Covering about 70% of its surface, water is at once earth’s most abundant natural resource and a basic necessity for human life. This was particularly felt by the people of the ancient Near East, where water was often in scarce supply. Accordingly, they commonly lived along river banks and other bodies of water or dug wells in order to provide a supply of available water for drinking and cleansing as well as for irrigation purposes so as to ensure the fertility of the land.
The need for and uses of water, therefore, appear so prevalently in the literature of the ancients that water serves as an archetype. Ryken defines an archetype as “an image, plot, motif, or character type that recurs throughout literature and is part of a reader’s total literary experience.1
Man’s common experience with water in its various sources often appears in idiomatic expressions. For example, something that stimulates the appetite is said to “make one’s mouth water.” A past event is called “water under the bridge.” Something that is “watered down” may be less potent or effective. A simplified explanation of the make-up or workings of a complicated device or the basic idea of a difficult problem may also be expressed by the same idiom.
If you are “sold down the river” you are betrayed but if one has been “up the river” he has been confined to a penitentiary. If no experience is precisely the same, it is because a person never “steps into the same river.” A “stream” of something can refer to a crown of people passing or to heavy traffic. One can experience a “stream” of light or shed a “stream” of tears. In literature, a “stream of consciousness” refers to the recalling of the thoughts or perceptions of a particular character. One often can see “streamers” of ribbon or paper set-up as banners heralding some unusual event or the arrival of an important person. An event that reflects a center of man’s common activity or an idea/thought that reflects current opinion or thinking is said to be “mainstream.”
Other idioms include the metaphor of springs as a source of further information or expectations. Thus as Pope’s often cited observation expresses it, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”2 A source of knowledge can be likened to a fountain. Likewise, a well may indicate a source of information or that which accumulates. Thus tears “well-up” in a person’s eyes. People often “pool” their resources such as in the allocation of funds or in order to conserve gasoline, they form a driving “pool.”
Heavy rain can be described as “raining cats and dogs,” while those in the midst of battle may experience bullets “raining around them.” Showers may likewise indicate an abundant flow of something such as compliments, praise, or honor. Gifts are usually given in a bridal or baby “shower.” On the one hand, the dew may serve as a symbol of refreshment or purity, while on the other hand, it can refer to that which is transitory or rapidly disappearing.3
As indicated above, water was a vital commodity for the existence and well being of life in the ancient Near East. It is understandable, then, that in its various forms the use and consideration of water was a central feature in the religious thinking and rituals of ancient Near Eastern culture.4
The imagery associated with water is likewise present in the Scriptures, particularly so in the Old Testament. Thus Lot chose for himself the “whole region of the Jordan” because he saw that “all of it was well-watered … like the garden of the LORD”(Gen. 13:10).5 The Scriptures teach that water in its various forms is under divine control (e.g., Job 38:16, 22-34; Ps. 29:3, 10). It is God who set the water in place in the original creation and supervises its placement and boundaries (Gen. 1:9-10; Ps. 104:6-12; Jer. 5:22). God uses water in accordance with his own purposes. These include the floodwaters of judgment (Amos 5:8), such as the flood of Noah’s day (Gen. 6-9).6 God’s control over water is also in evidence in the parting of the Red Sea at the time of the exodus, an act that allowed the Hebrews safe passage through the surrounding walls of water, but after their passing through it, brought the judgment of death by water to the pursuing Egyptians (Exod. 14:21-31; 15:4-12; Ps. 78:13).7
The beneficial aspect of the Hebrews safe passage through the Red Sea is a reminder that God’s control over water could also provide positive results for His people. For example, He brought water from a rock for the Israelites as they traveled through the Desert of Sin on the way to Mount Sinai (Exod. 17:1-7; cf. Isa.48:21) and did so again many years later (Num. 20:1-13). He also assured His people that He would bring them into a land of an abundant water supply so as to insure the fertility of the land and to meet the people’s needs (Deut. 8:7-10; 11:11-12). Therefore, He could justly describe His relation to Israel metaphorically as “the fountain of life-giving water” (Jer. 2:13).
The above references to water as a metaphor serves as to introduce the basic thrust of this study, which is to explore the figurative and symbolic uses of water in the Bible in its various forms. As in the case in the Scriptures where literal water is present,8 so also the figures under which water is presented may be viewed as to whether they are used in a negative or positive sense. Although both aspects of the use of water will be considered, special emphasizes will be directed toward the manifold uses of water in its positive perspective. After noting the scriptural imagery associated with water, several conclusions will be drawn, followed by suggested applications relative to Christian living.
As in its literal understanding, so when used figuratively God is clearly seen as being in control of the waters. It is He who is a “fountain of life giving water” (Jer. 2:13; cf. Isa 55;1). He Himself is the One who provides safety and a refuge in times of life threatening troubles (Ps. 32:6-7). At other times, however, He allows trials and testings to come. Yet even then God provides rays of hope and the certainty that He can be trusted to bring deliverance (Ps. 42:5-11). Therefore, it was so foolish of God’s people in Judah to turn away from God the source of “life giving water” and turn to idols, which are nothing more than “cracked cisterns, which cannot even hold water” (Jer. 2:13). Nor does it do any good to relate to nations so as to “drink water from the Sihor” [i.e., a branch of the Nile River] or “drink water from the River” [i.e., the Euphrates] (Jer. 2:18, MT).
Indeed, Judah should not expect help from the likes of Egypt or Assyria. Political alliances were thus not the answer for the problems that God people faced, for in the final analysis it was their own wickedness and abandonment of Yahweh, the Ruler of all, which was the reason for their desperate situation. As Huey remarks, “Judah was committing the same sin that had brought about the earlier destruction of the Northern Kingdom because of its idolatrous practices (cf. Ezek 16:44-52; 23:1-48).”9
As in the case of God’s corporate nation, so also can be the case with individuals, for they, too can be likened to water in a negative sense. Thus Joshua’s forces suffered a setback at Ai and their “courage melted away like water” (Josh. 7:5). The words and ways of a foolish man can make him appear to drink “derision like water” (Job 34:7). It is a foolish man who can be enticed into sexual immorality with words such as “stolen waters are sweet” (Prov. 9:17).
In a more positive sense water is viewed as that which is both a source and sustainer of life and of refreshment. In a graphic simile the reception of good news from a distant land is likened to cold water to a weary person (Prov. 25:25). That which water provides to seeds so that the plant may grow is compared to the ministry of people who provide spiritual nourishment to those who have been exposed to the gospel (1 Cor. 3:6). Indeed, water can symbolize the salvation that brings new life:
Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word (Eph. 5:25-26).
Thus Hodge, observes “God is pleased to connect the benefits of redemption with the believing reception of the truth. And he is pleased to connect these same benefits with the believing reception of baptism. That is, as the Spirit works with and by the truth, so he works with and by baptism, in communicating the blessings of the covenant of grace.”10
Further, spiritual productivity makes the believer to be “like a tree planted by flowing streams; it yields its fruit at the proper time, and its leaves never fall off” (Ps. 1:3). Moreover, the believer’s life should be characterized by integrity, honesty, and purity: “Justice must flow like torrents of water, righteous actions like a stream that never dries up” (Amos 5:24). Such will prove to be a boon to the believer’s prayer life (cf. Heb. 10:22-23). Water can symbolize the life that God blesses (Ps. 23:2) or even life that has been renewed: “At that time … joyfully you will draw water from the springs of deliverance” (Isa. 12:1-3).
