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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Wells

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When the pool, the fountain, and the river fail, the oriental shepherd is reduced to the necessity of digging wells; and, in the patriarchal age, the discovery of water was reckoned of sufficient importance to be the subject of a formal report to the master of the flock, who commonly distinguished the spot by an appropriate name. A remarkable instance of this kind is recorded by Moses in these terms: "And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. And Isaac digged again the wells of water which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham; and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them. And Isaac's servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water. And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac's herdmen, saying, The water is ours; and he called the name of the well Ezek, because they strove with him. And they digged another well; and they strove for that also, and he called the name of it Sitnah, (opposition;) and he removed from thence and digged another well: and for that they strove not; and he called the name of it Rehoboth, (room;) and he said, For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land,"

Genesis 26:17 , &c. "Strife," says Dr. Richardson, "between the different villagers and the different herdsmen here, exists still, as it did in the days of Abraham and Lot: the country has often changed masters; but the habits of the natives, both in this and other respects, have been nearly stationary." So important was the successful operation of sinking a well in Canaan, that the sacred historian remarks in another passage: "And it came to pass the same day, (that Isaac and Abimelech had concluded their treaty,) that Isaac's servants came and told him concerning the well which they had digged, and said unto him, We have found water; and he called it Shebah, (the oath,) therefore the name of the city is Beershebah unto this day," Genesis 26:33 . To prevent the sand, which is raised from the parched surface of the ground by the winds, from filling up their wells, they were obliged to cover them with a stone. In this manner the well was covered, from which the flocks of Laban were commonly watered: and the shepherds, careful not to leave them open at any time, patiently waited till all the flocks were gathered together, before they removed the covering, and then, having drawn a sufficient quantity of water, they replaced the stone immediately. The extreme scarcity of water in these arid regions, entirely justifies such vigilant and parsimonious care in the management of this precious fluid; and accounts for the fierce contentions about the possession of a well, which so frequently happened between the shepherds of different masters. But after the question of right, or of possession, was decided, it would seem the shepherds were often detected in fraudulently watering their flocks and herds from their neighbour's well. To prevent this, they secured the cover with a lock, which continued in use so late as the days of Chardin, who frequently saw such precautions used in different parts of Asia, on account of the real scarcity of water there. According to that intelligent traveller, when the wells and cisterns were not locked up, some person was so far the proprietor that no one dared to open a well or cistern but in his presence. This was probably the reason that the shepherds of Padanaram declined the invitation of Jacob to water the flocks, before they were all assembled; either they had not the key of the lock which secured the stone, or, if they had, they durst not open it but in the presence of Rachel, to whose father the well belonged. It is ridiculous to suppose the stone was so heavy that the united strength of several Mesopotamian shepherds could not roll it from the mouth of the well, when Jacob had strength or address to remove it alone; or that, though a stranger, he ventured to break a standing rule for watering the flocks, which the natives did not dare to do, and that without opposition. The oriental shepherds were not on other occasions so passive, as the violent conduct of the men of Gerar sufficiently proves.

Twice in the day they led their flocks to the wells; at noon, and when the sun was going down. To water the flocks was an operation of much labour, and occupied a considerable space of time. It was, therefore, an office of great kindness with which Jacob introduced himself to the notice of his relations, to roll back the stone which lay upon the mouth of the well, and draw water for the flocks which Rachel tended. Some of these wells are furnished with troughs and flights of steps down to the water, and other contrivances to facilitate the labour of watering the cattle. It is evident the well to which Rebekah went to draw water, near the city of Nahor, had some convenience of this kind, for it is written, "Rebekah hasted and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels," Genesis 24:20 . A trough was also placed by the well, from which the daughters of Jethro watered his flocks, Exodus 2:16; and, if we may judge from circumstances, was a usual contrivance in every part of the east. In modern times, Mr. Park found a trough near the well, from which the Moors watered their cattle, in the sandy deserts of Sahara. Dr. Shaw, speaking of the occupation of the Moorish women in Barbary, says, "To finish the day, at the time of the evening, even at the time that the women go out to draw water, they are still to fit themselves with a pitcher or goat skin, and tying their sucking children behind them, trudge it in this manner two or three miles to fetch water." "The women in Persia," says Morier, "go in troops to draw water for the place. I have seen the elder ones sitting and chatting at the well, and spinning the coarse cotton of the country, while the young girls filled the skins which contain the water, and which they all carry on their backs into the town." "A public well," says Forbes, "without the gate of Diamonds, in the city Dhuboy, was a place of great resort: there, most travellers halted for shade and refreshment: the women frequented the fountains and reservoirs morning and evening, to draw water. Many of the Gwzerat wells have steps leading down to the surface of the water; others have not, nor do I recollect any furnished with buckets and ropes for the convenience of a stranger; most travellers are therefore provided with them, and halcarras and religious pilgrims frequently carry a small brass pot affixed to a long string for this purpose."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Wells'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/w/wells.html. 1831-2.

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