Isaac, the Well Digger

Isaac was a herdsman.  He was dependent on his flocks for his livelihood.

Isaac lived in an arid climate.  Water was life.  If he couldn’t find water, his flocks would die, and his family would starve.

Isaac and his family and his crew had just been asked to leave the land of the Philistines where they were staying as itinerants.  So they left, and set up camp in the valley of Gerar.  Needing water, they dug a well.

I imagine that digging a well by hand was no easy task.  Here’s a snippet of the story from the book of Genesis.

So Isaac left there and settled in the Gerar Valley.  Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug back in the days of his father Abraham, for the Philistines had stopped them up after Abraham died.  Isaac gave these wells the same names his father had given them.  When Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well with fresh flowing water there, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water belongs to us!”  So Isaac named the well Esek because they argued with him about it. His servants dug another well, but they quarreled over it too, so Isaac named it Sitnah.  Then he moved away from there and dug another well.  They did not quarrel over it, so Isaac named it Rehoboth, saying, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we will prosper in the land.”  -NET

So Isaac dug a well, and after performing all of the back-breaking labor, some locals came by and claimed that the well belonged to them.  Instead of arguing or going to war over the issue, Isaac moved on and dug another well.  He and his crew struck water, and finally, they had a source of water that would sustain them.  By the way, the wells he was digging were wells that his father had dug many years before, that some jealous Philistines stopped up by filling them with dirt.

Desert Well

Desert well.  Photo Credit:  momo go

But the locals followed them and demanded that this well, too, belonged to them.  Now I don’t know all the nuances of the claims to the wells, and I might buy that the first time, the locals maybe had a case—like perhaps Isaac was squatting on their land without realizing it.  But twice?  To me, that’s pretty flimsy.  In fact, it smacks of downright opportunism.  My instinct would have been to become moderately irate.  Ok, very irate.  But not Isaac.  Again, he gave them the well and moved on to another area.

Again, they labored, and Isaac and his servants dug a third well.  Apparently, the locals now had enough water that they didn’t feel the need to harass Isaac any more.

A bit of trivia:  According to the notes in the New English Translation, Esek (the name Isaac gave the first well) meant “argument.”  And Sitnah meant something akin to “enemy” or “opposition.”

Isaac might have resorted to violence to defend his wells.  He might have started a generational feud.  Or he might have at least launched a campaign of harassment against the locals to discourage them from trying to take his well.  And perhaps, from a legal standpoint (or even a fairness standpoint), he would have had every right to do so.  But he didn’t.  He gave up two wells, probably at some risk to his family and flocks, to people who didn’t earn them, didn’t deserve them, and were quite likely, guilty of theft and extortion.

Speaking of trivia, here’s a question:  What were the names of the men who took Isaac’s wells?  Don’t know?  That’s ok.  Nobody does.  Nobody remembers their names because they chose to construct their lives around a severe lack of character.  Over three thousand years later, we still remember Isaac’s name, because Isaac was, despite his flaws, a man of character.  Ok, I made up the remembering their names part, but you get the point.

Isaac did the harder right, and ultimately, he was blessed for it.  He provided for his family, for his servants, and even for his enemies.  It is easy to applaud Isaac for this decision, but so hard to make that decision ourselves.  When someone opposes us out of jealousy, spite, or greed, perhaps putting them in their place is not the best course of action.  Perhaps building our character is more important than standing up for our rights.

Scuffling with others over temporary gains will, in the end, amount to nothing.  In the end, it’s the efforts we make towards the kingdom of God that will pay off.  Let’s remember to invest our efforts in activities that will reap rewards beyond this temporal life.

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