(Calvin, Genesis 1. part 32)

that he may lead them to a complete renunciation of themselves.
  "Thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest." As if it were not enough to
command in one word the sacrifice of his son, he pierces, as with fresh
strokes, the mind of the holy man. By calling him his "only" son, he
again irritates the wound recently indicted, by the banishment of the
other son; he then looks forward into futurity, because no hope of
offspring would remain. If the death of a firstborn son is wont to be
grievous, what must the mourning of Abraham be? Each word which follows
is emphatical, and serves to aggravate his grief. 'Slay' (he says) 'him
whom alone thou lowest.' And he does not here refer merely to his
paternal love, but to that which sprung from faith. Abraham loved his
son, not only as nature dictates, and as parents commonly do, who take
delight in their children, but as beholding the paternal love of God in
him: lastly, Isaac was the mirror of eternal life, and the pledge of all
good things. Wherefore God seems not so much to assail the paternal love
of Abraham, as to trample upon His own benevolence. There is equal
emphasis in the name Isaac by which Abraham was taught, that nowhere
besides did any joy remain for him. Certainly, when he who had been given
as the occasion of joy, was taken away, it was just as if God should
condemn Abraham to eternal torment. We must always remember that Isaac
was not a son of the common order, but one in whose person the Mediator
was promised.
  "Get thee into the land of Moriah." The bitterness of grief is not a
little increased by this circumstance. For God does not require him to
put his son immediately to death, but compels him to revolve this
execution in his mind during three whole days, that in preparing himself
to sacrifice his son, he may still more severely torture all his own
senses. Besides, he does not even name the place where he requires that
dire sacrifice to be offered, "Upon one of the mountains," (he says,)
"that I will tell thee of". So before, when he, commanded him to leave
his country he held his mind in suspense. But in this affair, the delay
which most cruelly tormented the holy man, as if he had been stretched
upon the rack, was still less tolerable. There was, however, a twofold
use of this suspense. For there is nothing to which we are more prone
than to be wise beyond our measure. Therefore, in order that we may
become docile and obedient to God, it is profitable for us that we should
be deprived of our own wisdom, and that nothing should be left us, but to
resign ourselves to be led according to his will. Secondly, this tended
also to make him persevere, so that he should not obey God by a merely
sudden impulse. For, as he does not turn back in his journey, nor revolve
conflicting counsels; it hence appears, that his love to God was
confirmed by such constancy, that it could not be affected by any change
of circumstances. Jerome explains "the land of Moriah" to be 'the land of
vision,' as if the name had been derived from "ra'ah". But all who are
skilled in the Hebrew language condemn this opinion. Nor am I better
satisfied with those who interpret it the myrrh of God. It is certainly
acknowledged by the consent of the greater part, that it is derived from
the word "yarah", which signifies to teach or from "yarai", which
signifies to fear. There is, however, even at this time, a difference
among interpreters, some thinking that the doctrine of God is here
specially inculcated. Let us follow the most probable opinion; namely,
that it is called the land of divine worship, either because God had
appointed it for the offering of the sacrifice, in order that Abraham
might not dispute whether some other place should not rather be chosen;
or because the place for the temple was already fixed there; and I rather
adopt this second explanation; that God there required a present worship
from his servant Abraham, because already in his secret counsel, he had
determined in that place to fix his ordinary worship. And sacrifices
properly receive their name from the word which signifies fear, because
they give proof of reverence to God. Moreover, it is by no means doubtful
that this is the place where the temple was. afterwards built.

3. "And Abraham rose up early in the morning." This promptitude shows the
greatness of Abraham's faith. Innumerable thoughts might come into the
mind of the holy man; each of which would have overwhelmed his spirit,
unless he had fortified it by faith. And there is no doubt that Satan,
during the darkness of the night, would heap upon him a vast mass of
cares. Gradually to overcome them, by contending with them, was the part
of heroical courage. But when they were overcome, then immediately to
gird himself to the fulfilment of the command of God, and even to rise
early in the morning to do it, was a remarkable effort. Other men,
prostrated by a message so dire and terrible, would have fainted, and
have lain torpid, as if deprived of life; but the first dawn of morning
was scarcely early enough for Abraham's haste. Therefore, in a few words,
Moses highly extols his faith, when he declares that it surmounted, in so
short a space of time, the very temptation which was attended with many

