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of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. 3. And Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, 4. I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me the possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight. 5. And the children of Heth auswered Abraham, saying to him, 6. Hear us, my lord:
Philistines (xxi. 34), or at any other place in the land of his ancestors; and it was without the promised land; but yet this Joshua's reward to find his last repose land belonged still to the Canaanites; no among the children of his tribe. Repart of it was in the possession of the He- garded from this point of view, the brews.
earnestness with which Abraham sought 3, 4. In securing a grave for his wife, a tomb for his family in the territory of Abraham directed his mind to the distant Canaan, assumes a new significance. He epoch of national greatness vouchsafed to had during his life severed every link which his descendants. Though openly confessing connected him with father, friends, or counthat he was a stranger among the idola- try; and he intended to make this separatrous children of Heth, he knew that Ca- tion eternal by being interred far from his naan alone could offer him a desirable birth-place and his countrymen. Though resting-place; and he wished to be buried deeply anxious to see his son allied to no in the land to be hallowed by its future wife but one of his own family, which resided history. This sentiment was the result of in Mesopotamia, he was as firmly resolved the most exalted faith. For it is well known to be buried in no other country but that with what extreme degree of sacredness where he sojourned; for though he might the graves of relatives were regarded; it hope that his kinsmen would adopt his is unnecessary to refer to the extraordinary religious convictions, he was certain that precautions taken in this respect by the Canaan alone was selected as the land of Egyptians, who, in order to secure to their salvation. These remarks will, at the same dead undisturbed rest, erected gigantic time, show the fallacy of the opinion, that edifices intended to defy the destruction the purchase of the tomb was intended to of endless ages; who abhorred the idea of establish a claim of the Israelites to the invading the abodes of the departed, and land of Canaan. The transaction here who scarcely knew a more disastrous mis. recorded has a civil, not a political chafortune than an interruption of the eternal racter; and the tendency of the narrative rest of the dead. And though the Hebrews is religious, not temporal (see pp. 236-238). were far from sharing the superstition, that The purchase is, indeed, based on the very the existence of the soul is dependent on the fact, that Abraham had no legal right preservation of the body; though, on the whatever to the soil of Canaan; he asked contrary, they were clearly conscious, that for an inconsiderable piece of ground, and the former returns to God, while the latter paid for it a more than adequate sum. is dissolved: they attached a sacred im- How could his descendants claim, upon portance to the place of interment; they such fact, the possession of the whole land wished to be entombed in their native soil from Dan to Beer-sheba ! and among their own race; Jacob's corpse 5, 6. So little did the Hittites expect that was, with pomp and solemnity, brought to Abraham, the stranger and pilgrim, should the Holy Land; and Joseph enjoined on wish for an hereditary landed property, his brothers the same request; it was a part that they not even gave a direct answer to of the punishment which Moses suffered his request; instead of granting “the posfor his disobedience, that he was not buried session of a burying-place,” they permitted
thou art a prince of God among us: in the choicest of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us will withhold from thee his sepulchre, that thou mayest bury thy dead. 7. And Abraham rose, and prostrated himself to the people of the land, to the children of Heth. 8. And he spoke with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should bury my
dead out of my sight, hear me, and entreat for me 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 full money he may give it me for a possession of a buryingplace among you.-10. And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the children of Heth, of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, 11. No, my lord, hear me: I give thee the field, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; before the eyes of the sons of my people I give it thee: bury thy dead. 12. And Abraham prostrated himself before the people of the land. 13. And he spoke to Ephron in the presence of the people of the land,
him to inter Sarah in any of their own family tombs; they even gave him unrestricted liberty to select the most convenient, the most desirable grave; there was not one among them who would not consider it an honour rather than an intrusion or burthen to be in death associated with his house. For Abraham had long since found in Hebron faithful friends; he was there allied with Eshcol and Mamre (xiv. 13); and had from there marched out on his expedition against the victorious eastern kings; but the respect which the Hebronites entertained for him, must have more and more deepened into awe when his later history was spread. Abimelech had publicly acknowledged, that the patriarch's every step was attended with manifest and supernatural blessing(xxi. 22); and God Himself had called him a prophet, and proclaimed the efficiency of his prayers to avert the sufferings of others (xx. 7). The Hittites designated him, therefore, “a prince of God”; and it is not impossible, that they regarded his residing amongst them as a protection and safeguard against Divine inflictions; that they were, therefore, eager to retain him in their town; and that the ready permission offered to him with regard to the burial, was not dictated by motives quite unselfish. Abraham's declaration : "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you,” is distinctly opposed by them with the as. sertion: “Thou art a prince of God among us." Hence, they add with an emphatical force: "none of us will withhold from thee his sepulchre, there to bury thy dead"; for, in general, the ancient nations watched with extreme jealousy, that no stranger should be received in the tombs of their families; on the chiefs of the houses devolved the
duty of watching over this sacred custom, though the spirit of hospitality characteristic of primitive tribes, generally prompted an exception in favour of guests, who possessed no ancestral graves in the country.