Isaiah’s prophecy ultimately looks on to God’s future dealings with His covenant people. It is a time when the nation itself will be regathered, renewed, and restored to the Promised Land. Indeed, “Yahweh assures his chosen people that he will intervene on their behalf in their future return from exile (Isa 48:20-21). His provision for them is compared to his making an oasis out of the desert (35:6-7; 41:17-18; 43:20). When his elect nation returns to him, Yahweh will make them like a well-watered garden (27:2-3; 58:11; Jer 31:10-14).”11
God’s prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 34:11-16) cites the Lord as promising that, unlike Israel’s leaders of his day who were only self-serving, God Himself will shepherd His sheep in accordance His righteous justice. Indeed, “Yahweh likens them to the strongest sheep, who fed on the best pasture and drank from the clear water. After they drank their fill, they tramped through the water and stirred up mud, demonstrating their lack of concern for the other sheep.”12
Ezekiel also prophesies a day when water will “flow from under the threshold of the temple to the east,” while “water was flowing down from under the right side of the temple, from south of the altar” (Ezek. 47:1, 2; cf. Joel 3:18; Zech. 14:8). Having left the south side of the eastern gate, those waters will become a mighty river that will empty into the Dead Sea and transform it into fresh water, which will house various forms of marine life (Ezek. 47:3-9). The Apostle John adds to the future scene by foreseeing a “river of the water of life—water as clear as crystal—pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, flowing down the middle city’s main street. On either side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year” (Rev. 22:1-2).13
Although many understand these prophecies to refer to literal water (e.g., Seiss, Walvoord),14 others view them as metaphorical and symbolic, so typical of apocalyptic language (e.g., Aune, Beale, Ladd).15 However one interprets and relates these prophecies to the future scene(s), one thing is certain: they harmonize well with the biblical perspective that from creation to consummation it is God who is in charge of the life giving water.
Several Hebrew words for bodies of flowing water lie behind the English words river or stream. The two most familiar are nāhār, more usually referring to a perpetual flowing river and nāxāl, a more temporary flow but one that could (especially in rainy season) flow with tremendous force. The former is most commonly translated “river,” while the latter is rendered “stream.” Often, however, translators interchange the English renderings of these terms in accordance with the felt needs of the context. A third term of some frequent use, peleg, which occurs some ten times in Old Testament, is also variously translated river or stream.16 The following study will examine the scriptural uses of flowing bodies of water in conformity with the renderings of the NET, beginning with water before turning to streams and brooks.
As in the case with water, so river in the Bible represents a source of life and fertility. Not only was this true of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:10, 14), but Lot chose the Jordan Valley because he “saw the whole region of the Jordan. He noticed that all of it was well watered … all the way to Zoar” (Gen. 13:10). Indeed, the term “river” could serve as a reminder of God’s presence and blessing. Jacob wrestled with an angel of the Lord at the Jabbok River located in the eastern section of Canaan (Gen. 32:23-30; cf. Hos. 12:4.17 The importance of rivers and the divine presence is further emphasized in that certain religious observances were carried out there. Thus the ritual concerning an unsolved murder victim who was found in a field was to be carried out at a river (Deut. 21:1-9).18 The healing of Naaman’s skin disease was accomplished at the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:1-14), and John carried out his baptisms at the Jordan River (Matt. 3:5-11).
Rivers also appear in contexts bearing a negative sense. A wicked man can be said to be denied the pleasures associated with rivers (Job 20:17). God’s drying up of the water in rivers, which the Hebrews faced during their exodus sojourn and at the Jordan, while beneficial to the Israelites, would in some cases have a disastrous effect on others. For example, such was the case for the Egyptians both in the opening plague of the Nile River (Exod. 7:14-23) and later for the pursuing Egyptians who perished in the Red Sea19 (Exod. 14:22-31; 15:4-10; cf. Ps. 74:15). The drying up of rivers and streams could be an indication of God’s hand of judgment (e.g., 1 Kings 17:1-7). Yet, so strong is genuine love that even the destructive forces of floodwaters are declared to be ineffective in quenching true love (Song 8:7).
Although here, too, the mention of a river may have a negative force, such as in God’s likening of the soon-coming invasion of the Assyrian army to the mighty “floodwaters of the River” [i.e., the Euphrates] as a judgment against Israel (Isa. 8:6-7), most of the figurative uses of river are positive in their outlook. Balaam likens the blessings of God’s people in the future Promised Land to “cedar trees beside the waters” (Num. 24:6). The psalmist speaks of God’s provision of the benefits of His covenant love as allowing His faithful people to “drink from the river of your delights” (Ps. 36:7-10). Although the reference in these verses may point to observances at the Temple or to the communion offering, the imagery may well extend to a general consideration of God’s grace and mercy toward a believing mankind and perhaps even beyond to His general provision for all life. Thus Craigie remarks, “While the ‘house’ referred to in v 9 might be an allusion to the temple of Jerusalem, with its sacrificial meals and libations, it is more likely that the poet is describing God’s world as a whole, in which for mankind and animals alike (v. 7) God provides both rich sustenance and ample refreshing drink.”20
In a similar vein but with more distinct application to Jerusalem, the Lord’s earthly dwelling place in Old Testament times, the psalmist declares, “The river’s channels bring joy to the city of God, the special dwelling place of the sovereign One” (Ps. 46:4). The mention of the river here stands for the continual outpouring of God’s sustaining graces toward His people and toward Jerusalem in particular, which provide refreshment and vitality. Indeed, God’s promises prosperity and abundance to His people for their faithfulness and obedience. Isaiah records God’s words of disappointment over Israel’s long history of disobedience saying, “If only you had obeyed my commandments, prosperity would have flowed to you like a river, deliverance would have come to you like the waves of the sea” (Isa. 48:18). Alas, rather than prosperity and deliverance, Israel would face God’s judgment for their wrong attitude and repeated acts of wickedness (vv. 19-22). Such need not have been the case if only Israel had remained faithful and/or listened to God’s message through His prophets. Theirs could have been the experiencing of God’s continued blessing and abundant supply of all that is good. As Oswalt points out, “The imagery seems to suggest both continuity and abundance. Those who live on the banks of a river need fear no cessation in their water supply, and those who stand on the beach on a windy day are unfailingly impressed by the continual march of the waves onto the shore. There is no stopping them. So it might have been far Israel had they only listened to God’s instruction.”21 Obedience to God would mean living in accordance with His holy revealed standards of conduct as well. This includes such matters as justice, and righteous living and deeds (Amos 5:24).
