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The Water of Life

Water is essential for all life and without it plants and animals will soon die. Water makes up a significant portion of all living beings. For example, the amount of water in the adult human body is around 50%-65%, varying with age and gender. We start to feel thirsty when we lose around 3% of our body’s water, but mental performance and physical coordination start being impaired at only 1% dehydration. This means that it is vitally important that humans drink enough fluids to replace that lost by perspiration and urination. Water itself is a wonderful substance and it covers about 70% of the Earth’s surface. The cycle of evaporation, condensation and precipitation ensures that the Earth receives a regular supply of water to make plants grow and to satisfy animal life. Water is found in its three natural states of vapour, liquid and solid within a relatively narrow temperature range, and all three states are important for life. Vapour transports water from the oceans to the land in clouds, to fall as rain. Ice provides great stores of fresh water in glaciers that help regulate the flow of rivers, while the layer of ice on the surface of lakes and rivers insulates life in the water beneath from extremes of cold. Given the importance of water, it is no wonder that the Bible, God’s message to mankind, uses water to illustrate many lessons about God’s plan of salvation.

A worldwide flood

The first instance we wish to highlight is the worldwide flood in Noah’s time. Mankind had become wicked and estranged from God, who vowed to destroy all life from the earth by a worldwide flood (Genesis 6.5-7). Of all that generation, only Noah pleased God. So God directed him to build an ark, so that he and his family, together with representatives of every animal species, would be saved from the impending catastrophe. This demonstrates the destructive power of water, as all life outside the ark drowned. But it also shows how water can cleanse, for a new world awaited Noah as he stepped from the ark after the flood subsided, a world free from the evil that characterised the old world. You can read more about Noah’s flood in Genesis chapters six to eight.

Crossing the Red

Sea Many centuries later, God again showed the power of water to both save and destroy, as His people Israel fled from slavery in Egypt. The Egyptians pursued after their former slaves and thought they had trapped them by the Red Sea. But God, who was caring for His people, parted the waves of the sea, enabling them to escape on foot on the dry seabed, with a wall of water on either side of them.

When the Egyptian army attempted to follow Israel into the passage through the sea, God caused the water to engulf them, so the entire army with all their horses were drowned in the sea. Thus Israel was saved and the Egyptian soldiers destroyed by the same waters. A full account of this event can be found in Exodus chapter 14.

Water in the desert

As the Israelites continued their journey towards the Promised Land, they had to cross the hot and waterless desert of Sinai. How were all those people, perhaps numbering two million, plus their herds of livestock, going to survive? Exodus chapter 17 records how God miraculously provided water from a rock in the desert. Moses, their leader, struck the rock with his rod, and then water gushed out for the people to drink. The lesson for Israel was that they were totally reliant on God and their very lives depended on His provision of water. Of course, this is still true of us today, although few acknowledge the fact. We depend on God through nature’s cycle to send rain, which is essential for the growth of crops to provide food. But for Israel, dying from thirst in a lifeless desert, God’s provision of life-saving water was a demonstration of His power and His mercy to them.

  • The spring of Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea. David spent time here in his flight from King Saul and the Psalms reflect his experience.
  • Photograph by Robert Bye unsplash

Later on, when the nation of Israel was settled in their land, King David, who wrote many of the Psalms, used water to symbolise God’s Word, which is the source of spiritual enlightenment, just as natural water is essential for natural life. David likens a godly man to a tree that flourishes on a river bank with its abundant source of water (Psalm 1.1-3). Another Psalm likens the writer’s spiritual desire for God with the longing of a thirsty deer for water:

"As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for you O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God."

  • Psalm 42.1-2

Living water

Not surprisingly, the Scriptural theme of water comes into focus in the life and teaching of Jesus. The Gospel of John chapter 4 tells us how Jesus came to a well as he travelled through Samaria. He sat down, tired from his journey, and longed for a drink to quench his thirst. After a while, a Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water and Jesus asked her for a drink. At first the woman was reluctant to help Jesus, as the Samaritans and the Jews were not the best of neighbours and they had little to do with one another. Jesus turned the situation around by saying to the woman that he could offer her "living water"

  • John 4.10

The woman was intrigued, and as Jesus had no bucket to draw water from the well, she asked where and how she could get this living water. Jesus' reply shows that the living water of which he spoke was so much more valuable than natural water:

"whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."

  • John 4.13-14

The phrase "living water" feels energetic, dynamic, vibrant, clean and refreshing. It is the opposite of the type of water that so many people in the past, and sadly, even today in some countries, must rely on, which is stagnant and dirty, perhaps carrying diseases and contaminated with industrial pollution. But what is the "living water" that Jesus referred to? Later, in Jerusalem, Jesus said: "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."

  • John 7.37,38

Photograph by Mike Lewis HeadSmart Media from Unsplash

Again, it is evident that Jesus was talking about spiritual thirst, and the "living water" is his teaching that can lead in God’s mercy, to eternal life. His words are an echo of the prophet Isaiah’s words: "Ho, Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters… listen diligently to me… incline your ear and come to me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an ever-lasting covenant with you ..."

  • Isaiah 55.1-3

We can conclude that the teaching of Jesus is as vital for sustaining our spiritual development as natural water is for sustaining our physical life. The need for baptism In order to benefit from Jesus' death and resurrection, we need to make a commitment to him through baptism, that is, full immersion in water, to wash away our sins. Interestingly, two of the examples we looked at earlier, of how God used water to cleanse and save His people (the flood and the crossing of the Red Sea), are allegories of true baptism. The Apostle Peter had the flood in mind when he wrote: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God …when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which ... eight souls were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us… baptism ...(the answer of a good conscience towards God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

  • 1 Peter 3.18-21

Just as the flood waters swept away the old evil world and allowed a new start, so baptism cleanses believers of their sins and marks a new start in their life. And just as the Egyptians were swept away in their evil intent, whilst Israel passed safely through the sea and were saved, this was a type of baptism. Sin was swept away and a fresh start was made in anticipation of the work of Christ, as Paul told the believers at Corinth: "Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers ... passed through the sea, all were baptised into Moses ... in the sea. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ."

  • 1 Corinthians 10.1,2,4

The incident of Moses striking the rock is in fact a type, or allegory of the work of Christ. It is evident from Scripture that Jesus was referred to as a rock or stone: " ... the name of Jesus Christ… whom God raised from the dead ... this is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief corner-stone"

  • Acts 4.10,11

God’s plan for the world rests on the fact that Jesus died to take away our sins but rose again to eternal life. His willing sacrifice on the cross is represented by Moses striking the rock to allow living water to flow from it. By the death of Jesus, immortal life, represented by that flowing water, has been made possible to all who become his disciples and put their trust in God.

The challenge for us

So the challenge goes out to us – are we thirsting after the salvation that Jesus offers, like that parched deer referred to in the Psalm, that ran desperately looking for fresh water? We learned earlier how we physically underperform if we lose only 1% of our body's water. It’s the same with our spiritual health, if we don’t let God’s word influence our lives, our faith in Jesus will fall away. David wrote:

"O God, you are my God; early will I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water."

  • Psalm 63.1

The world today is indeed a spiritually dry and barren place. We can only hope to find salvation in God’s word the Bible, nowhere else. But there is a time coming, when Jesus will return to set up God’s kingdom on this Earth. Let us then respond to the invitation from God in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, to "take the water of life"

  • Revelation 22.17

"And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come". And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely."

Author Paul Southgate
Country Reigate, UK
Source Light on a New World reprint from Volume 30.4

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