7-9. But Abraham abhorred the thought of allowing Sarah or himself to be buried in the vault of a heathen family. He, therefore, repeated his request, that he desired to have the hereditary and exclusive “possession of a burial-place”; his mind had evidently long since been occupied with this important matter; he had silently selected the spot where he wished to repose; he pointed out the place, and named its proprietor; he ied, that if the sented to suffer the bodies of his family in their own sepulchres, they might have the less objection to their being interred in a cave,consecrated by no association, situated in a retired part at the end of a field,” and, to whatever use it might be turned, not likely in any way to interfere with their general rights of property. But Abraham, in order to show in every possible manner that he wished to regard the burial-place as his absolute possession, and to avoid the least appearance of an obligation, insisted upon acquiring it by legal and public purchase, and upon buying it for a sum fully equivalent to its utmost value. Whenever Abraham refused presents, he was induced to do so by a great principle of right or religion: such was the case with the booty of the Sodomites; and such was the case with the burial-place desired for his family. - It is well known, that caves were, in ancient times, with predilection adopted for graves. The massive rocks in which they were either naturally found, or into which they were worked by art, guaranteed in an eminent
degree that durability which was a princi- which it formed a part; he declined every pal requirement. Syria, Palestine, and compensation, and called on his country. Egypt abound in caverns peculiarly suit- men to be witnesses of his sincerity. able for the purpose referred to. The Abraham, however, though acting mysterious darkness is but partially dis- throughout with extreme courtesy, the pelled by the light admitted either by an result of his meekness, unconditionally opening at the top or on one side; for the refused the proposal. His mind was filled vaults were hewn out either vertically or with one great idea; and as the permahorizontally; they were generally, when nent possession of a burial-place aptly capacious, divided along the sides into seryed to advance its realisation, he repeatcompartments, each of them large enough ed that he was determined to acquire it by to receive one sarcophagus, of about six or a legal and binding purchase, and he again seven feet in length; and some deeper than offered the full equivalent in silver for the the rest, and subdivided into other cham- cave and the field. Ephron, anable longer bers, or extended into passages. In some to withstand the temptation, but reluctant cases, the coffins rested merely on stone slabs openly to exhibit his avarice, with adroit arranged along the sides. Not unfrequently cunning preserved the appearance of disstairs were necessary to lead down into the interestedness, whilst he was exacting a caverns, and this was always the case when considerable sum from the rich emir: they were vertically excavated. In order “What is,” said he,“ a piece of land worth to protect the graves, especially against the four hundred shekels of silver between inroads of beasts of prey, a huge stone me and thee?” He seemed even impaclosed the entrance, which frequently, in tiently to solicit the honour of furnishing the course of time, became perfectly indis- the desired ground. But Abraham un. coverable. Graves, except those of dis- derstood well his stratagem and its motinguished persons, as kings and prophets, tives; and he at once paid the amount were never suffered within the precincts hinted at in current silver, such as merof the town; they were generally in open chants give and receive. “He weighed fields, as in the instance of our text, or in to Ephron the silver"; for coined money shady groves and gardens, and sometimes was unknown to the Hebrews before the on hills and mountains.
