Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 23

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1
Genesis 23:1. The years of the life of Sarah — Of all the women that had lived, it is the peculiar honour of Sarah, the mother of the faithful, 1 Peter 3:6, to have the number of the years of her whole life recorded in Scripture.

Verse 2
Genesis 23:2. Sarah died in Kirjath-arba, or city of Arba — So called, it seems, from Arba, a giant, who lived and ruled in those parts, Joshua 14:15; Joshua 15:13. Abraham came into Sarah’s tent to mourn for Sarah. He did not only perform the ceremonies of mourning according to the custom of those times, but did sincerely lament the great loss he had sustained, and gave proof of the constancy of his affection. Therefore these two words are used, he came both to mourn and to weep.

Verse 4
Genesis 23:4. I am a stranger and a sojourner with you — Therefore I am unprovided, and must become a suiter 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. The death of our relations should effectually put us in remembrance, that we are not at home in this world. That I may bury my dead out of my sight — 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.

Verse 5
Genesis 23:5. The children of Heth answered — From Abraham’s treating with the people of Heth, and from many other transactions related in the Scriptures, it seems as if kings and magistrates in those days did nothing of a public nature, but in conjunction with the people; and that the people had a great share in the management of all affairs.

Verse 6
Genesis 23:6. Thou art a prince of God — So it is in the original, not only great, but good. He called himself a stranger and a sojourner, they call him a great prince; and well they might, considering his wealth, prosperity, and retinue, and the simple manners of those times.

Verse 7
Genesis 23:7. Abraham bowed himself — Thus returning them thanks for their kind offer, with all proper decency and respect. Religion not only allows, but requires civility and good manners, and those gestures which express it, and every professor of it should carefully avoid rudeness and clownishness. “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.”

Verse 11
Genesis 23:11. The field I give thee — Thus Ephron manifests his generosity. So far was he from needing to be entreated to sell it, that, upon the first mention, he freely gives it. In the presence of my people — Grants, or contracts, were then made before all the people, or their representatives. And the gates of cities were in those days, and for many centuries after, the places of judicature and common resort, for transacting business. We may observe that Abraham finds favour in the sight of every people wherever he goes. And we need not wonder at this, considering of what a noble, candid, upright, and generous character he was. Undoubtedly, however, the peculiar favour he found among all people was chiefly owing to the providence of God: for the Scriptures always teach us to ascribe our finding favour with men to the divine blessing.

Verse 13
Genesis 23:13. I will give thee money — Abraham was rich in silver and gold, and therefore thought it unjust to take advantage of Ephron’s generosity. Perhaps, also, there may be weight in Le Clerc’s observation: “The orientals,” says he, “seem to have had the same notions about burying- places, which prevailed among the Greeks and Romans, namely, that it was ignominious to be buried in another person’s ground: and therefore every family, the poorer sort excepted, had a sepulchre of their own, in which they would not suffer others to be interred.”

Genesis 23:15-16. Four hundred shekels of silver — A shekel is computed to be of about the value of two shillings and four pence farthing; so that the sum mentioned here amounted to about forty-six pounds of our money. What a noble and amiable pattern of a generous behaviour between friends, free from selfishness, have we in Abraham and Ephron! The one earnestly presses to give, while the other as generously declines to receive. Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver — For in those times money (or, more properly, silver or gold, for it was not coined) was paid by weight, (Genesis 43:21; Jeremiah 32:10,) and continued to be so till the Babylonish captivity.

Verse 20
Genesis 23:20. A burying-place — It is worth noting, 1st, That a burying-place was the first spot of ground Abraham was possessed of in Canaan. 2d, That it was the only piece of land he was ever possessed of, though it was all his own in reversion. Those that have least of this earth find a grave in it.