‘And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the Lord’, Gen. 21. 33.
Beersheba is one of the largest cities in Israel outside of the metropolitan areas of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, and is known for the manufacture of chemicals, porcelain, tile products, and textiles. It is described as the administrative, cultural, and industrial centre of the Negev and is the site of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
However, the history of the area known as Beersheba can be traced back to Abraham. Its name can mean either ‘the seven wells’, or ‘well of the oath’. We first read of the place in scripture as an area of wilderness in which Hagar and Ishmael, cast out by Abraham, are dying of thirst, Gen. 21. 14-16, until God intervenes and directs Hagar to the well.
In that same chapter, Abraham and Abimelech swear an oath of agreement, and Abraham establishes a foothold in what was later to become the land of Israel. Indeed, Beersheba was to become synonymous with the boundary of the nation in later times, Judg. 20. 1; 2 Sam. 17. 11; 1 Chr. 21. 2; 2 Chr. 30. 5, associated with the tribes of Judah and Simeon.
Apart from being a place of wells, for Isaac’s servants dug one there later, Gen. 26. 25, it was also a place of covenants. Whilst Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech in Beersheba, his son Isaac re-established it later. More importantly, it was there that Abraham and Isaac ‘called . . . on the name of the Lord’, and Isaac built an altar, 21. 33; 26. 25. This spiritual significance is cemented by God appearing there to Isaac, 26. 24, Jacob, 46. 1, 2, and, later, Elijah, 1 Kgs. 19. 3-8.
Perhaps the contrast between the modern and the historic could not be greater, between what Beersheba was and what it is now. What criteria do we use to establish significance and value? Is it economic, educational, social or spiritual?