All of God’s plans for His people have not been realized. Isaiah’s prophecies include a grand promise for an obedient, faithful, redeemed people. In the future world Jerusalem will be the center of a world of peace, prosperity, and vitality. Like a nursing mother to her infants, so Jerusalem will be the source of continuous blessings for all (Isa. 66:11-14). “All that was lost by disobedience will be restored, the whole great story of peace traced to its conclusion (48:22; 52:7; 53:5; 54:10, 13; 55:12; 57:2, 19, 21; 59:8; 60:17)… . [Jerusalem will be a] city in which every need of every sort is supplied, also a ‘world city’ in which every nation is represented.”22 For God will “extend to her prosperity that will flow like a river, the riches of nations will flow into her like a stream that floods its banks” (Isa. 66:12). Here again we note the force of the imagery in which the river is used metaphorically for its abundant life-giving properties and the continuous outflow of the blessings of God.23 As noted in the above discussion of water, Isaiah’s portrayal of a glorious scene and promises for the future are told elsewhere in oft repeated similar imagery (e.g., Isa. 33:20-22; Ezek. 47:1-9; Joel 3:18; Zech. 14:8; cf. Rev. 22:1-2).
Brooks and streams are reminders of that which brings refreshment and productivity. Thus the Israelites were promised that, “The LORD your God is bringing you to a land of brooks, springs, and fountains flowing forth in valleys and hills” (Deut. 8:7). There in the land of promise they would find an abundance of life-giving water that would provide not only for their sustenance but give them an enjoyable environment.
Places that were especially blessed with a good water supply were often given special notice. During their wilderness trek the Israelites came to “Jotbathah, a place of flowing streams” (Deut. 10:7). Accordingly, it was a favorable spot for the Israelites to camp there (Num. 33:33). During times of stress one could find streams to be a valuable place of refuge. For example, during the reign of the wicked King Ahab God instructed His prophet Elijah, “Travel eastward. Hide out in the Kerith Valley near the Jordan. Drink from the stream; I have already told the ravens to bring you food there. So he did as the LORD told him; he went and lived in the Kerith Valley near the Jordan. The ravens would bring him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he would drink from the stream” (1 Kings 17:3-6).24
Streams and brooks are commonly used in contexts conveying a positive idea. During the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah however, the people “stopped up all the springs and the stream that flowed through the district. They reasoned, ‘Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?’” (2 Chron. 32:4).
Streams and brooks are in some contexts associated with the work of God. It is the Lord who provides the rain that enriches the soil and makes it fertile with “overflowing streams of water” (Ps. 65:9). It was He who provided for the Hebrews during their exodus from Egypt and throughout their wilderness journey (Ps. 74:15). Whenever they came into areas of dryness, He supplied water for them that otherwise was inaccessible “He caused streams to flow from the rock, and made the water flow like rivers” (Ps. 78:16). Even in difficult times of Israel’s history the Lord assured His people that He would not abandon them, for “on every high mountain and every high hill there would be streams flowing with water at the time of great slaughter when the fortified towers collapse” (Isa. 30:25).
Not only in His past dealing with His people but in the distant future He will “bring them out from among the peoples and gather them from foreign countries; I will bring them to their own land. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams and all the inhabited places of the land” (Ezek. 34:13). Isaiah frequently adds to this picture by predicting that once in their land God will “pour water on the parched ground and cause streams to flow on the dry land” (Isa. 44:3). The Lord will “guide them; he will lead them to springs of water” (Isa. 49:10; cf. Isa. 41:18; Jer. 31:9).
In a combination of water sources a Solomonic proverb states, “The words of a person’s mouth are like deep waters, and the fountain of wisdom is like a flowing brook” (Prov. 18:4). Although some scholars see in these words a contrast between the words of the average or unwise person and the wise,25 it would seem best to follow the lead of the NET textual note and view all of Proverbs 18:4 as forming a distinct contrast with the sentiment of Proverbs 18:3. So also McKane observes, “’Deep waters’ is indicative of profundity and the other figures of ampleness. The speech of a wise man has a quality of depth; it is a perceptive, well-considered utterance free from superficiality and rashness. Moreover, he is never at a loss for words and draws again and again from a copious store of words, meeting every occasion with a well-chosen and weighty expression of the fine qualities of his mind which assume form and substance in his speech.”26 For our purposes it is significant to note that true wisdom is like the life-giving water of an ever fresh flowing brook.
In a touching simile the Shulamite maiden describes her lover’s eyes as being “like doves by streams of water” (Song 5:12). Thus his gentle gaze can bring to her refreshment and a sense of well being in his presence. In that regard Bergant writes, “All of the aspects of this description are somehow related to freshness, radiance, and abundance. Thus the metaphor seems to compare the moist milky-white doves with the glistening yet steady character of the man’s loving eyes.”27
Brooks or streams can also bear a negative sense. Job complains that during his adversity his friends have proven to be unreliable and perhaps even worse: “My brothers have been as treacherous as a seasonal stream, and as the riverbeds of the intermittent streams that flow away” (Job 6:15). God’s actions have at times a negative effect upon the conditions of mankind. For example, Isaiah foresees a day when the judging hand of God will descend upon wicked Edom and “Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch” (Isa. 34:9). Even God’s people were not above His necessary reproof. Thus Joel sees in the total drying up of Israel’s streams, even to the center of their channels, the force of God’s judgment against His people for their sinful ways: “Did the people not understand what all of this meant? The dryness and barrenness of the land reflected the spiritual dearth of their hearts (cf. Jer 23:10). Worship and service had given way to a mere routine that left their live devoid of spiritual vitality. Surely they needed to realize that the present devastation was but a portent of a still greater catastrophe should they not repent and return to the land.”28
Yet there remain God’s future blessings for a repentant, redeemed, and restored people so that “in Psalm 126:4 the restoration of the exilic community is compared to the refreshment of water in the brooks of the Negev by the rains.”29 God’s divine governing of earth’s history is indeed presented under a positive figure. His standards and ways are well known (Isa. 59:18-20). In His just and holy interaction with the affairs of mankind, “He comes like a rushing stream” (Isa. 59:19), so that He is, “The driving force in His judicially gracious revelation of Himself.”30 Although He is a “Protector” to those of His human family who “repent of their rebellious deeds” (Isa. 59:20), nonetheless, “His ultimate purpose in attacking the sin of the world is to redeem the world as typified in Zion… . It is not remarkable that God should be incensed at the corruption of his purposes for creation. What is remarkable that he should persevere in compassion toward those who have become corrupt.”31
Isaiah prophesies that in a still more distant future when Israel is safely back in its own land, God will “extend to her prosperity that will flow like a river; the riches of nations will flow into her like a stream that floods its banks” (Isa. 66:12). Amid those paradisiacal conditions righteousness and equity will prevail with a king and officials who “promote fairness” and “justice” … “like streams of water in a dry region” (Isa. 32:2). Here, then, the double emphasis of the use of brooks or streams becomes apparent. Not only could they symbolize such things as prosperity and refreshment as well as tranquility, but the spiritual revelation that God intends for a faithful holy people. Where genuine spiritual vitality is present and active, a gracious God may well supply a correspondingly life-enhancing environment. Such is the real hope and destiny of mankind.32
The imagery associated with springs in the Bible is most commonly positive in nature, although as we shall notice, in some contexts springs do play a key role in projecting a negative perspective. On the positive side, springs can represent an abundance of water (Prov. 8:24). So highly valued were springs in the ancient Near East that, “ In Joshua 15:18-19 Caleb’s daughter asks him to give her possession of some springs as part of her dowry, calling the springs a blessing. In an arid land, springs can assume such importance that they become geographic points of reference (Josh 15:9; 18:15; Judg 7:1).”33
A lack of water, however, could become a trying if not hazardous situation (e.g., 1 Kings 18:5). In that regard, it was not unusual for those defending a besieged city to attempt to divert the flowing water of springs in order to make them inaccessible to the invaders or dry them up in some fashion (2 Chron 32:1-4). Conversely, an invader would also cut off the spring water available to the people of the land so as to put them in dire straits (2 Kings 3:19). Springs are also associated with the work or activities of God. “Springs also demonstrated God’s power. God had opened and closed the subterranean springs at the time of the Flood (Gen 7:11; 8:2). He displayed his power by creating springs and drying up rivers (Ps 74:15; 104:10; 114:8).”34
With a negative emphasis, springs could also be the result of God’s judgment. Thus using picturesque imagery, which would be very familiar to the citizens of the Northern Kingdom, Hosea likens Ephraim to a flourishing reed plant that would be devastated by a scorching east wind (Hamsin or Sirocco)-- a metaphor describing the Assyrian invaders who were already on their way. As a result, Ephraim’s “spring will dry up; his well will become dry,” and the precious commodities of Ephraim would be carried off or plundered and the landscape devastated (Hos. 13:15). In a similar vein, the later prophet Jeremiah delivers an oracle of judgment against the Babylonian invaders of Judah: “Therefore the LORD says, ‘I will stand up for your cause. I will pay the Babylonians back for what they have done to you. I will dry up their sea. I will make their springs run dry’” (Jer. 51:36).
