the watering stone

It’s well known that the New Testament writers (re-)read their Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) with Jesus-tinted-glasses.  Their world had been turned upside down after the events of the Gospel – particularly the Resurrection of Jesus, which they didn’t see coming – and when they returned to their familiar Scriptures, they saw Christ all over the place, both in the whole general trajectory, and in particular passages.  For example, how could one not see him in Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 53?).  Christological readings of the Old Testament continued in the writings of the Early Church Fathers and on throughout Church History.

So, I was reading Genesis for a sermon on Jacob, and found verse 8 of chapter 29 to  jump out to me as being rich for New Testament reflection.  Jacob has arrived in the area of Laban, at the shepherd’s well, and upon asking them to water the sheep, they reply:

But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they have rolled the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.”

Anyone familiar with the New Testament will be able to see at least the three things I saw:

  1. The gathering of the flocks represents the gathering of the nations (or the elect) from the four winds (ends of the earth).
  2. I hope the NT meaning of rolling the stone away is self-explanatory!
  3. The watering of the sheep represents the ministry of Jesus through church leaders as those with the vocation of Peter feed Jesus’ lambs.

Now, eager to see if I was the first to spot this, I discovered this much fuller treatment of it by Gregory of Nyssa, in his “Sermon for the Day of Lights”:

Jacob also, hastening to seek a bride, met Rachel unexpectedly at the well. And a greatstone lay upon the well, which a multitude of shepherds were wont to roll away when they came together, and then gave water to themselves and to their flocks. But Jacob alone rolls away the stone, and waters the flocks of his spouse.

The thing is, I think, a dark saying, a shadow of what should come. For what is the stone that is laid but Christ Himself? for of Him Isaiah says, “And I will lay in the foundations of Sion a costly stone, precious, elect” and Daniel likewise, “A stone was cut out without hands” that is, Christ was born without a man. For as it is a new and marvellous thing that a stone should be cut out of the rock without a hewer or stone-cutting tools, so it is a thing beyond all wonder that an offspring should appear from an unwedded Virgin. There was lying, then, upon the well the spiritual stone, Christ, concealing in the deep and in mystery the layer of regeneration which needed much time—as it were a long rope—to bring it to light. And none rolled away the stone save Israel, who is mind seeing God. But he both draws up the water and gives drink to the sheep of Rachel; that is, he reveals the hidden mystery, and gives living water to the flock of the Church.