For this week’s Word Nerd Wednesday, AdeleAlys rejoins us to discuss the biblical significance of the word field. All too often we overlook or assume we know what common words or verses mean and miss the deeper impact. I love how she ties it all up and proves that no word in the Word is insignificant. Don’t miss her challenge at the end to dig even deeper.
by AdeleAlys Spil
- A stretch of open land
- A parcel of land used for crops
- A piece of land set aside for a special purpose
- A place where a battle has been fought
- Sadeh, Sawdeh, or Sayday: from unused root meaning flat as in spread out
- Occurs 333 times in the first 309 verses of the Old Testament
A FAMILIAR FIELD
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and in his joy he went and sold all he had and bought the field.”
Matthew 13:44 BSB
I love those times when I am reading the Bible and happen upon a familiar passage. What a relief to put aside the heavy reference books, close the open software tabs, and just sit with a set of verses I know well. Familiar Scriptures are like family members. We feel comfortable around them. And because we met them early on and still see them regularly, we fancy ourselves to be experts on their lives. Yet often the opposite is true. Our view is skewed by a shared past and our perspective is stuck at surface level. We never trouble ourselves to dig deeper.
This parable is a prime example.
Who hasn’t stumbled on this single sentence within a complicated passage and thought, “Eureka. I am resting here.”
The story is a simple one about a treasure and a field.
The topic, the Kingdom of Heaven which we claim as our own because of our faith in Jesus, tantalizes.
And we, as believers, can compare ourselves to someone admirable: a man who was smart enough to find the treasure and courageous enough to dig it up.
It holds together nicely, until we read the words: ”he hid it again.”
But why? He had the treasure in his hands. He could have hurried home with it and never thought about the field again. I would have.
And then the man does something even more foolish. He buys the field even though it costs him everything he has.
What is happening here ? Who is the man…and who are we in the story?
The answer lies in the juxtaposition of the words field and buried.
FIELDS OF BLOOD
“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ’Lets go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen. Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.’”
Genesis 4:8-11 (BSB)
The first murder happened in a field. Resentful of God for refusing his offering, Cain lured his brother Abel to the field where those crops had been grown. Cain killed him there, and in all probability, buried him there as well.
Afterwards, God in His mercy gave Cain the opportunity to confess. But Cain lied to God and taunted him with the “Am I my brother’s keeper?” question.
This association of dead bodies with fields occurs again in Deuteronomy 21:1 (BSB)
“If one is found slain, lying in a field in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess, and it is not know who killed him, your elders and judges must come out and measure the distance from the victim to the neighboring cities.”
Fields also play a prominent role in descriptions of the Atonement Ritual. Animals to be sacrificed were first slaughtered in the field and then brought to the door of the Tent of Meeting where the priests accepted them and performed the ritual. Blood to cover blood.
“For this reason the Israelites will bring to the LORD the sacrifices they have been offering in the open fields. They are to bring them to the priest at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and offer them as sacrifices of Peace to the LORD.”
Leviticus 17:5 (BSB)
A FIELD PURCHASED
“Then Abraham got up from beside his dead wife and said to the Hittites, ‘I am a foreigner and an outsider among you. Give me a burial site among you so that I can bury my dead.’…
Ephron answered Abraham, ‘Listen to me my lord. The land is worth 400 shekels of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.’ Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: 400 shekels of silver according to the standard of the merchants. So Ephron’s field at Machpelah near Mamre, the cave that was in it, and all trees within the boundaries of the field were deeded over to Abraham’s possession in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field at Machpelah near Mamre (that is Hebron) in the land of Canaan.
Proper names, repetition, and numeric specificity are the parts of the Old Testament that I find frustrating and tend to skip over. This explains why I was unfamiliar with both the place Machpelah and the person Ephron altho the story is an important one. The details of this transaction are repeated 4 times in Genesis alone (23:1-17,25:9,49:29-32,50:13). Known as the Hebron Purchase, it forms a central tenet of the Jewish people’s right of return to the Holy Land. The Bible states unequivocally that this plot of land was purchased by Abraham and deeded to Abraham as his possession.