More positively, God promised His people during the time of their exodus experience in the wilderness that He would bring them into a “good land of brooks and springs” (Deut. 8:7). That blessing will be repeated with even more lasting certitude in the future when the Lord brings back His people who have been scattered for so long among the nations and settle them once again in the Promised Land. There, God will, “make streams flow down the slopes and produce springs in the middle of the valleys. I will turn the desert into a pool of water and the arid land into springs” (Isa. 41:18) and “All the dry stream beds of Judah will flow with water” (Joel 3:18).
Springs can also be used figuratively. In a tender romantic speech the beloved one is likened to an “enclosed spring” and a “garden spring” (Song 4:12, 15). Thus she would be a source of refreshment and pleasure reserved exclusively for the one who loved her so dearly. So also a husband should find satisfaction solely in his own wife (Prov. 5:15-16). In a more negative setting, the righteous man who succumbs to wicked influences is compared to a spring that has been trampled upon by muddied feet (Prov. 25:26). Waltke points out the incongruity of such a situation: “Proverbs represents the righteous as triumphing over the wicked, never as the wicked forcing or compelling the righteous to yield (11:8; 12:21; 14:19; 16:7; 21:12; 24:15-16).”35
The righteous person, then, is to live a life led by God’s spirit in what he does and how he treats others, particularly the needy (Isa. 58:6-10). If he does so, God will give him “renewed strength” so that he will be “like a well-watered garden, like a spring that continually produces water” (Isa. 58:11). The effect of God’s gracious dealing with His people will be experienced abundantly in the future. They will be like a perpetually flowing stream and “joyfully you will draw water from the springs of deliverance” (Isa. 12:3). Although this promise is set in a context of Israel’s future deliverance and regathering expressed in language reminiscent of Israel’s exodus experience, an underlying truth in the context is that the abiding joy of the believer’s salvation is applicable to all times. As Motyer suggests, “The God who saves continues to minister salvation to his people as an ever available reality to enjoy.”36
Very often the imagery associated with a fountain in the Scriptures centers on God. It was God who exercised control over the Flood when “all the fountains of the great deep burst open and the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Gen. 7:11). As noted previously, God promised to bring His people into a land of streams and springs. It will also contain, “fountains flowing forth in valleys and hills” (Deut. 8:7). It is small wonder, then, that God Himself is compared to a fountain. Thus the psalmist writes, “For with you is the fountain of life” (Ps. 36:9). The imagery of God as the fountain of life may at times also bear a negative tone. Thus Jeremiah complains that God’s people had gone after other gods and rejected the Lord, “The fountain of life-giving water” (Jer. 2:13; cf. 17:13). For God’s people to have done so was not only foolish, it was awful sinful. Man’s true salvation and life sustaining force reside in God, not in man’s invention With a present day application Laetsch adds, “It is not only the height of folly, it is supreme wickedness, when man, the tiny creature, the lost sinner, endeavors to work out his own salvation and reject the free grace of God in Christ Jesus.”37
As in the past and the present, so man’s future blessings lie in God. Thus Isaiah prophesies that when Israel is back in the land of God’s blessing,“ The dry soil will become a pool of water”(Isa. 35:7; cf. Isa. 41:18). Through the prophet Zechariah God declares, “In that day there will be a fountain opened up for the dynasty of David and the people of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and impurity” (Zech. 13:1). To be sure, “Zechariah 13:1 does not state who ‘opened’ the fountain, but the context suggests that the Lord himself performed this action on behalf of his people.’”38 “Unlike many Old Testament passages, the Lord decreed no punishment to accompany cleansing for sin. From the cleansing fountain flowed only grace, mercy, and forgiveness.”39 Such blessings would also include fellowship with God, and the knowledge of God’s Word with a desire to view it as the guidebook for life. It may be added that the intimacy of fellowship between God and His own are themes that are found elsewhere in the Bible in such texts as Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 34:30-31; 36:24-29; 37:26-28.
Positive imagery is usually associated with pools and fountains. In arid lands a pool provided a natural place for important meetings (e.g., Isa 7:3; 36:1-3), while serving as a place of water supply and refreshment. Thus Nineveh’s past pleasant setting and accommodations could be described as “a pool of water” (Nah. 2:8) Some pools came to be seen as places of healing (e.g., John 2:5-7; 9:7). In bold similes, the beloved’s eyes are compared to ” the pools in Heshbon” (Song 7:4), while the fountain appears in the lover’s description of his beloved as his own “sealed-up fountain” (Song 4:12) and a “well of fresh water flowing down from Lebanon” (Song 4:15). As we have observed previously, not only did the beloved one belong to her lover and to him alone, but she was also a source of continuous refreshment, enjoyment, and blessing to him. In a similar vein, a husband’s wife is termed a “fountain” (Prov. 5:18). Other proverbial expressions likened the teaching of righteousness to a “fountain of life” (Prov. 10:11) and the instruction of the wise to a “life-giving fountain to turn a person from deadly snares” (Prov. 13:14). To one who learns these things comes the additional ability to conduct himself wisely (Prov. 16:22). His speech will also demonstrate wisdom: “The words of a person’s mouth are like deep waters, and the fountain of wisdom is like a flowing brook” (Prov. 18:4). The point of this proverb is that “wisdom is a continuous source of refreshing and beneficial ideas” (NET text note). Underlying all of this is, of course, the fact that true wisdom is found in reverence to God and the following of His revealed standards. Such will produce a life that is both wise and holy, and also characteristic of that true success that lies ultimately in a life centered on and committed to God: “The fear of the LORD is like a life-giving fountain” (Prov. 14:27; cf. Prov. 1:7).