4. "And saw the place." He saw, indeed, with his eyes, the place which
before had been shown him in secret vision. But when it is said, that he
lifted up his eyes, Moses doubtless signifies, that he had been very
anxious during the whole of the three days. In commanding his servants to
remain behind, he does it that they may not lay their hands upon him, as
upon a delirious and insane old man. And herein his magnanimity appears,
that he ties his thoughts so well composed and tranquil, as to do nothing
in an agitated manner. When, however, he says, that he will return with
the boy, he seems not to be free from dissimulation and falsehood. Some
think that he uttered this declaration prophetically; but since it is
certain that he never lost sight of what had been promised concerning the
raising up of seed in Isaac, it may be, that he, trusting in the
providence of God, figured to himself his son as surviving even in death
itself. And seeing that he went, as with closed eyes, to the slaughter of
his son, there is nothing improbable in the supposition, that he spoke
confusedly, in a matter so obscure.

7. "My father." God produces here a new instrument of torture, by which
he may, more and more, torment the breast of Abraham, already pierced
with so many wounds. And it is not to be doubted, that God designedly
both framed the tongue of Isaac to this tender appellation, and directed
it to this question, in order that nothing might be wanting to the
extreme severity of Abraham's grief. Yet the holy man sustains even this
attack with invincible courage; and is so far from being disturbed in his
proposed course, that he shows himself to be entirely devoted to God,
hearkening to nothing which should either shake his confidence, or hinder
his obedience. But it is important to notice the manner in which he
unties this inextricable knot; namely, by taking refuge in Divine
Providence, "God will provide himself a lamb." This example is proposed
for our imitation. Whenever the Lord gives a command, many things are
perpetually occurring to enfeeble our purpose: means fail, we are
destitute of counsel, all avenues seem closed. In such straits, the only
remedy against despondency is, to leave the event to God, in order that
he may open a way for us where there is none. For as we act unjustly
towards Gods when we hope for nothing from him but what our senses can
perceive, so we pay Him the highest honour, when, in affairs of
perplexity, we nevertheless entirely acquiesce in his providence.

8. "So they went both of them together." Here we perceive both the
constancy of Abraham, and the modesty of his son. For Abraham is not
rendered more remiss by this obstacles and the son does not persist in
replying to his father's answer. For he might easily have objected,
Wherefore have we brought wood and the knife without a lamb, if God has
commanded sacrifices to be made to him? But because he supposes that the
victim has been omitted, for some valid reason, and not through his
father's forgetfulness, he acquiesces, and is silent.

9. "And they came to the place." Moses purposely passes over many things,
which, nevertheless, the reader ought to consider. When he has mentioned
the building of the altar, he immediately afterwards adds, that Isaac was
bound. But we know that he was then of middle age, so that he might
either be more powerful than his father, or, at least, equal to resist
him, if they had to contend by force; wherefore, I do not think that
force was employed against the youth, as against one struggling and
unwilling to die: but rather, that he voluntarily surrendered himself. It
was, however, scarcely possible that he would offer himself to death,
unless he had been already made acquainted with the divine oracle: but
Moses, passing by this, only recites that he was bound. Should any one
object, that there was no necessity to bind one who willingly offered
himself to death; I answer, that the holy man anticipated, in this way, a
possible danger; lest any thing might happen in the midst of the act to
interrupt it. The simplicity of the narrative of Moses is wonderful; but
it has greater force than the most exaggerated tragical description. The
sum of the whole turns on this point; that Abraham, when he had to slay
his son, remained always like himself; and that the fortitude of his mind
was such as to render his aged hand equal to the task of offering a
sacrifice, the very sight of which was enough to dissolve and to destroy
his whole body.

