well of the oath, or well of seven, a well dug by Abraham, and so named because he and Abimelech here entered into a compact (Ge 21:31). On re-opening it, Isaac gave it the same name (Ge 26:31-33). It was a favourite place of abode of both of these patriarchs (Ge 21:33-22:1; 22:19; 26:33; 28:10). It is mentioned among the "cities" given to the tribe of Simeon (Jos 19:2; 1Ch 4:28). From Dan to Beersheba, a distance of about 144 miles (Jg 20:1; 1Ch 21:2; 2Sa 24:2), became the usual way of designating the whole Promised Land, and passed into a proverb. After the return from the Captivity the phrase is narrowed into "from Beersheba unto the valley of Hinnom" (Ne 11:30). The kingdom of the ten tribes extended from Beersheba to Mount Ephraim (2Ch 19:4). The name is not found in the New Testament. It is still called by the Arabs Bir es-Seba, i.e., "well of the seven", where there are to the present day two principal wells and five smaller ones. It is nearly midway between the southern end of the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean.
Illustration: Beersheba Well
Beersheba means "well of the oath". The southern limit of the Holy Land, as Dan in the N.: "from Dan to Beersheba" (compare in David's census, 1Ch 21:2; 2Sa 24:2-7) comprehends the whole. Called so from the oath of peace between Abraham and Abimelech, king of the Philistines (Ge 21:31), else from the seven (sheba' ) ewe lambs slain there: indeed sheba', an oath, is from the custom of binding one's self by seven things, as Abraham made the seven ewe lambs a pledge of his covenant with Abimelech. Again, from the like oath between Abimelech (with Phichol, his captain) and Isaac, it being not uncommon for an event to be recorded as occurring apparently for the first time, which has been recorded as occurring earlier before: so Bethel (Ge 26:31-33).
The well dug by Abraham and secured to him by oath had been covered and lost. It is found by Isaac's servants just after the covenant made between him and Abimelech. The series of events recalls to Isaac's mind the original name and that which gave rise to the name; so he restores both the well itself and the name. Seven (sheba' which also may explain the name) wells are at the place, so that a different one may have been named by Isaac from that named by Abraham. They all pour their streams into the wady es Seba, and are called Bir es seba, the largest 12 ft. diameter, and masonry round reaching 28 ft. down, and 44 from bottom to surface of the water. The second, at a hundred yards distance, 5 in diameter, 42 in depth. The other five further off. The stones around the mouth are worn into grooves by the action of ropes for so many ages. Around the large are nine stone troughs; around the smaller, five.
The water is excellent, and grass with crocuses and lilies abounds. Abraham planted here a" grove" ('eshel) (distinct from the idol grove, Asheerah, or Astarte Baal), or tree, the tamarisk, long living, of hard wood, with long, clustering, evergreen leaves, as a type of the ever enduring grace of the faithful, covenant keeping God (Ge 21:33), "and called on the name (the self manifested character and person) of Jehovah, the everlasting God." (See BAAL.) Here it was that Isaac lived when Jacob stole from his father the blessing already forfeited by Esau's profane sale of his birthright (Ge 26:33,27; 28:10). Long afterward, on Jacob's descent to Egypt, he halted there, sacrificed unto the God of Isaac, and had a vision of God encouraging him to go down. The dispensation of the promise, which began with Abraham's call from Ur to Canaan, ended on the last night of the sojourn of his grandson Israel in Canaan.
So God's promise was repeated for the last time (Ge 46:1-5). Possibly the 430 years (Ga 3:17) dates from this, the end, not from the beginning, of the dispensation of the promise. Beersheba was given to Simeon, in the extreme S. of Judah (Jos 15:28; 19:1-2; 1Ch 4:28). Samuel's sons, Joel and Abiah, were judges there (1Sa 8:2), its distance preventing his going in circuit to it, as he did to others yearly (1Sa 7:16-17). Here Elijah left his confidential servant (narow) on his way to Horeb (1Ki 19:3-4).
