Question: "Why was a burial place so important in the Bible?"
Answer: In Genesis 49:29-32, we read Jacob’s instructions about his burial place: “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah—the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” Obviously, Jacob was very concerned with his burial place, and he knew the exact history of the spot he had chosen. When Joseph was approaching death, he also gave instructions concerning his remains (Genesis 50:25).
One reason the burial place was so important to the patriarchs has to do with God’s promise of the land. God had promised that Abraham’s descendants would possess the land where he had been buried (Genesis 12:1-3). Jacob knew that, if he was buried in Canaan, his tomb would forever remain within the Promised Land. The fact that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph would all be buried there—four generations—emphasized their belief in God’s promise to give this land to their family.
A second important reason was that Jacob wanted to be buried with his family. Still today, many people prefer to be laid to rest alongside family members as a sign of love and solidarity. In ancient times, it was considered an honor to be buried in a family plot. Many a king’s death is recorded as he “rested with his ancestors” (e.g., 2 Kings 14:16; 2 Chronicles 21:1). Jacob’s desire to be buried with his wife, father, and grandfather naturally displayed his deep love for them.
A third reason Jacob desired to be buried in the cave of Machpelah was that it was land he and his family owned. Jacob’s grandfather had purchased it from the Hittites. Though Jacob had been given land in Egypt to live in, he did not consider it his own. His home was in Canaan, the land where he had been born and raised and where he wished to be buried.
A fourth reason for the patriarchs’ insistence on their burial place in Canaan was that they held on to the hope of a future kingdom. Hebrews 11:9-10 says, “By faith [Abraham] went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Verse 16 adds, “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
The patriarchs understood that their death was not the end of life. Instead, God had a future kingdom prepared, one where the Lord God will reign as King.