Leaving Abraham, this study moves on to the next of Israel’s patriarchs, whose story will be part of the grand tale told by Israel about itself, and comes face to face with Isaac. Not only is his wife discovered in connection with a well, but Isaac has his own well dealings. Not surprisingly, since his life mimics that of his father in a number of ways (movements based on famine, deceptions about his wife, growing wealthy based on these deceptions, a wife that was initially childless, etc…), it is discovered that Isaac, like his father, is involved in disputes concerning wells.
There is no need to retrace the exact course of the disputation found in the twenty-sixth chapter of Genesis, as it shall suffice to say that it looks quite similar to that which was experienced by Abraham. Surely these disputes play into and informs the historic sensibilities that must be brought to any attempt to enter into the mindset of Jesus and that of the Samaritan woman when they engage in a partially disputative conversation at the well.
This may prove to be especially so when considering what took place once Isaac was able to dig a well over which there was no dispute. Isaac’s response to the digging of this undisputed well was “now the Lord has made room for us, and we will prosper in the land” (26:22b). “From there Isaac went up to Beer Sheba. The Lord appeared to him that night and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for the sake of My servant Abraham.’ Then Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord” (26:23-25a). This is rounded out in a not unexpected way, as the story goes on to say that “He pitched his tent there, and his servants dug a well” (26:25b).
Here, a well (actually two wells) is connected with a place of worship, prompting thoughts of worship and the act of worship itself. Of course, hearkening back to yet another connection to his father, one must consider that Beer Sheba is also the place that Abraham dug a well and the place at which he made the treaty with Abimelech (Isaac also deals with an Abimelech) following the initial disputes about a well. So naturally, Isaac’s venturing to that place is an explicit reminder of Abraham’s story (as is much of Isaac’s story in and of itself), and by extension the Creator God’s covenant with Abraham. So perhaps one should not think of wells, especially in Scripture, without also retaining the idea of the Creator God’s covenant and His covenant faithfulness to go along with it?
Staying with Abraham, it is recorded that he “planted a tamarisk tree in Beer Sheba” (21:33a), which was the place that he dug the well, and “There he worshiped the Lord, the eternal God” (21:33b). Why go back to Abraham after having moved on to Isaac? Why mention the covenant that was begun with Abraham, which would be extended to Isaac, to Jacob/Israel, and then on to the nation of Israel? Why speak here of worship? Because it attunes an observer to the words of the Samaritan woman, as she responds to Jesus. “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem” (4:19-20). Here is a well, a dispute, and talk of worship, which accords nicely with the well stories that participate in shaping and defining the collective mindset of the people of Israel.