13 November 2017Genesis 23:1-19
“I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead.” (v. 4)
Psalm: Psalm 119:65-80
Abraham's wife, Sarah, died aged 127. Since she gave birth to Isaac, aged 90 or 91, she has had no mention in Abraham's story. Her death is recorded without any detail, although the fact that Abraham not only mourned her, as would be expected, but also wept for her, shows his emotional attachment to his wife.
The significance of this passage in which Abraham negotiates to purchase a burial place lies in the frequent promise of God in previous chapters to give Abraham and his descendants the land then known as Canaan. This first such promise happens in Genesis 12:7, but there are four further distinct emphases on this theme which those who read the intervening chapters will notice. Whatever was to happen to his descendants later, by the end of Abraham's life all he possessed of the land was this one field which he bought, and that for what seems an inflated price of 400 shekels (verse 15) - the temple site cost 50 shekels (2 Samuel 24:24) and Jeremiah bought a field for 17 shekels (Jeremiah 32:9). Do notice that although at first Abraham asks only for the cave at the end of the field (verse 9), he ends up being offered and buying the complete field.
The Hittites were a major empire in Asia Minor during the second millennium BC; it is only from the Bible that we discover some had made their home in southern Canaan. We notice that they held Abraham in considerable respect despite him being an immigrant among them; indeed they offered him a royal welcome.
- Abraham describes himself in verse 4 as an "alien residing" among the Hittites, using two Hebrew words which are frequently used together in the law of Moses to describe those who began as foreigners but wanted to make their home among God's people, and should therefore largely have the same rights as native Jews. What needs to happen in order that those of similar status today should enjoy similar opportunities?
- Would it have been better for Abraham to accept the land as a gift rather than insist on paying for it? Why, or why not?
- How important do you consider it is to have an identifiable plot of land in which somebody's human remains are buried? Or is the scattering of ashes in a less defined way preferable? What makes you feel the way you do?