And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she hath also born children unto thy brother Nahor;
Of course, we don’t know when Milcah (Milkah, queen) and Nahor (Nachowr, snorting) actually had children (ben), just that Abraham is only now told (nagad) about it. Still, the timing must’ve seemed significant to Abraham, especially given that one of the grandchildren is Rebekah (Ribqah, ensnarer):
And Bethuel begat Rebekah: these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham’s brother.
But, before Rebekah arrives, Sarah departs:
And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same [is] Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
I wonder what went through his head as he wept (bakah) and mourned (caphad). Did feel any regrets for the times he betrayed her? Was he filled with gratitude for finally having a son by her? Or was it just the empty desolation of losing a century-long companion.
Oddly (at least to my modern ears), the rest of the chapter dwells not on Sarah’s life, but on her burial:
And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I [am] a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.
What’s going on? What’s so important about a tomb (qeber) that — not only does it overshadow Sarah death — it takes the rest of the chapter?
Well, for me the key word is property (‘achuzzah). Up to this time, Abraham appears to have been a true nomad, who grazed the open range but didn’t actually own any land. Since the dead can’t move around with the living, the first time he needed a permanent place was to inter Sarah. The implication is both that a) he wants to remember her, and b) this is where he wants his family to put down roots.
It is also interesting to note the cordiality of his relationship with his neighbors:
Hear us, my lord: thou [art] a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.
Interestingly, he appears to ask his friends to intercede on his behalf for a piece of land he’s had his eye on:
And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and intreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar, That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which [is] in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you.
Ephron (`Ephrown), appears to respond by offering it as a gift:
Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that [is] therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead.
True, this is probably just traditional Middle Eastern hyperbole, rather than a sincere offer. Still, it is noteworthy even that this culture felt it worthwhile to cloak commercial transactions in the aura of gift giving. Some have even argued that sort of gift-giving actually gave birth to capitalism! Abraham, at least, insists on paying his own way:
And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if thou [wilt give it], I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field; take [it] of me, and I will bury my dead there.
Ephron responds with an indirect price:
My lord, hearken unto me: the land [is worth] four hundred shekels of silver; what [is] that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead.
Which Abraham takes at face value:
And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current [money] with the merchant.
Maybe haggling was unseemly back then, at least when dealing with the dead. Regardless, everyone seems happy with the outcome, which is literally audited (‘ozen) by the market rather than written down:
Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.
Perhaps that is why the author of Genesis takes such pains to write it down here:
And the field, and the cave that [is] therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth.
I get the feeling one reason this story is recorded in such detail is that this is the first permanent thing (except perhaps altars) that Abraham has in the promised land. This is not just a touchstone for him, but a cornerstone for his whole family, for generations to come.
May the fruits of all our marriages (and commercial endeavors!) be so enduring.
God, I thank you for the life of Sarah. While we’ve mostly seen her disbelief and suffering, we are nonetheless struck by her obedience and faithfulness to Abraham. How Abraham must’ve loved her. How powerful a monument to that love, for a nomad to tie himself to a place for her sake. Lord, may I love my wife with an enduring love — not just when she’s dead, but when she’s alive. May all my work and financial endeavors strengthen, rather than detract from, my relations with both my family and my neighbors. Help me to lay a foundation that endures for generations, blessing my children and my children’s children. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Intriguingly, today I was planning to write an essay on transformational economics, which builds on that very same idea of gift-giving. I wonder if God’s trying to tell me something. Hopefully this means He approves.