A Burial Plot for Sarah (Genesis 23:1-20)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

When Sarah died, Abraham engaged in an exemplary negotiation to buy a burial plot for her. He conducted the negotiations openly and honestly in the presence of witnesses, taking due care for the needs of both himself and the seller (Gen. 23:10-13, 16, 18). The property in question is clearly identified (Gen. 23:9), and Abraham’s intended use as a burial site is mentioned several times (Gen. 23:4, 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 20). The dialogue of the negotiation is exceptionally clear, socially proper, and transparent. It takes place at the gate of the city where business was done in public. Abraham initiates the request for a real-estate transaction. The local Hittites freely offer a choice tomb. Abraham demurs, asking them to contact a certain owner of a field with a cave appropriate for a burial site so that he could buy it for the “full price.” Ephron, the owner, overheard the request and offered the field as a gift. Because this would not have resulted in Abraham having permanent claim, he politely offered to pay market value for it. Contrary to the staged bargaining that was typical of business transactions (Prov. 20:14), Abraham immediately agreed to Ephron’s price and paid it “according to the weights current among the merchants” (Gen. 23:16). This expression meant that the deal conformed to the standard for silver used in real estate sales.[1] Abraham could have been so wealthy that he did not need to bargain, and/or he could have been wishing to buy a measure of good will along with the land. Additionally, he could have wished to forestall any questioning of the sale and of his right to the land. In the end, he received the title deed to the property with its cave and trees (Gen. 23:17-20). It was the important burial site of Sarah and later Abraham himself, as well as that of Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah.

In this matter, Abraham’s actions modeled core values of integrity, transparency, and business acumen. He honored his wife by mourning and properly caring for her remains. He understood his status in the land and treated its long-term residents with respect. He transacted business openly and honestly, doing so in front of witnesses. He communicated clearly. He was sensitive to the negotiating process and politely avoided accepting the land as a gift. He swiftly paid the agreed amount. He used the site only for the purpose he stated during the negotiations. He thus maintained good relationships with everyone involved.