The Hebrew word beʼerʹ, translated “well,” usually designates a pit or hole sunk into the ground to tap a natural supply of water. The term beʼerʹ appears in such place-names as Beer-lahai-roi (Ge 16:14), Beer-sheba (Ge 21:14), Beer (Nu 21:16-18), and Beer-elim (Isa 15:8). This word may also mean “pit” (Ge 14:10) and, at Psalms 55:23 (“pit”) and 69:15 (“well”), seems to denote the grave. It is used metaphorically to refer to a wife or a beloved woman. (Pr 5:15; Ca 4:15) And Proverbs 23:27, where the foreign woman is likened to a narrow well, may allude to the fact that obtaining water from such a well often involves difficulties, as earthenware jars break readily on its sides.—See FOUNTAIN, SPRING.
In lands having a long dry season, particularly wilderness regions, from earliest times wells have been of great importance. Anciently, the unauthorized use of wells appears to have been viewed as an invasion of property rights. (Nu 20:17, 19; 21:22) The scarcity of water and the labor entailed in digging wells made them valuable property. Not infrequently did the possession of wells give rise to violent disputes and strife. For this reason the patriarch Abraham, on one occasion, formally established his ownership of a well at Beer-sheba. (Ge 21:25-31; 26:20, 21) After his death, however, the Philistines disregarded the rights of his son and heir Isaac and stopped up the very wells that Abraham’s servants had dug.—Ge 26:15, 18.
Wells were frequently surrounded by low walls and were kept covered with a large stone, doubtless to keep out dirt and to prevent animals and persons from falling into them. (Ge 29:2, 3; Ex 2:15, 16) Near some wells, there were drinking troughs or gutters for watering domestic animals. (Ge 24:20; Ex 2:16-19) Throughout the hills of Palestine, wells were dug in the limestone, and steps, leading down to the water, were often cut in the rock. In some wells, after descending, the one drawing water simply dipped a vessel directly into it. However, from very deep sources, water was commonly drawn up by means of a leather bucket (Nu 24:7) or an earthenware jar (Ge 24:16) suspended from a rope.—See JACOB’S FOUNTAIN.