Negative associations, however, do occur. Like a spring trampled on by muddy feet so also a polluted well is descriptive of a righteous man who gives way to wickedness (Prov. 25:26). So also Jeremiah condemns wicked Jerusalem saying, “As a well continually pours out fresh water so it continually pours out wicked deeds. Sounds of violence and destruction echo throughout it. All I see are sick and wounded people” (Jer. 6:7). Earlier, Hosea pictured the result of God’s judgment of the Northern Kingdom both as a spring that would dry up and a well that becomes dry (Hos. 13:15). Therefore, the abundant sources of life, refreshment and the good life symbolized by the naturally flowing springs and the well will vanish in God’s judgment when He sends an invader from the east.
Not to be lost in the consideration of God’s activities among humankind, however, and His believers in particular, is the positive picture of His provisions for them. During the time of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, God, “turned a desert into a pool of water” (Ps 107:35) and “a rock into a pool of water, a hard rock into springs of water” (Ps. 114:8). Texts such as these hold the further implication that “the God, who thus drew water from a flinty rock for the supply of Israel, can still educe the richest blessings from what may seem to be the hardest and most inauspicious situation.”40
“No rain, no life. It was just that simple in OT times in the Promised Land. Unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, where agriculture was based on irrigation from rivers filled by rain that fell miles away, the Promised Land was ‘a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end’ (Deut 11:11-12).”41 It was crucial for the people of ancient Israel to come to grips with the fact that Yahweh, not Baal or any other pagan god (cf. Josh. 24:15; Jer. 2:13, 20; 51:23-24), was in control of the rain (cf. Deut. 11:14; 1 Kings 17:1; 18:16-46; Jer. 14:22). Israel had too often held a particular fascination with the Canaanite storm god Baal, which led to their undoing (cf. e.g., 2 Kings 17:16-23; Jer. 9:14).
Therefore, despite the need for rain, God’s control of the use of rain could have a negative effect on human existence at times. Such was the case when in judging mankind’s sin God caused the rain to fall on the earth for forty days and nights (Gen. 7:11-12). At the end of the period of the judges Israel asked to have a king so as to be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8:5). When Saul was established as that king, Samuel admonished the people making it clear that, “Israel could experience blessings under the new system of government, but that blessing was possible only as long as the Lord’s position of superiority in society and religion was retained. Even the king must be a servant of the Lord.”42 This admonition took place at the time of wheat harvest, which was normally a time of dryness. Yet Samuel asked the Lord for a thunderstorm as a confirmatory sign indicating the Lord’s displeasure at Israel’s asking for a king and such was granted (1 Sam. 12:17-18).
In opposite fashion, God’s withholding of the rain could signal His judgment of His people’s sin (Lev. 26:18-19; Deut. 28:23-24). He did so in the days of wicked King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom. At that time He sent His prophet Elijah to Ahab with the following message: “As certainly as the LORD God of Israel lives (whom I serve) there will be no dew or rain in the years ahead unless I give the command” (1 Kings 17:1). The eighth century B.C. prophet Amos delivered God’s message of warning and instructions to Israel concerning their disobedience saying, “’I withheld rain from you three months before the harvest. I gave rain to one city but not to another. One field would get rain, but the field that received no rain dried up. People from two or three cities staggered into one city to get water but remained thirsty. Still you did not come back to me.’ The LORD is speaking!” (Amos 4:7-8). Isaiah likewise delivered a similar warning to Judah that God was about to withhold the rain (Isa. 5:5-7). This literally happened during the days of the seventh century prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 14:4).
At times God used frozen rain in the form of hail to accomplish His purposes (Ps. 78:47). This happened during the plagues against Egypt (Exod. 9:18-25; Ps. 105:32) and again in the days of Joshua in Israel’s battle against Gibeon (Josh. 10:11). Like the rain, hail is under God’s control (Rev. 11:19) and is widely understood to be one of His key weapons in His role as the Divine Warrior (Job 38:22-23; Pss. 18:12; 147:17; 148:8; Isa. 30:30; Ezek. 13:11-13). Isaiah warned the people of his time that God would send not only a heavy rainstorm but hail in judging them for their sinful disobedience (Isa. 28:17).
As in the past, so also with even greater force God will once again use hail to judge a sinful mankind (Rev. 8:7). In a graphic description the Apostle John reveals details concerning a great apocalyptic judgment in the Tribulation Period: “And gigantic hailstones, weighing about a hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people, but they blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, since it was so horrendous” (Rev. 16:21).43 Already in Old Testament times the prophet Ezekiel prophesied that during the LORD’s great battle against the forces of wicked Gog in the end time He will, “rain down on him, his troops and the many people who are with him a torrential downpour, hailstones, fire, and brimstone” (Ezek. 38:22).
More commonly, however, rain is presented in a positive setting. Here, too, God is seen to be in total control of the rain and its beneficial effects (1 Kings 18:41-45; Job 5:10; 36:26-28; 38:25-27; Jer. 5:24; Acts 14:17). Nevertheless, God’s people frequently forgot this fact and relied on false deities (e.g., Jer. 5:23-24; Zech. 10:1-3). Indeed, Isaiah records God’s own declaration to that effect: “O sky, rain down from above! Let the clouds send down showers of deliverance! … I, the LORD, create it” (Isa. 45:8). Accordingly, the psalmists praised God exclaiming, “O God, you caused abundant showers to fall on your chosen people” (Ps. 68:9) and, “You visit the earth and give it rain, you make it rich and fertile with overflowing streams full of water. You provide rain for them, for you prepare the earth to yield its crops. You saturate its furrows, and soak its plowed ground. With rain showers you soften its soil, and make its crops grow” (Ps. 65:9-10; cf. Ps. 147:8).
The Israelites were to realize that as God’s obedient people they could experience the blessings of the Lord’s sending the needed rain (Deut. 28:12). This depended on their doing their part in keeping God’s commandments and conducting themselves in accordance with the Lord’s revealed standards (Lev. 26:3-4). So gracious is God that even in times when He has had to withhold the rain in order to cause the people to realize their sinfulness and return to Him, He would respond to their repentance and restore His blessings to them (1 Kings 8:35-36; cf. Isa. 30:18-25). It was on this basis that God’s prophets would urge the wayward people to whom they ministered to confess their sins and return to God. If they would do so, He would again send the rain as a sign of His renewed blessings toward His people (Joel 2:17-18, 23). The prophet Hosea also speaks to his people to that same effect (Hos.6:3). “For both prophets, then, the imagery and message are the same. God’s people stood in need of genuine repentance. Should they genuinely repent, it may be confidently expected that their loving covenant Lord would again rain down his blessings upon them.”44
The rain also stands as a sign of God’s covenant blessings in the future for an Israel that will be regathered and restored to its land. In that time of the New Covenant God assures His redeemed and purified people that He will send the rain as “showers of blessing” (Ezek. 34:26).
