There are myriad themes and images that God uses throughout the whole of Scripture to communicate Himself. At first glance the significance of water may be overlooked, but the role it plays in key stories and its various symbolic and metaphorical meanings prove it to be one of the most creative ways God chooses to tell His story and the story of His people. God uses water to demonstrate His soveriegnty, power, and love for His people. IMPORTANT WATER STORIES IN SCRIPTURE creation.
According to the biblical story, the element of water has been in existence as long as any other created thing; it is first seen at the very beginning of the world. The creation account in Genesis states that God created the heavens and the earth, and that His Spirit was “hovering over the waters,”1 – anticipating the ensuing process of creation? The imagery here implies is the rest of creation either comes from or comes along with this primordial element of water. Once light was created, God separated the waters with an expanse of sky, then gathered water under the sky to one location to make a place for land.
Although these were a completely different set of people, God dramatically demonstrated His love and care for them, just as He cared for the generation previous, through once again proving His mastery over water. One more echo of the crossing of the Red Sea took place with the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Right before Elijah was taken up into heaven, the two prophets were together when Elijah struck the waters of the Jordan with his cloak, and they crossed over on dry ground out of the land of Canaan.
Then, once Elijah was gone, Elisha returned to the Jordan and re-crossed it in the same way, back into the land to take up Elijah’s ministry with a double portion of his spirit. Significant moments in Israel’s history seem to involve God miraculously providing a way through seemingly impossible – often watery – obstacles. more water stories, wells and springs There are other water stories in the Old Testament. Water figured prominently during the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert.
The Israelites would complain to Moses about their lack of sufficient water, Moses would pray to God, and God would provide for their needs. Bitter water became sweet and drinkable and water flowed from rocks. In addition, finding water in wells and springs was crucial to survival. Because of the natural aridness of the land and the lack of any mechanical means of drawing water forth from the earth, the locations of natural springs and wells were highly prized. Around them were formed communities, and the discovery of water was a moment to be celebrated.
When Abram and Lot separated, Lot chose the well watered land. When Abraham sent Hagar away with her son, she was in despair when their water ran out, but an angel showed her a well and they survived. When Abraham’s servant found Isaac’s wife Rebekah, she was drawing water from a well, and generously watered his men and animals for him. Isaac and Abimelech quarreled over the ownership of wells that Isaac reopened as he grew in wealth and power. Jacob met his wife Rachel at a well which required a stone to be rolled from its top before it could be used. Moses met his wife Zipporah by a well in Midian.
In the book of Joshua, Caleb gave his daughter two springs as part of her dowry. Natural – and sometimes supernatural – sources of water were seen in biblical culture as yet more manifestations of the care of the Lord. New Testament water stories Significant water stories occur in the New Testament. In the gospels, John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the waters of the Jordan River, the same one that Joshua led the people across and that Elisha and Elijah crossed. There are also significant baptisms that occur in Acts (Cornelius, the eunuch, etc. ) Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
He also walked on water in front of the disciples, and He calmed the waters of the sea during a storm. He encountered a Samaritan woman by a well and offered her what He called living water. Jesus pointed out the distinguishing characteristic of the owner of the Upper Room for the Last Supper was that the man was carrying a jar of water. And during the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet with water. Pilates washed his hand with water to symbolically absolve himself of Jesus’ death. Even in Jesus’ death, water plays a part, for water and blood flowed from his side when it was pierced.
Jesus seems to have continued his Father’s use of the symbolism of water to tell His story. In Revelation, the Lamb leads those who have come out of the great tribulation to springs of living water. A great star falls from the sky and turns a third of the rivers and springs of water bitter so that people die. Later, the sea, the rivers, and the springs of water turn into blood, and the great river Euphrates dries up. And near the end of Revelation, the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God through the city and provides life and abundance for heaven.
God keeps telling His story with water right up through the eschaton SYMBOLIC AND METAPHORICAL MEANINGS OF WATER water demonstrates the sovereignty of God There are a wide variety of things that water symbolizes throughout Scripture, and one of the foremost of these is the sovereignty of God. Throughout the Old Testament, water is dispensed and controlled by God – at His own pleasure, and in response to the faithfulness of His people. God creates and moves water around during the process of creation. He uses rain and springs from the deep to flood the earth in the days of Noah.
