Shovels, Wells & Wide Open Spaces
Recently my family has been in the process of preparing my grandparent’s farm for sale. This has already proven challenging, especially considering all the sentimental ties. My grandparents purchased this 60+ acre property in 1955, and tended it with great care and fervency – as if it had been entrusted to them a their own garden of Eden. (Ironically, the farm is located just 10 miles southeast of Eden [NC].). The farm eventually became known as “Fair Ground Farm,” affectionately named for the old Rockingham County Fairground located just across the highway. Although my grandfather worked a full-time job at nearby American Tobacco Company as an electrician, he kept the farm bustling with activity, raising and tending cattle, growing and bailing hay, planting and harvesting corn and other crops, hunting, and occasionally ‘terminating’ varmints who might cause harm to the cows or crops.
My memories of this place are sweet. As a child, it was a big playground. And as my cousin and I were reflecting recently, it was the place where ‘free range parenting’ was perfected! (Thanks mom!) Despite the many brushes with danger…memories of which still give me chills…it was a place for work, play, creativity and lots and lots of adventure. It was where I tried my hand at wrestling calves, and eventually where I learned to wrangle and control a full-size heifer, bull or steer as a cattle showman. It’s where I tried my first (and last) chew of tobacco, followed by a round of absolutely throwing-up my guts! It was a kingdom to explore and reign-over, alongside my cousins, where we also managed often to come under harsh punishment for any trouble we caused at the hands of the real kings and queens of the land!
But what I loved most about it all was that the farm was this big, wide, open space for life; something I could have never fully appreciated as a child, but something (more figuratively perhaps) I seem to be longing and searching for all the more in my life today. Perhaps you too know what of what I speak in consideration of some area of your own life.
For many years now, I have followed various Bible reading plans that have taken me through the entirety of the Scriptures in a year. And each year around this time, I find myself re-reading with fresh interest and wonder in Genesis, where the great origin story narrows-in on a guy named Abraham and his descendants, whom God blesses, and through whom all the families and nations of the earth will be blessed (Gen.12:2-3; 22:18).
As we arrive in Genesis 26, the blessing has passed to Isaac, Abraham’s son of promise, who is born to he and his wife, Sarah, in their old age. We are told that a famine drives Isaac and his family to Gerar, located in a region know as the Negev – an open, rugged and sparsely populated area southwest of the Dead Sea. It was part of the land of the Philistines at the time, ruled by a man named Abimelech (probably not the same king from Genesis 20; more likely a descendent-king by the same name).
While in the land, Isaac thrived, and the people around him envied his success, which was part of the evidence of God’s blessing upon him. And as a result, they eventually pushed him out (Genesis 26:14-16).
Isaac departs from there, and begins to settle in the nearby valley where his father had once dug wells. Wells were obviously an important commodity, especially in a region so arid and rocky. Wells not only served personal and agricultural needs, but in many cases served the needs of an entire community. And because humans were involved, wells, and the rights thereof, could become hotly disputed.
So, as Isaac settles into his new home, he digs wells, and he begins by re-digging the wells of his father, which we’re told had been stopped-up after the death of Abraham (v.15,18). Which, when you think about it, seems really odd given that wells, especially good ones, would have been a hot commodity in a region like the Negev. And by the way, who wouldn’t want a well dug by a guy who had God’s blessing all over him? It’s like God’s blessing seemed to transfer to almost everything he touched.
Although we don’t know the exact reasons why the wells would have been filled with dirt, its probably safe to assume that the ‘sparse’ population of people living in that region wanted the outsiders out!
Outsiders Out, Insiders In
How sad it is when people claim such a ‘right’ to a place that they will push people out who infringe on their territory, but in doing so, potentially push away God’s blessings. Where instead of a place and a people being inclusive, their exclusivity ends up pushing people away, keeping the outsiders out so that the insiders can continue to control all the resources, even when it means sitting on the resources while doing little to nothing with them. And so often, all of this happens without the insiders even realizing what they’re doing.
