Of women, wells, and husbands: Isaac and Rebekah at the well


Rivers and trees

A recurring theme in the Bible is one of marriage covenants being made by a well. Why is this? It’s not coincidence, so we should ask What is it that Scripture wants us to know about this common occurrence. Let’s first take a look at a few of these cases.

Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage covenant was established at a well when Abraham’s servant, whose purpose was to find a wife for Isaac, met Rebekah at that well. She went down to the spring and filled her jar up, then she fed the servant and his camels. [Gen. 24]

Jacob first saw his future wife, Rachel, by a well surrounded by sheep. The mouth of the well was covered by a large stone, but when he saw the beautiful shepherdess he mustered great strength and rolled that heavy stone from the well’s mouth so that her flock could be watered. [Gen. 29]

Similarly, consider Moses. After he killed the Egyptian and fled to Midian, he sat down by a well. The seven daughters of the priest came to fill their troughs, and other shepherds tried to run them off. But Moses, the water baby, delivered the women, and he married the priest’s daughter Zipporah. [Ex. 2:11-22]

To understand the significance, we should look to the first chapters of Genesis to uncover the meaning of the symbols.

[Let me be clear: these things really happened. The stories aren’t merely symbolic fables. God orchestrates history, and the Bible reveals the importance of the ways that he has done so. It isn’t merely a sequence of random events unfolding like a chain reaction. Historical events have meaning. Christ was resurrected in history.]

IN THE GARDEN

Beginning with the first sentence of Genesis and proceeding onward, we are presented with imagery and events that become the fundamental symbols of the Bible’s language of revelation when we are told of God planting his garden in the land of Eden.

[For more discussion of the symbols that unfold from the first chapter of Genesis, click here.]

In Eden there was a spring that sourced a river. That river flowed into the garden to water it, and from there it flowed out of the garden and split up and became four rivers. Those four rivers, in Biblical language, flowed to the four corners of the earth. That water that originated from within the spring in Eden flowed down God’s holy mountain where Eden and the garden were located and out into the rest of the world. The rivers brought life to the four corners of the world.

The garden of the Lord was fertile because it was “watered everywhere,” [Gen. 13:10] and it is often used as a contrast to the wilderness and other waste places. [Is. 51:3] The garden was full of trees that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” [Gen. 2:9]

We know that the garden was full of beautiful, strong trees. This is revealed in Ezekiel, when the greatness of the nation of Assyria was compared to a cedar of Lebanon and then contrasted with the cedars in the garden of Eden that “could not rival it.” [Ez. 31:8]

In fact, “no tree in the garden of God was its equal in beauty” because God “made it beautiful” and “all the trees of Eden envied it, that were in the garden of God.” [vs.9]

One of the things that made the tree of Assyria so strong (metaphorically speaking) was that the waters of the deep “made it grow tall.” [vs.4]

The wellspring of the deep made “its rivers flow around the place of its planting, sending forth its streams to all the trees of the field.”

The idea conveyed here is fundamentally one of life-giving water that wells up from the deep in such abundance that it spills over its banks, divides into rivers, and flows away from the source in order to spread life to all corners of the world.

This is made even more clear when you realize that trees represent people, as well as rulers and their kingdoms that they represent. [Click here to read about how trees are used in Biblical symbolism.]

Man, then, was put in the garden “to work it and keep it.” [vs. 15] This meant to cultivate it, to take the raw materials of nature that God created and work them, order them into something more finished, trimmed, and prepared. Man, as God’s image, was to imitate God’s creative process. He was also supposed to “keep” it, or to watch over and defend it.

MAN’S JOURNEY OUTWARD

This was a training ground. Just as the four rivers flowed out to the ends of the earth, man was to migrate out of the garden and follow the banks of the rivers, ordering, cultivating, and taking dominion of the whole world little by little, just as he had first learned to do in the garden.

Much like the spring of water that rose up over its basin and spilled out into the rest of the world, this was to be accomplished by husband and wife having children who would flow out to all corners of the earth and take dominion by being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth.

As is stated in Genesis, Chapter 3, Eve was the mother of all living. The margin notes of the Bible say that Eve’s name sounds like the Hebrew for “life giver” and resembles the word for “living.” So we can see that there is a very close relationship between the woman and her role in giving and sustaining life because it is in her where the man’s seed is nourished into small children, and through her that life comes into the world.

