On Genesis, Part 34: More Than a Hole

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On Genesis, Part 34: More Than a Hole

In the last presentation in our commentary on Genesis, which was titled The Dedication of Isaac, we had described the sacrifice of Isaac in that manner because it was not a sacrifice at all. Rather, it was a dedication, and Yahweh God never truly intended to have Isaac sacrificed in the first place, because He had already made promises to Sarah concerning the fate of the son which she had born when she was ninety years of age. Therefore Abraham, confident in the fact that Yahweh would keep his promises, seemed to have been relatively untroubled by the demand that he sacrifice his son, and proceeded to fulfill that demand without any qualms or objections. Doing that, he acted with absolute faith and a degree of obedience which throughout history has only been surpassed in the sacrifice of Christ Himself. The act of sacrifice for the reasons which Abraham was willing to comply with it, and for the reasons for which Christ had submitted to it, is in itself a profession in the eternal existence of the Adamic spirit and the ability of Yahweh God to resurrect that spirit from beyond death.

In the ancient world, fathers had property rights over their wives and their children, and the authority to determine their fates so long as they lived. In ancient Rome, these rights were codified into law as the Patria potestas, or Paternal power, wherein only the family patriarch had any rights in private law, only he had lawfully held all of the family property regardless of who in the family had earned it, and he even had the power of life and death over his children. Furthermore, he had that authority until he died, since there was no concept of an age of majority, or adulthood, as there is in Western society today, and while fathers could grant emancipation to a son, their daughters were typically consigned to the control of another man through marriage. If the daughter remained unmarried, when her father died she fell under the authority of her eldest brother. [1] So Abraham had every right to consign his son to his God, and in accordance with ancient custom, when a man placed something on an altar and dedicated it to a god, the object – or even a person presented at the altar – became the property of that god. When Abraham placed Isaac on the altar and dedicated him to Yahweh, he essentially relinquished to Yahweh his paternal rights over his son. That is also an act of sacrifice, as Isaac was dedicated by Abraham to the service of Yahweh, at the explicit request of Yahweh. A father had a right to do this in the ancient world, just as he had a right to expose an infant, if he so chose to do such a horrible thing, or to place a son or daughter up for adoption, or to sell one into slavery.

[1 patria potestas, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/patria-potestas, accessed October 26th, 2023.]

With this understanding, it should be taken for granted all throughout the balance of Scripture, that both the children of Israel and the children of Esau belong exclusively to Yahweh God, and He has done with them as He desired, which is explained in the words of His prophets and in the New Testament. While Abraham continued in his role of earthly father to Isaac, Isaac belonged to Yahweh. That is the basis upon which Yahweh had redeemed Israel from Egypt, as a man in the law may redeem only what he had previously possessed. So, for example, we read that Moses used this language in Exodus chapter 15 where, addressing Yahweh, he said “13 Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.” Then again in 2 Samuel chapter 7, we read: “23 And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to himself, and to make him a name, and to do for you great things and terrible, for thy land, before thy people, which thou redeemedst to thee from Egypt, from the nations and their gods?” Then again in Micah chapter 6 where Yahweh proclaimed: “3 O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me. 4 For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”

The basis for this act of redemption is found only in Abraham’s dedication of Isaac to Yahweh, so that Yahweh had lawful possession and paternal rights over Isaac and Israel. Otherwise, if Yahweh had no entitlement of redemption, then He would have stolen Israel from the Egyptians unrighteously. So Yahweh essentially let Israel into slavery in Egypt, ostensibly as part of the education process to which He had wanted to subject them. This is evident in Hosea chapter 11 where we read: “1 When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” Then when Yahweh had shown an intention to redeem them peacefully, as He moved Moses to make such petitions, the pharaoh would not have it, so He had every right to punish Egypt. Such redemption is later found in the laws of Yahweh given at Sinai, and also in Rome, where a man was entitled to redeem a son from the slavery into which he had sold him.

