Saturday, September 8, 2018

Genesis Post 40 - The Deed is Done (Chapter 23)

Chapter 23 starts out on a sad note.

Sarah lived 127 years, and then she dies in Kiriyat Arba, that is, Hebron.

Sarah is the only female whose age is recorded at the time of her death.  She was 90 when Isaac was born, so she got to enjoy raising her son and seeing him live to the age of 37.  She does not get to see him married; however.  That is still to come.

Many Jewish (and Arab) burial practices stem from this historical moment, when Abraham says goodbye to his beloved Sarah.

Great care is given to the body of the dead.  It is seen as an offering back to the God who took us from the dust of the earth in the first place.  This great care given to the body is also is anticipating the resurrection.  Cremation and burning to Jewish people is more of a statement that life is all over and done with.  This is one of the reasons that Hitler burned Jewish bodies.  It was one more in-your-face act toward those that he despised.

Remembering is a big Jewish custom.  On the death anniversary of their loved one, they will burn a yarzeit candle, and remember the life of the deceased.  Historically, Jews were not so much into birthdays, but the death day has always been a very important day.  A day of remembrance.  Visiting a grave remains a major Jewish practice today.  Usually a rock, seen as a better symbol of eternity than flowers, is placed on the grave.

One year after death, the Jews would collect the bones from the decomposed body and re-bury them in an ossuary, or bone box.  In the same way, Yosef's bones were brought up from Egypt and buried in Shechem.  I think of the passage in Ezekiel 37 that speaks of dry bones coming to life.

A memorial candle
The cave of Machpelah is a giant memorial to the patriarchs, made of rocks and filled with burning candles.  It is the final resting place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah.

Anyway, we now have a written account of the deed for the land in Hebron, recorded for all of human history to see.

Abraham negotiates with the sons of Heth (the Hittites) for the cave of Machpelah.  The guy who owns the land, Ephron the Hittite, opens the negotiations by saying he wants to give Abraham the land for free.  (Interestingly, Ephron means dust),

Perhaps Abraham knows the importance of having a recorded deed of sale for this very significant place that would someday be so contested.  He insists on paying for it.

Ephron says, ok fine (his intention all along) and in the typical custom of Middle Eastern negotiations, names a price that is probably much higher than what the land is worth.

In verse 16, Abraham pays Ephron what he asks for the land, without even batting an eye or entering into heated bargaining, because of his great love for Sarah.

The sale of the land is recorded in scripture, complete with witnesses, in verses 17 and 18:

So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.

The Cave of Machpelah was beautified under Herod the Great

Why is it so important to have a recorded deed of this land?

Hebron is the second holiest city to the Jews.  I have been there three times, visiting the tiny Jewish community there, along with the Cave of Machpelah.   It is one of the few places in Israel where you can actually walk the very dirt that was walked almost 4000 years ago by Father Abraham.  It is something else to visit the graves of Ruth the Moabite and of David's father, Yishai.

And oh, is Hebron a contested place!

In 1929, there was a terrible massacre of 67 Jews by Muslims in Hebron, due to high tensions stemming from Jews returning to the Promised Land, accompanied by incitement of the Arab residents by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini.

18-month old Shlomo Slonim survived the massacre and lived to age 86

Between 1948 and 1967, Hebron, and all of what the world calls the "West Bank" was off limits to Jews.  This off-limits area included the old city of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was liberated by the IDF on June 7, 1967; and Hebron was liberated the very next day.  

Its history continues to be very complicated.  As a result of the 1995 Oslo II "Peace" accords, Hebron was carved up in 1997.  Eighty percent of the city was given to the PLO, an area called H1, and 20 percent was placed under Israeli rule, called H2.

The Arab population of H1 is estimated at 120,000.  Jews are not allowed to enter that area.  In the remaining 20 percent called H2, there live about 30,000 Arabs and about 700 Israelis.  In other words, Hebron today is about 99.5% Arab and about a 1/2  of one percent Jewish.  (Kiryat Arba is a modern Jewish town outside of Hebron proper, with a population of 7000-8000 Jews).

The Cave of Machpelah is located on the Jewish side of H1. It features an entrance for Jews, and s separate entrance on the other side for Arabs.  When we looked at chapter 13, we talked about the meaning of the word Hebron, which is conjunction, or joining.  Someday soon, these Jewish and Arab children of Abraham, neither of whom follow the Messiah (for the most part), will be joined together as children of the One True God under Yeshua in the Messianic kingdom.

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