Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Genesis 23:13-16 Fair & Above Board Exchange

Genesis 23:13-16: And he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” Then Eprhon answered Abraham, saying to him, “My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.” And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard.

The writer of this passage is very careful to include phrases that point to more of a cultural ritual of exchange between a buyer and a seller in those days. Thus he writes about this taking place “in the hearing of the people” and “please listen to me”. Abraham pleads with Ephron to listen to him as to why he should be paid for his land – the very thing that Ephron wanted. I am sure no one had to beg him to listen or to ask him to do Abraham a favor and accept money so he could get on with the business of burying his dead.

This was clearly about burying one’s dead and the exchange involving the acquisition of a burial place was a formality that one had to go through if they did not own land for this purpose. Ephron in the propose of pretending to say “no, no, it’s merely a piece of land and you need it to bury your dead” was very capable at the same time of sneaking in the desired price, “it’s only worth four hundred shekels of silver”. But he goes on, “we won’t let that small amount get between us; so I’ll oblige you and accept the money. Go ahead, bury your dead.”

The whole exercise is similar to working with a funeral services director in order to make arrangements for the funeral and burial of a loved one these days. The bottom line is you have to do it. Both parties know it. Yet, there is a formal ritual that one goes through to choose the casket and the arrangements while still trying to minimize costs. The funeral director on the other hand as sympathetic as he/she may be to your situation, still needs to make money for his services and products.

At the end of the day, Abraham gets the land he wanted to bury Sarah and Ephron gets the price he wanted. And it is all done in the presence of the sons of Heth in accordance with the “commercial standard” of the day. This may imply two things. First, that the whole deal was handled properly in openness and fairness and second, that the money was all paid in full up front. This is still an excellent goal for all even today in carrying out business.

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