captivity, when first Persian, and then 10–16. Ephron shared the respect Greek or Syriac currency was employed, till universally entertained by his tribe for Simon Maccabæus (about B.c. 140) struck Abraham. He eagerly offered him, Jewish coins, especially shekels and halfnot only the cave, but the whole field of shekels, specimens of which have been
saying, If thou only, Oh if thou wouldst hear me: I shall give thee money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there. 14. And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, 15. My lord, listen to me: a land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and thee? bury therefore thy dead. 16. And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver which he had named, in the presence of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.—17. And the field of Ephron, which is in Machpelah, which is before Mamre, the field, and the cave which is therein, and all the trees that were in
preserved to us (see note on Exod. xxi.32) It is natural that almost all the ancient nations, which did not barter, or had ceased to barter, in corn, cattle, or other natural productions, animal or vegetable, but which used the metals as money, should for a long period have circulated them in solid pieces, till they arrived at the skill of working them into coins; an art which the Hindoos, Phænicians, and Lydians, seem to have practised among the first; but even then the metal was estimated by its real, not a tional value. For daily commerce rendered it, in very early times, necessary to provide pioces of a certain weight, as ready means of exchange; thus the Hebrews had whole, half, and quarter-shekels, kesitahs, and other coins, probably not controlled or sanctioned by the government; these pieces were perhaps provided with a mark to stamp them as genuine and as being the full weight, or to note them as "current money among the mer. chants”: nevertheless, they were constantly weighed when employed in commerce, for which purpose the Israelites had scales attached to their girdles; and that custom was preserved ven after the introduction of regular coinage, and is, in fact, extensively exercised by eastern merchants of the present day; whereas, on the other hand, in many parts of China and Abyssinia, the gold and silver circulates still in bars and ingots, the value of which is
fixed by first estimating the quality, and then ascertaining the weight. If we consider that in the patriarchal ages the value of money was at least fifteen or twenty times greater than at present; that, for instance, it was not considered derogatory to the dignity of Samuel, or any “man of God,” to accept a quarter of a shekel (or about 8d.) as a present; that, in the time of the Judges, the services of a householdpriest were secured for the yearly salary of ten shekels, besides his food and garments; that the price of a slave was thirty shekels; that, even in the time of Nehemiah, a yearly tax of forty shekels was considered a heavy and tyrannical impost; that David bought from Araunah a threshing-floor and an ox for fifty shekels; and that Solomon paid 150 shekels for an Egyptian horse: we shall understand that Ephron scarcely brought a sacrifice in fixing the price of his field at four hundred shekels (or nearly fifty guineas), although the estimation would naturally depend on the extent and quality of the property; and although, in Solomon's time, Egyptian chariots were sold for 600, and vineyards yielded a produce of at least 1,000 shekels' worth.
17–20. A certain breadth and copiousness are manifest in the narrative; the chief points are repeatedly stated without any addition, either qualifying the sense, or rendering it more forcible. Abraham wishes “the possession of a burying-place; he reiterates the same words in his first reply to the Hittites; it occurs a third time when the purchase is concluded; and a synonym is introduced when the whole transaction is once more comprehensively stated. Further, it appears as if the text cannot, with sufficient emphasis, enjoin the fact, that all the Hittites were witnesses of the sale; Ephron is in their midst when Abraham publicly made the request; he negociates with the patriarch “before the ears of the children of Heth, in the presence of all the citizens"; and he grants the field " before the eyes of his countrymen"; Abraham takes care to give his reply in the same explicit manner; and to pay the money in the presence of the people, that every doubt and uncertainty may be removed. Lastly, the historian exhibits an extreme anxiety to enforce the fact that the field was bought by Abraham; it was acquired by full payment and current silver; and it was purchased for the amount demanded by the owner, without the least deduction. All this careful detail shows, on the one hand, the high importance which was attached to the trans
the field; that were in all its borders around, passed over 18. To Abraham for a property before the eyes of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city. 19. And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre, that is Hebron, in the land of Canaan. 20. And the field, and the cave that is therein, passed over to Abraham for a possession of a burying-place from the sons of Heth.
action; and which was, on the other hand,almost necessary in a verbal purchase without a written contract. It is interesting to compare herewith the simple but expressive mode of transfer in the period of the Judges, when the proprietor, in the presence of ten elders of the people, took off his shoe and gave it as a symbol to the purchaser (Ruth iv. 1-9); or, in the times of Jeremiah, when the contract was written and the money weighed before witnesses, and the former was deposited in an earthen vessel “that it might last many days” (Jer. xxxii. 7-14). But it was always regarded as a want of true piety to offer to God what had been obtained without cost or sacrifice; and hence not only Jacob, though fugitive and wandering, bought the place in Shechem where he intended to erect an altar to God (xxxiii. 19), but even the mighty King David, for a similar purpose, purchased the spot from Araunah, the Jebusite, disdaining to “ offer burnt offer. ings to the Lord his God of that which cost him nothing” (2 Sam. xxiv. 24; comp. i Chron. xxi. 24).
CHAPTER XXIV. SUMMARY.—Abraham, desirous that his son Isaac should marry a member of his own
family, sent his steward to Mesopotamia, with the solemn injunction that, even if he did not succeed in his errand, he should on no account take for Isaac a wife from the Canaanites, nor return with him to the land of the Chaldees. The servant, arriring before Haran, saw Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel, who showed him ready and hearty civilities, and related to her family the arrival of the stranger. Her brother Laban hastened, therefore, to conduct him into the house, where he at once disclosed the end of his journey, and asked Rebekah for his master's son to wife, since he had proofs that she was destined for him by God. The parents, the brother, and the virgin consented; and having given presents to all, he returned to Canaan with Rebekah, who was accompanied by her nurse Deborah