Then, much later, where the apostles had used such language referencing redemption, and what is translated in the King James Version as adoption but which actually refers to the placing of a son, everyday Greeks and Romans would have understood that language in accord with the Roman laws of Patria potestas. A son may be placed for adoption, but in reference to the scattered children of Israel, the υἱοθεσία or placing of a son was for the purpose of reconciliation, to return those who were sons to the household of Yahweh their Father. The children of Israel departed or had been put off from the control of Yahweh, because they had sold themselves into sin. Thus we read in Isaiah chapter 50: “1 Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.” Then again, in Isaiah chapter 52: “3 For thus saith the LORD, Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money.” This is the context for the redemption in Christ, and there is no other context provided which may be claimed for any other people. Only Israel can lawfully be redeemed by Christ, and He professed to having come only for them.

Furthermore, in the words of the prophets, the children of Israel would not only be redeemed as a nation, but even from death, as we see in Hosea chapter 13 where Yahweh promised: “14 I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” Corroboration is found in Isaiah chapter 28 where Israel was addressed in reference to judgment and told “18 And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand…” Later, Paul of Tarsus explained this further, citing this very passage, in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, and said in part: “54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So in the New Testament, in Luke chapter 1, there is an announcement of the fulfillment of this in Christ where we read in the words of Zacharias, in part: “68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people”, and in the words of Paul in Galatians chapter 3, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law…” They were under the law, and they sold themselves into sin, so they were condemned by the law. Later, the apostle Peter wrote informing his readers in 1 Peter chapter 1 that “18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you…” and in all three of these examples, the scope of the context only includes the ancient children of Israel. Israel had sold themselves into sin, they would be redeemed without money, and Yahweh God had come to redeem them and to take them into His possession once again. He could only have done this for those who were in the loins of Isaac, since only they were His possession in the first place, for which reason redemption was required.

The children of Esau were also in the loins of Isaac, but apparently it did not matter what Esau had done, since he was destined for nought from the beginning. For that reason, comparing Jacob and Esau in Romans chapter 9, Paul wrote and asked “21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” Paul had written those things only because they were pertinent to understand the divisions among the people in Judaea in his time, which is the context of that chapter from its opening verses, because many of the Judaeans were Edomites, and not actual Israelites. The Edomites did not need to be redeemed because Yahweh had not given them the law, and therefore they had not been bound by it, where they could have sold themselves into sin. Esau having been a fornicator, his descendants actually were sin, as Paul explained in Hebrews chapter 12, and Yahweh Himself had assigned to them that purpose, as vessels of destruction.

These things should make an impression upon Christians, since this is the context for all subsequent Scripture. The Levitical covenant did not explicitly promise eternal life, but that promise was already implicit in the very purpose for which Adam was created, where Yahweh shall not fail, and in the promises which Yahweh God had made to Adam after his fall, and He chose Abraham to accomplish that purpose for which He had created the race of Adam. The promises of a new covenant in the words of the prophets did not promise eternal life, but men have eternal life in Christ as a result of His coming to fulfill the words of the prophets and keep both the hope and purpose of Adam and the promises made to Abraham, since He represents both the Tree of Life and he is the Redeemer of Israel. So the covenants are the vehicles by which Yahweh God has kept His promises to Abraham, and also shall fulfill His purpose for Adam. But if one is not a genetic child of Abraham, then one has no part with Christ, because the promises are fulfilled “as it is written”, as both Paul of Tarsus and others of the apostles had explained.

With this we shall proceed with our commentary with Genesis chapter 23:

1 And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah.

Since Sarah was ninety years of age when Isaac was born, then Isaac is now about thirty-seven years old. By our chronology, Isaac was born around 1855 BC, so it is now 1818 BC. We do not know how many years have passed since the dedication of Isaac, but now we know that he was not yet thirty-seven when it happened. Isaac does not yet have a wife or children, and it would be another three years before Isaac has a wife, and another twenty-three years before the births of Jacob and Esau, according to Genesis chapter 25 (25:20, 28).

2 And Sarah died in Kirjath-arba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.

As to why "Abraham came to mourn for Sarah", the New American Standard Bible has “Abraham went to mourn for Sarah”, and the Greek verb is just as ambiguous as that of the Hebrew. But we cannot imagine that Sarah, an elderly woman, was left by Abraham alone, and Sarah had died in that same place, according to this text, so we shall avoid conjecture and once again observe that the text is written in a very concise manner which sometimes leaves an incomplete picture of the events that it describes.

