The well was an important place in scripture. The nomadic life of the herdsmen named Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob depended on their ability to find adequate supplies of water for their families, their servants, and the flocks and herds from which they made their living. There were no public water systems in that time, so surface water and ground water were vital to the patriarchs. Often, as they went about their business in Canaan, they would need to find new water supplies as existing supplies were depleted. Sometimes new water would be found at the surface. Over time, though, they would come to know where all the surface water in the country could be found. They would also know whatever seasonality the various water sources showed. The routes on which they took their herds and flocks were planned to avoid water shortage. This meant they would use the more temporary water sources in the wetter seasons, and use the more permanent sources as the drier seasons came on.
But, being so dependent on bounteous water supplies, the patriarchs would find themselves exploring for water from time to time. They would always be on the lookout for places that offered the promise of water that could be coaxed from the ground – they would dig wells. Sometimes this would require the purchase of land areas that held the promise of water. Other times, the land would be remote, and they would simply “claim” the spot where the well would be dug. One must assume that, in some cases, the wells they dug would become virtual springs and thereafter be available. In other cases, the water might be only seasonal or temporary, dependent on the local aquifers.
Likely, when a well was copious but did not become a spring, they would sometimes make efforts to conceal the well from others. That way, the water would still be there when they returned, and the Canaanites would not be tempted to make a settlement at the well. Canaanites needed water too, you know. In such cases, it is quite likely that some servants would travel in circuits from time to time to check on the status of the wells and their security. Water was vital, and its sources drew all and sundry. Its control was very important.
There came a time when Abraham sent a servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac. The person of this wife was so important that the servant was sent to a far country where he would be on his own in the search. Of course, he and the other servants who accompanied him, would always be on the lookout for evidences of water as they traveled and would select camp sites based on the presence of water. It is quite reasonable, then, that when the servant came to the place where he was to meet Rebekah, he would have seen the promising site from some distance and approached it because water could be had. It was, after all, his destination – the city of the residence of Nahor, Abraham’s brother.
The servant knew that the women of the city would come to the well near evening to get the water supply for that night. Someone representing each family or household would be in that gathering. There would be greetings and the sharing of news as the women carried out their duties. It was a busy time of day at the gates of the city.
Interestingly, the servant had prayed (Genesis 24:10-14) a very specific prayer concerning his mission. As we know, Rebekah was the precise answer to that prayer. Later, she was to accompany him to her new home. At that moment, he asked her for water, in keeping with the culture of their time, and in keeping with his prayer. The key is that the woman at the well provided water for the servant and his retinue. She did not have to do that; she did that because it was in her nature to do so, insofar as we can tell. That nature coincided with the providence of God at that place and at that time. From that circumstance came the third generation of the patriarchs. Could it be that the Spirit of God was there, at that well, on that day?
About 90 years later Jacob (son of Rebekah and Isaac) was on the run. He had a commission from his father to get a wife at the home of his mother. He also had instructions from his mother regarding his flight and its purpose. Jacob’s arrival in the homeland of his mother was different than that of the servant of Abraham. He was basically a fugitive. He did not arrive with gifts, or even the actual expectation of finding a wife. He had promised such to his father, but he was really on the run from the wrath of his brother, Esau. Jacob had acquired the birthright from his father and the patriarchal blessing, but those were not the factors that mattered when he arrived at the well in the field that day (Genesis 29:1-11). What better place to flee to, though, than to the relatives of his mother.
It seems that the Spirit of God was in control in this instance as well. At that well, that day, when the woman came, God arranged for Jacob to meet his beloved. She was where she was supposed to be that day, but the future of many hung in the balance, and God was about to reveal why she had been a shepherdess. Her husband, the patriarch, had come. He met her there at the well where the Spirit had been waiting.
About 365 years later Moses was on the run. He had fled Egypt in fear of his life in the matter of killing the Egyptian. He had arrived in the wilderness of Midian. Of course, as he wandered, water would never be far from his mind. On a particular day, he arrived at a well in a particular place in the territory of Midian (Exodus 2:15-21). That’s where he met Zipporah, the shepherdess, his future wife. She and her sisters were under duress that day, as some other shepherds chased them away from the well. But Moses intervened. After he came to her aid, and that of her sisters and her father’s flocks, she was given to Moses to be his wife.
In each of the three cases, a woman performed her functions day in and day out. There was surely an element of drudgery in the duties, but the young women were faithful. Their faithfulness brought them to the well. On a certain day, the spirit of God met each of them at the well of their labor. On that day, in each case, He brought their husbands to them. At the same time, He brought these women to their providence.
Many years later, a certain woman went on her daily trip to the well at a place called Sychar. Sychar was a town that had been built near a well that Jacob had given to Joseph when he was just a lad. She was there to fetch water for her home, as was her normal practice. There was no reason to expect anything unusual that day. She would draw the water and return to her home. With that water, the needs of the evening and the night would be met. But that day, at that well, that woman was to meet the Son of God (John 4:4-30). Her life was never to be the same.
These things all happened AT THE WELL.
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