(October 17, 2022)Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, challenges…
In 2008, Australian singing group, The Seekers, produced a gospel song called, Well, Well, Well, which was about God’s coming judgment.
Those three words are sometimes used when we unexpectedly meet someone – ‘Well, well, well. Look who it is!’ Or we might use the expression to express surprise when something unpredictable occurs – ‘Well, well, well. I can’t believe that happened!’
But that’s not how I am using the phrase. We are going to look at actual wells referred to in the Bible, some of which have great significance.
A well is normally considered to be a hole in the ground that has been dug to access a water source. We probably consider them quaint relics of a bygone age when people would go to them with a bucket to get some water to bring back to their house. Today all we have to do is go to the sink and turn on the tap to get all the water we need.
Wells really have little relevance today, but in biblical days they were of central importance.
- Firstly, they provided a readily available supply of water that was essential to both the people and the animals they cared for.
- Secondly, wells played an important role in the social life of communities, providing a principal meeting place in a town or village.
The Hebrew word for ‘well’ (be’êr) refers to a deep shaft in the ground which gives access to an underground water source. Let’s consider three things wells signify in scripture.
1. Dangerous and polluted wells
The word is first used in the Bible in Genesis 14:10, ‘Now the Valley of Siddim was full (that is, lots) of tar pits (wells)…’
The Hebrew word translated as ‘pits’ is exactly the same as that which is also translated as ‘wells.’ But in this instance the holes in the ground held tar rather than water.
Now, Abraham and his family had left Egypt and settled in the south of Canaan. But it wasn’t long before there was a heated conflict between Abraham’s herdsmen and those employed by his nephew Lot.
Not wanting to have an argument with Lot, Abraham said, ‘This isn’t good so we need to separate. There’s a lot of land here so let’s divide it between us. You choose the region in which you want to live with your family and livestock and I with my family and livestock will live in the other area.’
Lot decided on the territory that appeared to offer every advantage and Genesis 13:12 says, ‘Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.’ Not a good choice – first, Sodom and Gomorrah were exceptionally evil cities where sexual immorality (Jude 1:7; I Timothy 1:10) and other corrupt practices were accepted as an appropriate lifestyle. Secondly, there was great political instability in the area.
Shortly afterwards a small, vicious war erupted between some of the regional kings. Genesis 14:10 above adds, ‘… when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills.’
God eventually destroyed those ‘cities of the plain.’ We read in Genesis 19:24-25GNB, ‘Suddenly the Lord rained burning sulphur on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and destroyed them and the whole valley, along with all the people there and everything that grew on the land.’
While tar was a useful resource when building houses in those days, wells filled with tar were not good places to be near especially when burning sulphur was raining down from the sky! One can picture the whole area aflame as everything was destroyed.
Only Lot and his family managed to escape… after Abraham prayed for them!
Those ‘Dangerous and Polluted Wells’ are a warning to us. Tar wells, which the KJV describes as ‘slime pits’, are dangerous to societies and individuals not only literally but also metaphorically.
As mentioned above, some men fell into them.Slime pits, tar wells, were personally and socially perilous to many! Symbolically, they represent the decadent moral values of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah on whom God’s fiery judgment came.
(i) Dangerous tar wells in our times
Today we see many parallels in our society with the morals of Sodom and Gomorrah, and sadly that is not an exaggeration! Evil is all around us today, dangerous tar wells of distorted secular values, are in our midst and are increasing in number and continue to claim more victims.
To keep us safe God has given us unchangeable moral values, established on the foundation of truth, love and integrity. But there are many people today who are increasingly deriding and discarding those basic, God-given life-values!
2000 years ago Paul described in Romans 1 those who provocatively push a warped, woke agenda that enables the ‘slime pits’ to claim ever more victims. He wrote, ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness’ (v18). Then in verse 22 Paul added, ‘Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.’ And in chapter 3:4 declared, ‘Let God be true, and every man a liar.’
(ii) Listen to God’s warning!
We need to –
- Be on our guard.
- Remain faithful to God.
- Avoid the social and moral tar pits.
(iii) We need boldness to warn others about them.
2. Broken Wells
The wells from which people used to get their water supply were critical to their very existence as individuals and as communities. Obviously, therefore, one that cannot hold the water is totally useless!
Jeremiah 2:12-13 says, ‘“Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”’
Take note of this – God’s rebuke was specifically addressed to His own people and He had two charges to lay against them – forsaking the One who is the ‘living water’ and digging useless wells.
(i) Forsaking God
God said, His people had forsaken Him (v13).
We, His people today, also need to hear His warning to us.
- We can be so caught up in our own lives, in the many, various things in which we are involved, that we often pay lip service to our relationship with God while, in reality, we are forsaking Him.
- We may claim that we are followers of Christ while we walk in a different direction from the one in which He wants to lead us.
- We can fool ourselves by thinking that our lives are God-centred, when the things of the world are central to the way we live! In John 2:15 we read, ‘For the whole world-system, based as it is on men’s primitive desires, their greedy ambitions and the glamour of all that they think splendid, is not derived from the Father at all, but from the world itself’ (Phillips translation).
Hear God’s challenge to us! We, as Christians, can become so absorbed in day-to-day issues that our relationship with God barely exists and we can even be unaware that we have compromised His standards. Consequently our Christian witness in society has become so diluted that it has become largely irrelevant.
Many Christians have been saying recently that we need to see a revival in our land and I wholly agree with that. But there needs to be a deep heart-searching among Christians and a wholehearted return to the God who loves us. The broken, empty wells of the world will never satisfy the Christian’s heart!
