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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.