In a lively simile Moses likens his teachings to the beneficial effects of falling rain, “My teachings will drop like rain, and my sayings will drip like the dew, as rain drops upon the grass, and showers upon new growth” (Deut. 32:2). Further examples of wise teachings and the figure of rain are found in the book of Proverbs where the key importance of rain is expressed in many ways. Perhaps unexpectedly, the beneficial effects of rain are contrasted with something negative in nature. Thus unlike a storm front that sends welcome rain, a gossiping or slanderous tongue engenders an angry response (Prov. 25:23). Rather than being a good thing, one who boasts of having given a gift when he has not really done so, is compared to clouds, which appear to be rain bearers but fail to produce any rain (Prov. 25:14). A heavy thunderstorm, which is destructive rather than helpful to the crops, is compared to a poor man who, rather than helping a fellow person in need, oppresses him (Prov. 28:3). A further case is that of the contentious wife whose conduct is compared to “a constant dripping” (Prov. 19:13). Concerning this problem, McKane observes, “To have a querulous wife who niggles and nags perpetually is as unendurable as inhabiting a house with a leaking roof and being tormented by a drip which never lets up.”45
Proverbial in nature also are the observations of the author of Ecclesiastes. Thus he observes that rain bearing clouds inevitably drop their rain (Eccles. 11:3). Rain, therefore, becomes a symbol of the fact that some things must be accepted as normal, and to be expected and prepared for by people. The much debated imagery in Ecclesiastes 12:2 has been understood in at least two ways: (1) clouds that return after the rain point to the continual troubles attended to old age (cf. ESV, NIV, NLT); (2) rather than being translated, “return, “ the Hebrew verb which follows “clouds should be understood as “disappear,” hence the productive prospects of old age resemble the promise of the beneficial effects of life-giving rains that no longer come (NET). Under either interpretation old age is viewed as a time of growing weakness and lessening vitality. Therefore, one is to “remember your creator in the days of your youth” (Eccles. 12:1) when health and strength are present. In so doing the individual can pursue a longer more productive life for the Lord.
The presence and superintending providence of God are also felt in several texts utilizing figurative language. For example, a truly God-fearing king will so rule as to produce good for his people—so much so that his reign is like a bright, shining, cloudless day after a welcome and beneficial rain.46 Indeed, His just edicts and actions will bring that which is good for His people with the result that godliness and peace will prevail throughout the king’s tenure (Ps. 72:6-7). Like the rain and snow that settle into the earth, so God’s promises to Israel concerning its future are valid and assured, and will not be retracted (Isa. 55:8-13). Therefore, it was incumbent upon the present sinful Israel of Hosea’s day to repent, and seek the Lord in genuine righteousness and covenant faithfulness. Then the Lord would come and rain down righteousness upon them (Hos. 10:12-13; cf. Hos. 6:3). Accordingly, McComiskey remarks, “By showering them with righteousness he would deliver them from their precarious state and restore the stability and prosperity that was his original intention for them.”47
Contexts featuring water that lay on the ground in the form of dew and snow are also instructive.48 Dew once again appears as that which is under God’s control (Job 38:28-30). Indeed, in His providence, “The sea was broken open and clouds drip down dew” (Prov. 3:20). Dew thus is a sign of God’s blessing. So it is that dew figures prominently in the patriarchal blessings as a symbol of the bestowal of God’s goodness, which will bring prosperity. Thus Isaac blesses his sons saying first (thou unknowingly) to Jacob, “May God give you the dew of the sky and the richness of the earth, and plenty of grain and new wine” (Gen. 27:28), but then in a reversal of this theme to Esau, “Indeed, your home will be away from the richness of the earth and away from the dew of the sky above” (Gen. 27:39). Jacob would know settled conditions and a fertility of ground, while Esau would experience the opposite, living apart and ultimately would be in a subservient position to his brother.49 Moses’ later blessing of the tribes of Israel contains a similar blessing of fertility and prosperity for Joseph (Deut. 33:13) as well as a final praise to God for His blessings upon all Israel (Deut. 33:28).
Literal dew accompanied God’s giving of the manna during Israel’s exodus experience. It was a reminder of God’s favor and provision for His people (Exod. 16:13-14). God’s blessings also extend to His people into the future when the Lord returns the remnant of His people to their land, “The vine will produce its fruit and the ground its yield, and the skies will rain down dew” (Zech. 8:12). At times when God withheld the dew, however, it signified His displeasure with His people.
Like the dew, snow (as well as frost) though much more rare in Israel, was under God’s control (Job 38:22). Accordingly the psalmist declares, “He sends the snow that is white like wool; he spreads the frost that is white like ashes” (Ps. 147:16).50 Snow is found often in contexts indicating harsher conditions (e.g., Ps. 148:8). Yet even in these unfavorable conditions, the wife and mother of noble character, “is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all of her household are clothed with scarlet” (Prov. 31:21). In a negative setting Job compares the result of snow melted by heat to that of the certain and unhappy fate of the wicked (Job 24:19).
The beneficial and favorable aspects of dew (as well as other forms of water) are prominent in Moses’ declaration concerning the value of his instructions (Deut. 32:2). Although the beloved’s lover may be complaining that nighttime conditions have “drenched his head with dew” (Song 5:2), there may be a hint here also of his favor toward his beloved. More clearly, a king’s favor is “like dew on the grass” (Prov. 19:12). Job looked back fondly to a time when he expected favorable conditions and prosperity to be his continued lot in life (Job 29:19).
In a slightly greater advance of thought, harmonious relations with one’s fellow believers are likened to “the dew of Hermon, which flows down upon the hills of Zion” (Ps. 133:3). Such brings not only mutual favor, but refreshment and productivity. Isaiah looks forward to a time of renewed vitality and prosperity for Israel when Israel will “grow like plants drenched with the morning dew (Isa. 26:19). Seemingly dead Israel will experience a resurrection in God’s deliverance and restoration of His people.51 To be sure, the Israel of the divided kingdom era faced defeat and exile among the nations, but even there they would be “like dew the LORD sends” (Micah 5:7). “Thus Israel will be a blessing to the other nations and people groups of the world, as her covenant Lord intended originally. Just as dew and showers do not depend on humankind to perform their refreshing influence, so Israel will trust in her Lord. The Lord himself will make his people just such a blessing (cf. Ps. 72:6, 16-19).”52 Ultimately, however, God intends Israel’s future restoration to His favor and blessings in a time when He will be “like dew to Israel” (Hos. 14:5). Hosea’s words contain a striking reversal of imagery associated with the dew, which he had used in previous contexts. “Earlier Israel’s faithfulness toward the Lord was declared to be as lasting and fleeting as the morning dew (6:4). Subsequently, both Israel’s idolaters and idols were soon to disappear ‘like early morning dew’ (13:3).”53 In Hosea 14:5, however, the dew symbolizes the only true source of life and strength for Israel—God Himself.
Snow can likewise symbolize that which brings refreshment: “Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to those who send him, for he refreshes the heart of his masters” (Prov. 25:13).54 Snow can also indicate purity. In this regard Isaiah admonishes his people, “Though your sins have stained you like the color red, you can become white like snow” (Isa. 1:18). Purity can also be felt in the description of God’s clothing as being “white like snow, “ a fitting description of the One whose very person is holy (cf. Lev. 19:1; Isa. 6:3).
It is in keeping with God’s holy character that His promises to His people are as pure and as certain as His person and actions. So it is that to a repentant and revitalized Israel the Lord promises a full restoration to His favor and prosperity; then they will be a “monument to the LORD” (Isa. 55:13). His promise will not be negated, for it is as certain as the rain and snow, which “fall from the sky and do not return but instead water the earth and make it produce and yield crops, and provide seed for the planter and food for those who must eat” (Isa. 55:10).
