One common thread we quickly observe as we journey through the story of the Jewish patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – is their devotion to basic principles that underpin their lives. These men were primarily farmers, owning and raising livestock as well as cultivating the ground. And they were often on the move in search of greener pasture (literally) or better farming conditions. But wherever they went, there were two things they always did: raise altars of prayer and dig wells of water. These two actions have great significance for us now as it did for them then. Let us explore further…
In Old Testament times, an altar signified a meeting place between a human being and a spiritual being. Israelites and non-Israelites raised altars, whether to Jehovah or to other gods (idols). Two critical things that happened at an altar was the offering of a sacrifice, and communication between two parties. The sacrifice was an animal, and the offeror (the human being) always expected to hear from the other party, the unseen being. People made supplications, consultations and even initiated covenants at an altar. An altar was also a memorial – a reminder of conversations held there.
In New Testament times, the practice of raising a physical altar has been abolished. Jesus offered Himself as a once-for-all sacrifice for sin to broker peace between God and man. We have unfettered access to God in Jesus’ name, as His blood instituted an everlasting covenant between God and every man who believes. But the raising of spiritual altars continues to be important – the practice of initiating conversation with God for the purpose of supplications, petitions, and enquiries. Now, the altar is your heart, and the sacrifice is your life – you must present yourself as an offering to God.
Alive, but dead to sin, to the world and to our natural desires – we must no longer be controlled by these things as we offer ourselves to God daily. The Bible records some of the encounters these patriarchs had at their altars as a pointer to the supernatural dimension we can experience when we initiate conversation with God on the altar of our heart. It includes divine promises and instructions, pronunciation of blessing, affirmation of promises, a revelation of the future and even a change of name! Their life decisions and choices were guided by the outcomes of their encounters at the altar.
A well – an assured source of water in arid regions where these men wandered – was a necessity upon settling in a new place. To dig a well is to create an enabler for your natural profession. He who successfully dug a well guaranteed life and demonstrated capacity to deliver. In our modern world, digging wells would be equivalent to acquiring knowledge. While shallow wells dried up during heat or drought, deep wells remained reliable year-round and assured sustenance in and out of season. Deep wells of knowledge enable you keep growing in your profession and sustain a livelihood.
The fathers of our faith left us great examples as they pursued their earthly professions with such dexterity while passionately building their relationships with God. They recognized God’s role as the Giver of life and purpose and involved Him in their affairs. They affirmed He was their Source as they skillfully plied their trades. He guided them in the way they should go and brought them to rest through guidance received from altars of prayers, and blessings confirmed through wells of water they dug. Of necessity, in our days, we also must raise altars and dig wells.
A few Scripture references: Altars (12:7-8, 13:4,18, 26:25, 33:20, 35:1-7), Wells (Gen 21:25-30, 26:17-25, 32)