“So, the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as a property for a burying place by the Hittites” (Genesis 23:17-20).
God often repeated His promise to Abraham among trees (Genesis 12:6-7; 13:14-18; 18:1-10). Among these trees of Machpelah, Abraham acquires possession of more land for the simple act of burying his wife. Perhaps these all prefigure Christ—that God would fulfil His promise in Christ who hung on a tree.
By the oaks of Moreh, Mamre, and now here in Machpelah, God repeats His promise several times to Abraham that He would make him into a great nation. As I’m writing this, I’m currently reading through the Book of Numbers as part of my daily reading through the Bible. As far as what I can remember in what I’ve read so far and my familiarity with the rest of Scripture, I cannot think of other occasions in which trees are a formidable place of remembrance for God’s promise, except for the tree of the cross.
Once I get into Deuteronomy in a few weeks, the next time a tree becomes significant in Scripture is when God says “a hanged man is cursed by God” (Deuteronomy 21:23). I’m sure I’ll be writing about that once this Pastoral Thoughts series gets there, but with these trees of Mamre, Moreh, and Machpelah in mind, I also cannot help but think of the cross.
In my thoughts on Genesis 12:6-7 and 13:14-18, I wrote a little bit on what it means for God to “remember” when He “remembered” the promise He made to Abraham by these oaks and repeated His promise, which is God’s purposeful act of salvation. Then in Genesis 18:1-10, once again by the oaks of Mamre, God repeats His promise to Abraham again, where I wrote that God’s promise always bears worth repeating since we are forgetful creatures.
And now, here we are by the trees of Machpelah, where God continues His promise made to Abraham. Here, He does not repeat His promise in words, but He does enact His promise by giving Abraham a large amount of land as his possession. While Abraham was by the oak of Moreh at Shechem, God said, “To your offspring I will give this land” (12:7), and He does exactly that here at Machpelah, which later becomes the possession of his offspring indeed (49:28-33).
God’s promise to Abraham continues here, but ultimately His promise is fulfilled in Christ who hung naked on a tree, bringing all nations to Himself. Through Christ, Abraham and his offspring receive more than just the land of Canaan; the entire Earth is made ours. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5; cf. Psalm 37:11). Abraham and his offspring received exactly what God had promised, and through Christ we his offspring receive more—not just the inheritance of the Earth but also the inheritance of life and salvation (Ephesians 1:11-14).
Featured image by Scott McCracken. Japanese Maple in Portland, Oregon.