Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.” -Genesis 23:1-2
Genesis 22 recorded Abraham’s crisis of faith as he successfully passed God’s test involving Isaac (Abraham Tested). The end of this chapter, along with chapter 23, ties up loose ends and transitions from Abraham to his son, Isaac. We’re given good news that Abraham’s brother Nahor has fathered twelve sons, who later become the ancestors of twelve Aramean tribes. Rebekah, the future bride of Isaac, is introduced here as the daughter of Bethuel.
You may read Genesis 23 here: Bible Gateway.
The first two verses in chapter 23 record Sarah’s death in Hebron, the center of the promised land. Until this time, Abraham wandered through Canaan as a nomadic herdsman.
Tribute to Sarah
Sarah is honored by being the only woman in the Bible whose age is listed at death (127 yrs.), (although most women don’t want their age revealed!) Sarah is also the only woman whose name God changes. Although she struggled with her faith, she is the first woman listed in the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11). Sarah became the mother of the nation Israel and an ancestor of Jesus.
Abraham Mourns for Sarah
Layman’s Bible Commentary observes: “Abraham mourns and weeps, indicating that, in addition to crying, he goes through the traditional mourning customs of his day: tearing clothes, cutting his beard, spreading dust on his head, and fasting. This is all done in the presence of the dead body. The Israelites had a very elaborate and intense process that they went through when someone died. This is the first record of a man’s tears in the Bible.”
Abraham Purchases Burial Ground in Canaan
The next 18 verses focus on Abraham purchasing Sarah’s burial plot in a foreign land. Abraham’s determination to bury Sarah in Canaan show his faith for the future. Although Abraham has no roots in this area his reputation as a “mighty prince” has spread and the Hittites respect him.
All Abraham wants to purchase is the cave of Machpelah, but the owner, Ephron, aims for a profit and adds the field at an outrageous price. The custom was to ask double the fair market value, expecting the buyer to counteroffer half the asking price. But Abraham refrains from bargaining or demanding the land God promised. Instead, he pays the initial price.
The NIV Life Application Study Bible notes: “The polite interchange between Abraham and Ephron was typical of bargaining at that time. Ephron graciously offered to give his land to Abraham at no charge; Abraham insisted on paying for it; Ephron politely mentioned the price but said, in effect, that it wasn’t important; Abraham paid the 400 shekels of silver. Both men knew what was going on as they went through the bargaining process. If Abraham would have accepted the land as a gift when it was offered, he would have insulted Ephron, who then would have rescinded his offer. Many Middle Eastern shopkeepers still follow this ritual with their customs.”
Sarah’s grave at the cave of Machpelah is not only well attested to archaeologically, but is also the first grave mentioned in Scripture. Later, Abraham is buried there (25:8-9) along with Isaac, Jacob, Rebekah, and Leah (49:30-33; 50:13).
Ancient Israelites placed great significance on location of burial sites in their homeland. At this point, Abraham doesn’t even own one acre of the promised land. Yet, he insists on burying Sarah in Canaan. Why? Abraham isn’t looking at his current situation—living in a tent—or backward to where he came from. Abraham is looking forward, standing on the promises God gave him.
God’s promises are sure. Which promises have helped you through difficult times? I’d love to hear from you!