Drawer of Water
dro'-er, (sho'ebh mayim, from sha'abh, "to bale up" water): In Syria and Palestine, outside of Mt. Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon, the springs of water are scarce and the inhabitants of these less favored places have always depended upon wells and cisterns for their water supply. This necessitates some device for drawing the water. In the case of a cistern or shallow well, an earthenware water jar or a bucket made of tanned goats' skin is lowered into the water by a rope and then raised by pulling up the rope hand over hand (probably the ancient method), or by running the rope over a crude pulley fixed directly over the cistern or well. In the case of deep wells, the rope, attached to a larger bucket, is run over a pulley so that the water may be raised by the drawers walking away from the well as they pull the rope. Frequently animals are hitched to the rope to do the pulling.
In some districts where the water level is not too deep, a flight of steps leading down to the water's edge is constructed in addition to the opening vertically above the water. Such a well is pointed out near Haran in Mesopotamia as the one from which Rebekah drew water for Abraham's servant. In Ge 24:16 we read that Rebekah "went down to the fountain, and filled her pitcher, and came up."
The deep grooves in their curbs, worn by the ropes as the water was being raised, attest to the antiquity of many of the wells of Palestine and Syria. Any one of the hundreds of grooves around a single well was many years in being formed. The fact that the present method of drawing water from these wells is not making these grooves, shows that they are the work of former times.
The drawing of water was considered the work of women or of men unfit for other service (Ge 24:11,13,13; 1Sa 9:11; Joh 4:7). In Syria, today, a girl servant willingly goes to draw the daily supply of water, but seldom is it possible to persuade a boy or man to perform this service. When the well or fountain is at a distance, or much water is needed, tanned skins or earthen jars are filled and transported on the backs of men or donkeys.
Water drawing was usually done at evening time (Ge 24:11), and this custom has remained unchanged. There is no sight more interesting than the daily concourse at a Syrian water source. It is bound to remind one of the Bible stories where the setting is a wellside (Ge 24:1-67; Joh 4:1-54).
The service of water drawing was associated, in early times, with that of hewer of wood (De 29:11). Joshua made the Gibeonites hewers of wood and drawers of water in exchange for their lives (Jos 9:21,23,17). The inhabitants of Nineveh were exhorted to draw water and fill the cisterns of their fortresses in preparation for a siege (Na 3:14).
Figurative: Water drawing is mentioned in the metaphor of Isa 12:3, "Ye draw water out of the wells of salvation."
James A. Patch