Genesis 21:31
Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them.
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(31) Beer-sheba.—That is, the well of seven, but with a covert allusion to the seven lambs having been used for the ratification of an oath. Robinson found the exact site in the Wady-es-Seba, with its name still preserved as Bir-es-Seba. There are there two wells of solid construction, the first twelve and a half feet in diameter; the other, situated about 200 yards to the south, much smaller, being only five feet in diameter. Both are lined with solid masonry, and reach down to never-failing springs in the rock. Around are stone troughs for watering the cattle, and the parapet of the larger well is worn into deep indentations, by the ropes used in drawing the water (Finn, Bye-ways in Palestine, p. 190).

Genesis 21:31. Beer-sheba — That is, the well of the oath, or the well of the seven, (for the word equally signifies either,) alluding to the seven ewe- lambs which Abraham set by themselves and gave to Abimelech. Probably when a covenant was solemnly made and confirmed by an oath, seven lambs or sheep were wont to be offered.

21:22-34 Abimelech felt sure that the promises of God would be fulfilled to Abraham. It is wise to connect ourselves with those who are blessed of God; and we ought to requite kindness to those who have been kind to us. Wells of water are scarce and valuable in eastern countries. Abraham took care to have his title to the well allowed, to prevent disputes in future. No more can be expected from an honest man than that he be ready to do right, as soon as he knows he has done wrong. Abraham, being now in a good neighbourhood, stayed a great while there. There he made, not only a constant practice, but an open profession of his religion. There he called on the name of the Lord, as the everlasting God; probably in the grove he planted, which was his place of prayer. Abraham kept up public worship, in which his neighbours might join. Good men should do all they can to make others so. Wherever we sojourn, we must neither neglect nor be ashamed of the worship of Jehovah.Abraham takes occasion to remonstrate with Abimelek about a well which his people had seized. Wells were extremely valuable in Palestine, on account of the long absence of rain between the latter or vernal rain ending in March, and the early or autumnal rain beginning in November. The digging of a well was therefore a matter of the greatest moment, and often gave a certain title to the adjacent fields. Hence, the many disputes about wells, as the neighboring Emirs or chieftains were jealous of rights so acquired, and often sought to enter by the strong hand on the labors of patient industry. Hence, Abraham lays more stress on a public attestation that he has dug, and is therefore the owner of this well, than on all the rest of the treaty. Seven is the number of sanctity, and therefore of obligation. This number is accordingly figured in some part of the form of confederation; in the present case, in the seven ewe-lambs which Abraham tenders, and Abimelek, in token of consent, accepts at his hand. The name of the well is remarkable as an instance of the various meanings attached to nearly the same sound. Even in Hebrew it means the well of seven, or the well of the oath, as the roots of seven, and of the verb meaning to swear, have the same radical letters. Bir es-Seba means "the well of seven or of the lion."25-31. And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well—Wells were of great importance to a pastoral chief and on the successful operation of sinking a new one, the owner was solemnly informed in person. If, however, they were allowed to get out of repair, the restorer acquired a right to them. In unoccupied lands the possession of wells gave a right of property in the land, and dread of this had caused the offense for which Abraham reproved Abimelech. Some describe four, others five, wells in Beer-sheba. Which name was communicated unto a city adjoining: of which see Genesis 26:23 Joshua 15:28 2 Samuel 17:11 24:2.

Wherefore he called that place Beersheba,.... Either Abraham or Abimelech, or both, called it so; or it may be read impersonally, "therefore the place was called Beersheba" (t), for two reasons, one implied, the other expressed; one was, because of the seven lambs before mentioned; so the Targum of Jonathan,"and therefore he called the well the well of seven lambs;''"Beer" signifying a well, and "sheba" seven; the other, and which is more certain, being expressed, is as follows:

because there they sware both of them; by the living God, to keep the covenant inviolably they had made between them.

(t) "vocatus", V. L. Calvin, Piscator.

Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them.
31. Beer-sheba] LXX φρέαρ ὁρκισμοῦ: the derivation here given is “because there they sware both of them.” The word in Heb. “they sware” (nishb‘u) is the reflexive form of the verb shaba‘. This derivation of Beer-sheba, as “the well of swearing,” is clearly not a complete explanation of the word. The correct derivation—“the well of seven”—is probably hinted at in Abraham’s pledge of the seven lambs. At Beer sheba, there were also “seven” wells, which can even now be identified. But there is a close connexion between the Heb. word “seven,” and the Heb. word “to swear”; and if, as seems probable, the Heb. nishba‘ “to swear” meant originally “to bind oneself by staking, or pledging, seven things,” we can see that the well of “seven” and the well of “swearing” were practically identical in significance.

Beer-sheba stood on the southernmost boundary of Palestine, at the edge of the desert, about 50 miles S.W. of Jerusalem. In later days it was famous as a sacred place of pilgrimage, Amos 5:5; Amos 8:14.

Verse 31. - Wherefore he called that place Beersheba. I.e. "the well of the oath," φρέαρ ὁρκισμοῦ (LXX., Gesenius, Furst, Rosenmüller), or the well of the seven (Keil), rather than the seven wells (Lange); discovered by Robinson in Bir-es-seba, in the Wady-es-seba, twelve miles to the south of Hebron, with two deep wells of excellent water. "The great well has an internal diameter at the mouth of twelve feet six inches, or a circumference of nearly forty feet. The shaft is formed of excellent masonry to a great depth until it reaches the rock, and at this juncture a spring trickles perpetually. Around the mouth of the well is a circular course of masonry, topped by a circular parapet of about a foot high; and at a distance of ten or twelve feet are stone troughs placed in a concentric circle with the well, the sides of which have deep indentions made by the wear of ropes on the upper edges The second well, about 200 yards farther south, is not more than five feet in diameter, but is formed of equally good masonry, and furnishes equally good water" (vide 'Byeways in Palestine,' by James Finn, M.R.A.S., p. 190). Because there they aware both of them. Genesis 21:31From this circumstance, the place where it occurred received the name שׁבע בּאר, i.e., seven-well, "because there they sware both of them." It does not follow from this note, that the writer interpreted the name "oath-well," and took שׁבע in the sense of שׁבעה. The idea is rather the following: the place received its name from the seven lambs, by which Abraham secured to himself possession of the well, because the treaty was sworn to on the basis of the agreement confirmed by the seven lambs. There is no mention of sacrifice, however, in connection with the treaty (see Genesis 26:33). נשׁבּע to swear, lit., to seven one's self, not because in the oath the divine number 3 is combined with the world-number 4, but because, from the sacredness of the number 7, the real origin and ground of which are to be sought in the number 7 of the work of creation, seven things were generally chosen to give validity to an oath, as was the case, according to Herodotus (3, 8), with the Arabians among others. Beersheba was in the Wady es-Seba, the broad channel of a winter-torrent, 12 hours' journey to the south of Hebron on the road to Egypt and the Dead Sea, where there are still stones to be found, the relics of an ancient town, and two deep wells with excellent water, called Bir es Seba, i.e., seven-well (not lion-well, as the Bedouins erroneously interpret it): cf. Robinson's Pal. i. pp. 300ff.
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