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Genesis 23

1 Now Sarah lived to be 127 years old. 2 She died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went out to mourn and to weep for her.

3 Then Abraham got up from beside his dead wife and said to the Hittites, 4 “I am a foreigner and an outsider among you. Give me a burial site among you so that I can bury my dead.”

5 The Hittites replied to Abraham, 6 “Listen to us, sir. You are God’s chosen one among us. Bury your dead in the finest of our tombs. None of us will withhold his tomb for burying your dead.”

How did the Hittites know that Abraham was chosen by God?

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The version of the OP is rather interpretive. Here is a more literal rendering Gen 23:6 (NASB) -

“Hear us, my lord: you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.”

The word rendered (correctly) "mighty" here is actually, "elohim" = "God" but does not exclusively denote such; hence most versions translate "mighty".

I am at a loss to understand how "mighty prince" might end up as "God's chosen one" as per the OP's version.

"Mighty Prince" in entirely understandable for the following reasons:

  • In Gen 14 we read about Abraham's household "army" of 318 men defeating a coalition of five kings. This alone suggests that his personal entourage number probably more than 2000 people.
  • Abraham was immensely wealthy (eg, the story of Gen 13) - probably the richest man in the area - he had been blessed by God on many occasions including by the hand of Pharaoh as recorded in Gen 12
  • Despite this, he was probably well known as a prophet because of the altars and worship places he left wherever he traveled, and his personal integrity etc.
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The word translated as "man of" here is אֱלֹהִים (nasi). It means prince, so "mighty prince" is preferable to "man of God." But אֱלֹהִים (elohim) probably does mean "God", as it usually does elsewhere. "Prince of God" may therefore be the best translation.

Meeting Melchizedek

I agree with the factors mentioned by @Dottard as to why the Hittites were aware of Abraham's status: his military prowess, his wealth and his founding of religious sites. However, one thing is missing from this list: Abraham's meeting as the peer of Melchizedek, the priest-king of Jerusalem.

After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh, that is, the King’s Valley. And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Gen 14:17-20)

This scene shows that Abraham was accepted on equal terms by one of the great lords of the land, who was both a "mighty prince" and "a man of God" [El Shaddai]. This would likely be one of the main reasons that the Hittites referred to Abraham with honor, whether as a "man of God," a "mighty prince" or "prince of God."

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  • @DanFefferman-The NIV agreed, and translated, "mighty prince."
    – ray grant
    Aug 26, 2023 at 0:46

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