This sad time in Abraham's life is somewhat mitigated by the fact that they have enjoyed 37 years together with their son Isaac. (See Genesis17:17, where Abraham laughs to think that his wife would have a son at the age of 90. Since Sarah had Isaac at age 90, and died at age 127, Isaac is now about 37 years old.)
Now Abraham has to figure out how to provide a burial place for his wife. Currently he does not own land -- (I think that the treaty he made with Abimelech (Genesis 21:27-34) was only about water rights to a well he had dug) -- so he approaches the Hittites in order to buy land for a burial place. Abraham gets up from where he had been mourning his wife and spoke to them: "I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead." (Genesis 23:4 NIV)
The Hittites reply that Abraham is a "mighty prince" in their sight, and that he can take his pick of their own burial sites. (v.5-6) Whether they are just flattering him or really have been impressed by observing his life is unclear, although the way that these negotiations proceed does call their truthfulness into question. For when Abraham indicates that he would like to buy the cave of Machpelah at the end of the field belonging to a certain Ephron the Hittite (v. 7-9), the man at first insists that he would be happy to just give it to Abraham (v.10-11). Wisely, Abraham insists (in the hearing of the other Hittites) on paying the full price for the field. Ephron proceeds to ask a rather exorbitant price, all the while insisting that this paltry sum was nothing between him and Abraham (v.12-16). Not only that, but the silver was weighed "according to the weight current among the merchants" (v.16) -- that is, the weights being used to measure the amount of silver were not standardized, but were whatever the merchants wanted to use as a weight.
"So 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 deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city." (Genesis 23:17-18 NIV) Afterward, Abraham buries Sarah (v 19) in the cave he had purchased.
The account concludes by repeating that "...the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site." (Genesis 23:20 NIV) All throughout the account, the emphasis has been upon how the matter was handled in a legally appropriate manner for the times: (see v.9,12,16-18,20). The account repeats this matter so many times, in so many ways, that it is evident that it is very important to establish that this is indeed Abraham's property. This could be for several reasons:
- The process leaves no room for doubt in the minds of his contemporaries that Abraham was the owner of the field.
- It establishes that the field, the cave, and even the trees had been deeded to Abraham.
- It shows that there was no cause for reproach as to how Abraham handled the matter.
- This is the first land Abraham owns in the Promised Land.
- It could be important for reasons of which Abraham had no idea. For example, any time the site's ownership comes into question, it is clearly set out here as having been Abraham's property. For example, if valuables (minerals, gold, silver, gems) are found in that field, no one can contest that, for example, only the cave (as opposed to the whole field) was Abraham's. [Personally, in light of the high price Ephron made Abraham pay for the field (even though he knew that Abraham was in mourning), I hope that one day it turns out to be far more valuable than even Ephron could have dreamed.]
- This could be important information in the light of establishing the presence of the Hebrews in that area, especially if there are present-day border disputes, etc. being negotiated.
- ...or, all of the above.