Now, this study does not intend to go into detail concerning the story of every well, nor is it going to present an exhaustive list of the wells of Scripture---though nearly all would be instrumental in shaping the thinking of the Johannine author. It will go into detail when doing so can provide useful interpretive background for Jesus’ time and experience at the well in John’s Gospel. That said, the story of Hagar’s son, Ishmael, contains a well---which could also be of some interest to a Samaritan woman, especially one that references Jacob as her ancestor when speaking about the well, especially seeing as how Ishmael, the son of Abraham, is Jacob’s uncle.
Ishmael’s well experience flows from his being sent out from his home along with his mother, at yet another request from Sarah, as she said “Banish that slave woman and her son, for the son of that slave woman will not be an heir along with my son Isaac!” (Genesis 21:10) When their provisions ran out, Hagar becomes frantic, and is apparently convinced that her and her son are going to die. However, the Creator God intervened on their behalf and “enabled Hagar to see a well of water. She went over and filled the skin with water, and then gave the boy a drink” (21:19).
In light of the reason for Hagar and Ishmael’s expulsion from the house of Abraham, how interesting that a Samaritan woman at a well, by speaking about Jacob and then speaking about the messiah, was laying claim to a tradition and to promises directed to the people of the covenant God, though she would be viewed by the descendants of Isaac (through Jacob) as an illegitimate user and usurper of such things.
Merely a few verses removed from the story of Ishmael that is connected to a well, Abraham is himself engaged in a “well” story. Apparently there was some controversy afoot, in that “Abraham lodged a complaint against Abimelech,” the name actually being a general title of a tribal chieftain, “concerning a well that Abimelech’s servants had seized” (21:25). Abraham offers a treaty to Abimelech in the form of a gift of seven lambs, saying “You must take these seven ewe lambs from my hand as legal proof that I dug this well” (21:30).
So here there is a dispute concerning a well. With that in mind, it’s not at all surprising to find a disputation in connection to the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Though the dispute was not over the well, though there is an underlying dispute about true Israelite lineage implied, the well becomes the locus of the review of one of the main points of disputation between Israel and Samaria.
Without having to traverse too many pages of Scripture in search of the next watering hole, one finds the twenty-fourth chapter of Genesis, which contains another “well” tale. In this story, Abraham is sending his servant to his home country and to his relatives to find a wife for Isaac, his son (24:4). When the servant reached his desired destination, “He made the camels kneel down by the well outside the city” (24:11a).
So that he might accomplish the task that was set before him, which would be indissolubly connected to the covenant that the Creator God had made with Abraham that his descendants would be named through Isaac, “He prayed, ‘O Lord, God of my master Abraham, guide me today. Be faithful to my master Abraham. Here I am, standing by the spring, and the daughters of the people who live in the town are coming out to draw water. I will say to a young woman, “Please lower your jar that I may drink.” May the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac reply, “Drink, and I’ll give water to you camels too.” In this way I will know that you have been faithful to my master.’” (24:12-14) Effectively then, the woman that provided a drink to the servant of Abraham, would be the one through whom the Creator God would continue to carry out His covenant plans.