While Hebron was mentioned in Genesis chapter 13 as having been the location of the oaks of Mamre, where Abraham had stayed for many years, here we learn the original name of Hebron, before the children of Israel had divided the land and renamed many places to suit themselves. The name Kirjatharba persisted, however, as it is identified with Hebron in Joshua chapter 20, Judges chapter 1, and it is still in use in Nehemiah chapter 11 where there is no mention of Hebron, although the name Hebron does appear earlier than Nehemiah, in at least sixty other verses besides these. Later, in Joshua chapters 14 and 15, Hebron falls within the lot of the children of Judah, and it was rewarded to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for a possession. The word Kirjatharba means “city of Arba”, and Arba was the name of one of the ancient Anakim according to Joshua chapter 14 (14:15). The Anakim were a branch of the Nephilim, which is stated explicitly in Numbers chapter 13 (13:33). Caleb drove the descendants of Anak from the city, an event recalled in Joshua chapter 15 (15:13-14) and described even earlier in Joshua chapter 11 (11:21-22) where it is stated that none of the Anakim remained in Israel, but they did remain in Gaza and others of the cities of the Philistines. Later, Hebron would be designated as a Levitical city, in Joshua chapter 21 (21:11), but that circumstance does not actually renege upon Caleb’s possession.

Here we are not informed as to why Abraham and Sarah are found in Hebron, since after the destruction of Sodom they had moved to Gerar where they stayed at Beersheba, and they were still living in Beersheba after the dedication of Isaac, towards the end of Genesis chapter 23. In Genesis chapter 24, where Isaac is introduced to his wife Rebekah it is stated that he “came from the way of the well Lahairoi; for he dwelt in the south country.” That is evidently the same place as the Beerlahairoi of Genesis chapter 16, where Hagar was addressed by Yahweh after she had fled from the face of Sarah. So with that, it is evident that after Sarah was buried that Abraham had continued to live in Hebron, and when she had died, Isaac came to Hebron from the direction of the well Lahairoi. It is further evident that Abraham remained in Hebron at this time, since, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 24, when he had sent his servant to fetch a wife for Isaac, and when Isaac had come to him to meet the woman who would be his wife, “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife” (Genesis 24:67). If Abraham remained in Hebron, when Sarah died, her tent would still be set up. But if Abraham had already moved back to Beersheba before sending his servant to Haran, there would have been no reason to set Sarah’s tent up after he moved.

In any event, Abraham has not yet had any land which he could call his own, but this entire time he has been dwelling on the land of others, whether it belonged to Mamre in Hebron or to Abimelech the king of Gerar in Beersheba. So Abraham, not having any land of his own, had no choice but to deal with the local inhabitants of the land in order to be able to use it for any permanent purpose. Here, because he now needed a burial plot, he had to approach the Hittites who evidently occupied the area around Hebron. As we witnessed earlier, in Genesis chapter 14, the men associated with Mamre who had been allied with Abraham in the battle of the kings of Mesopotamia were Amorites, so it seems that various tribes of Canaanites and Nephilim were indeed living closely to one another in Canaan, since there were also Anakim in Hebron at this time.

So now Abraham must find a hole, or a burial location, for which to bury Sarah, and he would want one large enough to bury himself and others of his family who died after him. Interestingly, as for Sarah, she herself is described as a hole, where Yahweh addressed the children of Israel and we read in Isaiah chapter 51: “1 Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. 2 Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.” Perhaps it is meant to be an analogy, that as all men are born from out of a woman, coming out of a hole, all men must inevitably die, facing burial in a hole. But it is more than a hole, since Christians should see death as a passageway to life. So, for example, in Matthew chapter 18 Christ had warned that “9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” Then He clarified His meaning in Matthew chapter 19 where He was asked about eternal life and He said: “17 … but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Hence the term “gathered to their fathers”, for example in Judges 2:10, was also used quite often in Scripture, even at times when the fathers in question had already been buried at some distant location. For at least most of the people of Israel who were alive in the period of Judges chapter 2, their fathers must have been buried ifar away n the wilderness during the forty years of wandering which are recorded in the Book of Numbers, yet when they died they would still be gathered to those fathers. Therefore, being gathered to one’s fathers, the reference is not always one merely to burial, but to the destiny of the spirit of a man, and the grave is more than a hole, representing a passage to something better.

