I am preaching this sermon on Father’s Day, June 16, 2013. I hope your Father’s Day celebration is wonderful.
Re-digging Our Fathers’ Wells
Genesis 26:18 NIV
18 Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.
Today is Father’s Day
Today is Fathers’ Day. As often happens on this day, dads are served their favorite breakfast, presented with handmade cards that say things like, “You’re the greatest, Dad!” and, generally made to feel pretty special on this day.
The idea for a Father’s Day to balance the honoring of mothers on Mothers’ Day was the brainchild of Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington. In 1910, after noting the success of Mothers’ Day, Dodd proposed that a similar day to honor fathers be set aside. She suggested her own father’s birthday, but apparently her pastor did not have enough time to prepare a suitable sermon, and so the celebration was delayed until June 19, 1910, where at the YMCA of Spokane, Washington the first Father’s Day was observed.
Unfortunately, the designation of a special day for fathers failed to catch on like Mothers’ Day, but Dodd enlisted retailers who sold men’s clothing, tobacco, and other accessories in the effort to promote and establish a permanent holiday. Father’s Day observances grew, but it wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon signed a bill proclaiming this Sunday the official observance of Father’s Day here in the United States.
But beyond the ties, t-shirts, mugs, and other gifts dads receive on Father’s Day, and despite the fact that the celebration has serious commercial undertones, there is a significant point to Father’s Day. Father’s Day celebrates the best that our fathers, or those who acted in that role, bequeathed to us in their examples, words, instruction, guidance, and care.
The Legacy of Abraham, Isaac’s Father
The passage I have chosen today from Genesis 26:18 is a rather simple accounting of Isaac re-opening the wells that his father Abraham had dug previously. This brief and to-the-point verse tells a very interesting story.
“Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.” -Genesis 26:18 NIV
Here’s the background to this short verse. God had called Abraham out of the Ur of Chaldees. God’s plan was for Abraham to become the father of a great nation of people which we know as the Jews, and the nation of Israel. But when God called Abraham, he was already an old man, and his wife Sarah was old, too. They had no children of their own, and so the promise of God that Abraham would be the father of a great nation was one they both chuckled at on more than one occasion.
In addition to that, they tried to help God out. At Sarah’s urging, Abraham took her servant, Hagar, and fathered a child named Ishmael. They did things like that then, and it was perfectly acceptable because not to have an heir was to have no one to care for you in your old age.
But God’s plan was that Abraham, who was 100 years old, and Sarah, who was 90, would have their own natural biological child. Which they did, and they named him Isaac. And so God fulfilled his promise to give Abraham a son, and to make Abraham the father of a great nation.
Before Isaac was born, Abraham was on a journey with God, living a nomadic existence. Abraham, the Bible tells us, would eventually have great herds and flocks, and a large extended family and entourage that accompanied him. And of course, because they were in the desert and wilderness a lot, they always needed to be able to find water.
So, on one occasion Abraham had dug wells to provide water for his family and flocks. The king of the region, Abimelech, had servants who seized the wells Abraham had dug, claiming them as their own. At an opportune moment, Abraham confronted King Abimelech. Abimelech had already asked Abraham to deal fairly with him because his had noticed that God was taking care of Abraham.
Abraham made a deal with Abimelech. Abraham presented 7 sheep to Abimelech, and said to him, “By receiving these 7 sheep, you are acknowledging that I dug this well, and that it is mine.” Abimelech said, “Fine” and Abraham named the well Beersheba, which means “oath well.”
Now probably 50 or so years passed, and Abraham died. Isaac is now a grown man, and his wife Rebekah is the love of his life. But, a famine grips the land where they are living, and Isaac turns to the King of Gerar, Abimelech, just as his father Abraham has done. The King, perhaps remembering the encounter with Isaac’s father, invites Isaac to stay in Gerar rather than go down to Egypt.
Isaac settles down in Gerar, just like his father Abraham did, and re-digs the wells that his father Abraham had dug, and names the wells the same names that Abraham had used.
The story ends just like the story of Abraham’s wells ended: after having a squabble with some of the shepherds under Abimelech’s rule, they finally come to an agreement that Isaac can use the well he names Rehoboth. After that, Isaac repeats the action of his father Abraham — he goes up to Beersheba and worships God.
The Lesson of the Wells
So, this morning, on this Father’s Day, I’d like for us to focus for just a moment on what lessons we can learn from these stories about digging and re-digging wells. There are three main thoughts I want you to take home with you on this Father’s Day.
First, from our fathers, both biological and spiritual, we can learn important life lessons. I am sure that Abraham shared the story of how God had called him from the Ur of Chaldees, had promised to make him the father of a great nation, and of the story of how Isaac had been born to a couple most thought too old to have children.
I am sure that Abraham told Isaac the story of how one day God called on Abraham to take Isaac, who then was perhaps 10 years old or so, to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him. Of course, human sacrifice – even child sacrifice – was fairly common in that era. But I am sure that Abraham also told Isaac that he wondered at the command of God. Isaac was Abraham’s only hope for the fulfillment of God’s promise. If there was no Isaac, Abraham would not be a father, and could not become the father of a great nation. So, it must have all seemed very strange to Abraham.
