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 (Manna 59: Technology and Entertainment)
Digging Wells: The Place of God in an Age of Job Insecurity
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Digging Wells: The Place of God in an Age of Job Insecurity

David Liu—Pacifica, California, USA

Working life in the late-twentieth century and beyond could well be summarized as an age of job insecurity.

Books have been published addressing this new face of working life, many giving advice on how to deal with changes. The bestseller Who Moved My Cheese? offers this key teaching on how to deal with changes at work: “They keep moving the cheese…be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again and again.1

While self-help books as such have their nuggets of applicability at times, life’s problems are not as easy as simply following a few formulaic steps. Human strategies alone won’t provide the complete answer, especially if God is not in the equation.

As Christians, we need to cope with job insecurity and the even more menacing insecurity in our hearts as we face the ever-changing world by reaffirming our relationship with God. The insecurity we feel may very well be a symptom of an underlying issue of misplaced priorities.

EXPERIENCING JOB INSECURITY

I remember the first time I encountered a layoff. Our company had made a decision without announcing that they were downsizing. Throughout the day, human resources had gone from cubicle to cubicle with boxes and security escorting people out. To me, it felt like any other normal day since I was oblivious to what had been going on.

By the end of the day, a third of the company was gone. Lower-level managers were not even sure who still worked for them. Upper management sent out a clear message to us: we needed to be more productive and more profitable. More work, less people. Or else more layoffs were coming.

The reality of corporate life sank in. Companies were no longer loyal to employees—they resorted to threatening them instead. I tried to look at the bright side, thankful that I had survived a massive layoff.

But I would not be so lucky when the second round of layoffs came. All non-managerial positions were eliminated because they were being outsourced to India. And to add insult to injury, we would spend our last few months training our replacements.

In these trying economic times, we face much uncertainty in our lives. Jobs are no longer as secure as they once were. Companies no longer provide employee loyalty because they can no longer afford it, and they often resort to downsizing and even outsourcing to cut costs.

Employees are at the mercy of the market, and many of us wake up wondering whether this is the day we will lose our jobs. Those who own homes find themselves in foreclosure due to economic downturns.

The challenge is particularly noticeable for those who are graduating and those who are starting out in their careers with little or no experience. The current market has been far more unkind towards them.

Even those who are offered positions with a company may not be surprised to find their offer rescinded. Others find themselves moving to new places to pursue jobs because they are no longer in the position to be selective about which job to accept.

DIGGING HIS WAY TO UNDERSTANDING

In Old Testament times, many saints led nomadic lives in search of a decent livelihood. Digging up wells represented a source of living and a way to sustain their household—it was staking a claim of ownership to the land. It’s like buying a home, settling down, and claiming a piece of land to be yours.

The Bible records that Isaac was very prosperous and had great possessions of flocks, herds, and a great number of servants. Hence, he needed to dig a well as a source of water to provide for his charges. But for Isaac, digging a well would not be as simple as it seemed.

Issues started off with Abraham when he first moved to the land of Gerar, which the Bible described as an arid place, and they continued to follow Isaac. We see that for both father and son, the Philistines created trouble for them while they dwelt in Gerar. There wasn’t much of a sense of security for Abraham and Isaac in those days.

Trouble started for Abraham when the Philistines seized the wells that he had dug (Gen 21:25). Abraham reacted by rebuking Abimelech, but they later formed a covenant in the land of Beersheba (Gen 21:25-32). However, after Abraham died, the Philistines filled his wells up with earth (Gen 26:18).

The Philistines grew envious of Isaac. As precious as a well was during those trying times, the Philistines were willing to fill up the wells and lose the sources of water in order for Isaac to lose his claim of ownership to the land. Abimelech even had this piece of advice for Isaac: “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we” (Gen 26:16).

Despite these setbacks, Isaac did not leave the land. He did not go down to Egypt, where food was probably abundant, because he remembered God’s words to him (Gen 26:2-4). Instead, he dwelt by the valley and dug more wells.

From this, Isaac was to learn more about well-digging and the place of God. The first two wells that he and his servants dug out, Esek and Sitnah, were met with conflict by the Philistines. The names carry the history of the wells, “Quarrel” and “Enmity.” 

In each case, we see that Isaac simply gave up and departed from the land rather than fight to retain his claim to the land. To the Philistines, it might have seemed like a cowardly reaction not to stand up for what was rightfully his. But in Jesus’ teaching, we see that the meek shall inherit the earth; of course, in God’s time.

Finally, Isaac dug another well that the Philistines did not contend with him for. He named it Rehoboth (or “Spaciousness”) saying, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land” (Gen 26:22).

In Isaac’s previous attempts at digging a well, he retreated each time he met with opposition. He refused to stay in a land filled with opposition and hostility. His strategy seemed simple—as long as he found a well that had a source of water and no one to contend with him for it, he was inclined to stay in the land.

We see that after much searching and digging, Isaac finally found what he was looking for. Rehoboth seemed to be the ideal place for Isaac to settle down and to start his life. He found peace there, the space he needed, and the land where he believed that he would be fruitful.

Isaac’s decision of where he should stay was based upon finding abundant water and the absence of hostilities. Having dug a well that was uncontested, we would have expected Isaac to dwell there. Instead, we are told that he moved on to Beersheba, right after finding what he once set out to find.

GETTING OUR PRIORITIES RIGHT

Up until this point, Isaac’s sojourn had been a reaction to his circumstances and environment. But there was now a deeper change in him that gave new direction in his life. He did not realize that finding opposition at all the previous wells and retreating each time would draw him closer to the place where God wanted him to be.

To Isaac, Beersheba was a great reminder of his father’s faith and God’s promises to him. Beersheba was the first place he and his father came to after they had descended from Mount Moriah, where Abraham passed the test God set for him. It was where Isaac saw his father walk with God, and, on a deeper level, where he felt was the place God wanted him to be as well.

Previously, Isaac moved around to different places because of opposition. He tested the lands by building a well and seeing what the circumstances were. But now, Isaac was willing to be led by the voice of God.

We see that Isaac’s faith was confirmed when God spoke to him that very night, reassuring him of the covenant He had made with his father:

            And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake.” So he built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well. (Gen 26:24, 25)

Having met with quarrel and enmity at his earlier wells, Isaac’s approach changed in the land of Beersheba. First, he built an altar; then he pitched his tent; and, lastly, he dug a well. The order of each activity was crucial. Having met God and heard His voice, the priorities in his life shifted, and he finally found home.

In the face of much insecurity in his nomadic life, Isaac finally found the true and only stabilizer: God. Today, we face similar instabilities that Isaac experienced, and, with the incessant flux in so many aspects of modern life, this should serve as a good guide to prioritizing things in our life.

Home is the place of God’s presence, and there we should dwell. Only there may we be assured of God’s provision for all of our needs. Spiritual needs take the highest priority, and material needs last.

 

1.        Johnson, Spencer (1998). Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and Life. Putnam Adult.

 

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Author: David Liu
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