Torah Portion Chayei Sarah
Genesis 23:1 - 25:18
1 Kings 1:1-31
This year we will be going through the Torah portion cycle with a short teachings under 30 minutes each. Included in this post are the Haftarah portion and the Echoes Through Scriptures from previous years.
In Chayei Sarah, Abraham negotiates to buy a burial cave for Sarah and ends up paying a very high price for the property. This high price was important though because it secured legal deed to the land for future generations and enabled Abraham to begin fulfilling his mandate.
This is the fifth portion in the Haftarah cycle where we will be discussing the rebellion of Adonijah against his father David and his brother Solomon. This year we will be spending approximately one hour on each of the Haftarah portions and investigating them from their historical setting and their ancient Near Eastern context as well as making connections back to the Torah Portion. I pray that you will enjoy these teachings!
I want to apologize in advance. My normal method of audio recording failed while recording and so I had to use an alternative audio source to mix with the video. I did my best to clean it up, but it still isn't as good of quality as the other Haftarah videos. Lesson learned!
In Chayei Sarah we will discuss the importance of understanding the link between narrative and law. It is only through the study of both that we can determine which laws in Torah are designed to restore us to the perfect image of God and those which were given to limit how far we could stray from the image of God because of the hardness of our hearts (Matthew 19:8). We will also look at the importance of the term "God of Heaven" and the connection between the 10 camels and the 10 virgins in Matthew 25.
Parashah Chayei Sarah
Genesis 23:1 - 25:18
Have you ever wondered why the account of Abraham bargaining for a family grave plot was included in the Bible? It was very expensive to produce a writing scroll in the ancient Near East so only the most important things would be written down in a scroll. This means that there must be something very important going on when Abraham acquired a small plot of land that perhaps we miss because we are so far removed from the Biblical culture. Abraham's first words to the sons of Het clue us in to why this passage is so important, "I am a stranger and a temporary resident among you..." (Gen 23:4a). Last Torah portion we were introduced to Lot being a "stranger" in Sodom and, because of this social status, it was unacceptable for him to act as a "judge" (Gen 19:9). The Hebrew word shofet, translated as usually as "judge", does not carry the same mean as what we would understand the function of a judge to be today. We have to look no further than the stories in the book of Judges to realize this. In the ancient Near East, a shofet was a person who restores order and peace. An individual rendering a court verdict does so to restore order and peace but so does a leader who defeats the enemies that are oppressing a nation. This role is very similar to how a king establishes righteousness and justice, a commonly used hendiadys  in the ancient Near East referring to the establishment of laws to protect the weak, right economic wrongs, and punish oppressors. In fact, the shofet was the one who carried out the righteousness and justice on behalf of the king! In Genesis 18:19, Abraham and his heirs were charged with the duty of carrying out the righteousness and justice of the King of the Universe, YHWH. This means that Abraham and his heirs have been given the commission by YHWH to be His shoftim (judges) upon the earth to bring forth His righteousness and justice; His order and peace! Remember that Paul tells us that "if you are owned by King Messiah, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29). Paul understood the concept of us being YHWH's shoftim as well in 1 Corinthians 6 where he admonishes the believers for taking disputes before non-believing judges, stating that the Corinthians should be well aware of the fact that the holy ones will judge the world and even judge the angels. If we understand the Hebrew concept of what a shofet's role and function was, it becomes apparent that our "judging" of the world means that it is our duty to restore peace and order through bringing forth YHWH's righteousness and justice!
What does that have to do with our Torah portion though? Everything! The Hebrew term ger, translated as "stranger" or "alien" is not just a descriptive title, it was a legal term used to speak of a person's status. Strangers were generally people from a different land and they did not own any land in the country they were residing within. Without the social status that comes with being a landowner, they did not have the same legal protection as land-owning citizens and were often the subject of oppression. Some kings even forbid strangers from acquiring permanent land holdings within their countries. Significant to our story, strangers were also forbidden from acting as judges in the city gates where legal decisions were made and policy was set. Even though Abraham was a very powerful man in the land of Canaan, he was still considered a stranger, thus he was unable to influence the laws of the land. How could Abraham carry out his mandate from Genesis 18:19 if he had no ability to influence the laws of the land? He had to somehow acquire permanent, inheritable property. This fact is very important for us to understand the narrative in Genesis 23.
Abraham is apparently aware of the difficulties he will face in attempting to secure land ownership, and so he shrewdly approaches the sons of Het, who are sitting at the gates of the city, presenting the problem: Sarah has died and because he is a stranger and a temporary resident, he does not own any land in which to bury his beloved wife. He is presenting himself as being oppressed by the circumstances and looking for the shoftim to mediate a deal between him and Ephron (who is apparently sitting right there in hearing) so that he can purchase some land. Notice that both the sons of Het and Ephron attempt to give Abraham the land free of charge. Why did Abraham not take the land? When Abraham offers to give the full price of the field, Ephron attempts to shrewdly counter, saying "four hundred shekels, what is that between you and I" meaning to entice Abraham into paying a lower price for the land. Abraham rejects this counter by giving Ephron the full price of the land. Why would Abraham reject both an offer for free land and then reject an offer to purchase the land at a reduced price? One problem with receiving the land as a gift is that acceptance of such a gift would create a debt of gratitude for Abraham, thus placing him in the position of client to Ephron. This is why in Genesis 14:21-24 Abraham had rejected the king of Sodom's offer to allow Abraham to keep all the possessions which he had rescued back from Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him; so that he would not become a client of the king of Sodom. More importantly though is the fact that receiving land as a gift (different from a land grant from a king) or paying a reduced price for the property would not have secured hereditary rights to the land. This would mean that Abraham's social status would not be raised to a point where he and his descendants could act as shoftim and it also meant that when Ephron died, his children could reclaim the land from Abraham and his family. In the Hebrew text, this is apparent as Abraham specifically requests ahuzat-qeber (literally "ownership of a burial site") in Genesis 23:4 . The term ahuzah, "ownership", also appears in Num. 27:4, Lev. 25:41, Josh. 21:12, 2 Chron. 31:1, and elsewhere where it clearly is in reference to inheritable property.
When we examine this passage through the cultural lenses, we can see how important this deal between Abraham and Ephron really was. Securing inheritable property which is beyond reclaim requires that the full price be paid and it is only through the acquisition of this land that Abraham's social status could be raised to the point where he could influence the laws of the land in order to establish YHWH's righteousness and justice. Thousands of years later, Paul writes to the believers in Corinth and warns them that they have been bought with a price, therefore they should use their bodies to honor God and not become slaves of men (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23). Yeshua has redeemed us; he has purchased us at full price which means that we are beyond redemption back to our former master. We have become Yeshua's servants and also Abraham's heirs, thus we have been given the legal status and the commission to become shoftim, not to cause oppression and chaos through what we think is judging others, but to restore peace and order through judging according to YHWH's righteousness and justice.
 Hendiadys - the expression of an idea by the use of usually two independent words connected by and (as nice and warm) instead of the usual combination of independent word and its modifier (as nicely warm). Merriam-Webster Dictionary
 Raymond Westbrook, Property and the Family in Biblical Law, vol. 113, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 29.
Raymond Westbrook, Property and the Family in Biblical Law, vol. 113, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991).
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