Just as life-giving water wells up within and flows out of the garden, a woman gives birth to children.

After the Fall, God did not let Satan’s work disrupt this plan. He “sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.” [Gen. 3:23]

SOLOMON’S GARDEN

In the Song of Solomon, we see a more developed picture of Godly romance between husband and wife. It utilizes the imagery from Genesis and elsewhere in the Bible. The husband calls his bride “a spring locked, a fountain sealed,” [SG 4:12] and states that her garden fountain is “a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon.” [vs. 15] His wife responds to her husband’s desires by allowing him to “come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.” [vs.16]

In Proverbs we see that, similarly, the man has his own spring of water. The man is encouraged to “drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well,” which, as we are told in the Song of Solomon, is his wife. He is cautioned against having his “springs be scattered abroad” like “streams of water in the streets.” [Prov. 5:15-16]

Attention then turns to the man’s wife as he is told to “let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

This is metaphorical language, and clearly the man’s seed is in view. Instead of being intoxicated by a forbidden woman and embracing an adulteress (i.e., spilling precious water into dingy streets), he should instead bless his own fountains, his own life giving waters, by having marital relations only with his wife. His seed is for her; his life giving waters combine with her life giving waters, and together their fountains overflow and bless the world.

It makes sense, then, that Rebekah and Isaac’s marital covenant is essentially drawn up at a well because the Bible creates a strong parallelism between marriage and meeting at a well.

CULTURAL CORRUPTION AND SYMBOLIC PERVERSION

This symbolism of the wife’s garden-well and the husband’s seed-water is one so easily corrupted by an immoral culture.

For a contemporary example of such a perversion of the legitimate use of the Bible’s water symbolism, see the song “Storm Warning” by Hunter Hayes. He rhapsodically sings of having a one-night stand with a girl and refers to her as “the kind of flood you’ll never forget.”

For another example, see the lyrics to “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band. There, the singer “dreamed of [getting her off] day and night,” and eventually he succeeds in his conquest and boasts about his success with pride as if he had obtained to some virtue: “Who got you off? Well, I’m the one, dreamed of doing it day and night”. Like a flood of overflowing water she comes crashing into him, and “I come into you.” By consummating his tawdry little “boy’s dream” he was “the first to spill [her] soul,” and during their act of sex she pours “like a wave into [him]”.

Nowhere in sight in either of these songs is the marriage covenant. These are lustful fantasies of indulgent immorality. The actual result of pursuing such unbridled passions is not self-fulfillment or personal transcendence but a victimization of the woman (in this case), and society itself is undermined as the fundamental unit of society, the family, is torn apart.

Though devastating to rule and order, we are encouraged to think of this behavior as romantic and the ultimate expression of human freedom. But “Romanticism” is a lie. Romanticism is nothing more than a veiled desire to incite anarchy and destroy the rule of law that brings order and prosperity to a society — and justice to the victims.

It’s a movement that seeks, like all rebellion ultimately does, to overturn God’s kingdom and usurp it with the kingdom of Man. It’s regeneration through chaos, as all revolutionary religion is.

WATER AS SALVATION

Generally, the giving of water indicates spreading salvation in the broad sense; consider Jesus’ words when he met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, when he said that “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [John 4:14]

The water from this spring leads to life for whoever drinks it.

Rebekah was a hospitable and industrious woman who quickly drew pot after pot of water from her well to feed first Abraham’s servant, and then his camels. She was giving water to all, spreading life in abundance. The servant would have taken note of these qualities. He would have recognized them as fine traits for a woman whose family would establish dominion.

More narrowly, there is a parallel in Scripture between life-giving fountains and marriage.

The fountains well up within the lush gardens and flow out into the world, spreading salvation individually little by little. It’s in this sense that this characteristic is reserved specially for a woman’s husband only, for the marital relations that are enjoyed between husband and wife that bear the fruit of Godly marriage and result in a quiver full of blessed children.

Those children are to be raised up as Godly children and taught to obey the laws of the Lord. They will then leave their parents, marry, start new families, and spread Christ’s kingdom. On and on it goes, family by family, spreading towards the four corners of the earth.

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” [Hab. 2:14]

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One response to “Of women, wells, and husbands: Isaac and Rebekah at the well

  1. Pingback: What your college and seminary professors, and probably your church, will never tell you about studying the Bible | Rebuild America's Biblical Worldview

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