by Lambert Dolphin

To the Jewish people in ancient times ownership of land was a matter of family honor and prestige, elaborately controlled and protected by the Law of Moses. For example, every seventh year the land was to lie fallow, and also on every fiftieth year which was the year of Jubilee, (see Exodus 23:10ff, Leviticus 25:2-7). The land was said to belong to God (ultimately), and was to be returned to its original steward owner in forgiveness of his debts on Jubilee years. Leviticus 25 contains the land laws that permit an Israeli to "redeem" land he has once owned and lost for one reason or another. The connection of the Jewish people to the special land God has given them to live in has always been an important part of the package plan for their ultimate national redemption. Thus, the sin of Ahab in coveting and illegally seizing the vineyard of Naboth at Jezreel is not a light matter, more than murder was involved (I Kings 21).

It is interesting that the Bible specifically records for us five separate plots of land in Judea and Samaria that were purchased at one time or another from the ancient Hamitic Canaanite peoples living there before the establishment of Israel under Joshua (note 1).

Although God promised Abraham that all the land he walked over during his life time would be given to him and to his descendants forever by Yahweh (Genesis 15:18), by the end of his life he owned only one small field at Hebron. This transaction is recorded for us in Genesis 23.

"Sarah lived a hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. And Abraham rose up from before his dead, and said to the Hittites, 'I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.' The Hittites answered Abraham, 'Hear us, my lord; you are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our sepulchers; none of us will withhold from you his sepulcher, or hinder you from burying your dead.' Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land. And he said to them, 'If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and entreat for me Ephron the son of Zohar, that he may give me the cave of Macpelah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as a possession for a burying place.' Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, '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.'

"Then Abraham bowed dawn before the people of the land. And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, 'But if you will, hear me; I will give the price of the field; accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.' Ephron answered Abraham, 'My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels (note 2) of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead,' Abraham agreed with Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants. So the field of Ephron in Macpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave which 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 Macpelah 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 possession for a burying place by the Hittites." Genesis 23:1-20

While Hebron lies about 30 kilometers south of Jerusalem, the next recorded land purchase was made by Jacob at Shechem, (Nablus) 50 kilometers to the north of Jerusalem in Samaria at the foot of Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal:

"And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram; and he camped before the city. And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money (note 3) the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel." (Genesis 33:18-20)

Although King David built an extensive city, palace and houses south of the Temple Mount ("The City of David") after conquering Jerusalem from the Jebusites, scripture does not record any land purchases by David except for one. The circumstances are given in I Chronicles 21:

"Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, 'Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number.' But Joab said, 'May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are. Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord's servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should he bring guilt upon Israel?' But the king's word prevailed against Joab. So Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came back to Jerusalem. And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and in Judah four hundred and seventy thousand who drew the sword. But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab.

"But God was displeased with this thing, and he smote Israel. And David said to God, 'I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, I pray thee, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.' And the Lord spoke to God, David's seer, saying, 'Go and say to David, 'Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you; choose one of them, that I may do it to you."' So Gad came to David and said to him, 'Thus says the Lord, 'Take which you will: either three years of famine; or three months of devastation by your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you; or else three days of the sword of the Lord, pestilence upon the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel. Now decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.' Then David said to God, 'I am in great distress; let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.'"

"So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel; and there fell seventy thousand men of Israel. And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but when he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he repented of the evil; and he said to the destroying angel, 'It is enough, now stay your hand.' And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan (note 4) the Jebusite. And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem.

"Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said to God, 'Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done very wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Let thy hand, I pray thee, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father's house; but let not the plague be upon thy people.' "Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and rear an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. So David went up at Gad's word, which he had spoken in the name of the Lord. Now Ornan was threshing wheat; he turned and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves. As David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David and went forth from the threshing floor, and did obeisance to David with his face to the ground. And David said to Ornan, 'Give me the site of the threshing floor that I may build on it an altar to the Lord-give it to me at its full price-that the plague may be averted from the people.' Then Ornan said to David, 'Take it; and let my lord the king do what seems good to him; see, I give the oxen for burnt offerings, and the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for a cereal offering. I give it all.' But King David said to Ornan, 'No, but I will buy it for the full price; I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings which cost me nothing.'