Whether presented under positive or negative conditions, the Scriptures testify to the importance of water to the people of the Old Testament world. Certainly water was a basic necessity of life. Its beneficial effects in many forms are repeatedly cited not only for the growing of crops and plant life, but also for the routine matters of life. The various forms in which water appeared came to be equated with such things as vitality, prosperity and abundance, refreshment, and the good life in general. Under different images, such as metaphor and simile and especially in proverbial or poetic form, water came to symbolize such matters as wisdom, righteousness, purity, proper conduct, or even that which was desirable.
Individual aspects of water could assume special spiritual implications, such as, deliverance, whether nationally or individually, whether politically or spiritually. Special attention was often called to Israel’s future blessed condition, which was assured on the basis of God’s covenant faithfulness. Thus a repentant, forgiven, and purified remnant will once again live in the land of promise, and enjoy the peace and prosperity that come as a result of the Lord’s gracious blessings.
This truth is found in the various forms in which water was presented in the Scriptures, especially in the prophetic books. In whatever form water is presented, it is repeatedly emphasized that God is in control of its sources and activity. As frequently noted, this could be for negative purposes, such as to accomplish God’s judgment or chastisement. Most commonly, however, water appeared in a positive image conveying God’s purpose to bring to His people the God-given benefits of life on its highest plain. Even God’s judgment could in some contexts have as its goal the correction of man’s sin, which could lead ultimately to his full experience of salvation. Above all, water’s importance could even come to symbolize God Himself, particularly as the basic source of life (e.g., Jer. 2:13).
It is small wonder, then, that water also appears prominently with regard to God’s son, Jesus Christ.55 Thus Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Accordingly, Köstenberger points out, “In John, Jesus is identified explicitly with the creator and life-giver (5:26), and he dispenses the gift of ‘living water,’ later unveiled as the Holy Spirit (7:37-39).”56 Indeed, Jesus’ ministry often took place in connection with water sources (e.g., Matt. 3:13-17; 14:22-33; Luke 8:22-25; John 5:1-15; 9:1-7; 13:35). Especially to be noted are His words spoken on the last day of Sukkoth, in which a special ritual of water pouring took place. At that feast Jesus cried out with regard to the coming of the Holy Spirit, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’ (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39). The mention of water in connection with Christ reminds us that “Jesus inaugurated the age of God’s abundance.”57 That abundance points to the riches of God’s goodness and grace to mankind (Rom. 2:4; Eph. 1:7).
Therefore, as taken into union with Christ (Col. 1:27), believers may be instructed and profited by the many biblical passages featuring water, its sources, or its form. To be sure, the rich symbolism found there rehearses and fortifies truths found elsewhere, but the picturesque manner of their presentation serves both as an aid to gain the believer’s attention, and to remember and observe the lessons they teach. As such the presentation of the archetype of water often provides a key to a fuller, more vital, and more spiritually satisfying Christian life.
Whatever its form, the figurative uses of water remind believers that their daily blessings come from God. These include such matters as deliverance from difficulties (Ps. 69:1-2) and/or strength and protection to see them through the problem (Isa. 12:2-3). Indeed, it is the Lord who daily provides for the believers’ needs (Ps. 36:8). For it is God who gives direction and times of refreshment both now and in the future (Ps. 23:2; Isa. 58:11; Rev. 7:17; 21:6; 22:1).
The believer, then, must realize that his life comes from and is sustained by God (Ps. 36:8-9; Isa. 49:10; 55:1; Jer. 2:13). Therefore, regardless of the situation he may find true joy in God and His provision for him (Ps. 46:4). For those who seek the Lord and trust in Him there can be limitless blessings (Isa. 55:1; Jer. 17:7; Hos. 14:5), if they will but hold Him in due reverence (Prov. 14:27) and live in accordance with the revealed standards of God’s Word (Lev. 26:3-4; Deut. 28:12; Isa. 48:18).
Knowing this, the dedicated believer’s life will reflect those standards in his daily walk before the Lord. He will have a concern for justice and righteousness (Prov. 10:11; 13:14; Hos. 10:12-13; Amos 5:24). This will especially be true for those in positions of leadership (2 Sam. 23:4; Ps. 72:6). Believers will be careful in their walk lest they be misled by bad associations or advice (Prov. 25:26). They will be concerned about the needs of others and generously seek to alleviate their needs and condition (Isa. 58:11; Matt. 10:42), while avoiding duplicity in their dealings (Prov. 25:14). They will endeavor to live harmoniously with their fellow believers (Ps. 133:1-3) and speak words that demonstrate wisdom (Deut. 32:2). Such speech will be devoid of false rumor or gossip (Prov. 18:4).
Above all, the wise believer will recognize that the key to true success, rather than worldly acclaim or wealth, is found in the teachings of the Word of God (Ps. 1:3). Therefore, he will seek to live in accordance with those standards as though living in the very presence of God (Jer. 2:13), being led by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14). Not to be forgotten, also, is the need to remember that there are many that are spiritually thirsty and stand in the need of the life-giving water of salvation. Thus, Jesus proclaimed, “Whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14; cf. Isa. 49:9-10).
As those who have tasted that spiritual water and found it satisfying, 58 Believers should be mindful that all that they are and have is due to their relation with Christ, their Lord and Savior. Life in all its fullness comes from and flows out from Him (John 4:10-14; cf. 15:1-8). This realization should make them hunger and thirst for the Lord in intimate personal fellowship (Ps. 42:1-2). As Bernard of Clairvaux expressed it: “We taste Thee, O Thou living bread, and long to feast upon Thee still; We drink of Thee, Thee fountainhead, and thirst our souls from Thee to fill.”59 By God’s grace the Christian will enjoy that spiritual “water” throughout all eternity (John 21:5-6).
Water, how common! How utterly basic! Yet as we partake of and utilize water for our many needs, may we be reminded daily of the spiritual riches contained in the scriptural record’s many references to water, its sources and its forms—especially as they find their culmination in Jesus Christ. We have sent that water appears in the Scriptures symbolically of such things as refreshment, purity, prosperity, and idyllic conditions. Most importantly we have noted that water at times symbolizes life itself and beyond that, God the giver of life. We are also reminded further of Him who is our life—Jesus Christ (Col. 3:14; cf. 1 John 5:11-12). Yes, water indeed! If we remember, however, all that we have learned from God’s Word concerning water, we shall never regard it quite so casually again. Perhaps we could do no better than echo the sentiment of the poet:
O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love;
The streams on earth I’ve tasted
More deep I’ll drink above.
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land..60
1 Leland Ryken, Words of Delight (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 360. For an example of an archetype in the Bible, see Richard D. Patterson, “The Old Testament Use of an Archetype: The Trickster,” Journal of theEvangelical Theological Society 42 (1999): 385-94.
2 Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Epistle 1.1.95.
3 Not to be forgotten are such other watery idioms as being “snowed under” with work assignments or being exposed to a “hail” of insults or criticisms as well as being “at sea” in a state of uncertainty or bewilderment.
4 See the extensive discussion of water by Heinz-Josef Fabry and R. E. Clements, “Mayim,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament [hereafter abbreviated TDOT],eds. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 8:265-88.
5 Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptural references are taken from the NET Bible.
