Faith, Bible and WaterRichard Lundie
What does the Bible have to say to us about water? In a time of water restrictions and uncertainty around water sustainability, we can turn to our faith for clarity and direction. The God of the Bible is not silent on the issue. In fact, 722 times the scriptures reference water and rivers. How does our ancient faith speak into our current reality of water? This blog does not look at all 722, but just 23, looking for the themes and lessons that we can take from God’s word and apply to our lives today. To help structure this, we will be using the chapters of the grand narrative of God’s story: creation, fall, redemption and restoration.
In the beginning, God spoke creation into being. All things that we know as material were made by him – including water. In the Garden of Eden, he had a river flow out of it to water the garden (Gen 2:10). This water brought life and sustenance to people, animals and plants. We recognise, too, that God made humans with 70% water. We cannot separate our health from that of water. The creation account show us that water is not man-made, it is the creation of God, a gift from him for our very sustenance.
When sin entered into the story of humanity, our relationship with water changed. Water itself remained the same, but our relationship changed.
The flood in Genesis 7 shows that water could also be a tool in the hands of God to bring punishment. What was life giving became something that is life taking. Consider the floods that take lives today.
We see how long term lack of water brought famine and disaster, even to the most prosperous nation at the time. Genesis 41 to 46 records how famine overtook the land of Egypt and surrounds. Even as there was need, God intervened and strategically placed Joseph in a place of influence to store food for the seven years of famine. God was working in the midst of need, orchestrating something that would only make sense years into the future. Have a listen to this podcast if you have faith questions around natural disasters.
As God was leading the Israelites out of Egypt, we read of how God lead them into a ‘dead end’. In Exodus 14 we read of how they were facing down the Red Sea, with the Egyptian armies hot in pursuit. Water, something that intrinsically brings life, was a barrier to the survival of the Israelites. Supernaturally, God parted the Red Sea, demonstrating his power over water.
Just one chapter later, we see how the Israelites went from the Red Sea into the wilderness. As they went, they found no water and came to a place called Marah. The water there was bitter and undrinkable. They grumbled against Moses. And God intervened by telling Moses to throw a particular log into the water to sweeten it. It then became drinkable. Today, many people have water supplies that are undrinkable because of pollution. This account shows us that God can and does intervene to make water accessible, as he then leads the people of Israel from Marah to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water. He desires that people have access to clean, drinkable water.
Further in their trip, the Israelites encounter water scarcity. And something of human nature is revealed. When faced with a lack of water, they were questioning whether God was among them or not. Exodus 17:1-7 reveals how a shortage of something like water raises questions of faith. We can grumble and blame God when we do not get what we need. Powerfully, God supplies his people with water. He instructs Moses to strike a rock with his staff and water came forth for them all. God demonstrates his sovereignty over water scarcity.
We read of other droughts and famines in the scriptures. And in every account, we read of a God who is involved, who participates in bringing relief. The fall damaged our relationship with water, but it did not damage the God who is over all and in all.
The chapter of redemption in God’s story starts with Jesus entering into humanity in human form. Through his life, death and resurrection, the power of sin is broken and fullness of life is available. What we see when we look at Jesus’ life and teaching is that he engaged with both physical water and spiritual water.
It is a given that Jesus himself was sustained by water. He thirsted (John 4:7, 19:28) and, like us, would have had to drink water daily. And as he was on the cross, his lungs were pierced by a spear, and water and blood came out (John 19:34). The body of the Son of God was dependent on water.
Jesus demonstrated, too, his power over water. In John 2, we see how Jesus turned water into wine. The One who sustains all things has the power to change and alter things for his plans and purposes. We read in Matthew 14 how He walked on water, again showing a watching world that he has power over the natural laws of matter.
We see how Jesus utilised water, too. In Matthew 3 we read of how he was baptised in the Jordan River. We read of him talking to the woman at the well in John 4. He used a conversation about physical thirst to demonstrate something of her spiritual thirst. It is beautiful how she encountered Jesus, and in her newness of life, left behind her water jar (representing her physical need), to go and tell the village about Jesus (representing her spiritual overflowing). He revealed himself as the One who is the source of living water – something that will quench spiritual thirst for all eternity. Not only that, but the water will well up from within to eternal life.
This theme occurs several times in the gospels. In talking with Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus tells him that we are both physical and spiritual. In John 7, He publically invites all who are thirsty to come to him and drink. The spiritual thirst that we have is quenched by Jesus and His Spirit.
The Old Testament prophets foretold this redemption. Ezekiel 36 prophesied the day of salvation, which included people’s justification and cleansing of sin. God will sprinkle clean water on people, and they will be cleansed from all uncleanness. Water cleans us physically, but figuratively, the cleansing water of God cleans us spiritually, too. Isaiah predicted that an image of God’s salvation is one of drawing water from the wells of salvation (Isaiah 12:2-6). Jeremiah, similarly, wrote how Israel’s sin was that they have forsaken God, who is the fountain of living waters, and instead, hewed out cisterns of water for themselves (Jer 2:13). But these cisterns are broken, holding no water. As much as we try, we cannot hoard living water, we need to go daily to the One who is the source.
In God’s story, the chapter of redemption tells us how water is still an essential part of our lives. Our physical thirst, however, is a shadow of the spiritual thirst that we have. To quench our spiritual thirst, we need to go to the source of Living Waters.
The final chapter is that of God restoring and renewing all things. As we look to scriptures outlining this future reality, we learn some crucial things about water.
Revelation 21 tells us about the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus proclaims again that he is the Alpha and the Omega, and that to the thirsty he will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. Zechariah’s prophecies tell us how living waters will flow out from Jerusalem when Christ is ruling over all (Zec14:8). This is water that is blessing, that does not cease, regardless of season.
In the end times, John writes of the Lamb being people’s shepherd. And like the good shepherd that he is, He will guide his people to springs of living water and God himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev 7:17). As pain and distress causes water to flow out from us in the form of tears, God will wipe them away.
Revelation 22, the final book of scriptures, describes the river of the water of life. It is bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb through the middle of the street of the city. It brings life to all it touches.
Between Two Rivers
We started our study in Genesis, with the river that flowed through Eden, bringing life and sustenance. And it ends with the river of the water of life flowing through the streets of the city of God. We find ourselves between these two rivers. Our relationship with water is damaged – it is not easily and evenly distributed. As humanity, we hoard it, we waste it, we pollute it. Through a myriad of reasons, we are making water bitter, scarce and undrinkable for others.
There are many things we can conclude from this type of study. Let me outline just a few. Firstly, water is from God. It is his gift, it is his idea. It is not a tradeable commodity. As water becomes more scarce, power will be with those who have more water. This is not the intention of the One who created water and sustains the very water molecules.
Secondly, our bodies thirst for water, and our souls thirst for God (Ps 42:1-2). Let your physical thirst remind you of your spiritual thirst. Just like a tall glass of ice cold water on a hot day brings refreshment, allow God, through his spirit, to refresh and sustain your soul.
Thirdly, we are to be stewards of the water that we have. In times where water is unequally distributed or available to fellow countrymen, what could be done to ensure that those who need it can have access to it? What ‘Josephs’ is God raising up and putting into position to alleviate the suffering, and bring the flourishing, of those who are currently not having access to clean, fresh and sustainable water sources?
And when we live lives that loosen the chains of injustice, there is a blessing that comes:
And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:10-11)
Richard Lundie is a part of the Common Good staff team where he gives leadership to our theology and resources. He also serves on the Wynberg Eldership Team.