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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
This chapter is interesting as containing the first record of mourning for the dead, of burial, of property in land, of purchase of land, of silver as a medium of purchase, and of a standard of weight. Mourning for the dead was, no doubt, natural on the first death. Burial was a matter of necessity, in order, as Abraham says, to remove the body out of sight, as soon as it was learned by experience that it would be devoured by beasts of prey, or become offensive by putrefaction. To bury or cover it with earth was a more easy and natural process than burning, and was therefore earlier and more general. Property in land was introduced where tribes became settled, formed towns, and began to practise tillage. Barter was the early mode of accommodating each party with the articles he needed or valued. This led gradually to the use of the precious metals as a "current" medium of exchange - first by weight, and then by coins of a fixed weight and known stamp.
The burial of Sarah is noted because she was the wife of Abraham and the mother of the promised seed. The purchase of the field is worthy of note, as it is the first property of the chosen race in the promised land. Hence, these two events are interwoven with the sacred narrative of the ways of God with man.
- The Marriage of Isaac
26. קרד qādad, "bow the head." השׁתחוה shâchâh, "bow the body."
29. לבן lābān, "Laban, white."
In this circumstantial account of the marriage of Isaac, we have a beautiful picture of ancient manners in the East, the living original of which the present customs of that cradle of mankind are a striking copy.
Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah,
before Mamre; and here he himself was buried, and also Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah, Genesis 25:9. Benjamin of Tudela (h) says, in his time (who lived in the latter end of the twelfth century), in the field of Machpelah was a city or town, and in it a large temple called Saint Abraham, where were shown the sepulchres of the six persons before mentioned, and inscriptions over each of them, showing whose they were; and that at the end of the field was the house of Abraham, and before the house a fountain, and no other was suffered to be built there in honour to Abraham:
the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan; that is, Mamre is the same place which afterwards was called Hebron, a city in the land of Canaan, in the tribe of Judah, about twenty two miles from Jerusalem to the south, and was one of the cities of refuge. Hebron has the title of Hhaleah, i.e. the chosen or beloved, among the Arabs, where the (Maggarel Mamra) cave of Mamre or Machpelah is still shown, and is always lighted up with lamps, and held in extraordinary veneration by the Mahometans (i).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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Verse 19. - And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife - with what funeral rites can only be conjectured. Monumental evidence attests that the practice of embalming the dead existed in Egypt in the reign of Amunophth I. ( B.C. 1500), though probably originating, earlier. (Sharpe's 'Egypt, vol. 1. p. 31); and an examination of the Mugheir vaults for burying the dead shows that among the early Chaldaeans it was customary to place the corpse upon a matting of reed spread upon a brick floor, the head being pillowed on a single sun-dried brick, and the body turned on its left side, the right arm falling towards the left, and the fingers resting on the edge of a copper bowl, usually placed on the palm of the left hand (vide Rawlinson s 'Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 1. p. 87) - in the cave of the field of Machpelah before: Mamre. In which also in succession his own remains and those of Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah were deposited, Rachel alone of the great patriarchal family being absent. This last resting-place of Abraham and his sons, as of Sarah and her daughters, has been identified with Ramet-el-Kalil, an hour's journey to the north of Hebron (which is too distant), where the foundations of an ancient heathen temple are still pointed out as Abraham's house; but is more probably to be sought for in the Mohammedan mosque Haram, built of colossal blocks, and situated on the mountain slope of Hebron towards the east (Robinson, Thomson, Stanley, Tristram), which, after having been for 600 years hermetically sealed against Europeans, - only three during that period having gained access to it in disguise, - was visited in 1862 by the Prince of Wales and party (vide Stanley, 'Lectures on Jewish Church,' App. 2.). The same is Hebron in the land of Canaan (vide Ver. 2). Genesis 23:7), in the gate of the city (Genesis 23:10). As a foreigner and sojourner, Abraham presented his request in the most courteous manner to all the citizens ("all that went in at the gate," Genesis 23:10, Genesis 23:18; a phrase interchangeable with "all that went out at the gate," Genesis 34:24, and those who "go out and in," Jeremiah 17:19). The citizens with the greatest readiness and respect offered "the prince of God," i.e., the man exalted by God to the rank of a prince, "the choice" (מבחר, i.e., the most select) of their graves for his use (Genesis 23:6). But Abraham asked them to request Ephron, who, to judge from the expression "his city" in Genesis 23:10, was then ruler of the city, to give him for a possession the cave of Machpelah, at the end of his field, of which he was the owner, "for full silver," i.e., for its full worth. Ephron thereupon offered to make him a present of both field and cave. This was a turn in the affair which is still customary in the East; the design, so far as it is seriously meant at all, being either to obtain a present in return which will abundantly compensate for the value of the gift, or, what is still more frequently the case, to preclude any abatement in the price to be asked. The same design is evident in the peculiar form in which Ephron stated the price, in reply to Abraham's repeated declaration that he was determined to buy the piece of land: "a piece of land of 400 shekels of silver, what is that between me and thee" (Genesis 23:15)? Abraham understood it so (ישׁמע Genesis 23:16), and weighed him the price demanded. The shekel of silver "current with the merchant," i.e., the shekel which passed in trade as of standard weight, was 274 Parisian grains, so that the price of the piece of land was 52, 10s.; a very considerable amount for that time.
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