11. "And the angel of the Lord called unto him." The inward temptation
had been already overcome, when Abraham intrepidly raised his hand to
slay his son; and it was by the special grace of God that he obtained so
signal a victory. But now Moses subjoins, that suddenly beyond all hope,
his sorrow was changed into joy. Poets, in their fables, when affairs are
desperate, introduce some god who, unexpectedly, appears at the critical
juncture. It is possible that Satan, by figments of this kind, has
endeavoured to obscure the wonderful and stupendous interpositions of
God, when he has unexpectedly appeared for the purpose of bringing
assistance to his servants. This history ought certainly to be known and
celebrated among all people; yet, by the subtlety of Satan, not only has
the truth of God been adulterated and turned into a lie, but also
distorted into materials for fable, in order to render it the more
ridiculous. But it is our business, with earnest minds to consider how
wonderfully God, in the very article of death, both recalled Isaac from
death to life, and restored to Abraham his son, as one who had risen from
the tomb. Moses also describes the voice of the angel, as having sounded
out of heaven, to give assurance to Abraham that he had come from God, in
order that he might withdraw his hand, under the direction of the same
faith by which he had stretched it out. For, in a cause of such
magnitude, it was not lawful for him either to undertake or to relinquish
anything, except under the authority of God. Let us, therefore, learn
from his example, by no means, to pursue what our carnal sense may
declare to be, probably, our right course; but let God, by his sole will,
prescribe to us our manner of acting and of ceasing to act. And truly
Abraham does not charge God with inconstancy, because he considers that
there had been just cause for the exercising of his faith.

12. "Now I know that thou fearest God." The exposition of Augustine, 'I
have caused thee to know,' is forced. But how can any thing become known
to God, to whom all things have always been present? Truly, by
condescending to the manner of men, God here says that what he has proved
by experiment, is now made known to himself. And he speaks thus with us,
not according to his own infinite wisdom, but according to our infirmity.
Moses, however, simply means that Abraham, by this very act, testified
how reverently he feared God. It is however asked, whether he had not
already, on former occasions, given many proofs of his piety? I answer
that when God had willed him to proceed thus far, he had, at length,
completed his true trial; in other persons a much lighter trial might
have been sufficient. And as Abraham showed that he feared God, by not
sparing his own, and only begotten son; so a common testimony of the same
fear is required from all the pious, in acts of self-denial. Now since
God enjoins upon us a continual warfare, we must take care that none
desires his release before the time.

13. "And, behold, behind him a ram." What the Jews feign respecting this
ram, as having been created on the sixth day of the world, is like the
rest of their fictions. We need not doubt that it was presented there by
miracle, whether it was then first created, or whether it was brought
from some other place; for God intended to give that to his servant which
would enable him, with joy and cheerfulness, to offer up a pleasant
sacrifice: and at the same time he admonishes him to return thanks.
Moreover, since a ram is substituted in the place of Isaac, God shows us,
as in a glass, what is the design of our mortification; namely, that by
the Spirit of God dwelling within us, we, though dead, may yet be living
sacrifices. I am not ignorant that more subtle allegories may be
elicited; but I do not see on what foundation they rest.

14. "And Abraham called the name of that place." He not only, by the act
of thanksgiving, acknowledges, at the time, that God has, in a remarkable
manner, provided for him; but also leaves a monument of his gratitude to
posterity. In most extreme anxiety, he had fled for refuge to the
providence of God; and he testifies that he had not done so in vain. He
also acknowledges that not even the ram had wandered thither
accidentally, but had been placed there by God. Whereas, in process of
time, the name of the place was changed, this was done purposely, and not
by mistake. For they who have translated the active verb, 'He will see,'
passively, have wished, in this manner, to teach that God not only looks
upon those who are his, but also makes his help manifest to them; so
that, in turn, he may be seen by them. The former has precedence in
order; namely, that God, by his secret providence, determines and ordains
what is best for us; but on this, the latter is suspended; namely, that
he stretches out his hand to us, and renders himself visible by true
experimental tokens.