But sometimes it’s the outsiders who are actually necessary to help see, expose and unearth what is and has been, and can be there, things the insiders have become so accustomed to seeing that they no longer see resources and all the potential around them. But this is what we do when we live as if things are ours and that there is only so much room, only so much good to go around, and the more outsiders infringe, the less there’ll be. That’s called the scarcity dilemma… something that is still alive and well today in local communities, places of worship, schools and other systems.
The three wells
Well #1: Esek (contention)
As Isaac and his people went about their digging, they dug a well which became contested by the local herdsmen who claimed that the well, along with its water, was theirs. All of this despite the work Isaac had done to dig the well in the first place. Eventually, Isaac just concedes the dispute, and on his way out, names the well Esek, which in Hebrew translates contention or dispute; a great way of commemorating the striving, quarreling and contention that had taken place over the well.
So Isaac moves on and keeps digging.
Well #2: Sitnah (enmity)
But this second well produces the same results: a good well, but more quarreling. So Isaac calls this one Sitnah, which means strife, accusation, enmity or hatred. Not only was Isaac feeling unwelcome and pushed out as the locals contended with him over the wells, but he might have even encountered false accusations, with people accusing this outsider of trying to take (maybe even steal) what they claimed was theirs in the first place – even if they didn’t work for it – all in an effort on Isaac’s part of trying to make things better, not only for himself, but for the surrounding community. I imagine all of this opposition was not only disheartening, but left Isaac feeling a bit hated by this point. Maybe this is when Isaac was ready to throw his hands up in the air in resignation and shout something like, I was only trying to help! This would have been a great opportunity for Isaac to shake the dust off his sandals, take his family and herd, and head back north. (Most of this is just assumption and may be a stretch, but you get the picture.)
But, again, Isaac concedes the well, moves on, and keeps digging.
Well #3: Rehoboth (enlargement)
But for whatever reason, there is no quarreling over this third well. So Isaac appropriately names this one “Rehoboth, saying, “For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land” (v.22). Rehoboth means enlargement, describing a wide, board, open space, a place where ‘room’ has been made (rachab (Hb.): ‘made room’; primitive root of Rehoboth) by the LORD for Isaac to make a home, spread out, prosper and live into his future, which, by the way, includes being a blessing to the world.
Have you found yourself longing for a Rehoboth in your life? Perhaps its a place representing your desire, your need for room…
room to be,
room to breathe,
room to think,
room to create,
room to explore,
room to fulfill your purpose and mission,
room to grow,
room to prosper and flourish,
room be still,
room to listen.
I think about my grandparent’s farm, a place that represented so much freedom, with few constraints. I think about a place
where I belong,
where no one is trying to push me out,
where there is plenty to go around,
where there is openness,
where life gets to be lived wide, open and broadly,
where there is ‘room.’
Where do you long for, where are you desperate for, where are you searching for a place, a well called Rehoboth?
As you consider that question, let me offer a few additional questions that may help put all this in some better perspective.
- Where have you been digging in contention, strife and enmity, perhaps revealing that it might be time to move on? This almost feels too dangerous and a bit reckless to pose as a question. The reason being that sometimes we can be so desperate to move on from a difficult relationship or a challenging set of circumstances that all it takes is one semblance of permission to give up, abandon our post and leave it all behind, and all of a sudden, we have wrongly interpreted what’s really going on. We may even go so far as to misinterpret and twist God’s Word into saying what we want it to say. This happens all the time, where in our struggle for clarity and encouragement, we just can’t seem to make sense what to do: Do I stay? Do I keep trying? How much longer am I supposed to put up with him/her? How much more can I take? Besides, doesn’t God want me to be happy? I don’t deserve this! And before we know it, we have bypassed a God-ordained struggle that was orchestrated for the purpose of our own sanctification while bringing perhaps greater depth to the relationship, and ultimately, good and victory to a rotten set of circumstances, where only God would get the glory. But we come to the end of ourselves, or so we think, far too quickly, and we end up taking the easy way out, the shortcut, the path of least resistance.
