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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 3–15
Verses 3–15

Here is, I. The humble request which Abraham made to his neighbours, the Hittites, for a burying-place among them, Gen. 23:3, 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.

II. The generous offer which the children of Heth made to him, Gen. 23:5, 6. They compliment him, 1. With a title of respect: Thou art a prince of God among us, so the word is; not only great, but good. He called himself a stranger and a sojourner; they call him a great prince; for those that humble themselves shall be exalted. God had promised to make Abraham’s name great. 2. With a tender of the best of their burying-places. Note, Even the light of nature teaches us to be civil and respectful towards all, though they be strangers and sojourners. The noble generosity of these Canaanites shames and condemns the closeness, and selfishness, and ill-humour, of many that call themselves Israelites. Observe, These Canaanites would be glad to mingle their dust with Abraham’s and to have their last end like his.

III. The particular proposal which Abraham made to them, Gen. 23:7-9. He returns them his thanks for their kind offer with all possible decency and respect; though a great man, an old man, and now a mourner, yet he stands up, and bows himself humbly before them, Gen. 23:7. Note, Religion teaches good manners; and those abuse it that place it in rudeness and clownishness. He then pitches upon the place he thinks most convenient, namely, the cave of Machpelah, which probably lay near him, and had not yet been used for a burying-place. The present owner was Ephron. Abraham cannot pretend to any interest in him, but he desires that they would improve theirs with him to get the purchase of that cave, and the field in which it was. Note, A moderate desire to obtain that which is convenient for us, by fair and honest means, is not such a coveting of that which is our neighbour’s as is forbidden in the tenth commandment.

IV. The present which Ephron made to Abraham of his field: The field give I thee, Gen. 23:10, 11. Abraham thought he must be entreated to sell it; but, upon the first mention of it, without entreaty, Ephron freely gives it. Some men have more generosity than they are thought to have. Abraham, no doubt, had taken all occasions to oblige his neighbours, and do them any service that lay in his power; and now they return his kindness: for he that watereth shall be watered also himself. Note, If those that profess religion adorn their profession by eminent civility and serviceableness to all, they shall find it will rebound to their own comfort and advantage, as well as to the glory of God.

V. Abraham’s modest and sincere refusal of Ephron’s kind offer, Gen. 23:12, 13. Abundance of thanks he returns him for it (Gen. 23:12), makes his obeisance to him before the people of the land, that they might respect Ephron the more for the respect they saw Abraham give him (1 Sam. 15:30), but resolves to give him money for the field, even the full value of it. It was not in pride that Abraham refused the gift, or because he scorned to be beholden to Ephron; but, 1. In justice. Abraham was rich in silver and gold (Gen. 13:2) and was able to pay for the field, and therefore would not take advantage of Ephron’s generosity. Note, Honesty, as well as honour, forbids us to sponge upon our neighbours and to impose upon those that are free. Job reflected upon it with comfort, when he was poor, that he had not eaten the fruits of his land without money, Job 31:39. 2. In prudence. He would pay for it lest Ephron, when this good humour was over, should upbraid him with it, and say, I have made Abraham rich (Gen. 14:23), or lest the next heir should question Abraham’s title (because that grant was made without any consideration), and claim back the field. Thus David afterwards refused Araunah’s offer, 2 Sam. 24:24. We know not what affronts we may hereafter receive from those that are now most kind and generous.

VI. The price of the land fixed by Ephron but not insisted on: The land is worth four hundred shekels of silver (about fifty pounds of our money), but what is that between me and thee? Gen. 23:14, 15. He would rather oblige his friend than have so much money in his pocket. Herein Ephron discovers, 1. A great contempt of worldly wealth. “What is that between me and thee? It is a small matter, not worth speaking of.” Many a one would have said, “It is a deal of money; it will go far in a child’s portion.” But Ephron says, “What is that?” Note, It is an excellent thing for people to have low and mean thoughts of all the wealth of this world; it is that which is not, and in the abundance of which a man’s life does not consist, Luke 12:15. 2. Great courtesy, and obligingness to his friend and neighbour. Ephron was not jealous of Abraham as a resident foreigner, nor envious at him as a man likely to thrive and grow rich. He bore him no ill-will for his singularity in religion, but was much kinder to him than most people now-a-days are to their own brothers: What is that between me and thee? Note, No little thing should occasion demurs and differences between true friends. When we are tempted to be hot in resenting affronts, high in demanding our rights, or hard in denying a kindness, we should answer the temptation with this question: “What is that between me and my friend?”