15. "And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham." What God had
promised to Abraham before Isaac was born, he now again confirms and
ratifies, after Isaac was restored to life, and arose from the altar,--as
if it had been from the sepulchre,--to achieve a more complete triumph.
The angel speaks in the person of God; in order that, as we have before
said, the embassy of those who bear his name, may have the greater
authority, by their being clothed with his majesty. These two things,
however, are thought to be hardly consistent with each other; that what
before was gratuitously promised, should here be deemed a reward. For we
know that grace and reward are incompatible. Now, however, since the
benediction which is promised in the seed, contains the hope of
salvation, it may seem to follow that eternal life is given in return for
good works. And the Papists boldly seize upon this, and similar passages,
in order to prove that works are deserving of all the good things which
God confers upon us. But I most readily retort this subtle argument upon
those who bring it. For if that promise was before gratuitous, which is
now ascribed to a reward; it appears that whatever God grants to good
works, ought to be received as from grace. certainly, before Isaac was
born, this same promise had been already given; and now it receives
nothing more than confirmation. If Abraham deserved a compensation so
great, on account of his own virtue, the grace of God, which anticipated
him, will be of none effect. Therefore, in order that the truth of God,
founded upon his gratuitous kindness, may stand firm, we must of
necessity conclude, that what is freely given, is yet called the reward
of works. Not that God would obscure the glory of his goodness, or in any
way diminish it; but only that he may excite his own people to the love
of well-doing, when they perceive that their acts of duty are so far
pleasing to him, as to obtain a reward; while yet he pays nothing as a
debt, but gives to his own benefits the title of a reward. And in this
there is no inconsistency. For the Lord here shows himself doubly
liberal; in that he, wishing to stimulate us to holy living, transfers to
our works what properly belongs to his pure beneficence. The Papists,
therefore, wrongfully distort those benignant invitations of God, by
which he would correct our torpor, to a different purpose, in order that
man may arrogate to his own merits, what is the mere gift of divine

17. "Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies." He means that the
offspring of Abraham should be victorious over their enemies; for in the
gates were their bulwarks, and in them they administered judgment. Now,
although God often suffered the enemies of the Jews tyrannically to rule
over them; yet he so moderated their revenge, that this promise always
prevailed in the end. Moreover, we must remember what has before been
stated from Paul, concerning the unity of the seed; for we hence infer,
that the victory is promised, not to the sons of Abraham promiscuously,
but to Christ, and to his members, so far as they adhere together under
one Head. For unless we retain some mark which may distinguish between
the legitimate and the degenerate sons of Abraham, this promise will
indiscriminately comprehend, as well the Ishmaelites and Idumeans, as the
people of Israel: but the unity of a people depends on its head.
Therefore the prophets, whenever they wish to confirm this promise of
God, assume the principle, that they who have hitherto been divided,
shall be united, under David, in one body. What further pertains to this
subject may be found in the twelfth chapter.

19. "And they rose up, and went together to Beer-sheba." Moses repeats,
that Abraham, after having passed through this severe and incredible
temptation, had a quiet abode in Beersheba. This narration is inserted,
together with what follows concerning the increase of Abraham's kindred,
for the purpose of showing that the holy man, when he had been brought up
again from the abyss of death, was made happy, in more ways than one. For
God would so revive him, that he should be like a new man. Moses also
records the progeny of Nahor, but for another reason; namely, because
Isaac was to take his wife from it. For the mention of women in Scripture
is rare; and it is credible that many daughters were born to Nahor, of
whom one only, Rebekah, is here introduced. He distinguishes the sons of
the concubine from the others; because they occupied a less honorable
place. Not that the concubine was regarded as a harlot; but because she
was an inferior wife, and not the mistress of the house, who had
community of goods with her husband. The fact, however, that it entered
into Nahor's mind to take a second wife, does not render polygamy lawful;
it only shows, that from the custom of other men, he supposed that to be
lawful for him, which had really sprung from the worst corruption.

Chapter XXIII.