6 The Genesis flood has received a great deal of attention in commentaries, articles, and special studies with both negative and positive evaluations. For a defense of the biblical flood, see J. C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1967) and J. C. Whitcomb, The World That Perished (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973).
8 Although not discussed previously, it will be remembered also that water was used for matters of personal cleanliness and in various religious observances involving purification.
9 F. B. Huey, Jr., Jeremiah Lamentations, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1993), 64.
10 Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 322. To be sure Hodge goes on to explain the benefits of Christian baptism in accordance with his covenant theology. Nevertheless, regardless of one’s theological perspective, it may safely be said that submitting to baptism is a distinct formative step in one’s spiritual growth as well as being a testimony to God’s saving grace (cf. Acts 8:36-38 with Rom. 6:3-4). Likewise, God’s Word has a continuing effect in the believer’s growth and grace (Ps. 119:9, 169; Heb. 4:12; 2 Pet. 3:18).
11 Michael A. Grisanti, “Mayim,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis [hereafter abbreviated NIDOTTE],ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 2:930. As Grisanti demonstrates, the image of water in a dry land is a prominent one in Isaiah’s prophecy. See further John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 166.
12 Grisanti, “Mayim,” 2:933.
13 Note also the closing invitation: “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say: ‘Come!’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge” (Rev. 22:17).
14 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse, 8th ed.(New York: Charles C. Cook, 1901), 3:420-32; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1966), 329-36. Note, however, that Walvoord differentiates between the OT prophecies and John’s Apocalypse, the former being understood to relate to the millennial scene and the latter to the final heavenly city.
15 David E. Aune, Revelation 17-22, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 52c (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 1175-78; G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, TheNew International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 1103-08; George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 286-88. Writers who understand the imagery in these texts to be non-literal tend to relate these prophecies to the final paradise situation in the new Jerusalem. Many also point out the relation of the final paradise to the original Garden of Eden.
16 See further, Allen P. Ross, “nāhār,” in NIDOTTE, 3:46-51, who also considers several other words for river or stream; Helmer Ringgren, A. Snijders, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, “nāhār,” in TDOT, 9:261-70; A Snijders and Heinz-Josef Fabry, “naxal,” in TDOT, 9:335-40; and Richard Hess, “peleg,” in NIDOTTE, 3:617-18.
17 For discussion of Jacob’s wrestling at the Jabbok where he saw “God face to face,” see Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 18-50, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 316-39; Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 11:17-50:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 555-61; John Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in Genesis-Leviticus, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 255-56. For further light on the expression of seeing God “face to face,” see Richard D. Patterson and Michael E. Travers, Face to Face with God (Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2008), 53-75. For a consideration of Hosea’s use of the incident of Jacob at the Jabbok, see Patterson, “The Trickster,” 390-92.
18 The ritual also carried symbolic importance. Thus Peter C. Craigie (The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976], 279-80) writes, “The crime deserved to be punished, as the broken neck of the heifer indicated, but the hand-washing of the elders showed that, although they accepted responsibility for what had happened, they were nevertheless free from the guilt attached to the crime.”
19 See below, the discussion under “sea.”
21 John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 282.
22 J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993), 538.
23 In keeping with the imagery associated with the blessings of a flowing river, the future Jerusalem is likened to a nursing mother from whom the nations, portrayed metaphorically as infants, receive their nourishment (vv. 10-12).
24 Streams could also afford a place of separation or demarcation between peoples. Such was the case when the Philistine giant Goliath was challenging the forces of Israel. It was from the streambed that David picked up the smooth stones with which he defeated the Philistine hero (1 Sam. 17:40-50).
25 See for example, Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs Chapters 15-31, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 71-72.
26 William McKane, Proverbs, The Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970), 513. It is interesting to note that the LXX suggests that although the word in a man’s heart is likened to deep water, it nonetheless can be compared to a flowing stream or a well of life. Franz Delitzsch (Biblical Commentary on theProverbs of Solomon, trans. M. G. Easton[Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.], 2:4) writes, “In this brook there never fails an always new gush of living water; it is a fountain or well of wisdom, from which wisdom flows forth, and whence wisdom is to be drawn.”
27 Dianne Bergant, The Song of Songs, Berit Olam, ed. David W. Cotter (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2001), 70.
28 Richard D. Patterson and Andrew E. Hill, Minor Prophets, The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, ed. Philip W. Comfort (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2008), 116-17.
29 Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds., “Brook,” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 1998), 125. Adversity can thus have a beneficial effect, particularly in the hands of God. Even negative conditions when properly viewed and responded to can prove to produce positive results.
30 Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:407.
31 John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, 530.
32 One is reminded of Shakespeare’s words in his As You Like It, act 2, scene 1, lines 12-16:
“Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
See The Yale Shakespeare, Complete Works, eds. Wilbur L. Cross and Tucker Booke (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006), 194.
33 Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman III, “Springs of Water, “ in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 811.
34 Bryan E. Beyer, “ma`an,” in NIDOTTE, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 2:1018.
35 Waltke, The Book of Proverbs Chapters 15-31, 335-36.
36 J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993), 129. As an interesting aside, in a controversial text the MT of Ps. 87:7 reads, “And singers, like pipers, all my springs [are] in you.” Thus the singers’ true source of joy and praise is found in God.
37 Theo. Laetsch, Bible Commentary Jeremiah (St. Louis: Concordia, 1965), 39.
38 George L. Klein, Zechariah, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2008), 373.
39 Ibid, 374.
40 Joseph A. Alexander, Commentary on Psalms (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1991), 476. So also Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 3:209 remarks, “The causing of water to gush forth out of the flinty rock is a practical proof of unlimited omnipotence and of the grace which converts death into life.”
41 Mark D. Futato. “£Hg,” NIDOTTE, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 1:900.
42 Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 143.
43 Tremper Longman III & Daniel G. Reid (God Is a Warrior [Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 1995], 186) point out that under the judgment portrayed as the outpouring of the seventh bowl of wrath, “a cosmic cataclysm ensues. It bears the familiar images of the divine warrior: lightning, thunder, earthquake, islands and mountains fleeing, and gargantuan hailstones falling from the sky (16:17-20).”
44 Patterson, Hosea, 63.
45 McKane, Proverbs, 531
46 See further, Richard D. Patterson, “The Imagery of Clouds in the Scriptures,” Bibliotheca Sacra 165 (2008): 13-27.
47 Thomas McComiskey, “Hosea,” in An Exegetical and Expository Commentary The Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 1:178.
48 Although literal dew and snow are generally under consideration in this section, nevertheless, it will be seen that even here in some cases they have symbolic value.
49 For a helpful discussion of these blessings and their relation to the larger narrative of the Pentateuch, see John Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 1:235-37.
51 Isaiah’s prophecy may well also contain a strong hint of human physical resurrection.
52 Kenneth L. Barker, “Micah,” in Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 103-04.
53 Patterson, Hosea, 139.
54 See the helpful NET textual note.
58 One is reminded of Clara T. Williams’ words set to the hymn tune Satisfied: “All my life I had a longing for a drink from some clear spring, that I hoped would quench the burning of the thirst that I felt within. Hallelujah! I have found him Whom my soul so long has craved! Jesus satisfies my longings, through his blood I now am saved.”
59 Bernard of Clairvaux, “Jesus Thou Joy of Loving Hearts.”
60 Anne Ross Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.”