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The Cave of Machpelah

The first mention of a permanent burial place in the Bible, a modern-day cemetery, is found in Genesis 23. Based upon what I could find online, the oldest known cemetery on earth is the Gross Fredenwalde Cemetery. The ancient resting place in Germany is believed to be close to 8,500 years old. After the death of his wife Sarah, Abraham felt compelled to buy of piece of property known by locals as the Cave of Machpelah.

Listen to us, my lord; you are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in any tomb or grave of ours that you choose; none of us will withhold from you his tomb or hinder you from burying your dead. And Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the Hittites. And he said to them, If you are willing to grant my dead a burial out of my sight, listen to me and ask Ephron son of Zohar for me, That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he owns—it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me here in your presence as a burial place to which I may hold fast among you, Genesis 23:6-9.

Ephron, the original owner of this land, was going to give the Cave of Machpelah as a gift to Abraham. However, not wanting to feel obligated in the future, Abraham is moved by God to make a fair offer based upon the market value of this property. After a little back and forth with people of this land of Hitties serving as witnesses of this agreement, the sale was completed and Sarah to laid to rest.

So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre [Hebron]—the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field and in all its borders round about—was made over 18 As a possession to Abraham in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at his city gate. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of [b]Machpelah to the east of Mamre, that is, Hebron, in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave in it were conveyed to Abraham for a permanent burial place by the sons of Heth, Genesis 23:17-20.

My wife’s family has their own special place in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Over the past five years, Leanne has said goodbye first to her father in 2017 and her mother last summer. If you were driving on the country road known as J, you’d probably pass it without seeing Union Cemetery due to the dense trees. Nonetheless, everyone must face the reality first spoken by Job, “from dust we were created and to dust we will return.” The next time you say goodbye to a loved one, don’t forget the Cave of Machpelah which started this tradition.

by Jay Mankus


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