God has promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants, but Abraham addresses the children of Heth, who are living is the particular area within Canaan, asking them to provide a place for Sarah’s burial.
It is important to review the history of the land and God’s direction to mankind before we go further. First, God commanded man in Genesis 1:28 “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it”. God expects man to use his intellect to examine and understand the world around him and to use the creation for man’s best interest and God’s glory.
Second, after the flood, God states this mandate again to Noah and his sons in Genesis 9:1. “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth”. In Genesis 9:7, this restated, “And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply, bring forth abundantly in the earth and multiply therein”. Noah’s sons go forth and “the whole earth was overspread” by them.
Noah’s son, Ham, begat Canaan. Canaan settled in the “from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasah”, Genesis 10:19.
The land Abraham was dwelling in belonged to the descendants of Canaan. “And Canaan begat Sidon his firstborn, Heth, and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, and the Girgasite, and the Hivite and the Arkite, and the Sinite, and the Arvadite and the Zemarite, and the Hamthite”, Genesis 10:15-19. Specifically, Abraham was in the land of the sons of Heth, for that is who he addresses in Genesis 23:3&4.
Under the direction of God, Ham’s children disbursed, started unique family civilizations (Genesis 10:20) and most importantly, they developed laws that protect the individual ownership of property.
How do we know this? Observe the dialogue between two parties. Abraham as the perspective buyer of property and the children of Heth.
“I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” Genesis 23:4. Abraham establishes himself a stranger. A declaration that “he is not from here”. He also establishes his desire for property so he can bury Sarah.
The people, the children of Heth, respond, “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.” Genesis 23:6. The response is cordial.
It is important to note the genealogy of Noah’s descendants and their respective ages. Noah was still living when Abraham was born. Considering the cataclysmic events of the flood, the oral history was undoubtedly passed down from generation to generation as well as the history of the families. Heth’s descendants knew who Abraham was.
With pleasantries exchanged, Abraham states his specific desire. “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 the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a burying place amongst you.” Genesis 23:8 and 9.
The transaction goes forward. Abraham speaks to the Ephron (v. 13), a price is set (v.15), the funds are verified (v.16) and a specific description of the property is established (v. 17a). Most importantly, in v. 17b and 18, “all the borders round about were made sure unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.“
Consider the close relation to what happens today. The prospective buyer needs to find a piece of real estate that fits their needs (Abraham wants to bury Sarah). Not being knowledgeable of the local customs, the prospective buyer seeks information (Abraham speaks with the children of Heth). Finding suitable real estate, the buyer contacts the property owner (Abraham needs to meet Ephron). A deal is struck, the funds verified and the transaction takes place. (Abraham pays four hundred shekels of silver). All of this strikingly similar to the process that takes place today.
This is fascinating, considering it is history from 3500 years ago, and worthy of further consideration.