We still need that ‘spring of living water’, God Himself, to continually refresh us spiritually and morally. God has made us with a spiritual thirst that only He can satisfy. Despite extravagant advertising claims, the things of this world can never quench the spiritual thirst within us.
It is OK for us to enjoy God’s amazing world, to have fun, laugh and take delight in things that bring us pleasure – but they can never truly address our spiritual thirst. Only God Himself can do that! He alone is the spring of living water and, if we’ve wandered away from Him, we need to find our way back. And there is no time like the present to do that.
(ii) Digging worthless holes
Jeremiah 2:13 says they ‘have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’
The Hebrew word for ‘cistern’ is similar to the word for ‘well.’ It referred to holes that were dug to hold water that the people had poured into them. But those holes were often so cracked that they leaked! Often the water that remained in them became stale and stagnant and undrinkable. Their cisterns weren’t only ‘empty’ wells – often they were just inadequate and poisonous holes in the ground!
Those broken cisterns are contrasted to the ‘spring of living water. The cracked, polluted cisterns symbolise the man-made standards that are offered as alternatives to what God has made available.
In both Old and New Testaments, God has given us permanent values and moral guidelines. In recent days the pressure has significantly increased for Christians to reject or compromise those God-given morals. Progressively we are being attacked and penalised for holding them. Threat and intimidation are being used on Christians who refuse to compromise and the pressure is intensifying. But this is not a new thing.
When the Christian church was in its infancy, society and the government were hostile to Christians for various reasons, one of which was the refusal of Christians to compromise their faith in God. For example, they refused to offer sacrifices to the gods, and to Caesar. As a result many Christians were put to death because of their inflexible commitment to God.
In the year 155 AD, in the city of Smyrna, the leader of the church was an 86-year-old man named Polycarp. Because he would not deny his Christian faith, he was arrested and threatened with execution. During his trial he was told that he could avoid execution if he was prepared to be more flexible. All he had to do was to deny Christ and burn a little incense to the gods.
But Polycarp was not prepared to compromise his faith in Christ and said, ‘For 86 years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’ He was then bound and a pyre was built and he was burned alive.
The stark choice that is still before us is this – either the cracked and polluted cisterns of man-made values or the eternal life-giving values of God.
3. Life-giving Well
(i) The offer at Jacob’ well
The best known well mentioned in the Bible is probably found in John chapter 4. After a time of ministry in Judea Jesus decided that He and His disciples must go to Galilee via Samaria. Eventually He arrived at a town called Sychar (formerly called Shechem) where there was a very ancient well that was associated with Jacob. Jesus sat by the well while His disciples went into town to buy food.
Around noon a woman arrived at the well to draw some water. Jesus asked her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’
She was surprised that this Jewish man had spoken to her, for a bitter quarrel had been going on between Jews and Samaritans for about 400 years and they disliked each other intensely. We also know that this woman’s moral standards were questionable – she had been married five times and was living with a sixth man.
No decent man would have considered speaking to this woman. But this was the woman whom Jesus had come to see!
She was very surprised that this man had spoken to her and she answered, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (John 4:9) And Jesus replied, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’
Now we are given a greater insight to the ‘living water’ referred to in Jeremiah. Jesus explained what He meant, ‘Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’
The water from the well could only be accessed by human effort and satisfy for only a short time. But the ‘spring of water welling up to eternal life’, which wasfreely provided by God and without human effort, would satisfy her deepest thirst, the same deep spiritual yearning that is in every heart.
When Jesus revealed Himself to be the Messiah, the woman, even without a full understanding of Jesus’ words, responded to His invitation and discovered God’s wonderful love. Filled with joy and fired by a sense of urgency, she left her water jar and returned to the town where she told everyone she could, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.’
This Samaritan woman, this social outcast, was one of the first Christian evangelists. By her own initiative she rushed back to the community that judged and rejected her and told others about this man who had impacted her life. Her testimony was the beginning of the spreading of the gospel in Samaria.
(ii) The offer in the temple
Jesus again referred to Himself as the ‘living water’ in John 7. Verse 37 tells that this event took place‘In the last and greatest day of the Feast.’
This was the Feast of Tabernacles. One of the highlights of this major celebration was the daily musical procession when, to the sound of the blowing of a shophar and singing, a priest would carry water in a golden container from the Pool of Siloam and through the Water Gate to the temple. As he poured out the water on the altar, the people sang Isaiah 12:3, ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.’
John 7:37-39 records: ‘On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.’
What an impact that declaration must have made! It was –
With great earnestness and profound emotion Jesus cried out in a loud voice to catch the attention of all who were present. It reveals that God passionately loves humankind and wants us to discover that truth for ourselves.
Jesus said, ‘If anyone is thirsty.’ Hegave a personal invitation to every person who acknowledges their need of a personal relationship with Almighty God.
Jesus made clear that there is only onecondition attached to His personal invitation – it requires a personal response, Jesus said ‘Whoever believes in me.’ Only those who personally respond to His invitation and put their faith in Him will benefit from that relationship.
‘… streams of living water will flow from within him.’ In Christ alone is found forgiveness and cleansing and eternal life. And through Christ alone can we discover the comforting and enabling presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
I ask you now – What well are you drinking from? Are you spiritually thirsty? Only the ‘Life-giving Well’ will guarantee you eternal life. Only Jesus Christ can satisfy your spiritual thirst.
Where do you really stand in your relationship with God?
Dr Jim McClure welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
Among his several books and Bible studies, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, is highly recommended and offered free in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats. Link for orders and questions: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com
This excellent meditation and its clear yet necessary challenge to us as God’s children is well worth sounding out and taking to heart, with the Holy Spirit enabling us as live each day.