Now Abraham inquires about a hole, or properly, a cave, for a burial plot for Sarah:

3 And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, 4 I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.

Heth is the eponymous ancestor of the Hittites, and while there was a significant Hittite empire in central Anatolia at this very time, that by itself does not rule out the fact that some of the Hittites could also have dwelled in Canaan, and in Genesis chapter 15 the Hittites are listed along with nine other tribes which were dwelling in Canaan. Evidently, at times the Hittite empire actually extended into Canaan. The Anakim are not in that list, but they had a presence in Canaan, so that list is not even entirely complete. Rather, it must have only been a summary list of the most significant or numerous of the tribes of Canaan. So while Abraham had to deal with them here, the fact that he was cautious about the Hittites and all of the Canaanites is elucidated further in Genesis chapter 24, where he sent his servant for a wife for Isaac and made him swear “that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell.”

Just about a hundred years later, his grandson Esau would completely disregard Abraham’s wishes for his son, although he must have been educated in the family history. Although Sarah was likened to a hole in Isaiah chapter 51, of course a wife or mother was much more than a hole to either Abraham or Isaac, and later to Jacob, but apparently not to Esau. The analogy is harsh, but it is nevertheless appropriate. All men are made of earth and enter life through the matrix of a woman, but if they do not maintain the spirit, then when their offspring return to the earth there is nothing, because the spirit of Yahweh cannot abide in broken cisterns.

5 And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him, 6 Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.

Here it is evident, that the Hittites sought to flatter Abraham, and give him the land he requested, so that ultimately, he would be indebted to them. This is how modern organized criminals operate, they offer favors to men who would then be indebted, and later they compel them to return those favors by doing something unlawful. Once that is accomplished, they have basically enlisted a new stooge whom they could then pressure for further operations. Men should never accept a favor from a flatterer. As Solomon had written in Proverbs chapter 29, “5 A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.”

So after the Hittites flattered Abraham, we read “in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead”, and if he had done this, he would have been entwined with them permanently. A grave is more than a hole, it is a place where one may honor the memory of his deceased kinsmen by giving them a proper burial among their own people. So Abraham sought a place where he could bury his wife privately, and where his sons could bury him along with the subsequent generations.

So Abraham rejects the offer, and respectfully insists on buying a plot from them, ostensibly because he must remain at peace with them without joining himself to them:

7 And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth. 8 And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and intreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar, 9 That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you.

The word מכפלה or makpelah (# 4375) is defined in the original Strong’s Concordance as a fold, from a verb כפל, or pelah, which means to fold together, or figuratively, to repeat (# 3717). For that reason, Gesenius defines the term as doubling [2], probably as if something were folded over. With this, the Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon agrees, where it has folded double [3]. So the name must have been on account of some topographic feature of the land.

[2 Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, translated by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Baker Books, 1979, p. 472; 3 The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, 2021, p. 870; ibid., pp. 826-827; 13 Gesenius, p. 495.]

Of course, Ephron the son of Zohar must also have been a Hittite, but for whatever reason, Abraham did not approach him alone. Ostensibly, Abraham did not trust the Hittites, and it is probable that he felt more secure if he made his offer publicly in this manner. It is most likely that Abraham had done this in a market, where the judges of ancient communities typically oversaw the conduct of business, or in some other place where the Hittites had customarily gathered publicly. So now we find that Ephron was present when Abraham had made this appeal, unless they had to send for him and that is not recorded:

10 And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying, 11 Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead.

The words of Ephron seem to indicate that he was indeed present when the men of Heth had first answered Abraham, and therefore following the men of his community, he also wanted to give the plot to him freely. However where Abraham answered him, once again the patriarch was careful not to accept any favors:

12 And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land. 13 And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.

Earlier, in Genesis chapter 14, Abraham wanted no profit of the property of the Sodomites, even after he himself had recovered their property in war, by which he was entitled to keep it all. If he had kept it, perhaps the Sodomites would have considered him as having owed them something, and to Abraham, it was much better not to be indebted to any man. Much later, Paul of Tarsus would express a similar sentiment, where he wrote in Romans chapter 13, admonishing them to “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.”

While Abraham was not compelled to love the Hittites, he did have to live among them with a clean conscience, and therefore he would take no gifts from them. In turn, Ephron was reluctant to take Abraham’s money, but he nevertheless seems to have remained gracious. As we read in Proverbs chapter 16: “7 When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Therefore Ephron expresses his reluctance while accepting Abraham’s terms:

14 And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him, 15 My lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead.

