Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Genesis 26:32-33 The Well With Two Names

Right after Isaac makes the peace treaty with Abimelech (Genesis 26:26-31), his servants come to him with the news that they have dug and found an additional source of water.  Isaac names the well 'Shibah'.  This word can mean 'oath' or 'seven'.  Since Isaac has recently made an oath with Abimelech, this seems like a reasonable name to commemorate that treaty.  What is the significance of the 'seven' part, though?

Remember back in Genesis 21:22-34, where Abraham had made a similar treaty with a man named Abimelech (who was either the same man or his descendant)?  At that time, Abraham had set apart seven ewe lambs as a gift to Abimelech.  The lambs would also be a living verification of the fact that Abraham had dug the well there at Beersheba.  Because an oath was taken and seven lambs were given, the name reflected both aspects of this exchange.

Now, years later, Isaac and Abimelech make a similar treaty at the same place.  Whether this was more a renewal of the oath that had been taken with their forefathers than an entirely new agreement is uncertain.  If this Abimelech is the same one who had made an oath with Abraham, we might wonder why he would have to do so again, since showing kindness to descendants was often a part of these types of treaties.  However, if this Abimelech was a descendant of a former one, than it is reasonable that the new generation would have to make (or at least, reconfirm) their own arrangements.  Whether they dug a new well or simply unstopped the one which Abraham's servants had dug long ago, Isaac uses the same pun on 'oath' and 'seven' to name this source of water.

Note:  Beersheba was eventually regarded as the southernmost extent of Israelite territory, hence the expression "from Dan to Beersheba".

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