David and I are once again in Israel, the “Beautiful Land,” as the prophet Daniel described it.
Tel (Be’er) Sheva
When we planned our visit to Israel, we wanted to visit those places we had not yet seen, but are important to the biblical narrative. Be’er Sheva (Beersheba) seemed like an important destination, as it is where Abraham established his herds and tents. We looked for the Tel—Tel Be’er Sheva—and easily found it just outside the modern town of Be’er Sheva.
However, a number of years ago when a new structure was being erected, and the Israel Antiquities Authority sent archaeologists to scout the area, the “real” Be’er Sheva was discovered, a much larger settlement than the one so-named at the top of a hill (which could only hold about 75 families). Hence the title of this post, “Tel Sheva.”
The Tribe of Simeon
When Joshua led the children of Israel into the Promised Land, allotments were given to each of the tribes. Judah was given the southernmost portion of Canaan, including the Negev, and the city of Beer-sheba. Simeon’s tribe was given a few cities within Judah’s portion.
The second lot came out for Simeon, for the tribe of Simeon, according to its families; its inheritance lay within the inheritance of the tribe of Judah. It had for its inheritance Beer-sheba
… This was the inheritance of the tribe of Simeon according to its families. The inheritance of the tribe of Simeon formed part of the territory of Judah; because the portion of the tribe of Judah was too large for them, the tribe of Simeon obtained an inheritance within their inheritance.Joshua 19:1-2, 8-9 (NRSV)
Why did the tribe of Simeon not get their own inheritance?
The narrator explained that Judah’s portion was too large for them, and in fact they were unable to drive out the Jebusites, so it would be another four centuries or so before King David would conquer Jerusalem and transform it into God’s holy dwelling place and capital city of Israel.
But, there is another far more ancient reason why Simeon would be denied an inheritance of his own.
Simeon and Levi are brothers;Genesis 49:5-7 (NRSV)
weapons of violence are their swords.
May I never come into their council;
may I not be joined to their company,
for in their anger they killed men,
and at their whim they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
and scatter them in Israel.
The story of their violent rage is told earlier when they decided to avenge themselves on the inhabitants of Shechem for the rape of their sister Dinah. Four hundred years after that event, Levi was vindicated by God and his tribe received God as their portion. But Simeon was not vindicated, and so the ancient curse would remain upon his descendants. Eventually, Simeon’s tribe was absorbed by the tribe of Judah, fulfilling Jacob’s prophecy,
So, Simeon settled in Beer-sheba, and a saying grew that was meant to encompass the whole of Israel, “from Dan to Beer-sheba,” from the northernmost border at the springwaters of the mighty Dan River to the southernmost border of the Negev desert, where Simeon’s tribe had made its home.
Significant Biblical Events at Beer-Sheba
There are a few significant biblical references to this famous name place, besides being Abraham’s homestead and Simeon’s portion.
It is here prophet Samuel established his sons as judges over the tribes of Israel.
But, because of their wickedness, they were ultimately rejected when the people clamored instead for a king.
When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second was Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba.
Yet his sons did not follow in his ways but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.1 Samuel 8:1-3 (NRSV)
When God’s power and presence were proven through the prophet Elijah’s showdown with the priests of Ba’al on Mount Carmel, Queen Jezebel vowed to take his life. With superhuman strength, fueled, no doubt, at least in part by sheer terror, Elijah fled for his life.
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.
Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.1 Kings 19:1-3 (NRSV)
God met Elijah there at the lowest moment in Elijah’s life, a moment so grim and desperate he asked God to let him die. Out of that pit of despair God lifted Elijah up to a mountain of hope—there in the Negev—a pivotal experience that transformed everything for him.
Though it is unclear when exactly Beer-sheba fell, by the end, even this icon of Israel’s southern border had fallen to Nebuchadnezzar’s unstoppable onslaught.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms of the earth and all the peoples under his dominion were fighting against Jerusalem and all its cities:
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Go and speak to King Zedekiah of Judah and say to him: Thus says the Lord: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.
… Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah, for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained.Jeremiah 34:1-2, 6-7 (NRSV)
When the time of Judah’s exile had come to a close, Nehemiah secured not only permission but financial support to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, and the temple. He led a large entourage of doughty returnees, all in high spirits, eager to begin the work. Yet when they saw the truly ruined condition of their holy city, and of Mount Zion, their spirits sagged.
Most wanted to stay in the outlying towns, though everyone realized the importance of Jerusalem’s reconstruction, So, they cast lots, and one in every ten people took up residence in the capital city, while the rest went to Judah’s villages and towns. “So they camped from Beer-sheba to the valley of Hinnom.”