1 And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: [these were]
the years of the life of Sarah.
2 And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same [is] Hebron in the land of
Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
3 And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of
Heth, saying,
4 I [am] a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a
buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.
5 And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him,
6 Hear us, my lord: thou [art] a mighty prince among us: in the choice of
our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his
sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.
7 And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land,
[even] to the children of Heth.
8 And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should
bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and intreat for me to Ephron the
son of Zohar,
9 That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which [is] in
the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it
me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you.
10 And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite
answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth, [even] of all
that went in at the gate of his city, saying,
11 Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that [is]
therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I
it thee: bury thy dead.
12 And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land.
13 And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land,
saying, But if thou [wilt give it], I pray thee, hear me: I will give
thee money for the field; take [it] of me, and I will bury my dead there.
14 And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him,
15 My lord, hearken unto me: the land [is worth] four hundred shekels of
silver; what [is] that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead.
16 And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the
silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four
hundred shekels of silver, current [money] with the merchant.
17 And the field of Ephron, which [was] in Machpelah, which [was] before
Mamre, the field, and the cave which [was] therein, and all the trees
that [were] in the field, that [were] in all the borders round about,
were made sure
18 Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth,
before all that went in at the gate of his city.
19 And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field
of Machpelah before Mamre: the same [is] Hebron in the land of Canaan.
20 And the field, and the cave that [is] therein, were made sure unto
Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth.

1. "And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old." It is
remarkable that Moses, who relates the death of Sarah in a single word,
uses so many in describing her burial: but we shall soon see that the
latter record is not superfluous. Why he so briefly alludes to her death,
I know not, except that he leaves more to be reflected upon by his
readers than he expresses. The holy fathers saw that they in common with
reprobates, were subject to death. Nevertheless, they were not deterred,
While painfully leading a life full of suffering, from advancing with
intrepidity towards the goal. Whence it follows, that they, being
animated by the hope of a better life, did not give way to fatigue. Moses
says that Sarah lived a hundred and twenty-seven years, and since he
repeats the word years after each of the numbers, the Jews feign that
this was done because she had been as beautiful in her hundredth, as in
her twentieth year, and as modest in the flower of her age, as when she
was seven years old. This is their custom; while they wish to prove
themselves skilful in doing honour to their nations they invent frivolous
trifles, which betray a shameful ignorance: as, for instance, in this
place, who would not say that they were entirely ignorant of their own
languages in which this kind of repetition is most usual? The discussion
of others also, on the word "chayim", (lives,) is without solidity. The
reason why the Hebrews use the word lives in the plural member, for life,
cannot be better explained, as it appears to me, than the reason why the
Latins express some things which are singular in plural forms. I know
that the life of men is manifold, because, beyond merely vegetative life,
and beyond the sense which they have in common with brute animals, they
are also endued with mind and intelligence. This reasoning, therefore, is
plausible without being solid. There is more colour of truth in the
opinion of those who think that the various events of human life are
signified; which life, since it has nothing stable, but is agitated by
perpetual vicissitudes, is rightly divided into many lives. I am,
however, contented to refer simply to the idiom of the language; the
reason of which is not always to be curiously investigated.

