힘 모스크)이 있다. 요르단강 서안 지구 무역의 중심지이며 포도와 무화과, 석회석, 도자기 공예품과 유리 공예품, 유제품이 생산된다.
· ‘키르얏 아르바 (קִרְיַת אַרבַּע)’는 ‘네 도시’라는 뜻으로 아브너, 에스콜, 마므레와 헤브론을 가리킨다 (Gen 14:13-14: 도망한 자가 와서 히브리 사람 아브람에게 알리니 그 때에 아브람이 아모리 족속 마므레의 상수리 수풀 근처에 거주하였더라 마므레는 에스골의 형제요 또 아넬의 형제라 이들은 아브람과 동맹한 사람들이더라 아브람이 그의 조카가 사로잡혔음을 듣고 집에서 길리고 훈련된 자 삼백십팔 명을 거느리고 단까지 쫓아가서). 이는 분명 헤브론 주변에 네 개의 연합한 정착민 집단들, 즉 소돔의 다섯 왕국을 침략한 네 왕국을 의미한다. 아르바는 이스라엘 민족의 만난 가나안의 무서운 거대한 아낙의 자손이다 (Josh 15:13: 여호와께서 여호수아에게 명령하신 대로 여호수아가 기럇 아르바 곧 헤브론을 유다 자손 중에서 분깃으로 여분네의 아들 갈렙에게 주었으니 아르바는 아낙의 아버지였더라). 이 길르앗 아라바에 네쌍의 부부, 즉 아담과 이브, 아브라함과 사라, 이삭과 르베카, 야곱과 레아가 매장되었다 (Gen 15:13: 여호와께서 여호수아에게 명령하신 대로 여호수아가 기럇 아르바 곧 헤브론을 유다 자손 중에서 분깃으로 여분네의 아들 갈렙에게 주었으니 아르바는 아낙의 아버지였더라).
· ‘울다’는 뜻으로 두 가지 다른 동사가 연속으로 쓰여 슬픔을 강조하고 있다. ‘사파드 (סָפַד)’는 예외 없이 죽음을 애도하는 데 사용되고 두 번째 쓰인 ‘바카 (בָּכָה)’는 슬플 때는 물론 기쁠 때도 사용되지만 여기서는 죽음으로 촉발된 슬픔을 표현하여 옷을 찢고, 머리를 머리를 빗지 않고, 수염을 깎지 않고 머리에 재를 뒤짚어 쓰고 금식하는 것을 함의한다 (Lev 21:5: 제사장들은 머리털을 깎아 대머리 같게 하지 말며 자기의 수염 양쪽을 깎지 말며 살을 베지 말고; Lev 21:10: 자기의 형제 중 관유로 부음을 받고 위임되어 그 예복을 입은 대제사장은 그의 머리를 풀지 말며 그의 옷을 찢지 말며; 2 Sam 1:11, 12; 13:31; Job 1:20; 2:12).
· 아브라함이 히타이트의 땅을 소유하게 된 것은 히타이트 족속을 포함한 토착 가나안 땅을 주시겠다는 하나님의 언약이 이루어진 것이다 (Gen 15:18-20: 그 날에 여호와께서 아브람과 더불어 언약을 세워 이르시되 내가 이 땅을 애굽 강에서부터 그 큰 강 유브라데까지 네 자손에게 주노니 곧 겐 족속과 그니스 족속과 갓몬 족속과 헷 족속과 브리스 족속과 르바 족속과). 그의 아내 사라를 히타이트에 매장한 것은 그가 하나님 말씀을 믿은 것을 보여주고 있다.
3 그 시신 앞에서 일어나 나가서 헷 족속에게 말하여 이르되
· 헷 족속은 히타이트들을 말하는 것으로 ‘히타이트’는 ‘괴로움, 공포’라는 뜻을 갖고 있으며 주로 함의 후손들, 즉 가나안의 후손이다 (Gen 10:15: 가나안은 장자 시돈과 헷을 낳고). 구약의 모든 히타이트 족은 셈족어 (아랍어, 히브리어, 및 아람어)로 된 이름을 갖고 있다 (에브론 [에프론]: Josh 15:9: 또 이 산 꼭대기에서부터 넵도아 샘물까지 이르러 에브론 산 성읍들로 나아가고 또 바알라 곧 기럇 여아림으로 접어들며; 시돈: Gen 10:15: 가나안은 장자 시돈과 헷을 낳고). 구약의 모든 히타이트족은 족장과 그 후손들 시대에 소 그룹을 말하고 아브라함 사건에서는 아내를 잃고 슬퍼 경황이 없는 아브라함에게 비싼 가격에 땅을 파는 비열한 사람으로 나와 있고, 다윗과 밧세바의 사건에서는 남의 나라에 용병으로 와 있는 불쌍한 사람으로 표현하고 있다. 다시 말해 구약성서는 히타이트 제국의 존재를 모르는 듯이 히타이트인들을 한결같이 보잘것없는 존재로 묘사하고 있다. 아브라함 시기(주전 19세기)는 히타이트의 전성시기가 아니었으며 그들의 전성시기(주전18~12세기)에는 이스라엘이 아직 체제를 정비하지 않은 관계로 이스라엘과 직접적인 관계가 없었다. 다윗의 시대(주전 10세기)에는 히타이트가 소아시아 서쪽으로부터 밀려온 해양족의 침입을 받아 멸망하여 제국이 붕괴되고 뿔뿔이 흩어진 상황이었기 때문에 그들을 미약한 존재로 표현하고 있는 것이다. 그러나 우리에게 세계 최초 철기 사용국으로 알려져 있는 히타이트는 구약성경에 헷족속으로 나타나 있다. 히타이트는 주전 18세기에서 12세기까지 소아시아 지역을 중심으로 강성했던 나라다. 그들의 최전성기때에는 당시 세계 최강대국이었던 이집트와 맞설 정도로 강력한 세력을 형성하기도 했다.
