Purchase of a Burial Plot.* 1The span of Sarah’s life was one hundred and twenty-seven years. 2She died in Kiriath-arba—now Hebron—in the land of Canaan, and Abraham proceeded to mourn and weep for her. 3Then he left the side of his deceased wife and addressed the Hittites:* 4“Although I am a resident alien* among you, sell me from your holdings a burial place, that I may bury my deceased wife.”a 5The Hittites answered Abraham: “Please, 6sir, listen to us! You are a mighty leader among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial sites. None of us would deny you his burial ground for the burial of your dead.” 7Abraham, however, proceeded to bow low before the people of the land, the Hittites, 8and said to them: “If you will allow me room for burial of my dead, listen to me! Intercede for me with Ephron, son of Zohar, 9so that he will sell me the cave of Machpelah that he owns; it is at the edge of his field. Let him sell it to me in your presence at its full price for a burial place.”
10Now Ephron was sitting with the Hittites. So Ephron the Hittite replied to Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, all who entered the gate of his city: 11“Please, sir, listen to me! I give you both the field and the cave in it; in the presence of my people I give it to you. Bury your dead!” 12But Abraham, after bowing low before the people of the land, 13addressed Ephron in the hearing of these men: “If only you would please listen to me! I will pay you the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” 14Ephron replied to Abraham, “Please, 15sir, listen to me! A piece of land worth four hundred shekels* of silver—what is that between you and me? Bury your dead!” 16b Abraham accepted Ephron’s terms; he weighed out to him the silver that Ephron had stipulated in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver at the current market value.*
17c Thus Ephron’s field in Machpelah, facing Mamre, together with its cave and all the trees anywhere within its limits, was conveyed 18to Abraham by purchase in the presence of the Hittites, all who entered the gate of Ephron’s city. 19After this, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre—now Hebron—in the land of Canaan. 20Thus the field with its cave was transferred from the Hittites to Abraham as a burial place.
* [23:1–20] The occasion for purchasing the land is the need for a burial site for Sarah, for it would be unthinkable to bury Sarah outside of the promised land. One of the two great promises to Abraham, that of progeny, has been fulfilled (21:1–7). And now the promise of land is to be fulfilled, through a kind of down payment on the full possession that will take place only with the conquest under Joshua and during the reign of David. This purchase has been prepared for by Abimelech’s recognition of Abraham’s claim to the well at Beer-sheba (21:22–34). Among the ancestral stories this narrative is one of two that are entirely from the P source (chap. 17 being the other). The Priestly writers may have intended to encourage the generation of the exile to a renewed hope of repossessing their land.
* [23:3] The Hittites: in the Bible the term is applied to several different groups—inhabitants of the second-millennium Hittite empire in Asia Minor and northern Syria, residents of the Neo-Hittite kingdoms in northern Syria in the first part of the first millennium, and (following Assyrian terminology) the inhabitants of Syria and Palestine. The third group is meant here.
* [23:4] A resident alien: such a one would normally not have the right to own property. The importance of Abraham’s purchase of the field in Machpelah, which is worded in technical legal terms, lies in the fact that it gave his descendants their first, though small, land rights in the country that God had promised the patriarch they would one day inherit as their own. Abraham therefore insists on purchasing the field and not receiving it as a gift.
* [23:15] Four hundred shekels: probably an exorbitant sum; Jeremiah (32:9) paid only seventeen shekels for his field in Anathoth, though the Babylonian invasion no doubt helped to reduce the price.
* [23:16] The current market value: the standard weight called a shekel varied according to time and place.
a. [23:4] Gn 33:19; Acts 7:16; Heb 11:9.