Genesis 23


The age and death of Sarah, 1, 2.

Abraham mourns for her, and requests a burial-place from the

sons of Heth, 24.

They freely offer him the choice of all their sepulchres, 5, 6.

Abraham refuses to receive any as a free gift, and requests

to buy the cave of Machpelah from Ephron, 7-9.

Ephron proffers the cave and the field in which it was situated

as a free gift unto Abraham, 10, 11.

Abraham insists on giving its value in money, 12, 13.

Ephron at last consents, and names the sum of four hundred

shekels, 14, 15.

Abraham weighs him the money in the presence of the people;

in consequence of which the cave, the whole field, trees, &c.,

are made sure to him and his family for a possession, 16-18.

The transaction being completed, Sarah is buried in the cave, 19.

The sons of Heth ratify the bargain, 20.


Verse 1. And Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years

old] It is worthy of remark that Sarah is the only woman in the

sacred writings whose age, death, and burial are distinctly noted.

And she has been deemed worthy of higher honour, for St. Paul,

Ga 4:22, 23, makes her a type of the

Church of Christ; and her faith in the accomplishment of God's

promise, that she should have a son, when all natural

probabilities were against it, is particularly celebrated in the

Epistle to the Hebrews, Heb 11:11. Sarah was about ninety-one

years old when Isaac was born, and she lived thirty-six years

after, and saw him grown up to man's estate. With SARAH the

promise of the incarnation of Christ commenced, though a

comparatively obscure prophecy of it had been delivered to Eve,

Ge 3:15; and with MARY it terminated, having had its exact

completion. Thus God put more honour upon these two women than

upon all the daughters of Eve besides. Sarah's conception of Isaac

was supernatural; she had passed the age and circumstances in

which it was possible, naturally speaking, to have a child;

therefore she laughed when the promise was given, knowing that the

thing was impossible, because it had ceased to be with her after

the manner of women. God allows this natural impossibility, and

grants that the thing must be the effect of Divine interposition;

and therefore asks, Is any thing too hard for God? The physical

impossibility was in creased in the case of Mary, she having no

connection with man; but the same power interposed as in the case

of Sarah: and we find that when all aptitude for natural

procreation was gone, Sarah received strength to conceive seed,

and bore a son, from whom, in a direct line, the Messiah, the

Saviour of the world, was to descend; and through this same power

we find a virgin conceiving and bearing a son against all natural

impossibilities. Every thing is supernatural in the births both

of the type and antitype; can it be wondered at then, if the

spiritual offspring of the Messiah must have a supernatural birth

likewise? hence the propriety of that saying, Unless a man be born

again-born from above-born, not only of water, but of the Holy

Ghost, he cannot see the kingdom of God. These may appear hard

sayings, and those who are little in the habit of considering

spiritual things may exclaim, It is enthusiasm! Who can bear it?

Such things cannot possibly be." To such persons I have only to

say, God hath spoken. This is sufficient for those who credit his

being and his Bible; nor is there any thing too hard for him. He,

by whose almighty power, Sarah had strength to conceive and bear a

son in her old age, and by whose miraculous interference a virgin

conceived, and the man Christ Jesus was born of her, can by the

same power transform the sinful soul, and cause it to bear the

image of the heavenly as it has borne the image of the earthly.

Verse 2. Sarah died in Kirjath-arba] Literally in the city of

the four. Some suppose this place was called the city of the four

because it was the burial place of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and

Jacob; others, because according to the opinion of the

rabbins, Eve was buried there. with Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah.

But it seems evidently to have had its name from a Canaanite, one

of the Anakim, probably called Arba (for the text, Jos 14:14,

does not actually say this was his name,) who was the chief of the

four brothers who dwelt there; the names of the others being

Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. See Jud 1:10. These three were

destroyed by the tribe of Judah; probably the other had been

previously dead.

Abraham came to mourn for Sarah] From verse 19 of the

preceding chapter Ge 22:19 it appears that Abraham had settled

at Beer-sheba; and here we find that Sarah died at Hebron, which

was about twenty-four miles distant from Beersheba. For the

convenience of feeding his numerous flocks, Abraham had probably

several places of temporary residence, and particularly one at

Beer-sheba, and another at Hebron; and it is likely that while he

sojourned at Beersheba, Sarah died at Hebron; and his coming to

mourn and weep for her signifies his coming from the former to

the latter place on the news of her death.

Verse 3. Abraham stood up from before his dead] He had probably

sat on the ground some days in token of sorrow, as the custom then

was, (see Tobit 2:12, 13; Isa 47:1; and Ge 37:35;) and when

this time was finished he arose and began to treat about a burying


Verse 4. I am a stranger and a sojourner] It appears from

Heb 11:13-16; 1Pe 2:11, that these words refer more to the

state of his mind than of his body. He felt that he had no

certain dwelling place, and was seeking by faith a city that had


Give me a possession of a burying place] It has been remarked

that in different nations it was deemed ignominious to be buried

in another's ground; probably this prevailed in early times in the

east, and it may be in reference to a sentiment of this kind that

Abraham refuses to accept the offer of the children of Heth to

bury in any of their sepulchres, and earnestly requests them to

sell him one, that he might bury his wife in a place that he could

claim as his own.

Verse 6. Thou art a mighty prince] nesi Elohim, a

prince of God-a person whom we know to be Divinely favoured, and

whom, in consequence, we deeply respect and reverence.

