Genesis 23 comes after the remarkable near-death and figurative resurrection of Isaac, so it feels like a major drop in drama. We’re told that Sarah died at age 127 (Gen. 23:1-2), Abraham sought to purchase a burial plot for her (23:3-18), and he succeeded (23:19-20). That’s the story.
However, more is going on here when we zoom out from Genesis 23. Abraham will die without inheriting the promised land (see Gen. 25:8; Heb. 11:13), but he did have some land within the Land. Genesis 23 reports the purchase of a field from Ephron the Hittite. In this field was a cave, and in that cave Abraham buried his wife Sarah.
The purchase of that field is a significant development in the storyline of Genesis because up to this point Abraham was only a foreigner and owned no property. He self-identified as “a sojourner” (Gen. 23:4) even though he had been in the land of Canaan sixty-two years (see 12:4; 23:1-2)!
After the events of Genesis 23, Abraham now owned land within the Land. This development is encouraging when we consider the promises of 12:7, “To your offspring I will give this land,” and 17:8, “I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
The transition in Genesis 23 was an installment of fulfillment. Sarah’s body had a place to rest, and Abraham had land that was truly his in real time. This cave in the field, this land within the Land, was a reminder that God would keep his promises. Though a place of death, in a strange way the cave of Machpelah reminds readers that God’s purposes are alive and well.