“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” This verse is a phrase of profound poetic power, redolent of romance, happiness, comfort and security. Read it carefully a second time: “With joy … you will draw water … from the wells … of salvation.” It’s a snapshot of the history of salvation, or at the very least, the story of a satisfying relationship between loved ones. The verse is a picture of domestic tranquility. Here, in this home or place, is a deep sense of peace and fulfillment.
In ancient Israel, wells were not only important – they were critical for survival. Having a well or cistern in their own courtyard was a pipe dream for most Israelites. Indeed, many towns had only one well to serve the inhabitants, and it was outside the city gates. It was like a public utility. We take power and water for granted. While some of us might have generators to produce electricity, or even a well for water, most people, especially in urban areas, rely on the “well outside the city gates,” that is, power plants and water systems.
The fact that wells were so vital made them an excellent teaching example. God tells the prophet Jeremiah, “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13). What are the “two evils”? First, they forsook God, “the fountain of living water,” and second, they dug cracked cisterns, thereby giving God a metaphor for their faithlessness.
They ditched God – a big, big mistake. Then they gave God a graphic tool – cracked cisterns – to both confirm and describe their idiocy.
Jeremiah’s reference here to “living water” draws us to John 4 and the account of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. She’s astonished that Jesus has approached the well, ostensibly to satisfy his thirst, yet has nothing with which to retrieve the water! Something’s fishy; it doesn’t add up. “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” (John 4:11).
With this as context, let’s now address the text and start digging. The text is verse 3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Our excavation begins with a look at types of wells, then moves to the question of depth, and concludes with a discussion of bucket problems.
The two most common wells are drilled and dug wells. People who need a well today usually have it drilled using a cable tool or a rotary-drilling device. Drilled wells can go more than 1,000 feet deep.
Drilled wells, however, were not possible until the modern era. Before drilling technology came along, wells were dug by hand. According to wellowner.org, these wells were “lined with stones, bricks, tile, or other material to prevent collapse, and [were] covered with a cap of wood, stone, or concrete tile.”
But dug wells are not without problems. They aren’t too deep – certainly not a thousand feet, except for the 1,285-foot-deep Woodingdean Water Well near Brighton in the U.K. Dug wells are vulnerable to surface contamination; and they might also go dry “during periods of drought if the water table drops below the well bottom.”
But there were pluses in the ancient world. Just having water at all was huge. If an enemy could control the water supply, he could lay siege to a city and soon claim victory. It’s no surprise that a city valued and guarded its water supply regardless of the depth of the well.
Another plus was that a well promoted civic pride and conversation. Wells became meeting points where networking, political and civic conversations took place, as in the case of Jesus and the woman at the well in Samaria (see John 4). A well was also a hangout for guys looking for girls, believing they might meet that “special someone” if they had the right approach. Such was the case of Abraham’s unnamed servant (probably Eliezer) of Genesis 24, who found Isaac’s future bride, Rebekah, at a well. Using the pickup line, “Please let me sip a little water from your jar,” he got a conversation going that was ultimately responsible for the birth of the 12 sons of Israel, and indeed, a nation (Genesis 24:17). Eliezer’s mission was a huge success. “With joy,” he had drawn “water from the wells of salvation” (v. 3).
The depth of one’s well is important. Depth is a metaphor for the spiritual wellness and health of the soul.
The wells of our text in Isaiah must be deep. This is implied by the joyous gratitude expressed in verses 4-6: “And you will say on that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
Heady stuff. If you had wells that were giving you clean and pure water, you’d probably be singing with joy, too.
If we apply this to our spiritual lives, going deep is something that we prefer to do. A shallow well is not what we’re looking for. Shallow and wide is not good; deep and narrow is better. A deep, drilled well reaches water that is cool and pure, and it’s not likely to fail.
Deep is better than shallow. To describe someone as shallow is not a compliment. Only children splash around in the shallow end of the pool.
How do you know if you’re a shallow person? According to A Conscious Rethink blog, and other sources, you might be shallow if you:
- think appearance is everything,
- think status is more important than people,
- bail on a commitment if something better comes along,
- do a lot of trash-talking and gossiping,
- are into your toys and stuff,
- are constantly seeking validation,
- won’t commit unless you see how it benefits you,
- have trouble dealing with serious stuff,
- are into superficial things,
- are a terrible listener, and
- love selfies but don’t know selflessness.
One blogger wrote: “You can remind a shallow person a dozen times that you have a deathly allergy to peanuts, and they’ll still offer you some peanuts each time they see you, followed by a ‘Right, OMG I forgot. Sorry! LOL’ response.”
This is a very cultural approach to narcissistic and childish behavior. But the Bible frequently registers similar concerns, notably when the apostle Paul complains that the Corinthian Christians should be ready for the meat of the Word, but unfortunately can only be fed the “milk” of the Word. “I fed you with ilk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you” (1 Corinthians 3:2-3).
Switch the metaphor from milk and meat to shallow and deep water, and you can understand that for the apostle, jealousy and quarrelling are signs of a troubling, shallow spirituality.
The author of Hebrews echoes this theme: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; or everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5;12-14).
Those who have dug deep wells are those who are “mature,” and who have trained “to distinguish good from evil.”
Now, I know that none of you are as blatantly shallow as these examples describe. At the same time, most of us aren’t as incredible deep as these examples, either. Rather, like most Christians today, we are a mix of conflicted moods, values, passions, concerns and ethical guideposts. We want to be service oriented, but selfishness gets in the way. We want to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility [to] regard others as better than [ourselves]” (Philippians 2:3). We want to “look not to [our] own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).
And then, bucket problems get in the way.
Sometimes, we might think our spiritual life has run dry. The well is out of water. It’s dried up. We have no more reserves. We’re done.
While other factors exist, it is often true that the water may be there, but we lack the pump or the proper bucket to bring the water to the surface, where our thirst can be quenched. From a government geological source: “A well is said to have gone dry when water levels drop below a pump intake.”
Often, the water is there, but the pump is not deep enough, or we haven’t enough rope on the bucket to get it down to water level. If our pump is deep enough, we’re less likely to be affected by the emotional and spiritual weather that swirls around us. We will draw “with joy” from the well. It’s a well of salvation.
There are a lot of metaphors to deal with here: water, well, pump, bucket and rope. So, let’s keep this simple: The Bible assures us that the water is there. Today’s reading promises that, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The verse implies that we have the means to withdraw the water.
When you have a well, plus water in the well and a means to withdraw the water from the well, voila! You have joy! Amen.