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Isaac and His Wells

R Dawes, Lesmahagow


Wells have always been of great strategic importance, especially in the arid parts of the East, to sustain life for families and communities; they were frequently the source of disputes and strife. They are mentioned many times in Scripture, and are often given meaningful, spiritual names. When a new well was dug in an unoccupied area it was named, and the surrounding land was claimed; thereafter it became a lifeline for the community and a landmark to the stranger for rest and refreshment. Notable events occurred at some of these wells, such as the revelation of God to Hagar (Gen 16.7-14); Rebekah's encounter with Abraham's servant (Gen 24.15-16); Jacob's well; (Gen 29.9-10); David's well (2 Sam 23.15). These were life changing experiences for those involved. The term "well" is also used as a figure of speech to illustrate moral and spiritual concepts, as in "The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life" (Prov 10.11). The most famous well of all is spoken of by the Lord Jesus: "the water that I shall give, shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (Jn 4.14). Truly blessed are they who are enjoying the abundance of eternal life from this inward well - they are saved and satisfied

I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.

(H Bonar)


Another interesting expression, which has spiritual implications, is found in Isaiah 12.3: "Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation". Salvation has several distinct aspects and each can be likened to a well, and "the well is deep" (Jn 4.11). There is the well of forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, justification, regeneration, sanctification; do we with joy draw water out of these wells? Let us not say we have "nothing to draw with", for we have the Scriptures and the indwelling Spirit with which to draw out deep draughts of the joyous truths of salvation. Have we a thirst for this water? The wells of the Word have infinite resources to strengthen faith and sustain hope.


Now let us consider Isaac and his wells. It is interesting to observe that when Isaac appears again after Moriah, the place of sacrifice, he is going out to meet his coming bride (cp 1 Thess 4.13-17), and comes "from the way of the well La-hai-Roi", meaning "Him that liveth and seeth me" (Gen 24.62; cp 16.14). He chose to live beside this well to prepare a place for his bride amidst the memory of divine grace and revelation. Here Abraham gave all he had to Isaac and here God blessed him (25.5-11). Do we live near this deep well conscious of the "ever living and all seeing God"? It is a place of spiritual prosperity. Yet Isaac's faith failed, as ours does betimes, and he left this sacred spot to go to Gerar, an ungodly place on the way to Egypt, to escape a famine, as his father Abraham did before him. There he yielded to the same temptation, but in spite of Isaac's failure God graciously renewed His promises, blessed him, and intervened in the matter of Abimelech (26.1-11). God never gives up on His people!


The next section (26.12-19) traces a resurgence of faith in Isaac's experience. Note the progress: "he sowed in that land…the Lord blessed him…the man waxed great and went forward, and grew until he became very great". Then he started digging his father's wells again, which the Philistines had filled in. Interestingly, Isaac called them "after the names by which his father had called them" (v.18). No change was thought necessary, the original names were known and understood; likewise renaming old Bible themes and truths to appear more modern and up to date is not always wise. What lessons are here for us! Sowing to the Spirit and digging into the Scriptures to discover its treasures is hard work indeed, but it is the only way to grow and be great spiritually. The wells of Scripture can become blocked with tradition, superstition, and deception; we need to dig and rediscover truths for ourselves and develop our own convictions. We cannot live on past ministry and the experience of others. The soul needs cleaning out too, through confession and purification (1 Jn 1.9; 3.3); the spiritual life then flows out (Jn 7.37-39). Beware of false teachers, for they are "wells without water" (2 Pet 2.17), who "mind earthly things" (Phil 3.19).


This is the story of Isaac's sequence of four wells, the first was called Esek meaning "strife" (26.20-33). Where there is spiritual progress there will be resistance from the enemy. The first sign is indicated in v.14: "the Philistines envied him"; the flesh intrudes and envy soon leads to strife: "And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac's herdmen" (v.20). Envy and strife have caused division and dismay among assemblies of God's people over the years. The root of these two evils is pride; many of us have failed to learn the lessons of Philippians 2.1-14. "The water is ours", said the men from Gerar; they claimed to possess and control the water of Life (sound familiar?), but it is God's, and so is truth! Isaac pursued peace with meekness, and met strife with moderation (yieldingness, Phil 4.5); he eschewed contention and wisely moved on, refocusing and digging another well.


However, the same men pursued Isaac and strove for that well also. Isaac called the name of it Sitnah which means "hate". Strife produced anger, which became hate! But Isaac "when he was reviled, reviled not again; but committed himself unto him that judgeth righteously" (1 Pet 2.23); he avoided conflict and moved on again. He dug yet another well, and for this "they strove not" and he called it Rehoboth, meaning "make room". Isaac recognised the hand of God in these experiences and, with renewed confidence, he said, "For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land". The Lord had guided him graciously through the trials of strife and hate and now Isaac found rest and room for family, servants, tents and cattle. Later he moved on again back to Beersheba, where he spent his early life; what sacred memories were evoked. When he arrived, "the Lord appeared unto him the same night" and renewed the covenant blessings to reassure the faith of His servant. There Isaac's people dug another well (26.32). This marked the peak of Isaac's faith for "he built an altar (the only one) there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac's servants digged a well". He called the well Sheba meaning the "oath" (vv.24-25,33). Here he settled, completely satisfied as a priest and a pilgrim, resting on the promises of God; "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim 6.6).


Isaac's disposition towards his enemies paid dividends. Abimelech was obviously impressed for, with two eminent colleagues, he visited Isaac. They acknowledged him warmly saying, "We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee", and again, "…thou art now the blessed of the Lord" (vv.28-30). They were eager to be at peace and seal a truce. Isaac responded positively to the proposal by making them a feast and eating and drinking together. What a testimony! Truly, "When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov 16.7). May we learn similar lessons.



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