In the Gospel of John, as Jesus travels through the region of Samaria we read, “So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well (John 4:5-6; ESV).”
It is here, at Jacob’s well that Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman, and through her, gains access to the entire community. There is much in this episode worthy of consideration, but let’s just take a moment to reflect upon the well itself which provided a resting spot for the weary savior.
The text specifically identifies the well as being one dug by Jacob. John says as much, and later in the passage, the Samaritan woman acknowledges the same (cf. John 4:12).
Though Genesis does not mention the digging of the well, it does tell us that Jacob bought some land in that area. Moses writes, “And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel (Genesis 33:18-20; ESV).” It is generally assumed that Jacob dug the well on the land he purchased.
Jacob lived almost 2000 years before Christ was born, which means that the well Jesus sat upon had been there for quite a while. No doubt, over the years it had been maintained, cleaned, maybe even embellished, but the basic well was the same as that which Jacob had dug in the rock. Through all that time the well had supplied the needs of the people who lived near it… first Jacob and his sons, then afterward those inhabitants of the land, including the Samaritans of Jesus’ day.
Jacob, in digging his well, had done a good job.
One wonders if Jacob, in digging the well had stopped to consider the importance of his work. Did he envision the generations of individuals over the millennia who would quench their thirsts with the water he played a part in supplying? One suspects that he was thinking primarily of doing a good job for the purposes of the moment. He could not have known his well would not only supply water for the area for over two thousand years, but that it would one day offer the savior of the world a place upon which to sit and rest his weary body; nor could he have known that in that very spot Jesus would be able to offer to the Samaritan woman a much more precious drink: an opportunity made possible by the presence of the well.
Paul writing to the Corinthian church, noted in one passage, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6; ESV).” Paul planted seeds of faith which others built upon, and in the end, God used it for His cause. One might say of Jacob that he dug the well, others drew the water, and God used it for the Gospel of His Son.
We never know for certain how the things we do today will affect others after. What we should realize though is that they will. We are making a mark on the world around us, influencing it and shaping it in some way. This can work to either the good or the bad.
Not everyone leaves the world a better place for having been here. Some leave behind a legacy of sorrow and brokenness. If we are careless or wicked in the seeds we plant, there’s a distinct possibility of leaving the world worse. On the other hand, if we dig our wells carefully, we can leave the world better, having plant seeds which others will benefit from, perhaps for many years after we are gone. If we serve God faithfully, digging wells in His service, our work can continue to benefit others and open doors, long after we have left this mortal coil. God will take the good that we do and continue to increase it, year after year, to His glory.
So what kind of wells are we digging? Are we doing our best to make the world around us a better place? Will others continue to benefit from our influence after we are gone? Will our work serve to bring glory to the Kingdom of God and of His Son, now and in the days to come?
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.