"Redigging the Ancient Wells: Part 1"
By Sue Towne
This week I would like to begin to share some things from Genesis 26 about the idea of redigging spiritual wells. In Genesis 26 a famine in Canaan sends Isaac to Philistia, to the city of Gerar, which is ruled by King Abimelech. A famine is a time of severe shortage or lack. Do you have any significant lack or shortage in your life right now or in the life of someone for whom you pray? Maybe as we look at this passage, we’ll see something from God’s word that will help us tap into God’s provision.
As Genesis 26 opens, Isaac is apparently on his way to Egypt. Egypt in scripture is often a metaphor or symbol of the world, or the world’s way of doing something. Egypt in Isaac’s day was a powerful nation with a wealthy economy. Maybe by heading for Egypt Isaac was only doing what was naturally logical in his situation. Or maybe Isaac was trying to deal with his situation the world’s way.
Whatever his motive, he is warned through a divine appearance of God not to go to Egypt but to stay in Gerar for a while. For this obedience, God promised He would bless Isaac in the land of Gerar, give him ‘all these lands’ and confirm the covenant He had with Abraham: making Isaac’s descendants as numerous as the stars and blessing all nations of the earth through Isaac’s offspring.
When you think about it, this divine message was a huge promise, a huge incentive to stay in Gerar. Nevertheless it took some faith to obey God and not go to ‘prosperous’ Egypt where there was no famine. Isaac does so, literally putting down roots in Gerar by sowing crops there that bring him a hundredfold return in the first year. God’s promise was coming to pass for Isaac. He was literally being blessed by sowing and reaping, both literally and figuratively as he obeyed the word of the Lord he had received.
God also prospered Isaac’s flocks in Gerar. In fact Isaac became too prosperous for the men of Gerar, and they asked him to leave the city. As he went out into the countryside (which was called the valley of Gerar), Isaac discovered a series of wells that his father had dug in the previous generation, and he uncovered them to water his flocks and household. These wells had been filled in by the Philistines.
When I began to study this passage several years ago, I looked up the proper names of the people and places in this passage to see what their names meant in Hebrew and what their root words were. Often I find that the Lord is speaking a message to us through the names in a particular passage and how they interact within the passage.
So here in Genesis 26 I took time to decipher several of the names before trying to make a prophetic application of the passage. This is a story about Isaac, whose name means ‘laughter.’ He interacts with a Philistine king named Abimelech, whose name means ‘my father, the king.’
This is an interesting combination of character names because in some ways the story of these two men could be summarized, ‘Like father, like son.’ Isaac repeats several of the actions (and mistakes) that his father Abraham made years before during his sojourn to Gerar in Genesis 20. Likewise King Abimelech’s actions parallel those of his father, whose name was also Abimelech, as he had interacted with Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 20.
In Genesis 26 the city where Isaac stays at God’s direction is Gerar, a city near the Negev (‘desert’). The name ‘Gerar’ means ‘rolling country.’ But that definition does not give one the full flavor of this word. It comes from a root word in Hebrew that means ‘to bring up the cud’ and is used to express the idea of ‘rumination.’
Rumination is the very picture of scriptural meditation, of pondering and speaking out, over and over, what God has said--until those words become part of the ruminant’s heart and are incorporated into his very life. Meditation is the process whereby the thoughts in our heads become lodged in our hearts, for good or for ill.
Gerar is cattle country. It’s near the desert (the Negev). Spiritually speaking, the desert is a place traditionally associated with the solitude and with the fasting from worldly pleasure that accompany times of fruitful meditation on the words of God.
So one way of looking at Genesis 26 is to see that God has settled Isaac in the place of meditation. If you look in Genesis 20 and 21, you’ll notice that Abraham and Sarah conceived Isaac in Gerar! I wonder if there was any connection between Gerar being a place of meditation and the coming to pass of God’s promise to Abraham regarding a son after so many years?
From the descriptions in Genesis 21 it is clear that even after Isaac was born, Abraham and Sarah continued to live in the general vicinity of Gerar. In fact Abimelech came to Abraham and made a blood covenant with him at Beersheba (to avoid a dispute over the well Abraham dug there), because Abraham was so prosperous and powerful. So Isaac probably spent part of his childhood in the vicinity of Gerar. Maybe he had even heard about his father’s wells.
Let’s get back to Genesis 26. What do you suppose Isaac meditated on while he lived in Gerar? The text doesn’t say. But I think we can read between the lines here. Doesn’t it seem likely that Isaac meditated on that vision he had at the beginning of Chapter 26?
In verses 12-14 the text says that the first part of God’s message in that vision began to come to pass. Maybe Isaac would have stayed on and on at Gerar, since he was so obviously prospering there, even in a time of famine in Canaan. But envy raised its ugly head. The Philistines wanted him out of Gerar, and Isaac leaves.
He goes to settle in a nearby valley, also called ‘Gerar.’ Why didn’t he go further afield? Maybe because he was doing his best to obey the last word that God had spoken to him, to stay in the vicinity of Gerar rather than go to Egypt. Or maybe because it was the area where Abraham had his herds and flocks years before. Clearly the Lord was blessing Isaac in the region of Gerar.
Once he left the city of Gerar, Isaac could not use the city’s wells to water his herds and flocks. The wells that Abraham had dug when Isaac was a child had been filled in at some time by the Philistines. The Philistines in that area were not prosperous enough to need those wells! Their cattle were not so numerous.
Anyway Isaac had great need of his father’s wells. He sent his servants to find them and redig them. He knew he would find water there because his dad had found water there. I find it interesting that as Isaac remains in the place of meditation, he needs to rediscover his father’s source of water supply. Water is often a type or symbol of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. Maybe we could say here that meditation alone, without the ministry of the Holy Spirit, can be dry and eventually, even unfruitful--or not as fruitful as it could be.
So many applications of what we’ve seen in this passage so far come to my mind. It certainly could be applied to times of financial challenge. It also could be used to understand the dynamics of spiritual dryness, either personal or in a congregational setting.
I’ll let you ponder whether it speaks to your current situations--between now and next week--when I will share with you Part II of this message and we look more closely at the wells Isaac dug.