David and I are once again in Israel, the “Beautiful Land,” as the prophet Daniel described it.
Be’er Sheva and Abraham’s Well
Ur of the Chaldees
Sometime during the Early or Middle Bronze Age, Elohim spoke to a young man living in one of the cities in the province of Chaldea. “Ur,” simply means “city.” What many point to today as the birthplace of this young man—called the Father of Faith to three worldwide religions—was identified as the “Ur of the Chaldees” before linguists had come to understand that “Ur” was not a city name, but simply the word for city.
So, no one really knows where Abram’s city was, though some scholars theorize it must have not been far from Haran, where the patriarch of Abram’s family and clan resettled with his herds and tents.
Abraham and the Idol Shop
According to both Jewish and Islamic tradition, Abram came to understand on his own that there was only one God Who ruled over all the earth, all other gods, all the elements, every power and principality that exists. It was because of his spiritual sensitivity that God took note of Abram and chose him to receive God’s revelation.
A story is told of Abram—found both in the Midrash and in the Quran—that his father Terah had a shop in which he made idols. One day, when his father left the young Abram in charge, a man walked in to purchase an idol. Abram asked the man how old he was and “fifty” was his answer. Abram feigned astonishment and asked in a wondering voice, “You are fifty years old and would worship a day old statue!” Shamed and embarrassed, the man left empty handed.
Later that same day a woman walked in wanting to make an offering. It seems without a word, Abraham lifted a nearby stick and proceeded to systematically smash all but the largest idol in the shop. Then, he rested the stick in the arms of the remaining idol. There was only one left for the woman to offer sacrifices to.
Later, when Terah returned, he asked his son in astonishment about what had happened in his shop! What had become of all the idols he had so painstakingly crafted? Abraham explained that a woman had entered the shop seeking to make an offering to one of the idols. But this had sparked a heated argument among all the idols about who should receive her worship. One thing led to another until suddenly the largest idol had grabbed a stick and quickly smashed all his competitors.
Terah responded to his young son with a meaningful glare, and said idols are after all only statues. They have no knowledge.
And yet you worship them? Was Abraham’s reply.
At this point it was clear the boy needed more formal instruction, so Terah took Abram to their seer.
The seer told Abram to worship the fire, and Abram retorted water puts out the fire.
Well then, worship the water.
But clouds hold water.
Worship clouds, then.
But wind pushes clouds.
Okay, worship the wind.
But people withstand wind.
Finally, the seer became angry and ordered that Abram be cast into the fire. If Abram was correct, and there was a God Who commanded all the other things people worship, then let that God save Abram.
And God did!
Because of this story, it is explained, Abram’s brothers and father also became believers in the One True and Living God, becoming the first monotheists in the history of humankind. Perhaps they did not realize they were the beginning of a movement that would literally change the world. But, according to ancient tradition, because of their beliefs, and the subsequent persecution and ostracism, Terah removed his family to a new and unsettled place where he established the city of Haran
The story of Abram—who became Abraham—is well-known.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot and all the possessions that they had gathered and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran, and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.Genesis 12:1-5 (NRSV)
Be’er Sheva and Abraham’s Well
It was towards the end of his life that Abraham decided to encamp in Be’er Sheva (written as Beer-sheba in the Bible) and settle his household there.
The first mention of this southern area in what is now Israel is found in Hagar’s story.
So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.Genesis 21:14 (NRSV)
Later in that same chapter, the king of that area, Abimelech (which means “son of the king” and is not a name) came with an entourage to formally ally with Abraham, who was, in his way, of comparable rank. Abraham had become very wealthy, had extensive herds and tents, and was the commander of a mighty fighting force.
Abimelech, with Phicol the commander of his army, said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do; now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealt loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have resided as an alien.”
And Abraham said, “I swear it.”Genesis 12:22-24 (NRSV)
Not long after, Abraham had occasion to test their alliance by discussing a disputed well with Abimelech. Abimelech dealt fairly with Abraham, accepting the payment of seven ewe lambs and granting Abraham official certification of the well’s ownership.
“These seven ewe lambs you shall accept from my hand in order that you may be a witness for me that I dug this well.” Therefore that place was called Beer-sheba, because there both of them swore an oath.
[Be’er Sheva can mean “well” of “seven” or “well” of the “oath.”]Genesis 21:30-31 (NRSV)
Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba and there called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. And Abraham resided as an alien many days in the land of the Philistines.Genesis 21:33-34 (NRSV)
One of the artifacts at the Visitor’s Center of Abraham’s Well in Be’er Sheva is a well designed for children to use as they learn Abraham’s story. Of significant note are five special stones that signify different periods in Abraham’s life.
(The docent told me each one, but Dave and I are struggling to remember what she said. I -hope- I have gotten these right!)
- Black Stone: Basalt, perhaps this is at the beginning of Abraham’s journey from Haran.
- Sand Stone: Kurkar, perhaps represents when Abraham entered Canaan. There is quite a lot of kurkar throughout Israel, with whole towns and cities constructed from beautiful ashlars chiseled from nearby cliffs.
- Striped Stone: I am guessing is from Mount Moriah, where God called Abraham to offer up his son Isaac, and where eventually Solomon would erect the temple.
- Salt Stone: Comes from the Negev, near the Dead Sea, where God judged the Cities of the Plain. It is here Abraham rescued Lot, and where Lot’s wife was transformed to a pillar of salt.
- Ochre Stone: Taken from the Cave of the Patriarchs, commemorates the first piece of land to belong to the people who would become Israel. It is here Abraham buried Sarah, and where ultimately Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah would all be buried.