by Robert Brow    (

Brow Publications, Kingston, Ontario (e-mail: 2004

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Table Of Contents:

Genesis 23:1 Genesis 23:17-18
Genesis 23:2 Genesis 23:19
Genesis 23:3-7 Note
Genesis 23:8-16  

GENESIS  23:1-20   (Sarah buried in the Cave of Machpelah)

23:1   Sarah was ten years younger than Abraham (17:17), so she died when Abraham was 137 years old .   He lived another 38 years after her death.  During that time he  took another wife who was viewed as a concubine since her children could not inherit the family title (25:1-5).  He died “in a good old age”at the age of 175  (25:8).

23:2   By the time of her death Abraham and Isaac, and their many retainers (14:14),  had moved back 30 miles, 48 km, north from Beersheba (21:34) to the area of Hebron.  That was where he had previously built an altar for sacrifice  by “the oaks of Mamre” (13:18; 18:1).  

23:3-7   Abraham’s immediate reaction was the terrible grief of losing his beloved partner in many travels and hazards over a hundred years.   But he did not own an inch of territory, and he immediately faced the problem of where she could be buried.   He asked for a piece of land from the local Hittites (Canaanites).  They offered him any burial site that he cared to choose.

23:8-16   Abraham asked for the piece of land around the Cave of Machpelah.   As was the custom (see 2 Samuel 24:18-24), when a person of importance offered to buy a piece of land, the seller would offer it for nothing knowing that the buyer would insist on paying a handsome price. A shekel weighed 11.4 grams, 0.4 oz, so 400 shekels was about 10 lbs. or  4.4 kg. of silver.

23:17-18   The field in which the cave was located, and the trees on the property (perhaps the oaks of Mamre (13:18; 18:1),  were deeded to Abraham as was the custom in the presence of all who came in and out of the gates of the city of Hebron.

23:19   The cave of Macpelah became the family tomb in which Abraham was later buried (25:9).   Isaac was also buried in the Cave of Macpelah 105 years later (see 21:5, 35:27-29), as was Isaac’s wife Rebekah (49:31) and Jacob’s wife Leah (49:31).  When Isaac’s son Jacob died in Egypt, he gave instructions for his own burial  in the same family tomb  (49:29-30).  So when he died, Joseph had him embalmed, and Pharaoh gave permission for the body to be taken back to Hebron for burial  (50:13).   When Joseph died, he was embalmed, and placed in a coffin.  According to his instructions (50:25) Moses took the coffin with him throughout the Exodus (Exodus 13:19).   After Hebron was taken (Joshua 10:36, 14:13-14), Joseph’s body would have been laid in the same Cave of Machpelah where his ancestors were buried.

Note: The modern city of Hevron (Hebron) is called el-Khalil in memory of Abraham as the “friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23).  Herod the Great (73 - 4 BC) enclosed the cave of Machpelah with a wall (213 by 115 feet, 65 by 35 m).  The site is sacred to both Jews and Arabs, and in Arabic it is called Haram El Khalil (the shrine of the friend).

According to the New Testament, the first act of Jesus in his resurrection was to empty sheol (the abode of the dead) and raise all those who welcomed him to resurrection life.  “He was made alive in the Spirit, in which he also went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19).  The moment Jesus died, when his body was still nailed to the cross, an astonishing event took place.  “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom.   The earth shook and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.  After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:51-53.   This means that Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Joseph, and all other Old Testament believers were no longer in their graves, but alive in heaven.  Some think this took place after Easter Sunday, but Jesus said to the thief “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43) which suggests that the resurrection took place that very day before Jesus corpse was buried.   

Our resurrection bodies are given to us the moment we die (2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Philippians 1:23).   On this interpretation the trumpet that greets us at death (Romans15:52-53) is not for the last judgment but to welcome our immediate resurrection.  This means that the location of our bones is no longer significant to Christians.  For Jews and Muslims the body remains in the grave until the last judgment, and the tomb is viewed as very important for the preservation of the bodily remains until that day.   Christians do not expect to be raised from the grave to face a last judgment in the distant future.   The death and resurrection of the Messiah is all that is needed for our forgiveness and perfecting.  And God sees to it that anyone who would be happy to enjoy the love of heaven is welcomed there immediately at death.

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