From Geba to Beersheba or "from Beersheba to mount Ephraim" was the formula comprehending the southern kingdom of Judah after the severance of Israel's ten tribes (2Ki 23:8; 2Ch 19:4), and on the return from Babylon still narrower, "from Beersheba to the valley of Hinnom" (Ne 11:30). Ahaziah's wife, Zibiah, mother of Joash, was of Beersheba (2Ki 12:1.) It became seat of an idolatry akin to that of Bethel or Gilgal, so that it was a formula of superstition, "the manner (cultus, or religion, as in Ac 9:2 the new religion of Christ is designated "this way") of Beersheba liveth" (Am 5:5; 8:14). In Christian times, it became an episcopal city under the Bishop of Jerusalem.
A halting-place of Abraham (Ge 21:31), where Hagar was sent away (Ge 21:14), and where he made a covenant with Abimelech, from which the place is alleged to take its name ('well of the covenant,' according to one interpretation). Isaac after his disputes with the Philistines settled here (Ge 26:23), and discovered the well Shibah, another etymological speculation (Ge 26:33). Hence Jacob was sent away (Ge 28:10), and returned and sacrificed on his way to Egypt (Ge 46:1). It was assigned to the tribe of Judah (Jos 15:28), but set apart for the Simeonites (Jos 19:2). Here Samuel's sons were judges (1Sa 8:2), and hither Elijah fled before Jezebel (1Ki 19:3). Zibiah, the mother of Joash, belonged to Beersheba (2Ki 12:1). It was an important holy place: here Abraham planted a sacred tree (Ge 21:33), and theophanies were vouchsafed to Hagar (Ge 21:17), to Isaac (Ge 26:24), to Jacob (Ge 46:2), and to Elijah (1Ki 19:5). Amos couples it with the shrines of Bethel and Gilgal (Am 5:6), and oaths by its numen are denounced (Am 8:14). It is recognized as the southern boundary of Palestine in the frequent phrase 'from Dan unto Beersheba' (Jg 20:1 etc.). Seven ancient wells exist here, and it has been suggested that these gave its name to the locality; the suffixed numeral being perhaps due to the influence of the syntax of some pre-Semitic language, as in Kiriath-arba ('Tetrapolis'). The modern name is Bir es-Seba', where are extensive remains of a Byzantine city; the ancient city is probably at Tell es-Seba', about 2 miles to the east. Till recently the site was deserted by all but Bedouin; now a modern town has sprung up, built from the ruins of the ancient structures, and has been made the seat of a sub-governor.
R. A. S. Macalister.
This name, signifying well of the oath, was given to the place where Abraham and Abimelech made a covenant not to molest each other, and confirmed it by an oath. It afterwards became the dwelling place of Abraham and of Isaac, who also digged a well there, and a city is spoken of as bearing the same name. Ge 21:14,31-33; 22:19; 26:23,33; 28:10. It became a part of Simeon's lot, Jos 19:1-2; and after the settlement of the land it is constantly referred to as the most southern part of the land possessed, as Dan is pointed to as the most northern; thus 'from Dan to Beer-sheba' was the common expression for the whole territory even in the days of Solomon. 1 Kings 4:25.
The prophet Amos warns the people not to trust in any places of renown or of former blessing, as Bethel, Gilgal, nor Beersheba; the glory of all had faded: they must seek Jehovah, and they should live. Am 5:5,Am 5:6; 8:14. On the return of the exiles some of them dwelt at Beer-sheba, and from thence northward to the valley of Hinnom. Ne 11:27,30. Beer-sheba is identified with Bir es Seba, 31 15' N, 34 48' E. There are still two principal wells in the district giving excellent water, besides five smaller ones.
BEERSHEBA, or the well of the oath; so named from a well which Abraham dug in this place, and the covenant which he here made with Abimelech, king of Gerar, Ge 20:18. Here also he planted a grove, as it would appear, for the purpose of retirement for religious worship. In process of time, a considerable town was built on the same spot, which retained the same name. Beersheba was given by Joshua to the tribe of Judah, and afterward transferred to Simeon, Jos 15:28. It was situated twenty miles south of Hebron, in the extreme south of the land of Israel, as Dan was on the north. The two places are frequently thus mentioned in Scripture, as "from Dan to Beersheba," to denote the whole length of the country.