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At The Well Of Beersheba

The scene depicted for us in the Scriptures at the well of Beersheba (Bereshith 21:25-33) is typical of nomad life; it holds no very great interest for us in itself but provides a revealing sidelight on the hard lives of the Hebrew shepherds.

Abraham and his flocks were still in the territory of Abimelech, king of Gerar. There had been a quarrel between Abimelech's and Abraham's shepherds, hardly surprising in the circumstances, over a well belonging to the latter, that is, one which had been sunk by his men, To settle the affair Abimelech came to see Abraham and very fairly acknowledged the wrongs committed by his men. Upon this the two chiefs resolved to swear a mutual oath of peace. Abraham, who at the time was leading his flocks over Abimelech's territory, offered the king a certain number of sheep and cattle (it was a normal tribute in the circumstances). After this, as a sort of supplementary guarantee to the pact of friendship, Abraham asked Abimelech to accept from him seven Iambs. 'You must accept these seven Iambs from me,' explained Abraham, 'as evidence that I have dug this well.' That is why this place was called Beersheba -Beer Sheba in Hebrew means the 'well of the oath'. When Abimelech left, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba and there invoked YAHWEH, 'the everlasting Sovereign'.

This well at Beersheba is an important place in the lives of the great patriarchs, Abraham, Yitschaq and Yacob; it is surrounded by the little oasis to which it gave rise, and is situated in the wilderness of Negeb some twenty four miles south-west of Hebron. At Hebron there is the grassy mountain land of Judaea, but in the wilderness of Beersheba to reach the oasis means crossing dreadful land strewn with yellowish grey limestone boulders with here and there, a few spindly oaks and arbutus. In spring the sparse vegetation consists of broom and milk-vetch, iris and anemones, scarcely sufficient to feed the flocks of sheep as they are led step by step by their shepherds over the desolate ground. For a reasonably normal life, plants, animals and men must find shelter round the wells.

Ever since the time of the patriarchs the wells have been renowned for the abundance and excellent quality of their water. There are two in particular at about a hundred yards from each other on the north bank of the wadies-Seba which appear to have been arranged for watering sheep. Both are circular and their inside walls are built with regularly shaped stones. The larger of the two is twelve feet in diameter and the water, according to the time of year, is at a depth of between forty and fifty feet. The other is smaller but is of the same depth. The antiquity of these wells is shown by the marks on the stones which were deeply hollowed and scored by the hempen ropes in pulling up the buckets. In a semicircle round the wells stand the stone or earthenware troughs which the patriarchs' shepherds used to fill with water for their beasts. Even nowadays camel drivers and shepherds arrive at the end of the day in this same place to carry out the same task, performing the same centuries old actions.

     

The more laborious tasks at the well are left to the women.

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