Isaac …….. camped in the valley of Gerar and settled there. Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham; for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the names that his father had given them. But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, the herders of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herders, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the well Esek (contention),because they contended with him. Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that one also; so he called it Sitnah (enmity).He moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he called it Rehoboth (borad places, room), saying, “Now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”
From there he went up to Beer-sheba. And that very night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So he built an altar there, called on the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army. Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you; so we say, let there be an oath between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you so that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths; and Isaac set them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water!” He called it Shibah (oath); therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba well of the oath) to this day.
Maggi Dawn makes two interesting points. First, that Isaac didn’t find it necessary to fight the Philistines for his right to use the wells of his father but trusted God for the fulfilment of the promis, and in so doing eventually the promise becamse his as well as Abraham’s. Second, that in our post-Christian era it might not be necessary to completely reinvent church, but that we can find new refreshment in old traditions and learn how these can sustain us in a very different world.Another point also struck me – that in this nomadic society without, I presume – correct me if I’m wrong – , written records, naming the wells as he did gave a way of preserving the memory of these exchanges. Indeed, we are told in Genesis 21:31 that Beer-Sheba was given it’s name by Abraham, Isaac’s father, following a similar oath sworn between Abimilech, Phicol and Abraham. So it’s possible that in sending Isaac away from the first two wells Abimilech was testing him – and when he realised that God was blessing Isaac just as He had blessed Abraham, decided that it’d be best to go with the flow and make peace before Isaac lost patience. It’s important to remember. The central form of worship for Christians is the Eucharist – an act of remembrance, of re-enactment of a key moment which enables us, also, to experience the blessing of personal relationship with Jesus which was known by the first disciples who shared that Passover meal with HIm. And of course that Passover meal was itself an act of remembrance, of re-enactment of another pivotal moment of deliverance. This is making me wonder whether it would be good to find ways of marking – of remembering – pivotal moments in my personal faith journey. I’ll give that some thought… And one last point – Isaac had to follow on from Abraham. It is a difficult thing to pick up the reins from a charismatic father – or indeed, from any charismatic person into whose shoes you step, whether related or not. I’m sure a lot of clergy experience this… a constant harking back to the way the previous incumbent did things (with a convenient forgetting of the way that previous incumbent was given the smae treatment in his/her early days!). Maybe we could consider whether we ever behave (in any context – not just church) more like the Philistines than like Isaac – needling the newcomer to see whether we get a reaction, treating the incomer with suspicion, greeting the new kid on the block with defensiveness rather than welcome. Just a thought…