Genesis chapter 26 tells of Isaac’s moves and whereabouts after Abraham had died. One theme of the chapter seems to be the discovery, digging, and ownership of water wells, not to mention the discovery of a spring, which must have been quite the event in that day. (I’ve been to the area and remember being struck, for instance, by the sight of Jericho, which is a veritable oasis. In a sea of dead browns, the green there stood out like the little girl in Schindler’s List who was dressed in red when everything around was in black and white.)
Isaac did well (whoa! pun!), and the Philistines got jealous and filled up Isaac’s wells with dirt. Isaac moved at King Abimelech’s request–apparently just to the other side of the wells–and then reopened the wells, naming them what Abraham had named them.
Isaac’s shepherds found a spring. There was a territorial dispute. They dug another well. There was another territorial dispute. They dug another well. The Philistines finally left them alone. Isaac and his people were grateful. They worshipped God and dug another well. And they dug another one after a peaceful covenant was made with Abimelech. Other wells appear in the book of beginnings, such as the one at which Rebekah drew for the servant who came to find a wife for Isaac.
In Colorado today, there is a fairly extensive set of legal codes known as “water rights law.” In some cases, water rights are owned by progenitors yea, unto the fifth or sixth generation. And rights are sold for big bucks. In a dry land, water is crucial. I daresay water was even more important to the people of Isaac’s land than to the people of Colorado and Nevada and Utah and Arizona (and the Sudan, and Ethiopia, and …).
And it was probably just as important to the daily sustenance for the woman at the well, in the story John told.
“Please give me some water.”
“Huh? This well is pre-designated. We’re segregated, remember?”
“If you knew who I am, you would have asked me to give you living water.”
“Our ancestors dug this well and drank from it.”
“The water I give takes away thirst altogether.”
Lord, give us some of that water.