Monday, July 21, 2014

A Tradition Of Wells (part 9)

Wading into the deep, deep waters of the wisdom/poetic literature of the Hebrew Scriptures, it should be first noted with interest, and honestly, with a great deal of surprise, that there is no mention of wells within the Psalms.  This is surprising, especially considering that there are a number of occasions in which Israel’s history (or at least a part of it) is recounted in Psalmic form.  When reflecting on the routine placement of wells, and their connection with every patriarch as well as Moses and the nation of Israel itself, one is only left to wonder at such an omission.  Nevertheless, wells are mentioned on three occasions in the book of Proverbs. 

In the fifth chapter the author writes “Drink water from your own cistern and running water from your own well.  Should your springs be dispersed outside, your streams of water in the wide plazas?  Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you.  May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in your young wife” (5:15-18).  This is presented in the context of the first two verses of the same chapter, where one finds “My child, be attentive to my wisdom, pay close attention to my understanding, in order to safeguard discretion, and that your lips may guard knowledge.  For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her seductive words are smoother than olive oil, but in the end she is as bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (5:1-4). 

Not as a means of casting aspersions upon the Samaritan woman at the well in John, but it is certainly not beyond the realm of probability to hear in these verses some potential background for a woman that meets Jesus at a well, that has had five husbands, and is currently engaged in a relationship with a man that was not her husband.  It is in a similar vein that one hears the next mention of wells here in Proverbs, as the proverbial author writes “Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes observe my ways; for a prostitute is like a deep pit; a harlot is like a narrow well” (23:26-27). 

In a use that does not seem to be entirely helpful to this project, though an effort could probably be made to shape and twist it to fit the particular needs of this study, the twenty-fifth chapter reads “Like a muddied spring and a polluted well, so is a righteous person who gives way before the wicked” (25:26).  The same could also be said (not entirely helpful, though one must be cognizant of the potential to shape the thoughts of Jesus and the Johannine author, so that it plays a role in their respective thinking) of what one stumbles upon in the book of Ecclesiastes, as before reading “Absolutely futile!... All things are futile!” (12:8), representing the “Teacher’s” summary of his search for the purpose of life, it is said that “before the silver cord is removed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered by the well, or the water wheel is broken at the cistern---and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the life’s breath returns to God Who gave it” (12:6-7). 

Rounding out the poetic literature and turning to the Song of Solomon, the well is mentioned in connection with a love relationship.  The word “bride” is even mentioned, creating the connotation of marriage and placing this use of “well” at a distance that is much closer to the John four story than what has been seen in the previous two instances.  There Solomon (presumably) writes “You are a locked garden, my sister, my bride; you are an enclosed spring, a sealed-up fountain.  Your shoots are a royal garden full of pomegranates with choice fruits: henna with nard, nard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon with every kind of spice, myrrh and aloes with all the finest spices.  You are garden spring, a well of fresh water flowing down from Lebanon” (4:12-15). 

Musing upon the number of marriages within the historical presentation of Israel that came about in connection with wells, it makes a great deal of sense to hear this Hebrew poet talk of wells during the course of a love song directed to his sister, his bride.  Because the bringing forth of children, especially in Genesis, following the marriages that were associated with wells, was packaged together with the continuation and propagation of the Creator God’s covenants that began with Abraham, would this subtly call attention to the Creator God’s covenant faithfulness, thus casting this, in a way, as something of a love song between the Creator God and His special people Israel?  If one was inclined to stretch the analogy a bit more, one could look at Israel’s stop at the place of twelve wells as the place of their birth, just before their entering into their own covenant relationship (marriage) with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?      

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