Abraham's wife dies at Hebron

Gen 23:1-20    Sarah dies at Kiriath Arba (Hebron) (see Map 40). Abraham buys Machpelah Cave at Mamre near Hebron from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. The purchase symbolizes Abraham's determination to inhabit the region of Canaan as a long-term settler - not just as a temporary nomad. This cave – which became the site of Abraham’s tomb – can still be visited today at Hebron.

 

The Hittites

The Hittites were a race of people living in Central Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Their formidable empire was based on the city of Hattusha (Boğazkale), the excavated remains of which can be visited on the Anatolian Plateau. In c.939 BC, Ramesses II of Egypt fought the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh. The ensuing peace treaty is now on display at the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul. The Hittite civilisation rapidly disintegrated after this as a result of three generations of civil wars, and Hattusha was destroyed during the 8th century BC.

When Abraham arrived in Canaan from Mesopotamia in c.1855BC, there were already many Hittites living there (see Genesis 15:20). When Abraham’s wife, Sarah, died he approached "the people of the land" and bought a burial plot from Ephron the Hittite (see Genesis 23:3-20). This tomb – the Cave of Machpelah at Hebron – became the Tomb of the Patriarchs which can still be visited today (see Genesis 35:29 & 50:12-13).

 

Abraham's tomb at Hebron

The Tomb of the Patriarchs at Machpelah Cave, Hebron  (Daniel)


Inevitably, perhaps, some of Abraham’s descendents intermarried with the local Hittites. Esau, the brother of Jacob, married two Hittite women – Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite. They are described as bringing “much sorrow to Isaac and Rebekah", their father-in-law and mother-in-law (Genesis 26:34-35).

When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he promised to bring the Israelites out of Egypt into a land 'flowing with milk and honey' – "the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites” (Exodus 3:8). The order of this list suggests that Hittite settlers may well have been the second largest group of people in Canaan at the time of the conquest under Joshua in c.1406BC. Their importance is confirmed by being placed first on the list of peoples who rose up against Joshua after the destruction of Jericho and Ai (see Joshua 9:1). Following the conquest, the Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites and the other people of the land (see Judges 3:5).

After the military victories of David around 1000BC, only individual Hittites are mentioned in the Bible. David’s generals included Ahimelech the Hittite (see 1 Samuel 26:6), and David despatched another of his Hittite warriors, Uriah the Hittite, to be killed at the seige of Rabbah (Amman) so he could marry Uriah’s widow, Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11:1-27). King Solomon enslaved or killed any remaining Hittites (see 1 Kings 9:20-21), though Hittite women were included among his seven hundred wives (see 1 Kings 11:1). Though the King of Aram (Syria) believed that King Joram of Israel had hired Hittite mercenaries when he laid seige to Samaria in 857BC, the Hittites were actually regarded by the Israelites as ‘abominable’ foreigners (see 2 Kings 7:6 & Ezra 9:1). During the Israelite monarchy, any contact with Hittites was despised (see Ezekiel 16:1-5).

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