Here Ephron does not refuse the payment, but nevertheless expresses the wish once again that Abraham take the land as a gift. However Abraham held his ground by refusing to accept the gift, and how he pays him the money in the presence of all the people:

16 And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.

It is most likely that where it says “current with the merchant”, Abraham accounted a shekel to be whatever weight was customary for a shekel among the merchants of the Hittites at that time. Since the word שקל or sheqel (# 8255) means only a weight, according to Strong’s original Concordance, it does not represent any particular weight, and its expected weight most likely varied from one region or country to another. This is reflected often in later Scriptures, for example where we read in Exodus chapter 30, “13 This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD.” So there a shekel was defined with another weight, which is the gerah. The גרה or gerah (# 1626) is defined in Strong’s only as a kernel, and Gesenius defines it as a grain or a bean [4]. there is no doubt each region may have used a different sort of grain as the basis for their gerah, so the proper weight could only be defined locally. Where in Exodus 30:13 and also often elsewhere there is the phrase “shekel of the sanctuary”, that specifies that the shekel would be weighed in the manner by which the Levites had customarily weighed a shekel. So the value of money has always been determined locally, and varied among the nations.

17 And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure 18 Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.

In ancient cities, the judges and public business would be conducted in the markets, which were customarily near to the gate of the city, and there men would gather for that purpose. These were the “city halls” of the ancient world. So we may read of Athens in the Classical period: “The ancient Agora of Athens (also called the Classical Agora) is the best-known example of an ancient Greek agora, located to the northwest of the Acropolis and bounded on the south by the hill of the Areopagus and on the west by the hill known as the Agoraios Kolonos, also called Market Hill. The Agora's initial use was for a commercial, assembly, or residential gathering place.” [5] The Greek word agora is evidently from a Hebrew word meaning gathered (# 95). The ancient Hebrews had the same custom, keeping their business by the city gate closest to the markets, which is evident in Isaiah chapter 29 where we read: “20 For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off: 21 That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.” In that context, one who “reproves in the gate” is a man who chastises the men of the city for their sins.

[4 Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, p. 179; 5 Ancient Agora of Athens, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Agora_of_Athens, accessed October 27th, 2023.]

19 And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan. 20 And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth.

Not only was Sarah buried at Machpelah, but later Abraham, Isaac and even Jacob. Where the death of Abraham was recorded, in Genesis chapter 25, we read “9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; 10 The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.”

Even later, we read in Genesis chapter 49 that Jacob, just before he died in Egypt, also sought to be buried there, so after he blessed his sons, we read: “28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them. 29 And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah. 32 The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth. 33 And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.” Then once he died, his sons obeyed his wish, and in Genesis chapter 50 we read: “13 For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a buryingplace of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre.” So to Jacob, who had clearly venerated his fathers in his actions as well as his words, the cave of Machpelah was also certainly much more than a hole.

Some decades later, Joseph would also die, and in the closing verses of the Book of Genesis we read: “24 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 25 And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. 26 So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” Then keeping this oath, where the children of Israel were about to depart from Egypt, in Exodus chapter 13 we read: “19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.”

But Joseph would not be buried in the cave at Machpelah, as Jacob his father was. Rather, as it is recorded in the closing verses of Genesis chapter 33, Jacob had bought a part of a field near Salem from Hamor of Shechem, and Joseph would be buried there. The bones of Joseph were retained by the children of Israel until the conquest of Canaan, and we read in Joshua chapter 24: “32 And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.” Shechem was later a part of the land of Ephraim, so Joseph was ultimately buried among his own children but there is no record that anyone of his family were buried there previously. Perhaps this is an analogy or type for Christ, who was laid in a virgin tomb, one in which nobody before Him had been laid. The cave at Machpelah in Hebron would later be in the portion of the land which fell by lot to Judah, but there is no records of anyone having been buried there after Jacob.

