We tend to think of water as a daily commodity. The only time we really recognize it for the necessity that it is comes when we are encountered with a storm that takes out the electricity and our ability to get it. But in the world of the Bible that understanding of water was constantly on peoples’ minds. In the northern regions of Israel water was more available. The mountains of Upper Galilee had springs which fed into several rivers; the Jordan River being the most prominent of them. The Sea of Galilee was also (and still is) a major source of fresh water and the geography allowed a significant enough amount of rainfall for agriculture. But in the southern portion of the land, water was (and still is!) harder to come by. The Dead Sea offered no help here so water was collected in cisterns and those who lived in the wilderness learned how to “read the rocks” that had porous capacities which could cause pockets of water to form just under their surface. Wadiis, deep gouges on the earth’s surface could also be water source if they had a spring within them like En Gedi.
The cycle of seasons in the ancient world truly forced those living in it to recognize their dependence on the God who set it all in motion. In ancient Israel, there were two crucial “rainy seasons” which contributed to a bountiful harvest and a continued growing season. Rainfall was critical to collecting water for basic needs. It filled cisterns and wells from above but it also had an effect on natural water sources raising the water level of rivers, the Sea of Galilee and springs. Water thus became “labeled”. The water collected and stored in a cistern for example was called “common”. But water from a spring or river was considered “living”. When Jesus walked upon the earth the source of one’s water was very important. It was taken just as seriously as the advertising claims of modern bottled water companies. In fact the oral tradition of the rabbis (the Mishnah) even graded water on its religious value! Most importantly “living water” was considered to be water whose direct source was God Himself unlike the water of a cistern that was transported by human hands. With all this in mind one can easily see why Jesus’ claim in Jn. 7:37-38 was so shocking to those who’d come to the Temple to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles or why His discussion with the woman at the well in Samaria was a bit confusing to her at first (Jn. 4:1-30). In each instance water is at the center of the event. The worshippers at the Temple were recognizing God as their source of the life giving entity; the woman focused on the tradition of Jacob establishing a well there for the preservation of future generations. In each case Jesus claimed He was a better source of water. Jesus declared He was better because He was both the “living water” and its source.
I confess that when I go to my water faucet each day and pour its cold and refreshing liquid into my handy-dandy water bottle that I do not think about where that water is coming from. I don’t thank God for the water table 1500 feet below my house that supplies me with some of the best water I’ve ever had. And while it is good to thank God for these daily provisions my thoughts this week have made me examine where I’m getting the water for my spiritual nourishment. Am I tapping into the “Living Water” or drawing it from a cistern produced by someone else’s hands? One of those sources is going to eventually leave me high and dry so I’m reminded to drink wisely. How about you? Does your water source live up to its advertising?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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