Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth.
Then Abimelech said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there.
Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and gave them the same names his father had given them. Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek (which means strife), because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah (which means opposition).
He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth (which means broad spaces), saying, “Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” From there he went up to Beersheba. That night the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well. (Genesis 26:12-25).
Wells of living water
Water is the very sustenance of life. Even the most dry and arid places spring to life with water. The contention over water and the opposition that Isaac encountered from the Philistines brings to light many deep spiritual truths.
Isaac is often seen as a type of the Messiah. The Messiah is the one who opens up the wells of salvation and brings forth “living water” in such abundance that no-one need lack for it: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). Water is often used as an analogy of the life giving and life changing effect of the Spirit of God. On the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles, following the ritual of drawing water from the pool of Siloam, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this Jesus meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:38-39).
The promise to Abraham was that all nations would be blessed through his seed, i.e. the Messiah, but at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry hostility had developed between the Samaritans and the Jews concerning the true worship of God and the way of salvation. The account of Jesus with the Samaritan woman, played out against the backdrop of “Jacob’s well,” illustrates the racial tensions that existed. This is much like the tension that exists today between Jews and Arabs. Without compromising the truth that salvation comes through the Jews Jesus defused the hostility by opening up the wells of salvation to her:
‘Now Jesus had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water”’ (John 4:4-15).
Those who reject the living waters will continue to quarrel over the wells that have been deliberately stopped up by their own human pride and prejudice. If only Jews and Arabs would both come to Jesus, the well of living water, they would find that there is nothing to fight over for he gives the Spirit without measure (John 3:34).
Stopping up the wells
The Philistines typify those who are driven by selfish ambition to take whatever they can without consideration for others. They were originally from the island of Crete and were also trying to take possession of the land of Canaan at the time of Isaac. The wells of Abraham represented a source of wealth and prosperity. After Abraham died the Philistines stopped up the wells because they did not want to see Isaac prosper. They had not occupied the land in sufficient numbers to fully utilize the wells that Abraham’s servants had dug, but they did not want anyone else to benefit from them.
The word of God confirms that the meek will inherit the earth. It is through faith and humility that we will inherit God’s promises (cf. Romans 9:30-32). The faithless are motivated by greed and do not want to wait patiently for the LORD to fulfil his promises. The LORD called Abraham to be a blessing and promised that all nations would be blessed through his seed (i.e. the Messiah), but instead of believing that they too would be blessed through Abraham and Isaac, the Philistines saw Isaac as a threat and drove him away. They disregarded Isaac as the rightful son and heir to all his father’s possessions. In a curious irony this typifies the attitude of the Jewish religious leadership to Jesus.
When the “seed of promise” eventually came it was the religious leaders of the Jewish people who attempted to “stop up the wells” and who resented the fact that blessings were flowing to all people through Jesus. Instead of rejoicing in the fact that the lame were walking, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing – all things that signified that the promise to Abraham was reaching its fulfilment – they felt that their own positions were threatened and did everything they could to oppose him: “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48).
The religious leaders regarded themselves as more holy and righteous than anyone else and they despised the fact that Jesus was showing mercy to sinners, and that “sinners” and “tax collectors” were receiving blessings: they were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else. . . (Luke 18:9). The LORD said through the prophet Jeremiah, “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:13). They did not draw the living waters from the wells of salvation, but they also tried to stop others from doing so! For this reason Jesus rebuked them harshly, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matt. 23:13). The same sanctimonious pride can find its way into the church when tradition begins to replace true faith and the “old guard” begin to resent and oppose anything that does not conform to their traditions.
The bitter envy of the religious authorities culminated in their plot to arrest Jesus and hand him over to Pilate to be crucified in an effort to finally put a stop to his ministry. Like Isaac, Jesus did not resist their wickedness and it resulted in the blessings that were first promised to Israel overflowing to all the nations of the world in greater measure than anything they could have ever imagined.
‘O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water’ (Jeremiah 17:13).
Jesus told the parable of the workers in the vineyard to illustrate the attitude of resentment which is often evoked when others receive blessings which we perceive to be unfair. The workers who worked through the entire day resented the fact that those who had been hired much later received the same pay (Matt. 20:1-16). This was the attitude of Israel towards the Gentiles who were coming to faith.
We see the same attitude towards the ministry of Paul which was largely focused towards the Gentiles:
“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 13:44-47).
The result was that the streams of living water flowed to the Gentiles: “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.” Paul applied the principle of “shaking the dust off his feet” and withdrawing from those who were deliberately trying to stir up trouble for him: “But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Those who will not receive the “living water” cannot stop the blessings overflowing to others because this was God’s purpose from the very beginning.
The response of Faith
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth.” (Isaiah 51:1-2).
Abraham is held up as the example of faith. Abraham believed God to fulfil His promise to bring forth the “seed” through whom all nations would be blessed. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (Galatians 3:8). True faithfulness to God’s purpose exceeds the limitations of the Law of Moses. E.g. the Law of Moses did not allow for treaties to be negotiated with the nations living in the land of Canaan.
Until faith in the Messiah was revealed, the Law of Moses kept us under restraint as prisoners: “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed” (Galatians 3:23). Only in the coming of the Messiah, would the life of faith once again be revealed. In this way Jesus the Messiah “reopened” the wells of Abraham that had been stopped up by human pride, self-righteousness and envy. Jesus opened the wells from which we receive the living water, i.e. the Holy Spirit.
All conflicts have their basis in the spiritual struggle between God’s eternal purposes in the Messiah and those forces that oppose him. Right from the very beginning God said to the deceiver, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The Apostle Paul wrote: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
The LORD appeared to both Abraham and Isaac to encourage them and to re-assure them of his promises which would find their fulfilment in and through the coming of the Messiah. The true faith of Israel is in the Messiah and our inheritance will only be found in him. Anything that is not established upon faith in him will not stand. Faith that is firmly established upon him does not need to desperately cling to the blessings of God because the blessings are in the Messiah, not in the abundance of worldly goods. Isaac showed that his faith was in God who is the source and provider of all blessings. God’s promises are not brought about by human enterprise or ingenuity: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the LORD Almighty” (Zecheriah 4:6). He did not strive to cling to what was rightfully his but simply moved away from the strife and contention and dug new wells. Each time God rewarded his faithfulness by giving him a fresh water supply.
The apostle Paul said that he had learnt the secret of contentment because he trusted completely in God. Such faith enables us to walk away from strife and hostility and to entrust ourselves to the one who judges justly and provides every blessing.
We are told to live at peace with all men as far as it depends on us, but until we discover the “well of living water” we will never be able to walk away from the wells of contention. While we cling to the wells that have, figuratively, been stopped up, there will be no end to the quarreling and strife! Only by coming to the Messiah are the wells unstopped so that the living water can flow freely and give life and blessing to all.
The very ones who had driven Isaac away, refusing to share the water with him, later sought him out, recognising that the LORD’S blessing was with him:
“Meanwhile, Abimelech had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?” They answered, “We saw clearly that the LORD was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’- between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you that you will do us no harm, just as we did not molest you but always treated you well and sent you away in peace. And now you are blessed by the LORD.” Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they left him in peace. That day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, “We’ve found water!” He called it Shibah, and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba” (Genesis 26:26-33).