2. "And Sarah died in Kirjath-arba." It appears from Josh. 15: 54, that
this was the more ancient name of the city, which afterwards began to be
called Heron. But there is a difference of opinion respecting the
etymology. Some think the name is derived from the fact, that the city
consisted of four parts; as the Greeks call the city divided into three
orders, Tripoli, and a given region, Decapolis, from the ten cities it
contained. Others suppose that Arba is the name of a giant, whom they
believe to have been the king or the founder of the city. Others again
prefer the notion, that the name was given to the place from four of the
Fathers, Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were buried there with
their wives. I willingly suspend my judgment on a matter of uncertainty,
and not very necessary to be known. It more concerns the present history
to inquire, how it happened that Sarah died in a different place from
that in which Abraham dwelt. If any one should reply, that they had both
changed their abode, the words of Moses are opposed to that, for he says
that Abraham came to bury his dead. It is hence easily inferred, that he
was not present at her death; nor is it probable that they were
separated, merely by being in different tents; so that he might walk ten
or twenty paces for the sake of mourning, while a more important duty had
been neglected. For this reason, some suspect that he was on a journey at
the time. But to me it seems more likely that their abode was then at
Heron, or at least in the vale of Mamre, which adjoins the city. For,
after a little breathing time had been granted him he was soon compelled
to return to his accustomed wanderings. And although Moses does not say,
that Abraham had paid to his wife while yet alive, the due attentions of
a husband; I think that he omits it, as a thing indubitably certain, and
that he speaks particularly of the mourning, as a matter connected with
the care of sepulture. That they dwelt separately we shall afterwards
see: not as being in different regions, but because each inhabited
separate, though contiguous, tents. And this was no sign of dissension or
of strife, but is rather to be ascribed to the size of the family. For as
Abraham had much trouble in governing so large a herd of servants; so his
wife would have equal difficulty to retain her maids under chaste and
honest custody. Therefore the great number of domestics which it was not
safe to mingle together, compelled them to divide the family.
  But it may be asked, what end could it answer to approach the body for
the sake of mourning over it? Was not the death of his wife sufficiently
sad and bitter to call forth his grief, without this additional means of
excitement? It would have been better to seek the alleviation of his
sorrow, than to cherish and even augment it, by indulgence. I answer; if
Abraham came to his dead wife, in order to produce excessive weeping, and
to pierce his heart afresh with new wounds, his example is not to be
approved. But if he both privately wept over the death of his wife, so
far as humanity prescribed, exercising self-government in doing it; and
also voluntarily mourned over the common curse of mankind; there is no
fault in either of these. For to feel no sadness at the contemplation of
death, is rather barbarism and stupor than fortitude of mind.
Nevertheless, as Abraham was a man, it might be, that his grief was
excessive. And yet, what Moses soon after subjoins, that he rose up from
his dead, is spoken in praise of his moderation; whence Ambrose prudently
infers, that we are taught by this example, how perversely they act, who
occupy themselves too much in mourning for the dead. Now, if Abraham at
that time, assigned a limit to his grief; and put a restraint on his
feelings, when the doctrine of the resurrection was yet obscure; they are
without excuse, who, at this day, give the reins to impatience, since the
most abundant consolation is supplied to us in the resurrection cf

3. "And spake unto the sons of Heth." Moses is silent respecting the rite
used by Abraham in the burial of the body of his wife: but he proceeds,
at great length, to recite the purchasing of the sepulchre. For what
reason he did this, we shall see presently, when I shall briefly allude
to the custom of burial. How religiously this has been observed in all
ages, and among all people, is well known. Ceremonies have indeed been
different, and men have endeavoured to outdo each other in various
superstitions; meanwhile, to bury the dead has been common to all. And
this practice has not arisen either from foolish curiosity, or from the
desire of fruitless consolation, or from superstition, but from the
natural sense with which God has imbued the minds of men; a sense he has
never suffered to perish, in order that men might be witnesses to
themselves of a future life. It is also incredible that they, who have
disseminated certain outrageous expressions in contempt of sepulture,
could have spoken from the heart. Truly it behaves us, with magnanimity,
so far to disregard the rites of sepulture,--as we would riches and
honours, and the other conveniences of life,--that we should bear with
equanimity to be deprived of them; yet it cannot be denied that religion
carries along with it the care of burial. And certainly (as I have said)
it has been divinely engraven on the minds of all people, from the
beginning, that they should bury the dead; whence also they have ever
regarded sepulchres as sacred. It has not, I confess, always entered into
the minds of heathens that souls survived death, and that the hope of a
resurrection remained even for their bodies; nor have they been
accustomed to exercise themselves in a pious meditation of this kind,
whenever they had laid their dead in the grave; but this inconsideration
of theirs does not disprove the fact; that they had such a representation
of a future life placed before their eyes, as left them inexcusable.
Abraham however, seeing he has the hope of a resurrection deeply fixed in
his heart, sedulously cherished, as was meet, its visible symbol. The
importance he attached to it appears hence, that he thought he should be
guilty of pollution, if he mingled the body of his wife with strangers
after death. For he bought a cave, in order that he might possess for
himself and his family, a holy and pure sepulchre. He did not desire to
have a foot of earth whereon to fix his tent; he only took care about his
grave: and he especially wished to have his own domestic tomb in that
land, which had been promised him for an inheritance, for the purpose of
bearing testimony to posterity, that the promise of God was not
extinguished either by his own death, or by that of his family; but that
it then rather began to flourish; and that they who were deprived of the
light of the sun, and of the vital air, yet always remained
joint-partakers of the promised inheritance. For while they themselves
were silent and speechless, the sepulchre cried aloud, that death formed
no obstacle to their entering on the possession of it. A thought like
this could have had no place, unless Abraham by faith had looked up to
heaven. And when he calls the corpse of his wife "his dead"; he intimates
that death is a divorce of that kind, which still leaves some remaining
conjunction. Moreover, nothing but a future restoration cherishes and
preserves the law of mutant connection between the living and the dead.
But it is better briefly to examine each particular, in its order.

