Genesis 23The Voice (VOICE)
23 When Sarah reached the end of her life, she was 127 years old. 2 She died at Kiriath-arba (a city now known as Hebron) in Canaan. Abraham went in where her body was laid out to mourn and weep over her. 3 When he got up from his place beside her, he spoke to the Hittites who had been his neighbors for many years.
Abraham: 4 I am a stranger and an outsider living here among you. In my heartache, I am asking you please to allow me to obtain some property here among you as a grave site for my dead wife. This would allow me to give her a proper burial.
5 The Hittites conferred and answered Abraham.
Hittites: 6 Listen, my lord. We recognize you are a powerful prince among us, and God is certainly with you. Bury your dead in the best of our burial places. None of us will deny you any tomb so that you might properly bury your dead.
7 Abraham got up and bowed in respect to the people of the land, the Hittites.
Abraham (to the Hittites): 8 If you are really willing for me to give my dead wife a proper burial, then would you please ask Ephron (Zohar’s son) for me 9 if I might buy the cave of Machpelah. It is a tract of land he owns located at the end of his field. With you as my witnesses, I will offer him full price for the property as a place to bury my dead.
10 Now it happened that Ephron was sitting right there among the Hittites. He personally answered Abraham so that all those present at the city gate could hear.
Ephron: 11 No, my lord, listen: I will not sell it to you; I will give you the field and the cave that lies on the property. In the presence of all of these people, my people, I give it to you so that you can go and bury your dead.
12 Abraham again bowed in respect to the people of the land 13 and replied to Ephron so all those present could hear.
Abraham: Please, listen to what I have to say. I will gladly pay you a fair price for the field. Please accept it from me. That way I can bury my dead in peace.
This account reveals the complex and rather ambiguous Near Eastern way of negotiating a purchase. The transaction takes place publicly at the city gate in the presence of the community leaders who could serve as advisors to the deal or witnesses if the deal goes awry. Initially Ephron offers to give the land to Abraham for a burial site, but in true Near Eastern style the patriarch indicates respectfully that he desires to purchase it instead. Ephron’s true motive may be seen in his counteroffer; the property is worth 10 pounds of silver, a not-so-insignificant price for a tract of land on the edge of his property. Abraham’s motive is clear enough. He wants to own outright a parcel of land near where he and his family have lived for many years, a land promised to him by God, a land where now Sarah has died and needs a proper burial. Gifts come with strings attached, and Abraham does not want to owe Ephron or anyone else for that matter. He knows full well he owes everything to God.
14 Ephron answered Abraham.
Ephron: 15 My lord, listen to me. The property is worth 10 pounds of silver. Surely that is an amount we can agree on. So go, and bury your dead in peace.
16 So Abraham accepted Ephron’s offer, and he weighed out the silver for him in the amount they had agreed upon in the presence of the Hittites—10 pounds of silver, according to the weights among the merchants of that time.
17 So it was that the field of Ephron in Machpelah, east of Mamre, the field with the cave in it and the trees on it all passed 18 to Abraham and became his legal possession in the presence of the Hittites and all those officials present at the city gate. 19 After the agreement was made, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah, east of Mamre (an area now known as Hebron) in Canaan. 20 The field and the cave in it became Abraham’s property with the approval of the Hittites; now he had a proper place to bury his dead.
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