Thursday, November 06, 2008

Genesis 23:8-12 Abraham Negotiates A Burial Plot

Genesis 23:8-12: And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.” Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, “No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.” And Abraham bowed before the people of the land.

Like a wise and experienced negotiator, Abraham knows that he has the general support of the sons of Heth. Whether he had preplanned in his mind exactly which burial site he would ask for or not is not clear from the text. We know he did ask for a specific piece of property to be made available for that purpose.

Zohar must have been a son of Heth and he in turn had a son called Ephron. It was this man’s property that Abraham sought to bury his dead. And in particular he was asking for the cave of Machpelah. Strong’s Concordance identifies this cave as being in a field near Hebron.

It is interesting to note that Abraham not only knew the land and the cave, but he knew who owned it and its exact location. Abraham must have been an inquisitive sort and possibly had his servants find all this out, likely between the time Sarah died and when he met with the sons of Heth. We have no other evidence to believe that he acquired this knowledge earlier but it is possible that he may have had business interests in this geographic area where clearly Sarah had some friends or possibly relatives.

Abraham offered to pay the full fair value of the land in order to have ownership of it. It was important to own one’s burial sites in order to prevent future use of the land beyond one’s control. We note that he did not try to get a deal but wanted to pay fairly for the land. And he wanted the transaction to be legal in accordance with the times. That is that the money be turned over to the seller in the presence of others.

Perhaps unbeknownst to Abraham, Heth’s grandson Ephron and a Hittite was present at this meeting and since it was his land being asked for by Abraham whom his kin had labeled a ‘mighty prince’, he spoke up so everyone, even the passers by, could hear him. Ephron was part of a nation called the Hittites who were descendants of Heth dwelling at and around Hebron. Strong’s indicates that later they became the people of central Anatolia which is now modern Turkey and then later also inhabited northern Lebanon.

Ephron also shows respects to Abraham addressing him as “my lord” but indicates he is not prepared to accept money for his property but rather wants to give it to Abraham – not only the burial cave but also the entire field so that he can bury his dead. And Ephron also wants witnesses to that effect. What was going on here? Well, for starters, Ephron had already heard Abraham say he wanted to pay the full value of the land. But cultural and social practices of the time required, as part of the bartering, Ephron to offer to give it away to such a great man as Abraham, likely knowing full well that Abraham would have nothing to do with it. The process was just common courtesy between businessmen. It is not too different than offering to pay for your meal by reaching for your wallet at the restaurant when someone else invited you and you know it is his/her responsibility to pay. The gesture is still made, however. So with Ephron; he makes the gesture to take the loss, knowing that a gentleman and lord would not accept it. Nevertheless, it is Abraham’s turn to respond. Notice Abraham bowed before the people, but in the next verse, we will see he spoke directly to Ephron, again evidence that this whole exchange was cultural in nature.

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