the rendering of a Hebrew word bor, which means a receptacle for water conveyed to it; distinguished from beer, which denotes a place where water rises on the spot (Jer 2:13; Pr 5:15; Isa 36:16), a fountain. Cisterns are frequently mentioned in Scripture. The scarcity of springs in Palestine made it necessary to collect rain-water in reservoirs and cisterns (Nu 21:22). (See Well.)
Empty cisterns were sometimes used as prisons (Jer 38:6; La 3:53; Ps 40:2; 69:15). The "pit" into which Joseph was cast (Ge 37:24) was a beer or dry well. There are numerous remains of ancient cisterns in all parts of Palestine.
Bor, a dug pit for receiving water conducted from a spring or the rainfall. (See CONDUIT.) The dryness between May and September in Palestine makes reservoirs necessary; of which the larger are called "pools," the smaller "cisterns." The rocky soil facilitates their construction. The top, with stonework and a round opening, has often a wheel for the bucket; an image of the aorta or great artery circulating the blood from the ventricle of the heart, or the wheel expresses life in its rapid motion (Jas 3:6; Ec 12:6). The rain is conducted to them from the roofs of the houses, most of which are furnished with them; from whence is derived the metaphor, Pr 5:15, "drink waters out of thine own cistern," i.e. draw thy enjoyments only from the sources that are legitimately thine.
Hezekiah stopped the water supply outside Jerusalem at the invasion of Sennacherib, while within there was abundant water (2Ch 32:3-4). So it has been in all the great sieges of Jerusalem, scarcity of water outside, abundance within. Empty cisterns were used as prisons. So Joseph was cast into a "pit" (Ge 37:22); Jeremiah into one miry at the bottom, and so deep that he was let down by cords (Jer 38:6), said to be near "Herod's gate." Cisterns yield only a limited supply of water, not an everflowing spring; representing creature comforts soon exhausted, and therefore never worth forsaking the never failing, ever fresh supplies of God. for (Jer 2:13). The stonework of tanks often becomes broken, and the water leaks into the earth; and, at best, the water is not fresh long. Compare Isa 55:1-2; Lu 12:33.
In Palestine, the climate and geological formation of the country render the storage of water a prime necessity of existence. Hence cisterns, mostly hewn in the solid rock, were universal in Bible times, and even before the Hebrew conquest (De 6:11; Ne 9:25, both RV). Thus at Gezer it has been found that 'the rock was honeycombed with cisterns, one appropriated to each house [cf. 2Ki 18:31] or group of houses
a receptacle for water, either conducted from an external spring or proceeding from rain-fall. The dryness of the summer months and the scarcity of springs in Judea made cisterns a necessity, and they are frequent throughout the whole of Syria and Palestine. On the long-forgotten way from Jericho to Bethel, "broken cisterns" of high antiquity are found at regular intervals. Jerusalem depends mainly for water upon its cisterns, of which almost every private house possesses one or more, excavated in the rock on which the city is built. The cisterns have usually a round opening at the top, sometimes built up with stonework above and furnished with a curb and a wheel for a bucket.
Empty cisterns were sometimes used as prisons and places of confinement. Joseph was cast into a "pit,"
as was Jeremiah.
CISTERN, a reservoir chiefly for rain water. Numbers of these are still to be seen in Palestine, some of which are a hundred and fifty paces long, and sixty broad. The reason of their being so large was, that their cities were many of them built in elevated situations; and the rain falling only twice in the year, namely, spring and autumn, it became necessary for them to collect a quantity of water, as well for the cattle as for the people. A broken cistern would of course be a great calamity to a family, or in some cases even to a town; and with reference to this we may see the force of the reproof, Jer 2:13.