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Dwelling in Beersheba

“Thus Abraham went to his young men and they rose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham dwelled in Beersheba.”

(Genesis 22:19)

 

And so, Abraham travels back to Beersheba, the place of the covenant, located in what would later be southern Israel. Yet, for now, Abraham is still living amongst the pagans, Philistines and Canaanites. One must ask oneself, though, how an event like this would leave a man changed. When you have gone through an experience like this, there is no way you can go back to living as you once did.

At the same time, this becomes the climax of Abraham’s recorded life. What we have next are the accounts of the death of Sarah, the finding of a wife for Isaac, Abraham’s remarriage, and Abraham’s death. No more encounters with Melchizedek, no more engagements with enemy armies or kings. Largely, Abraham lives the rest of his days in some semblance of peace. God gives him rest from his wandering and we are told that Abraham dwells in Beersheba. The alien traveler has found a home. And, it would seem, Abraham and Sarah spend the next 20-25 years (until Sarah’s death) dwelling comfortably in the land promised to their descendants.

Because the Bible often does not give us a concrete timeline at the beginning of each chapter, we often do not do the homework to discover how many years take place in between events and thus are drawn to believe that one thing takes place then the other takes place immediately afterwards. Such is not the case. Just as God does with our lives, sometimes there are great periods of times between major trials and times of testing and growth. It is in these times that God gives us some rest and peace and it is in these times that our changed lives are to be used to minister to others.

The sad thing is that in these times of rest that God gives us, we often do one of two things. Sometimes we go back right where we were as if no lasting growth has taken place and sometimes we do not recognize the rest for what it is, and we create crises of our own design. Neither of these are healthy nor are they faithful to God’s use of times of trial and rest. Indeed, after great trials, we must be changed and we must never fall back into those old sins and doubts that God has delivered us from. At the same time, when we create crises, we rob ourselves of the rest we need and we rob those around us of the faithful mentoring we can give to them. When there are times of crisis, our focus narrows inward toward what we are struggling through and directly on God’s provision for us. When we are at times of rest, we need to focus outward to our brothers and sisters around us who are undergoing great times of difficulty and mentoring them through their trials.

May we not only be changed by the trials that God brings us through faithfully, but may we use the times of rest that God gives us not simply to feed ourselves or to manufacture problems of our own, but to feed others. May we indeed live in a way that honors God and teaches others to do the same.

Signposts in the Future

“And so, that place was called Beer-Shaba for the two of them swore there.”

(Genesis 21:31)

 

And here we learn the origin of the name Beersheba, a place that has Biblical significance to God’s people throughout the Old Testament. It was at Beersheba that God appeared to Isaac to renew the covenant (Genesis 26:23-25), it was part of the inheritance of Simeon (Joshua 19:2), it was the place from which Samuel’s sons would judge Israel (1 Samuel 8:1-3), and it is the first place to which Elijah fled when he feared Jezebel’s threats to kill him (1 Kings 19:19:1-3). As a whole, Beersheba is located in the southernmost region of what would later become national Israel, and thus be juxtaposed with Dan (in the northernmost region) to speak of the whole of Israel: “from Dan to Beersheba.”

The term “Beersheba” comes from two Hebrew words. The first, rEaV;b (beer, pronounced as two syllables, with the first “e” being short and the second being long: be-ear), is the word that describes a well or a shaft into the ground. The second term, oAbDv (shaba) or oAbRv (sheba) depending on the occurrence, carries with it several connotations. Literally, in Hebrew, this is the number seven. Yet, the number seven carries with it the connotations of completeness and eternality, hence the connection with a covenant that has been made in this place. Thus, Beersheba has been variously translated as “the place of seven wells”, “the well of covenant”, or “the well of abundance.” All of these are correct translations, but since the scriptures tell us the purpose of naming the well (being the covenant made between Abraham and Abimelek), we ought to prefer the second term or translating Beersheba as “the well of covenant.”

The discussion is important on several levels, but most importantly because it illustrates a principle that was part of the bedrock of the Protestant Reformation — the principle that scripture can interpret itself. Given that scripture has one ultimate author, then we ought not be surprised that all of scripture is useful in the process of interpretation and thus we don’t really have permission to import our own preferences into the text. While “the place of seven wells” might be a legitimate translation of the Hebrew, it is not consistent with the rest of the text, thus it ought to be rejected.

Thus we have the word of God before us and we have the origin of the name to this location of Beersheba that becomes quite prominent throughout the rest of the Old Testament. Isn’t it remarkable the way God uses isolated events of our lives like this to make a lasting statement about his sovereignty. This name is given simply as a result of a dispute over water rights; yet the place of covenant between a believer and an unbeliever becomes a monument for all time. The question is what events in our own lives will God so use to work in the life of future generations?

O God, our help in ages past, 

our hope for years to come, 

our shelter from the stormy blast, 

and our eternal home.

Time, like an ever rolling stream, 

bears all who breathe away; 

they fly forgotten, as a dream 

dies at the opening day.

— Isaac Watts

From Negev to Gerar: Genesis 20:1

“And Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negeb and he dwelled between Qadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.”

(Genesis 20:1)

 

After the fall of Sodom and the surrounding cities, Abraham returns back to the west and the land of his sojourning. The Negeb (sometimes written as “Negev”) is the region to the southern side of what would become Israel. Qadesh and Shur are both on the western coast with Gerar just a little inland (not too far from Beersheba). All of these regions are part of the broader Canaanite territory and they are part of the territory that God had promised to Abraham. This is Philistine territory as well, yet again, all of this region is part of the inheritance of Abraham. In addition to this area being part of what would become national Israel, some of the area is also the territory through which Israel would travel on their wilderness wanderings. Again, God preserving his people in a place where they are surrounded by pagans.

While we may not wander leading a caravan of livestock, in a similar way, we are also wanderers in a land not our own. The culture around us typically claims to believe in God, but by the way most folks live, little of that testimony has merit. Crime, pornography, false teachings being presented as Christianity, and oppression fill our land, yet God provides for us as we walk in the midst of unbelief. In light of this, though, we are given a message to share with those we meet—one of hope, one of life, one of salvation. Because God provides for us and protects us, we have nothing to fear and nothing to hinder us from a bold testimony of faith. How often we fall short.

An interesting side note can be found in the names of the territory that Abraham is traveling between. Qadesh is derived from the Hebrew word for “holiness”—something that has been set apart for divine use. Shur is derived from the word that describes a wall around a well— something that protects the well from being destroyed. Gerar is derived from the word meaning, “to sweep away.” Indeed, these are things that are promised to Abraham’s children though the pagan nations regularly have set their hands to make poor imitations of what can really only be found in God. We are called and set apart as holy and God indeed sets a wall around us to protect us. To that end he sent his Son to suffer and die on the cross so that our sins might be washed or swept away in his grace. How significant even the names of these ancient cities are; how sad it must have been for Abraham to see the bastardizations of truth all around him. How we also ought to lament at how often truth is warped and distorted in our culture as we sojourn in a land that is not our own.