4 나는 당신들 중에 나그네요 거류하는 자이니 당신들 중에서 내게 매장할 소유지를 주어 내가 나의 죽은 자를 내 앞에서 내어다가 장사하게 하시오
· ‘나그네 (게르; גֵּר)’는 ‘순례자’라는 뜻이고, ‘거류자 (토샤브; תוֹשָׁב)’는 어떤 곳에 임시로 살거나 남의 나라 영토에 머물러 사는 것을 뜻하는 데, 아브라함이 이집트에 거주하는 이스라엘인들 (Gen 12:10: 그 땅에 기근이 들었으므로 아브람이 애굽에 거류하려고 그리로 내려갔으니 이는 그 땅에 기근이 심하였음이라)과 같이 타국에 일시적으로 거주하는 외국인 것을 고백하고 있다. 이는 헨다이어디스 (hendiadys; 중언법; 같은 뜻의 두 단어를 중첩하여 사용)로 순례자 (게르; גֵר)와 낯선 사람 (토샤브; תוֹשָׁב)는 많은 성구에서 동의어로 사용되고 있다 (Lev 25:35: 네 형제가 가난하게 되어 빈 손으로 네 곁에 있거든 너는 그를 도와 거류민이나 동거인처럼 너와 함께 생활하게 하되; Ps 39:12: 여호와여 나의 기도를 들으시며 나의 부르짖음에 귀를 기울이소서 내가 눈물 흘릴 때에 잠잠하지 마옵소서 나는 주와 함께 있는 나그네이며 나의 모든 조상들처럼 떠도나이다; 1 Chr 29:15: 우리는 우리 조상들과 같이 주님 앞에서 이방 나그네와 거류민들이라 세상에 있는 날이 그림자 같아서 희망이 없나이다).
· 막펠라 동굴의 히브리인들이 가나안에서 차지한 최초의 땅으로 아브라함이 그 동굴과 토지에 대한 명백한 소유권을 갖게 된다. 이것은 하나님께서 히브리인들에게 언약하신 땅에 대한 약속이 차츰 현실화되는 것을 보여주고 있다. 아브라함 (Gen 25:9: 그의 아들들인 이삭과 이스마엘이 그를 마므레 앞 헷 족속 소할의 아들 에브론의 밭에 있는 막벨라 굴에 장사하였으니), 이삭 (Gen 35:29: 이삭이 나이가 많고 늙어 기운이 다하매 죽어 자기 열조에게로 돌아가니 그의 아들 에서와 야곱이 그를 장사하였더라), 사라와 르베카 (Gen 49:31: 아브라함과 그의 아내 사라가 거기 장사되었고 이삭과 그의 아내 리브가도 거기 장사되었으며 나도 레아를 그 곳에 장사하였노라), 레아와 야곱 (Gen 50:13: 그를 가나안 땅으로 메어다가 마므레 앞 막벨라 밭 굴에 장사하였으니 이는 아브라함이 헷 족속 에브론에게 밭과 함께 사서 매장지를 삼은 곳이더라).
· 모든 크리스찬은 이 땅에서 잠시 살다가 천국에 영원한 아버지 집으로 돌아갈 순례자로 사는 사람들이다.
· 모든 사람은 죄로 인하여 죽음이 오는 데, 그 죽은 후에 반드시 심판이 있고 반드시 부활하므로 죽어 부활한 후에 하나님의 은혜로 천국으로 가느냐 지옥으로 떨어지느냐가 문제인데, 주 예수 그리스도를 구주로 믿으면 천국으로 가고 믿지 않으면 지옥으로 떨어지는 것이다. 예수 그리스도이외에 다른 그원의 길은 전혀 없다는 것이다.
· 죽음은 끝이 아니라 영원한 천국의 아버지 집에서 영원히 거하는 진정한 지복의 시작인 것이다.
· 모든 인생은 타고난 죄성과 육신적 한계로 인하여 천국 훈련장에서 영고성쇠와 희노애락과 수 많은 사건들 속에서 살아가지만 주님을 구주로 믿기만하면 오직 하나님의 은혜로 천국을 보장받은 존재이기도 하다.