BEERSHEBA (bē'êr shē'ba, Heb. be’ēr shēva‘, well of seven or the seventh well). The most southerly town in the kingdom of Judah; hence, its practical boundary line, with only the Wady el Arish (the river of Egypt, Gen.15.18) some sixty miles (one hundred km.) to the south. In the days of the conquest of Canaan, it was allotted to the tribe of Simeon (Josh.19.2). The familiar expression “from Dan to Beersheba” is used to designate the northern and southern extremities of the nation of Israel (2Sam.3.10; 2Sam.17.11; 2Sam.24.2).
Hagar wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba when she fled from her mistress Sarah (Gen.21.14). Abraham made a covenant with the Philistine princes here (Gen.21.32), and he made this his residence after the “offering up” of Isaac (Gen.22.19). Here God appeared to Jacob and promised his continued presence when Jacob was on his way down into Egypt to be reunited with his son Joseph (Gen.46.1). Elijah the prophet sought refuge in Beersheba from the terror of the wicked Jezebel, wife of King Ahab of Israel (1Kgs.19.3). The prophet Amos rebuked the idolatrous tendencies he saw infiltrating the religious life of Beersheba from Bethel and from Dan (Amos.8.14). The town receives no mention in the NT. The modern name is Bir Es Seba.——JFG
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Allotted originally to Simeon (Jos 19:2), one of "the uttermost cities of the tribe of the children of Judah" (Jos 15:28).
1. The Meaning of the Name:
The most probable meaning of Beersheba is the "well of seven." "Seven wells" is improbable on etymological grounds; the numeral should in that case be first. In Ge 21:31 Abraham and Abimelech took an oath of witness that the former had dug the well and seven ewe lambs were offered in sacrifice, "Wherefore he called that place Beer-sheba; because there they sware both of them." Here the name is ascribed to the Hebrew root shabha`, "to swear," but this same root is connected with the idea of seven, seven victims being offered and to take an oath, meaning "to come under the influence of seven."
Another account is given (Ge 26:23-33), where Isaac takes an oath and just afterward, "the same day Isaac’s servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had digged (dug), and said unto him, We have found water. And he called it Shibah: therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba unto this day."
3. Its Position:
Geographically Beersheba marked the southern limit of Judah, though theoretically this extended to the "river of Egypt" (Ge 15:18)--the modern Wady el`Avish--60 miles farther south. It was the extreme border of the cultivated land. From Da to Beersheba (2Sa 17:11, etc.) or from Beersheba to Da (1Ch 21:2; 2Ch 30:5) were the proverbial expressions, though necessarily altered through the changed conditions in later years to "from Geba to Beer-sheba" (2Ki 23:8) or "from Beer-sheba to the hill-country of Ephraim" (2Ch 19:4).
4. Modern Beersheba:
Today Beersheba is Bir es-Seba` in the Wady es Seba`, 28 miles Southwest of Hebron on "the southern border of a vast rolling plain broken by the torrent beds of Wady Khalil and Wady Seba" (Robinson). The plain is treeless but is covered by verdure in the spring; it is dry and monotonous most of the year. Within the last few years this long-deserted spot--a wide stretch of shapeless ruins, the haunt of the lawless Bedouin--has been re-occupied; the Turks have stationed there an enlightened Kaimerkhan (subgovernor); government offices and shops have been built; wells have been cleared, and there is now an abundant water supply pumped even to the separate houses. Robinson (BW, XVII, 247 ff) has described how he found seven ancient wells there--probably still more will yet be found. The whole neighborhood is strewn with the ruins of the Byzantine city which once flourished there; it was an episcopal see. It is probable that the city of Old Testament times stood where Tell es Seba’ now is, some 2 1/2 miles to the East; from the summit a commanding view can be obtained (PEF, III, 394, Sheet XXIV).