So, please don’t misunderstand what I’m suggesting here. As long as you and I live on this earth, we will inevitably be faced with opposition and contention; we will be forced to navigate hostility, futility and enmity. Which means that sometimes, we’ve just got to keep digging, because conceding and abandoning the well too soon may only make things worse. This is where you and I have to discern by making room in our lives to listen to the still small voice, the low whisper that can often only be heard in the quiet moment and stillness before the LORD (see 1 Kings 19:1-18).
In order to discern between whether to stay or whether to move on, we obviously need the wisdom of heaven as we resolve ourselves to seek the will of the Father (James 3 :17). And as we do, we must also pay close attention to how God may also be speaking to us through our circumstances. And sometimes our circumstances are making it clear it’s time to move on from that well, because the deeper I dig, the deeper the contention, strife and enmity. Again, this a question we must ultimately bring before the Father, while we spiritually discern and seek the counsel, wisdom and perspective of others. Just keep in mind – it’s the wisdom of heaven, not the wisdom of earth, we need most.
- Where have you quit digging, and where do you need to take back up the shovel and keep digging? It’s easy to understand how contention, defeat, hostility, and enmity can lead us to a place of apathy; where we just lay down the shovel and quit! I’ve had enough! I tried, but I seem to keep failing. Instead of bringing blessing, all I feel like I’m doing is bringing curse! Enough! I’m getting out of here.
This is where I believe Isaac’s example is especially key. (By the way, not everything in Isaac’s life can be used as such a positive example; and yet, God blesses Isaac, not because of what Isaac has done to deserve it, but simply because God stays true to His word to Abraham. That’s grace!) Instead of giving up, Isaac not only moves on, he keeps digging.
He digs the first well. Esek! He moves on and digs another well. Sitnah! Interestingly, for some of us, all it would have taken was the first well, and we’d be done! But Isaac keeps moving, and the project leads to a well called Rehoboth! I don’t know how many wells you nor I may have to dig before we get there; there’s certainly no magic formula here. But perhaps, just maybe, the next well to be dug will be the one we’ve been digging for all along! Rehoboth!
- Where do more wells need to be dug? As we keep reading through the Exodus 26 account, we find that Isaac doesn’t stop digging after Rehoboth. In verse 32, Isaac’s servants come to inform him of another well they have dug, which Isaac ends up naming (or perhaps renaming; see Genesis 21:31) Shibah, which means “oath,” contributing to the name of the settlement/city in the southernmost portion of Palestine – Beersheba, which translates “well of the oath.”
And the oath was that God would continue to bless Isaac for the sake of blessing the world. This was Isaac’s purpose, his mission – not to dig wells for himself, his own interests and his own satisfaction, but to keep digging (both literally and figuratively) for the good of others. Had Isaac stopped at Rehoboth, I believe it would only have been a matter of time before the satisfaction of that well eventually dried up, leaving him longing for more.
Isaac’s digging, along with his blessings, were paving the way for God’s ultimate Blessing to the world through the incarnation of the One and Only Son, Jesus – the Well that never runs dry, but rather, brings forth an endless flow of living water from which the thirst of our souls are ultimately satisfied (John 4:13-14).
You see, despite our desperation for a Rehoboth in our lives, Rehoboth should also remind us that our purpose is to not stop there, but to use the blessing of the space and the room we’ve been given to grow, flourish and prosper as the energy to propel us on to the next well that will serve and bless others.
May you keep digging for the glory of God and for the good of others. Where you have grown exhausted, discouraged, defeated, may you be given the encouragement by the grace of God to take back up that shovel. As you seek the heart and the will of your Heavenly Father, may you be richly provided the wisdom of heaven to know where to keep digging, and when it’s time to pick-up the shovel, move on and find a new place to dig – but either way, may you keep digging, because the next well might just be your Rehoboth! And once there, may you not stop, as your mission and purpose expands, broadens and grows wide for not only your own good, but for the good of others and the Glory of God!