A Place to Bury the Dead

“Ephron was sitting in the midst of the Sons of Cheth, thus Ephron the Chethite answered Abraham before the ears of the Sons of Cheth and all who were entering his city gate, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me. The field I give to you and the cave which is in it. I give it. In the sight of the sons of my people, I give it to you; bury your dead.’”

(Genesis 23:10-11)

 

Ephron, consistent with the discussions of his leadership, goes over and beyond the call of duty in his offer. All Abraham has asked for is the cave at the back corner of the field; Ephron offers him field and cave both as a gift. There are some that have suggested that Ephron was not overly happy about his being allotted to offer his property, which explains why, a little later, he suggests a sale price, but that mindset misses the spirit of negotiation that is dominant in the near-eastern cultures. There is an expectation of some degree of haggling here for a final decision, particularly as Abraham is asking for a price. In addition, were he begrudging the sale, he would not have added the field to the transaction so enthusiastically. Instead, his spirit seems consistent with the spirit of his brothers in wanting to incorporate Abraham’s line as part of their own.

Thus, the offer is made in the city gate to give both the cave and the plot of ground to Abraham as a burial plot for his family. City gates were the typical place that public business was transacted in ancient times; hence the reference to those coming and going through the gates. It was the place where the elders of the community sat and ruled on the affairs of the people. It would be the equivalent to the modern city council meetings that take place to govern a community.

The debate will continue, but do not lose sight of two principles: first, the way in which these pagans look up to this believer and second, the importance of securing a separate place for Sarah’s body that was not community property of those who lived there, but that would be set aside for the holy use of the burial of God’s people. May our communities look toward us this enthusiastically and may we never lose sight of the importance of preserving places to put the bodies of believers that they may be kept intact until the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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