Today we begin Genesis Chapter 23.
For the King James Version, click here.
For the Complete Jewish Bible, click here.
As is so characteristic of the Bible, in a matter-of-fact fashion we are told that Abraham’s beloved wife Sarah passed away at the ripe age of 127 years old.
Abraham mourned his wife and then immediately afterwards we move to an interesting negotiation scene for a burial place for Sarah with a man named Ephron and the local residents of the area who we are told are called the “Hittites”.
Whether these folks are actually Hittites who migrated into Canaan or just a loose Hebrew title for non-Semitic Canaanites is not clear.
In reading this Genesis chapter 23, we find that it provides us an interesting glimpse into the culture and mindset of the people of this era while serving as an effective transition from the life of Abraham to Isaac.
This negotiation is worth examining because it is the first record of the death and burial of a Hebrew.
Let’s take a look at verse 4.
“I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying place with you that I may bury my dead out of my site.”
The words “stranger and sojourner” is a legal term that means “resident alien”.
So here at the very beginning, Abraham is announcing his vulnerable legal status.
This stands in sharp contrast to the promise of God that the very land he is standing on would be bequeathed to him.
In fact, at this stage, it would still be another 5-6 centuries before this promise would come to fruition.
Abraham’s use of the words “give me” is also intentionally ambiguous.
He is avoiding direct usage of the term “sell” yet is requesting a “possession of a burying place“.
The Hebrew word for possession is “auzah” and it clearly means a permanent legal possession.
It was a standard custom that foreigners could not buy land.
For the people at that time, land was everything.
There was hardly anything more horrible than for a family to lose their land, especially to an outsider.
Having said that, there were still situations when this did occur.
So given the extremely heightened tension surrounding any negotiation of a foreigner attempting to buy a piece of property from a local, Abraham had to be particularly sensitive to the wording he used and how he approached this negotiation.
It was also very important that it was demonstrated in public that the land was acquired in a valid manner acceptable to all parties involved.
If Abraham just accepted the land for free as a gift from the people, not only would it have been a big insult but ownership of the land would have been challenged in later generations.
The same thing could also happen if the land was purchased at too cheap a price.
Notice also that it says the negotiations took place at the “gate of the city“.
If you recall what I taught from an earlier lesson, the gate area of a city also served as the town square where many judicial proceedings took place.
So this “heated” negotiation took place in front of all the town’s citizens.