Verse 8. Entreat for me to Ephron] Abraham had already seen the

cave and field, and finding to whom they belonged, and that they

would answer his purpose, came to the gate of Hebron, where the

elders of the people sat to administer justice, &c., and where

bargains and sales were made and witnessed, and having addressed

himself to the elders, among whom Ephron was, though it appears he

was not personally known to Abraham, he begged them to use their

influence with the owner of the cave and field to sell it to him,

that it might serve him and his family for a place of sepulture.

Verse 10. And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth] And

Ephron yosheb, was sitting among the children of Heth, but, as

was before conjectured, was personally unknown to Abraham; he

therefore answered for himself, making a free tender of the field,

&c., to Abraham, in the presence of all the people, which amounted

to a legal conveyance of the whole property to the patriarch.

Verse 13. If thou wilt give it] Instead of, if thou wilt give

it, we should read, But if thou wilt sell it, I will give thee

money for the field; keseph, silver, not coined money,

for it is not probable that any such was then in use.

Verse 15. The land is worth four hundred shekels of silver]

Though the words is worth are not in the text, yet they are

necessarily expressed here to adapt the Hebrew to the idiom of our

tongue. A shekel, according to the general opinion, was equal to

two shillings and sixpence; but according to Dr. Prideaux, whose

estimate I shall follow, three shillings English, four hundred of

which are equal to sixty pounds sterling; but it is evident that a

certain weight is intended, and not a coin, for in Ge 23:16 it

is said, And Abraham weighed vaiyishkol, the silver, and

hence it appears that this weight itself passed afterwards as a

current coin, for the word is not only used to express a coin

or piece of silver, but also to weigh;

See Clarke on Ge 20:16.

Verse 16. Current with the merchant] ober lassocher,

passing to or with the traveller-such as was commonly used by

those who travelled about with merchandise of any sort. The word

signifies the same as hawker or pedlar among us.

Verse 17. All the trees that were in the field] It is possible

that all these were specified in the agreement.

Verse 20. And the field, &c. were made sure] vaiyakom,

were established, caused to stand; the whole transaction having

been regulated according to all the forms of law then in use.

1. IN this transaction between Abraham and the sons of Heth

concerning the cave and field of Machpelah, we have the earliest

account on record of the purchase of land. The simplicity,

openness, and candour on both sides cannot be too much admired.

2. Sarah being dead, Abraham being only a sojourner in that

land, shifting from place to place for the mere purpose of

pasturing his flocks, and having no right to any part of the land,

wished to purchase a place in which he might have the continual

right of sepulture. For this purpose, 1. He goes to the gate of

the city, the place where, in all ancient times, justice was

administered, and bargains and sales concluded, and where for

these purposes the elders of the people sat. 2. He there proposes

to buy the cave known by the name of the Cave of Machpelah, the

cave of the turning or the double cave, for a burying place for

his family. 3. To prevent him from going to any unnecessary

expense, the people with one voice offer him the privilege of

burying his wife in any of their sepulchres; this appearing to

them to be no more than the common rights of hospitality and

humanity required. 4. Abraham, intent on making a purchase,

Ephron, the owner of the field and cave, values them at four

hundred shekels, but at the same time wishes Abraham to receive

the whole as a gift. 5. Abraham refuses the gift and weighs down

the silver specified. 6. The people who enter in at the gate,

i.e., the inhabitants coming from or going to their ordinary

occupations in the country, witness the transaction, and thus the

conveyance to Abraham is made sure without the intervention of

those puzzlers of civil affairs by whose tricks and chicanery

property often becomes insecure, and right and succession

precarious and uncertain. But this censure does not fall on

lawyers properly so called, who are men of honour, and whose

office, in every well-regulated state, is as useful as it is

respectable. But the accumulation and complex nature of almost all

modern systems of law puzzle even justice herself, and often

induce decisions by which truth falls in the streets and equity

goes backwards. In the first ages of mankind, suspicion, deceit,

and guile seem to have had a very limited influence. Happy days

of primitive simplicity! When shall they return?

3. We often hear of the rudeness and barbarity of the

primitive ages, but on what evidence? Every rule of politeness

that could be acted upon in such a case as that mentioned here, is

brought into full practice. Is it possible to read the simple

narration in this place without admiring the amiable, decent, and

polite conduct displayed on both sides? Had even Lord

Chesterfield read this account, his good sense would have led him

to propose it as a model in all transactions between man and his

fellows. There is neither awkward, stiff formality on the one

hand, nor frippery or affectation on the other. Decent respect,

good sense, good nature, and good breeding, are all prominently

displayed. And how highly laudable and useful is all this! A

pedant or a boor on either side might have destroyed the

simplicity of the whole transaction; the one by engendering

caution and suspicion, and the other by exciting disgust. In all

such transactions the beau and the boor are equally to be avoided.

From the first no sincerity can be expected, and the manners of

the latter render him intolerable. The religion of the Bible

recommends and inculcates orderly behaviour, as well as purity of

heart and life. They who, under the sanction of religion, trample

under foot the decent forms of civil respect, supposing that

because they are religious they have a right to be rude, totally

mistake the spirit of Christianity, for love or charity (the soul

and essence of that religion) behaveth not itself unseemly. Every

attentive reader of the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's first

epistle to the Corinthians, will clearly discern that the

description of true religion given in that place applies as

forcibly to good breeding as to inward and outward holiness. What

lessons of honesty, decent respect, and good manners could a

sensible man derive from Abraham treating with the sons of Heth

for the cave of Machpelah, and William Penn treating with the

American Indians for the tract of land now called Pennsylvania! I

leave others to draw the parallel, and to show how exactly the

conduct and spirit of patriarch the first were exemplified in the

conduct and spirit of patriarch the second. Let the righteous be

had in everlasting remembrance!

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