4. "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you." This introductory sentence
tends to one or other of these points; either that he may more easily
gain what he desires by suppliantly asking for it; or that he may remove
all suspicion of cupidity on his part. He therefore confesses, that,
since he had only a precarious abode among them, he could possess no
sepulchre, unless by their permission. And because, during life, they
have permitted him to dwell within their territory, it was the part of
humanity, not to deny him a sepulchre for his dead. If this sense be
approved, then Abraham both conciliates their favour to himself, by his
humility, and in declaring that the children of Heth had dealt kindly
with him, he stimulates them, by this praise, to proceed in the exercise
of the same liberality with which they had begun. The other sense,
however, is not incongruous; namely, that Abraham, to avert the odium
which might attach to him as a purchaser, declares that he desires the
possession, not for the advantage of the present life, not from ambition
or avarice, but only in order that his dead may not lie unburied; as if
he had said, I do not refuse to continue to live a stranger among you, as
I have hitherto done; I do not desire your possessions, in order that I
may have something of my own, which may enable me hereafter to contend
for equality with you; it is enough for me to have a place where we may
be buried.

6. "Thou art a mighty prince among us." The Hittites gratuitously offer a
burying-place to Abraham wherever he might please to choose one. They
testify that they do this, as a tribute to his virtues. We have before
seen, that the Hebrews give a divine title to anything which excels.
Therefore we are to understand by the expression, 'a prince of God,' a
person of great and singular excellency. And they properly signalize him
whom they reverence for his virtues, with this eulogium; thereby
testifying, that they ascribe to God alone, whatever virtues in men are
deserving of praise and reverence. Now some seed of piety manifests
itself in the Hittites, by thus doing honour to Abraham, whom they
acknowledge to be adorned with rare gifts of the Spirit of God. For
profane and brutal men tread under foot, with barbarous contempt, every
excellent gift of God, as swine do pearls. And yet we know with how many
vices those nations were defiled; how much greater then, and more
disgraceful is our ingratitude, if we give no honour to the image of God,
when it shines before our eyes? Abraham's sanctity of manners procures
him such favour with the Hittites, that they do not envy his preeminence
among them; what excuse then is there for us, if we hold in less esteem
those virtues in which the majesty of God is conspicuous? Truly their
madness is diabolical, who not only despise the favours of God, but even
ferociously oppose them.

7. "And Abraham stood up." He declines the favour offered by the
Hittites, as, some suppose, with this design, that he might not lay
himself under obligation to them in so small a matter. But he rather
wished to show, in this way, that he would receive no gratuitous
possession from those inhabitants who were to be ejected by the hand of
Gods in order that he might succeed in their place: for he always kept
all his thoughts fixed on God, so that he far preferred His bare promise,
to present dominion over the land. Moses also commends the modesty of the
holy man, when he says that he 'rose up to do reverence to the people of
the land.' As to the use of the word signifying 'to adore,' it is simply
taken for the reverence, which any one declares, either by bowing the
knee, or any other gesture of the body. This may be paid to men, as well
as to God, but for a different end; men mutually either bend the knee, or
bow the head, before each other, for the sake of civil honour; but if the
same thing be done to them, for the sake of religion, it is profanation.
For religion allows of no other worship them that of the true God. And
they childishly trifle who make a pretext for their idolatry, in the
words 'dulia' and 'latria', since the Scripture, in general terms,
forbids adoration to be transferred to men. But lest any one should be
surprised that Abraham acted so suppliantly, and so submissively, we must
be aware that it was done from common custom and use. For it is well
known that the Orientals were immoderate in their use of ceremonies. If
we compare the Greeks or Italians with ourselves, we are more sparing in
the use of them than they. But Aristotle, in speaking of the Asiatics and
other barbarians notes this fault, that they abound too much in
adorations. Wherefore we must not measure the honour which Abraham paid
to the princes of the land by our customs.

