by guest Josephine Collett
Wells gush forth throughout the pages of the Bible. Like many natural features, they are both functional, providing people with water to drink, utilize, claim and fight over; and symbolic. Wells signify God’s provision, life, health, prosperity and cleansing. In passages dripping with a prophetic signature, Jacob rolls a stone away from a well’s mouth to water the sheep (Genesis chapter 29); and David thirsts for water from the well at Bethlehem (2 Samuel 23). Biblically speaking, wells also have a lot to do with women.
Examine the wells in the Bible and there will often be a woman nearby. Women would congregate daily at the local well to collect water, socialize and keep an eye out for anybody new in town. Wells seemingly provided an acceptable place for young men and women to meet and greet one another.
Consider Rebekah in Genesis 24. An opulent- looking emissary and his entourage arrives in town. Rebekah comes to the well with her water jar, generously volunteering to draw water for him and his ten camels, no slight task. This offer is the specific answer to the prayers of Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, sent to find a wife for Abraham's son, Isaac. Rebekah is of the correct kin group, pretty, kind, hard-working, adventurous, and a virgin - a desirable wife to be sure.
Rebekah happily received the gifts of jewelry presented to her and eagerly set forth to marry an unknown stranger. God led Eliezer to the place where Rebekah was waiting, and guided Rebekah into His plan for her life, as she was to play an important role in the foundation of the nation of Israel.
Wells can symbolise sexuality in the Bible. It’s been suggested that the enclosed spring and sealed fountain (fountains and wells being sometimes used interchangeably) described in Song of Songs chapter 4 refer to the anatomy of a virgin. Married couples are advised to drink water from their own well (Proverbs 5) and for those contemplating adultery, Proverbs 23 reminds us that “a wayward wife is a narrow well,” not likely to be a source of delight for very long.
In John’s gospel, chapter 4, we discover another well, one of only a few references to wells and springs in the New Testament, and another woman, the celebrated “Woman at the Well.” This unnamed Samaritan is a very different lady to Rebekah. She too approaches a compelling stranger. His friends have left and he's alone and tired.
The place may be of significance also, for Jacob’s well, back in Genesis 33, refers to a site where Jacob took an easy option and camped near to the Canaanite city of Shechem, resulting in the subsequent rape of his daughter Dinah by the son of a Shechemite ruler, the first rape mentioned in the bible.
The Samaritan woman at the well is no innocent virgin. She sounds intelligent. She discusses spiritual concepts. She was probably beautiful – she certainly had no trouble attracting men. But she’s been around. She wouldn’t ever be seen as a desirable wife. No social life for her. She’s an outcast, gossiped about, likely as not to seduce a husband. She makes the trek for water alone in the afternoon sun.
There’s a man who wants a drink. What thoughts might have run through her mind? Maybe, like Rebekah, she was looking for a different life. What could he offer her? He will even drink from her cup, Samaritan pariah that she is. What does he really want?
Go and get your husband, says Jesus.
I don’t have one.
No, you’ve had five.
I see you’re a prophet.
It’s an interesting exchange. Why did she call him a prophet after he stated the number of “husbands” she’d had? He knew all about her. What’s more, she knew he knew. He knew how many, when, who. Maybe she’d been sexually abused in the past. Maybe she just made bad choices. Maybe she was now looking for number six. Who knows? Jesus did.
Jesus proclaims himself the Messiah to this hurting woman, offering her “living water”. An amazing transformation occurs. For the first time she’s invited to feel clean on the inside, freed from a life of bondage and sin, and in a lasting relationship with someone who loves her unconditionally, faithfully and respectfully.
The outcast is transformed into an evangelist who witnesses to her neighbours. She becomes one of the most well-known characters of the Bible, her story ministering through the centuries.
In any given group of men and women there will be those whose sexual history is uncomplicated and joyful. For others there may be great sadness over a record of wrong choices, or no choice at all. Rebekah and the unnamed Samaritan women may seem worlds apart. Yet they are united in demonstrating that in all circumstances God loves and esteems his created people and is in the business of redeeming their fallen lives.
God has a plan for every person who desires in repentance and faith to be in relationship with Him. As a shepherd, He will lead each one into the life that He has planned. He is the true lover of our souls, our Creator, Saviour, Counsellor, and so much more. Praise Him.
"To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life." Rev 21:6