However, I am also sure that Abraham told Isaac that story, and then told him how in the moment that Abraham lifted the knife to plunge it into Isaac’s chest, that God provided a ram as a substitute. Of course, Isaac was there, and I am sure relived those moments as Abraham retold the story.
Those wells that Abraham dug provided the water that made it possible for Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, their family, their servants, and their flocks to survive. That water from those wells that Abraham had dug were the source of life in an environment of death. Without that water, no one and nothing of Abraham’s would have survived.
Those wells symbolize, not just water, but all that Abraham had done in obedience to God, and all that God had done in providing for and protecting Abraham.
The digging of those wells required planning, effort, and concern and love for others. And just like Abraham’s obedience to God, those wells symbolized the ways in which Abraham sought to care for his family.
I am sure that if I asked you today, “What wells did your father dig that were examples to you of his care and love?” you could come up with many examples. The point is that what our fathers have done, whether they are our biological or spiritual fathers, in order to care for us is as important as it was for Abraham to dig the wells to provide water.
The second point I want to make today is this: We need to keep those examples alive, to re-dig those wells, so they can be a source of life to others.
This is exactly what Isaac did. Isaac followed the example of his father Abraham. He found refuge with the same king, in the same country, that his father Abraham had. And, Isaac re-opened the wells his father Abraham had dug for the same reason — to provide life-giving water to his family, his flocks, and for his crops.
In our changeable society, we tend not to value that which has gone before us like we once did. Tradition is often used in a derogatory manner, as in “let’s get rid of that old tradition and do something new.” Well, sometimes we do need to do something new, but not all the time.
If we do not value those who have gone before us, we miss the lesson of the wells and the example of our fathers. Debbie and I are watching a series about the life of John Adams, second president of the United States. What was glossed over in the history of our nation that we studied in school was the difficulty in establishing this nation as a free and independent country.
John Adams was convinced that the colonies must become independent. Others were not so convinced, and after much wrangling, and great disagreement and dissent, all thirteen colonies finally came together to declare independence from England. But many, like Adams, paid a high price for their convictions.
In Chinese culture, ancestors are revered. So much so, that the ancient practice of cleaning the bones of the dead ancestors was, and in some places still is practiced. Ancestors were believed to have made the lives of their descendants possible, and were thought to still be important in living a good and happy life.
While we don’t want to adopt Chinese ancestor worship, we do need to pay attention to the examples our forefathers, and mothers, have set for us. All tradition isn’t bad. If, for instance, we paid attention to the theological struggles of the early church, and learned from them, we wouldn’t continue to make the very same theological mistakes today.
When Isaac re-opened the wells his father Abraham had dug, he did it for very practical reasons, I imagine. First, the wells had been dug once, and so re-opening them wouldn’t be as hard as starting over.
Secondly, Isaac knew that if he dug where his father Abraham had dug, he would hit water. The water was still there, where Abraham his father had first found it. Re-digging those wells meant that the water would be there, and it would be available sooner that if they started from scratch.
Finally, when Isaac re-dug those wells, he knew the struggle he might have. Sure enough, 50 years later, Abimelech’s servants also tried to take Isaac’s wells, just as they had his father’s. But, Isaac had the experience of Abraham to inform his own experience. When Isaac was successful in not only opening, but laying claim to the well at Rehoboth, he followed the example of his father Abraham and acknowledged God’s role in providing for him.
However, Isaac not only dug the wells, but named them the same names that Abraham called them. My final point is that we need to not only re-open our fathers’ wells, we need to call them by the same names.
Now, here we’re sort of on our own because with a couple of exceptions, we don’t know the names of Abraham’s wells. But let’s extend our metaphor and assume that the names of the wells are the attributes and values of Abraham that we need to re-open for ourselves.
We could take Abraham’s example of good stewardship and reopen that well. After all, God blessed Abraham with flocks and family, and Abraham was blessed beyond his wildest imagination by God. But that’s not the most important well.
If we had to pick one well, one name, to re-dig then that well would be the well of faith. Over and over again, the Bible says, “Abraham believed God.”
Listen to Hebrews 11 from a completely different era, probably over 2,000 years after Abraham lived.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance,obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[c] 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
If there is any well we need to re-open today, it is the well of faith. Abraham’s great gift to Isaac, to his offspring, to the first century church, and to us today is the example of faith. Abraham believed God when God called him out of paganism into obedience. Abraham believed God when God promised to make him the father of a great nation. Abraham believed God when God promised to make him, not only the father of a great nation, but the father of one little boy. Abraham believed God when God asked for that boy’s life back as a sacrifice. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham reasoned that if he killed Isaac, that God could bring Isaac back from the dead, which is what would have had to happen for Abraham to have grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and to become the father of a great nation.
So, on this Father’s Day, let’s remember that our fathers have dug some wells that we still need. Let’s re-open the well of faith particularly, because it is at that well that we find living water.