Many Christians have the mindset that every Bible lesson has to have an immediate, practical application. At first, this sounds very wise and Biblical. However, this mentality doesn’t leave much room for learning the background information that enables us to love and enjoy the Bible, as well as to learn how accurate and reliable the Bible is.
For example, Genesis 23 teaches us about burial customs. Ancient burial customs don’t have much practical application, but they do help give us confidence in the accuracy of the Bible.
Notice the words burial and bury in the following verses. What was being used as a burial site?
Gen. 23:1 ¶ Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.
Gen. 23:2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.
Gen. 23:3 Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying,
Gen. 23:4 “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”
Gen. 23:5 The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him,
Gen. 23:6 “Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.”
Gen. 23:7 So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.
Gen. 23:8 And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me,
Gen. 23:9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.”
Gen. 23:10 Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying,
Gen. 23:11 “No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.”
Gen. 23:12 And Abraham bowed before the people of the land.
Gen. 23:13 He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there.”
Gen. 23:14 Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him,
Gen. 23:15 “My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.”
Gen. 23:16 Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard.
Gen. 23:17 ¶ So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over
Gen. 23:18 to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.
Gen. 23:19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.
Gen. 23:20 So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth.
Abraham bought a cave to use as a burial site. Look at these verses from the end of Genesis. Who was eventually buried in this cave?
Gen. 49:29 Then he charged them and said to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,
Gen. 49:30 in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site.
Gen. 49:31 “There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah —
This cave became a family burial site. Several generations of Abraham’s descendants were buried in the same cave. Archaeologists have found evidence that family burial caves were a common practice in the ancient Middle East. Several decades ago I participated in an archaeological excavation in Jerusalem where we excavated a family grave. This was only one of many family graves that have been excavated in Jerusalem.
Before 500 B.C, when a person died, they were placed in the grave and the flesh was allowed to decompose. After the flesh had decomposed, the bones were gathered up and put into a repository. A generation later, another person died, the flesh was allowed to decompose, and then the bones were placed into the repository on top of the bones of the father. This continued for multiple generations. The bones of each successive generation were placed on top of the bones of their ancestors. This is why the Bible has the phrase “gathered to his people”.
Gen. 49:33 When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
Jacob’s bones were literally gathered up and placed with the bones of his ancestors (his people).
Genesis tells us that Abraham established a family burial cave. Archaeologists have found physical evidence that family burial caves existed in Bible times. The Bible uses the phrase “gathered to his people”. Archaeologists have excavated repositories where they found layers upon layers of bones from multiple generations. None of this affects how we live each day; however, the fact that archaeologists have found physical evidence that corroborates the Bible should increase our confidence in the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.
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