He controls the waters of seas and rivers to preserve the lives of His people and allow them to cross. Psalm 104 speaks clearly of God’s sovereignty over the water. He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;never again will they cover the earth. He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beast of the fields; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. 6 Throughout this passage it is clear that God directs where the water flows and its boundaries, and that it is God who causes it to be places where it is beneficial for the earth.
Yet not only is God sovereign over water itself, but the fact that He is in control of it is a symbol for His sovereignty over all of the earth and humanity in general. “God, the master of the universe, dispenses water according to His will and therefore holds the destinies of mankind in His hand. “7 Because water is so essential to all of life, and because God is in control of the waters of the earth, God directs life on earth and is sovereign over it. In Deuteronomy, God promises the Israelites “a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and the hills…
“8 as He leads them into the Promised Land. Just a few verses later He reminds them that He led them “through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. “9 In fact, in almost every water story in Scripture, God’s sovereign hand can be easily found, from water gushing forth from rocks to floods covering the earth to seas parting to Jesus offering living water to a Samaritan woman. God uses His power over water to tell His people that He is in control, that He cares for those He loves. offering water shows hospitality
Water is an important aspect of the concept of hospitality in the Old Testament. Abraham offered the three angels (who promised him and Sarah a child) water for washing their feet. Later, Abraham gave Hagar water and food before he sent her into the desert; by this action, it is clear that his wish was not for her death. God also provided hospitality for Hagar when she ran out of the water Abraham gave her by showing her a nearby well. In the story of Isaac and Rebekah, the test was to see which woman showed hospitality at the well by offering water to Isaac’s servant and his animals.
Later, Isaac’s son Jacob found his wife in a similar way, only this time by rolling away the stone covering of the well and offering Rachel water for and his uncle’s animals. When Joseph’s brothers ended up in Egypt, Joseph signaled his good intentions towards them by offering them water for washing. Moses followed Isaac’s and Jacob’s example by caring for his future wife Zipporah’s flock at well in Midian. Additionally, in Deuteronomy 23 is found the rule about excluding Moabites and Ammonites from the assembly of the Lord, because “they did not come down to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt…
“10 Their lack of hospitality was severely punished. Boaz showed great hospitality to Ruth. He said, “Whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled. “11 And in I Kings 13, accepting hospitality from someone seemed to have great significance; the man of God disobeyed Him and ate and drank with the old prophet, and ended up getting mauled by a lion. In the New Testament, Jesus says that “… if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.
“12 In one of the greatest stories about hospitality (not to mention love, sacrifice, and extravagance), Jesus points out that the woman who cried over his feet, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with perfume showed him the hospitality and respect that his hosts had not. The scene at the Last Supper when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet is also about, among other things, the concept of hospitality. In Scripture, it seems as though hospitality is linked with relationship. To offer someone food and water is to establish relationship, and to imply that you wish for that relationship to be a significant one and for it to continue.
Offering someone water implies that you wish for that person to go on living, to survive, to be sustained. Water is such a fundamental need for humanity to simply exist, that providing for someone’s basic need plays in this way somehow plays into each other’s humanity. In one sense, perhaps this notion of hospitality has something to do with how humanity is made in the image of God; the act of offering someone something so basic to life echoes God’s creation, provision, and maintenance of the life He put on earth. Water evidently plays an important role in the establishment of hospitality.
the water of life is salvation Water is so necessary for life that in the Old Testament it is used to illustrate and symbolize the concept of salvation. Noah was saved from great waters; the Israelites were saved from the destructive potential of the Red Sea. Hosea speaks of saving water symbolically when he says that surely God “… will appear/he will come to us like the winter rains,/like the spring rains that water the earth. “13 Isaiah also uses water as a metaphor for salvation. “With joy you will draw water/from the wells of salvation.
“14 Even more pointedly, he says, “Come, all you who are thirsty,/come to the waters;/and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! “15 And later, Isaiah clearly compares God to rain: As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 16.
