Burial Business

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“Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre – both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field – was legally made over to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city.

Afterwards Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it were legally made over to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.”
Genesis 23:17-20 (NIVUK)

In the news there has been a lot of excitement about Egyptian archaeology. It has been suggested by a leading scholar that the tomb of the great Queen Nefertiti is located behind a portal in the tomb of Tutenkhamun. If this is so, it will unwrap one of the mysteries that has been the focus of much speculation in the archaeological world.

How and where important people were buried was relevant in the ancient Near East, and this is why there is the detailed reference in the scripture above. It is probably a verse that we don’t notice much as we read the love story of Abraham and Sarah, but it does attest to the authenticity of the biblical settings. In other words, whoever wrote this was familiar with the customs described. Not only is the language used in Genesis 23 of great antiquity but also the three party involvement of Abraham, Ephron and the Hittites plus the mention of trees in the passage point to what we know of how land purchases were transacted 3000 years ago (see page 125 of Gordon Wenham’s Volume 2 of the Word Biblical Commentary published in 1994 by Word, Incorporated in the USA).

Abraham loved Sarah deeply and, just as he became the patriarch of his descendants, thus Sarah was their matriarch. Sarah, like Nefertiti, was a legendary beauty, so much so that the King of Gerar wanted to put her in pride of place in his harem (Genesis 20). When Sarah died we can only imagine how heart-broken Abraham would have been, and his desire was to bury her with dignity in a beautiful place.

Is there a future for Sarah, Nefertiti, and for all who have died and who will die? The answer is bound up in the life story of someone who rose from the dead in another famous tomb: Jesus Christ. It is because Jesus was resurrected that both the dead and the living have hope.

Prayer
Thank you, Father, for Jesus Christ, whose resurrection for the dead provides hope for both the living and the dead. In Jesus’ name.
Amen

 

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