At first glance, it seems odd that a burial site would be the first parcel of the promised land to pass to God’s chosen people. Abraham and Sarah had lived in Hebron for many years and clearly had the respect of it’s citizens. Yet he refers to himself as “a stranger(ger)”. Perhaps he felt out of place because his values and behavior and God were different. In a similar way Paul cautioned the new believers in Philippians 3:20-21 BSB:
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to subject all things to Himself, will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body.”
Could it be that Abraham’s insistence on purchasing the field at Machpelah meant that he realized the promises God had made to him and his descendants would not be fulfilled in this life? Meanwhile, he and Sarah and all the Mothers and Fathers of Faith needed a place to rest until the Messiah came.
The purchase price seems to bear this out. 400,000 shekels was an exorbitant sum…enough for many burial plots. According to Leviticus 27:16 (NLT):
“If someone dedicates to the LORD a piece of his family property, its value will be assessed according to the amount of seed required to plant it- 50 shekels of silver for a field planted with five bushels of barley seed.”
In biblical times, the measure of such a parcel was called a Beit Kor and would have been 75,000 cubits. (A square cubit was the approximate space needed for one man to stand upright). So 75,000 people could stand upright in one Beit Kor. Now if Abraham paid 8 Beit Kor (8×50=400) for the burial plot at Machpelah, there would have been room for 600,000 souls to stand upright. This figure corresponds exactly to the number of people that God delivered from slavery in Egypt:
“And the LORD gave the people such favor in the sight of the Egyptians that they granted their request. In this way they plundered the Egyptians. The Israelites journeyed from Ramses to Succoth with about 600,000 men on foot besides women and children.”
Exodus 12:36-37 BSB
A FIELD REDEEMED
“Then just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘ Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself. ‘I knew that this was the word of the LORD; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. “
Jeremiah 32:8-10 BSB
Once again we find a field changing hands in an unusual way at a less than opportune time. Jerusalem was under siege and the city was bound to fall. No one knew this better than Jeremiah who had been warning his people for years to repent or face the consequences. Why buy land in Israel when exile to Babylon was imminent? Jeremiah’s actions are as nonsensical as those of the man in Matthew’s parable. They make no earthly sense.
Jeremiah was not interested in doing what made sense by worldly standards. Instead, he was about listening to God and doing what was right by heavenly standards. God’s promise to turn his heart back to his people again and bring them home from exile was what Jeremiah focused on. And he made the decision to redeem the field as a sign of his faith—not what it was but in what would one day be.
“In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel says: ‘ Take these documents ,both the sealed and the unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time, For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel says: ‘Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in the land.”
Jeremiah 32:13-15 BSB
THE OWNER COMES TO TAKE POSSESSION
“Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice,’Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept…Then one of the elders said to me ‘Do not weep! See the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’”
Revelation 5:1-5 BSB
“The field is the world” that’s what the Bible says in Matthew 13:38. Here Satan still roams and sin and sorrow abound.
Brothers betray each other.
Loved ones die and their bodies decay.
Good men live estranged from their neighbors.
Nations war against nations and oppress their own citizens.
But Jesus has done battle on our behalf and He has won the victory. One day—perhaps sooner that we know—the rightful owner of this world (God) will send his Son Jesus to us again. This time He will take possession of it and all its fields—permanently.
“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if he had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who said on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the lamb…and they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the Earth.’”
There’s one more field we didn’t talk about. Its Potter’s Field and Matthew Chapter 27 tells all about it. Read the story for yourself and then come back and share :
- Do you see similarities with the Akeldama and these fields?
- What are they?
- In your opinion, does this field relate to the parable in Matthew 13:43?
The daughter of a Lutheran minister and a Catholic college professor, Adele-Alys faith life has always been a patchwork. Married to a Jewish man for 38 years, she delved deeply into his faith. It sharpened my picture of Jesus and popped my spiritual ears in ways I could not imagine.”
You can connect Adele-Alys via Twitter (@morgantonrose), Pinterest, and her blog (adelealysblog.wordpress.com).