In addition, “Jeremiah rebuked the people for relying on water stored up in leaky cisterns and for rejecting Yahweh, the ‘fountain of living waters. ‘ “17 Hosea, Isaiah, and Joel use rain and water as metaphors for the presence of God, which brings salvation. In the New Testament, the theme of water as salvation – living water – continues. In John, Jesus directly says, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. “18 And Jesus speaks about living water as salvation in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. “… [B]ut whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. “19 In Revelation, there are several references to living water. The multitudes sing the praises of God and speak of his salvation and say, “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;/he will lead them to springs of living water. “20 Then near the end of Revelation, John describes the new heaven and the new earth, and as Jesus names himself the beginning and end, he echoes his words to the Samaritan woman, “To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.
” Later in John’s description, from the throne of God comes “.. the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing… down the middle of the great street of the city. “21 Whether John’s description is literal or symbolic, water is an important element in the new Jerusalem. And finally, in some of the very last words of Scripture, Jesus says, “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. “22 Living water is one of the most powerful metaphors in Scripture for the power of salvation found only in relationship with God.
Asking for and drinking water couldn’t be a simpler and basic task, yet can be one of the most powerful experiences known to humanity. Who has not felt the delight in quenching insistent thirst with a tall, cool glass of water? Our culture would have us believe that a bottle of Gatorade or even a Budweiser quenches our thirst the best, but when true thirst is present, water is the most refreshing. For God to choose something so elemental, fundamental, and necessary to life through which to reveal Himself and tell His story makes sense. Water is simple, so basic to life, yet powerful enough to keep death at bay for the human.
Water can literally save one’s life, and it is no wonder that God uses it to demonstrate His salvation for the human soul. CONCLUSION Throughout the many water stories of the Old and New Testament, God uses water to tell His story. Water is a powerful elemental force, over which God demonstrates His mastery and control, which in turn communicates to His people His power and sovereignty. God created humanity with the need for water to sustain life, then tells story after story of His provision of His people with water, and thus communicates His love and care for His people.
Finally God blatantly offers living water to a woman and thus symbolizes the salvation He provides for the human soul. He even describes heaven with a great River of life flowing from His throne down throughout the city of His people, illustrating His eternal presence with and care for those He created. The appearance over and over again of water in the Scriptures reaffirms God’s presence with His people. Water is a reminder of characteristics of the Creator: sovereignty, power, and love.
In addition, in the same way that without water humanity cannot survive, relationship with the Creator is essential and crucial to the human soul. Psalm 63 sums it up well. Oh God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 23.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Barker, Kenneth L. and Kohlenberger III, John, R. Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume I: Old Testament. (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1994). Barker, Kenneth L. and Kohlenberger III, John, R.
Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume II: New Testament. (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1994). Green, Joel B. and McKnight, Scott. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. (Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1992). The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, An Illustrated Encyclopedia. (Abingdon Press: New York, New York, 1962). Kroeger, Catherine Clark and Evans, Mary J. The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary. (Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 2002). Leon-Dufour, Zavier. Dictionary of Biblical Theology. (The Seabury Press: New York, New York, 1977).
Tenney, Merrill C. and Barabas, Steven. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume Five. (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1977). Vine, W. E. , Unger, Merrill F. , and White, Jr. , William. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. Thomas Nelson Publishers: New York, New York, 1985). 1 Genesis 1:1 (NIV) 2 Genesis 7:11 (NIV) 3 Barker, Kenneth L. and Kohlenberger III, John, R. Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume I: Old Testament. (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1994), 17. 4 Isaiah 8:7 (NIV) 5 Joshua 3:16 (NIV) 6 Psalm 104:5-13 (NIV).
7 Leon-Dufour, Zavier. Dictionary of Biblical Theology. (The Seabury Press: New York, New York, 1977), 644. 8 Deuteronomy 8:7 (NIV) 9 Deuteronomy 8:15 (NIV) 10 Deuteronomy 23: 4 (NIV). 11 Ruth 2:9 (NIV). 12 Matthew 10:24 (NIV). 13 Hosea 6:3 (NIV) 14 Isaiah 12:3 (NIV) 15 Isaiah 55:1 (NIV) 16 Isaiah 55:10-11 (NIV) 17 The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, An Illustrated Encyclopedia. (Abingdon Press: New York, New York, 1962), 807. 18 John 7:38 (NIV) 19 John 4:14 (NIV) 20 Revelation 7:17 (NIV) 21 Revelation 22:1 (NIV) 22 Revelation 22:17 (NIV) 23 Psalm 63:1 (NIV).