8. "If it be in your mind." Abraham constitutes them his advocates with
Ephron, to persuade him to sell the double cave. Some suppose the cave to
have been so formed that one part was above, and the other below. Let
every one be at liberty to adopt what opinion he pleases; I, however,
rather suppose, that there was one entrance, but that within, the cave
was divided by a middle partition. It is more pertinent to remarks that
Abraham, by offering a full price, cultivated and maintained equity.
Where is there one to be found, who, in buying, and in other business,
does not eagerly pursue his own advantage at another's cost? For while
the seller sets the price at twice the worth of a thing, that he may
extort as much as possible from the buyer, and the buyers in return, by
shuffling, attempts to reduce it to a low price, there is no end of
bargaining. And although avarice has specious pretexts, it yet causes
those who make contracts with each other, to forget the claims of equity
and justice. This also, finally deserves to be noticed; that Abraham
often declares that he was buying the field for a place of sepulture. And
Moses is the more minute in this matter, that we may learn, with our
father Abraham, to raise our minds to the hope of the resurrection. He
saw the half of himself taken away; but because he was certain that his
wife was not exiled from the kingdom of God, he hides her dead body in
the tomb, until he and she should be gathered together.

11. "Hear me." Although Ephron earnestly insisted upon giving the field
freely to Abraham, the holy man adheres to his purpose, and at length
compels him, by his entreaties, to sell the field. Ephron, in excusing
himself, says that the price was too small for Abraham to insist upon
giving; yet he estimates it at four hundred shekels. Now, since Josephus
says that the shekel of the sanctuary was worth four Attic drachms, if he
is speaking of these, we gather from the computation of Budaeus that the
price of the field was about two hundred and fifty pounds of French
money; if we understand the common shekel, it will be half that amount.
Abraham was not so scrupulous but that he would have received a greater
gift, if there had not been a sufficient reason to prevent him. He had
been presented with considerable gifts both by the king of Egypt and the
king of Gerar, but he observed this rule; that he would neither receive
all things, nor in all places, nor from all persons. And I have lately
explained, that he bought the field, in order that he might not possess a
foot of land, by the gift of any man.

16. "And Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver." I know not what had come
into Jerome's mind, when he says, that one letter was abstracted from
Ephron's name, after he had been persuaded, by Abraham's entreaties, to
receive money for the field; because, by the sale of the sepulchre, his
virtue was maimed or diminished: for, in fact, the name of Ephron is
found written in the very same manner, after that event, as before. Nor
ought it to be imputed to Ephron as a fault, that, being pressed, he took
the lawful price for his estate; when he had been prepared liberally to
give it. If there was any sin in the case, Abraham must bear the whole
blame. But who shall dare to condemn a just sale, in which, on both
sides, religion, good faith, and equity, are maintained? Abraham, it is
argued, bought the field for the sake of having a sepulchre. But ought
Ephron on that account to give it freely, and under the pretext of a
sepulchre, to be defrauded of his right? We see here, then, nothing but
mere trifling. The Canonists, however,--preposterous and infatuated as
they are,--rashly laying hold of the expressions of Jerome, have
determined that it is a prodigious sacrilege to sell sepulchres. Yet, in
the meantime, all the Papal sacrificers securely exercise this traffic:
and while they acknowledge the cemetery to be a common sepulchre, they
suffer no grave to be dug, unless the price be paid.
  "Current money with the merchant." Moses speaks thus, because money is
a medium of mutual communication between men. It is principally employed
in buying and selling merchandise. Whereas Moses says, in the close of
the chapter, that the field was confirmed by the Hittites to Abraham for
a possession; the sense is, that the purchase was publicly attested; for
although a private person sold it, yet the people were present, and
ratified the contract between the two parties.

  End of John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, Volume 1 


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