The Field of Ephron
“Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants” (Gen. 23:16).- Genesis 23:10–16
During the era in which the patriarchs lived, it was customary for families to bury their dead in their ancestral land. If Abraham was to conform to this cultural norm, he would have returned to his country of origin. However, he negotiates for a burial place in Canaan instead (Gen. 23:1–9). His wife has died without seeing the full measure of God’s promises, and the same fate awaits him in due time (25:8–9). But Abraham is walking by faith and not by sight. He is trusting that the same Lord who brought Him out of Ur (11:31–12:9) will also place the Promised Land into his hands and the hands of his offspring. Therefore, he seeks to own just a small parcel of this area as a pledge of greater things to come.
The blessing of the Creator upon Abraham’s life is evident, and the Hittites in Hebron are willing to let him bury his wife in one of their caves without the purchase of the property (23:6). It is not clear why they do not want to sell to Abraham when first asked (see also v. 11). Perhaps they were like Abimelech and feared what the mighty touch of God on the patriarch’s life would mean for the future of their descendants (21:22–24). Any move to stand in the way of Abraham having a legal claim to the land might thereby enable them to save their own skins. Or, they knew a loan of land would obligate the patriarch and his descendants to serve them as lords and thus sought to establish some kind of feudal relationship with Abraham.
Yet the patriarch will have none of this. After a period of pleasantries and negotiation, Ephron sells a choice field to Abraham for the price of four hundred shekels of silver (Gen. 23:16). This is likely price-gouging on Ephron’s part as later saints are able to purchase land far more cheaply than Abraham was (2 Sam. 24:24b; Jer. 32:9).
Abraham knows the whole land of Canaan is rightfully his, and in paying the price, he guarantees that his children will be slaves to no Canaanite. This land was God’s gift, and Abraham will not let any other take credit for his possession of even the smallest portion of it. John Calvin writes that he “bought the field, in order that he might not possess a foot of land, by the gift of any man.”
Abraham had earlier gained rights to the well he dug in Beersheba (Gen. 21:25–34), but the plot he bought in today’s passage was the first property he owned in Canaan. In purchasing this land, he gave an inheritance to his descendants that assured them of the promises for years to come. Are you investing for the future spread of God’s kingdom? Consider how you might leave an inheritance for your children and the church to help further the Gospel.
Passages for Further Study