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Four Hundred Silver Shekels

“Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, hear me: it is land of four hundred silver shekels value, between you and me, what is that? Bury your dead.”

(Genesis 23:14-15)

 

Ephron appeals to Abraham one more time, though this time he does so by answering Abraham’s question. And to those who would suggest that Ephron is just seeking to save face in the presence of the other Sons of Cheth by insisting Abraham take the property for free while at the same time offering up a purchase price, it should be noted that the price given here is very minimal. We find Abraham’s servant presenting Rebekah with a gold ring and bracelets (gold being more valuable than silver) worth ten and a half shekels between them as a gift for watering his camels and as a promise that he serves a master with financial means (Genesis 24:22). Later in Genesis, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery for twenty shekels of silver (Genesis 37:28) and when Joseph was reunited with his brothers and prepares them to return to Egypt with their father, as a special blessing to Benjamin, Joseph provides him with 300 shekels of silver (Genesis 45:22) and the redemption price for an ox who gores the slave of his master in Israel, was thirty shekels of silver (Exodus 21:32). When they constructed the Tabernacle, it would take 1,775 shekels of silver just to make the hooks for the pillars and the leaf to overlay the capitals of the pillars, making fillets (the thin band that joins the pillar to its capital) for them (Exodus 38:28).

The bottom line is that Ephron wants to appease Abraham by giving him an answer as to value, but continues to insist that the property is of little value in the grand scheme of things. It is likely fair to conclude that he expects that Abraham is not going to back down, but the price quoted is designed to bless Abraham, not to gain wealth.

Often in life we find ourselves in situations like this. Someone is pressing us for an amount that we are willing to sell an item for or to accept for our services and we would rather offer it for free or a nominal amount. And here even, we can learn from Ephron, that when pressed for a price, a fair price can be offered even if it is intentionally quoted on the low side. You can bless those you are serving in that they feel they have offered you payment for services (or items) rendered while still not taking advantage of the situation. Abraham will pay Ephron the silver, but it is here that the price is set and the contract made public.

Buying a Burial Plot

“Then Abraham rose and he bowed to the people of the land, the Sons of Cheth, and he spoke to them, saying, ‘If it is in your soul to bury my dead from before me then hear me and plead for me with Ephron the son of Zochar that he may give to me the Cave of Makpelah which is his and is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me for its full value in silver in your midst as property for a grave.’”

(Genesis 23:7-9)

 

And the negotiations begin. As we have seen before, though Abraham is the superior in this negotiation, he does not hold that superiority over the Sons of Cheth with whom he is negotiating. Instead he takes a humble position of grace toward them and chooses not to take their hospitality for granted. How often it is that Christians fail to follow Abraham’s example here, seeking their own good ahead of the good of those around them. Beloved, we have a God who has promised to provide for all of our needs, why is it that we are worried about going without if we seek to meet the needs of those around us? If God is the provider of our needs, can we ever truly exhaust the “stores of grace” if we are seeking to meet the needs of those in our midst?

Yet the importance of paying “full value” for the gravesite goes further than simply wanting to make sure he not cheat Ephron (whose name likely refers to the reddish-white color of dry clay — remember, he is a farmer, so this should not be a great surprise) the son of Zochar (again notice the differences in transliteration, his name refers to a shiny, reddish-white color like that of one blushing — the family resemblance should be noted, we would describe them today as “ruddy” in complexion, though the father’s color is described in a way that is bright and shiny and the son’s as dull and dirty). Sarah is not a Canaanite nor is she in the line of the Sons of Cheth. Sarah belongs to Abraham’s line and for her to be buried amongst the dead of the pagans on their land and in one of their tombs, would identify her as part of their tribe. This, Abraham must not do. His purchase of the lot is to preserve the lot as his own, for his line only and as a taste of the promise that is to come, for while Abraham’s children will eventually inherit all of the land of Canaan, here and now, Abraham is able to purchase a small plot of ground as his own to bury his dead, namely his wife Sarah. Abraham himself will be buried in this cave (Genesis 25:9) as well as Jacob (Genesis 49:30; 50:13). And while we are not told for sure that Isaac is buried here, the implication is made that this was his burial site as well (Genesis 35:27-29). And though one might expect that Joseph was buried here (given the Hebrews carried his bones out of Egypt {Exodus 13:19}, we are told that his bones are buried in Shechem {Joshua 24:32} on property bought by his father, Jacob).

In the end, this tradition of purchasing a burial plot still continues today, purchasing a place that will not only stand as a remembrance of the person, but also as a safe place where the bodies of those who have departed us can be held until the time of resurrection. There will indeed come a time when the graveyards will be emptied, but for now, we are trustees of such spots, waiting for the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.