Here we conclude our commentary on Genesis chapter 23, and we shall proceed in part with chapter 24. As we have already said, it is apparent that Abraham has remained in Hebron, by the oaks of Mamre, after the death of Sarah:

1 And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.

Abraham, advanced in years, would now begin to take initiatives for his son Isaac, finding him a wife and then bestowing upon him his property. But even with that, while Abraham could not have foreseen it, he nevertheless had lived long enough to have six more sons with another woman, Keturah, something which is only discussed briefly in the opening verses of Genesis chapter 25. If Sarah had died at 127 years of age, then Abraham was 137, and he would still live for about another thirty-eight years.

2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: 3 And I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell:

We do not know with certainty if this “eldest servant of his house” is still that same servant, the steward Eliezer of Damascus, whom Abraham had tried to make his heir about sixty-two years earlier, something which Yahweh had refused. Although that circumstance implies that Eliezer was substantially younger than Abraham, and this man may be him, but there is no explicit mention of him again after Genesis chapter 15. At this time, Abraham apparently still had many servants, as the Hittites had called him “a mighty prince among us”.

Aside from the promise that his own seed would inherit the land of Canaan in place of the Canaanites who had dwelt there, we must consider what was wrong with the Canaanites, for Abraham to have rejected them in this manner. Abraham must have known that something was inherently wrong with the Canaanites and the other inhabitants of the land, for him to have been contrary to the idea of intermarrying with them, and for him to have refused any favors or profit from them on at least several occasions. Even the Amorites who had accompanied him in the recovery of Lot and the people of Sodom did not really contribute to that effort, as it is described in Genesis chapter 14, and they may very well have done so in the hope of profit, and not because they sought to avenge any specific act of wrongdoing.

Of course, the Canaanites were cursed by Noah, and there very well may have been a cultural memory of that in one form or another among the Hebrews, the Cushites of Mesopotamia, and other related peoples who had descended from Noah. Much later, in an inscription of Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III dating to about the middle of the 8th century BC, there is mention of a “cursed Hittite” [6] who was apparently accursed for no other reason than the fact that he was a Hittite. Further on in inscriptions belonging to the same king there is a reference to “these accursed Hittites” [7]. But in any event, throughout later Scriptures the abominations of the Canaanites are frequently mentioned, and it may well be that Abraham, who must have frequently observed those abominations, for that reason alone may have wanted nothing to do with those people, since by those abominations he must have understood that they were corrupt. In that respect, he would have known them merely by their fruits.

So he commands his servant:

4 But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac.

While it was not a practice which was kept on every occasion, in the ancient world fathers often exercised a right to choose out wives for their sons. So we read, for example, in a parable in 2 Kings chapter 14: “And Jehoash the king of Israel sent to Amaziah king of Judah, saying, The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son to wife: and there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trode down the thistle.” In addition to the Romans laws of Patria potestas, it is evident even in the laws of Hammurabi (i.e. #’s 155, 156, 166), the Amorite king of Babylon, that a man withheld the right to choose a wife for his son. [8] It is also evident in laws dating from the Middle Assyrian period, which is reckoned to begin in the 14th century BC, where it is speaking in reference to a betrothal ceremony and we read in one of many similar laws that: “43: If the seignior [the prospective father-in-law] either poured oil on (her) head or brought betrothal-presents (and) the son to whom he assigned the wife either died or fled, he may give (her) to whichever he wishes of his remaining sons from the oldest son to the youngest son who is at least ten years old…” So in this same manner, Abraham was obliged to choose a wife for Isaac.

But only one generation later, Esau had disregarded this desire of his grandfather and took wives from two women of the Hittites. His father had apparently made no objection to that, in spite of the fact that we read in Genesis chapter 26 that they “35 … were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.” Later, and evidently because Isaac was going to do nothing, Rebekah made certain that Jacob would receive the inheritance rather than Esau. So she is recorded in Genesis chapter 27 as having exclaimed: “46 And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?” So although Isaac inherited the promises of his father, if it were not for his wife, nothing could have become of them without the further intervention of Yahweh.

Even later, Isaac must have realized and acknowledged the importance of what Rebekah had done, and in Genesis chapter 28 we read: “1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.” If men are not diligent to safeguard their inheritance, the graves of their children won’t be anything more than a hole.

[6 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament 3rd edition, James Pritchard, editor, 1969, Harvard University Press, p. 285; 7 ibid., p. 287; 8 ibid., pp. 172-173.]

Yahweh willing, we shall return to Genesis chapter 24 next week.

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