"So David paid Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the site (note 5). And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the Lord, and he answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. Then the Lord commanded the angel; and he put his sword back into its sheath. At that time, when David saw that the Lord had answered him at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he made his sacrifices there (Note 6)

. " For the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Gibeon, but David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord. Then David said, 'Here shall be the house of the Lord God and here the altar of burnt offering for Israel.'" (I Chron. 21:1-22:1)

During the time of Jeremiah, about four hundred years after David, when the kingdom had thoroughly deteriorated and was falling into complete ruin and captivity with terrible loss of life, the Lord told Jeremiah to buy for himself a plot of land to illustrate to the world that God was not then through with the Jews. In fact it was Jeremiah who predicted the exact length of the 70-year captivity in Babylon and the return of the Jews after that exile. If Jeremiah's plot of land can be located today, his descendants may wish to settle there---it still belongs to Jeremiah!

"The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the guard which was in the palace of the king of Judah. For Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him, saying, 'Why do you prophesy and say, 'Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye; and he shall take Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall remain until I visit him, says the Lord; though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed'? Jeremiah said, 'The word of the Lord came to me: Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you and say, 'Buy my field which is at Anathoth (note 7) ,for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.' Then Hanamel my cousin came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, 'Buy my field which is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.' Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

"And I bought the field at Anathoth from Hanamel my cousin, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my cousin, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Jews who were sitting in the court of the guard. I charged Baruch in their presence saying, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.'

"After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed to the Lord, saying: 'Ah Lord God' It is thou who hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and by thy outstretched arm' Nothing is too hard for thee, who showest steadfast love to thousands, but dost requite the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God whose name is the Lord of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed; whose eyes are open to all the ways of men, rewarding every man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings; who hast shown signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and to this day in Israel and among all mankind, and hast made thee a name, as at this day. Thou didst bring thy people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, and with great terror; and thou gavest them this land, which thou didst swear to their fathers to give them, a possession of it. But they did not obey thy voice or walk in thy law; they did nothing of all thou didst command them to do. Therefore thou hast made all this evil come upon them. Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What thou didst speak has come to pass, and behold, thou seest it. Yet thou, O Lord God, has said to me, "Buy the field for money and get witnesses"---though the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans."' (Jeremiah 32:1-25)

The next land transaction occurs in the New Testament but is predicted in the Old by the prophet Zechariah:

"Thus said the Lord my God: 'Become shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter. Those who buy them slay them and go unpunished; and those who sell them say, 'Blessed be the Lord, I have become rich and their own shepherds have no pity on them.' For I will no longer have pity on the inhabitants of this land, says the Lord. Lo, I will cause men to fall each into the hand of his shepherd, and each into the hand of his king; and they shall crush the earth, and I will deliver none from their hand.' So I became the shepherd of the flock doomed to be slain for those who trafficked in the sheep. And I took two staffs; one I named Grace, the other I named Union. And I tended the sheep. In one month I destroyed the three shepherds.

"But I became impatient with them, and they also detested me. So I said, 'I will not be your shepherd. What is to die, let it die; what is to be destroyed, let it be destroyed; and let those that are left devour the flesh of one another.' And I took my staff Grace, and I broke it, annulling the covenant which I had made with all the peoples. So it was annulled on that day, and the traffickers in the sheep, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the Lord. Then I said to them. 'If it seems right to you. give me my wages: but if not. keep them.' And they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver. Then the Lord said to me. "Cast it into the treasury - the lordly price at which I was paid off by them. So I took the thirty shekels of silver and cast them into the treasury in the house of the Lord." (Zechariah 11:4-14)

Thirty shekels of silver is the sum of money Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, was paid for his foul deed. When the priests in the temple discovered that the money had been used to an unlawful end they applied it to the purchase of a plot of land in the territory of Judah, just south of the Old City of Jerusalem known even today as the "potters field." The accounts of this series of events is recorded in the Gospels and in the book of Acts:

"Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, 'What will you give me if I deliver him to you?' And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him." (Matthew 26:14-16)

From the Gospel of Matthew:

"When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death; and they bound him and led him away and delivered him to Pilate the governor. When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, 'I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.' They said, 'What is that to us? See to it yourself.' And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, 'It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.' So they took counsel, and brought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah (note 8), saying, 'And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me.'" (Matt. 27:1-9)

From the Acts of the Apostles:

"In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said, 'Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it', and 'His office let another take.' " (Acts 1:15-20)

So much for specific plots of land. The land of Israel, whose final borders and boundaries are carefully mapped out for us in a number of places in the Bible is rightly called "the holy land" because the meaning of the word "holy," related to the term "sanctified," is really "to set aside for the purposes of God." The Lord's sanctification of time is marked by the Sabbath whose deep meaning is discussed in the New Testament book of Hebrews, Chapter Four. God's sanctification of Space is in particular His stamp of ownership on Eretz Israel and most important of all the Temple Mount (Mount Moriah) (see note 9) in Jerusalem where the Third Temple is to be built.

But the matter of land owned by famous Jews is not finished, for the Book of the Revelation, the last book in the Bible written by the aged Apostle John (like all the apostles, a devout Jew) describes the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus) in eternity as holding in hand the title deed to all the earth:

"And I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?' And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, 'weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.' And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth; and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.

"And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; and they sang a new song, saying, worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.' Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, 'worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing' And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, 'To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever' And the four living creatures said, 'Amen' and the elders fell down and worshiped." (Revelation 5:1-14)

Thus, because Jesus Himself has redeemed the earth by His blood and rightfully holds its deed of title, not only Israel but all other lands will one day be reclaimed and restored and placed again in the hands of faithful stewards by the Holy One of Israel, and His faithful servant the Messiah.


1. I am indebted to Professor Harold Fisch of Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel, for calling my attention to four of these land purchases.

2. A shekel is a unit of weight, approximately 0.4 of an ounce (225 grains). At today's prices the intrinsic value of 400 shekels of silver would be about $2,000.

3. The Hebrew text reads: "a hundred gesitah"

4. Ornan's name in 2 Sam. 24 is given as Araunah. (Actually it is spelled Avarnah, in the M. T. in 24:16, Aranvah in verse 18, and Araunah in the rest of the chapter. There was apparently some uncertainty as to the exact pronunciation of this foreign name, but Araunah, which differs from Ornan by only one or two secondary letters in the Hebrew consonants, probably represents the earlier form, (Harper's Study Bible notes).

5. Compare 2 Sam. 24:24, where it is stated that David paid fifty silver shekels for the threshing floor and the sacrificial oxen. The explanation of the discrepancy seems to be that he paid six hundred shekels of gold for Ornan's entire property, although the goren or "threshing floor" was purchased for only fifty shekels of silver. We know that David purchased more than the threshing floor before he was through with Ornan, because it was on this site (2 Chr 3:1) that not only the Temple itself but also several palace buildings were later erected. This entire Mt. Moriah tract must have included much more than the mere threshing floor, and with the development of the nearby city, its real estate value might easily have risen to six hundred shekels of gold.

6. One aspect of the sin of David is that he failed to collect a head tax of 1/2 shekel per male citizen as required by the law of Moses whenever a census is taken (Ex. 30:11-16).

7. Modern day Anata 2 1/4 miles northeast of Jerusalem in the territory of Benjamin assigned to the Levites, Jeremiah's home town, on the road to Michmash is ancient Anathoth where this field is located.

8. This quotation has largely been taken from Zechariah 11:12-13, and so its attribution to Jeremiah has been regarded as inaccurate. Actually, however, there is no reference to a field in the Zechariah passage; and yet the whole point of the quotation is the field purchased with Judas' money. But Jeremiah 32:6-9 refers to a field which Jeremiah purchased for a certain number of shekels and this field is mentioned as a place for burial. Thus Matthew combines here a reference both to Zechariah and to Jeremiah and assigns the combined quotation to Jeremiah only, both because he was the more prominent prophet of the two, and because the Potter's Field figures so importantly in his prophecy. (Harper Study Bible notes)

9. The Garden Tomb just outside the Damascus Gate of the Old City, thought by many Christians to be the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus actually lies on the highest point of the bedrock block of Mount Moriah, the temple site being both lower in elevation and more southerly.

Lambert Dolphin
November 1982

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