And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying,…
It was quite in accordance with Eastern usage that Abraham did not apply directly to the proprietor of the plot in which the cave lay, Ephron by name, the son of Zohar, but made interest with him through the leading men of the city. Courtesy required, too, that their consent should be secured for the proposed arrangement. The whole narrative, which is most minute, wears the strongest local colouring. Abraham's respectful attitude, his repeated prostrations with his face to the ground, the polite hospitality of the townsmen, the difficulty in coming to a bargain, the offer of Ephron to waive the question of price, his indirect mention of the four hundred shekels, the conclusion of the sale at the city gate in the place of concourse, the weighing of uncoined rings or ingots of silver which served for a medium of exchange, and the copious phraseology as of a legal document, by which, before witnesses, the cave, with the field, the fence around it, and the trees on it, were all conveyed in perpetuity to their new owner — these particulars correspond, we are assured by Dr. Thomson, a competent witness, to what may be seen at this day in Eastern bargain-making. It is true that nowadays the courtesy is merely formal, and such generous phrases as those of Ephron and his fellow-citizens are grown very hollow indeed. Still, it seems questionable to conclude, as Dr. Thomson himself has done, that they meant no more in that simple age, when the ceremonies of intercourse were newer and more truly reflected its spirit. Besides, it is hardly fair to place an occasion like that before us quite on a level with the ordinary chaffering of an Arab market-place. One must take care, no doubt, not to read all the incidents of a story, which is sacred as well as ancient, through such an unreal light as will invest them with fictitious dignity. On the other hand, we may equally err if, in our efforts to be realistic, we rob the record of its native dignity, or vulgarize the manners of antiquity because the manners of to-day are vulgar.
(J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying,