Gen. 1.1-2, 6; Job 26.8, 10, Ezekiel 47.1–11; John 3.5, 4.10; Revelation 7.16-18; 21.6; 22.1; 22.17; Eph. 5.26; Heb. 10.22
WATER (Heb. mayim, Gk. hydōr). The word “water” appeared in the Bible over 700 times. But the meaning of water in God’s creation, both the old creation and the new creation, is even far more significant than the number itself may indicate.
(1) Walter is necessary for life, but we are made by God, not somehow evolved from water.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Gen. 1.1-2.
Notice how early the word “water” appeared in God’s Word. It appeared in the second verse of the entire Bible. In fact water is the first substance mentioned in the Bible, before any other substances. Before water, “the heavens and the earth” were mentioned, but these are not a particular substance but in fact a general reference to the entire creation of God.
You may have learned from the school how water is both an absolutely essential element of life and an essential supply of life. This is true, because without water, there would be no life. When scientists wanted to find evidence of life on Mars, the first thing they looked for was any sign of water. That water is absolutely essential to life is an undeniable fact, but often high-minded people want to elevate water to an even higher level by fundamentally proclaim that water is the origin of life. Many of course make such a statement in order to appear “profound” or be poetic, but we may not be carried away by such seemingly poetic and philosophical language. We must go back to what the Word of God tells us.
Genesis 1.2 tells us that before life was created, the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Reading this verse makes you feel that in the early time, after the original creation of the heavens and earth but before the creation of the earth and its inhabitants as we see today, something bad had happened and the earth was in trouble. It was probably that there had been an execution of God’s judgment on earth because of a rebellion lead by Lucifer. But regardless, the dire condition of the early earth was evident. The earth was in a completely barren condition. Not because it didn’t have water, but partly because there was too much water unarranged and ungoverned. Waters were a part of the surface of the deep covered by the darkness. How can anyone expect life to come out of that darkness? Had the Lord God not taken any further actions of creation, the darkness and the waters would have remained and there would be no life, and no us.
But God did take action. To make room, or make a home, for life, God first created boundaries of waters. Even today, God sustains these boundaries that are necessary for life to inhabit the earth. “He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight….He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters for a boundary between light and darkness.” (Job 26.8, 10).
Every time when you think about ocean, think about this fact: there is enough water to cover (flood) the entirely surface to earth by hundreds of feet of depth, yet we are not flooded. What has helped to restrain the waters? Looking at the surface of the earth, one cannot help but being amazed by the fact the Someone had made some huge “bowls” (oceans) of just the right sizes and depths to contain the waters such that there is enough dry lands for us. It does not take a great variation of the depth of the oceans, or amount of water, to make a huge and devastating change on the surface of the earth. The big Tsunamis are but a sight shake of the oceans to indicate what happens when the Lord God allows His hands holding the oceans to become just a tiny bit loose. If you realize this, the next time you watch, walk and enjoy on a beach you will be deeply thankful for the Almighty God who has in His wisdom and mercy made and sustained all this.
It is therefore important for us to remember that we are from the Lord God, a result of His loving creation, not a natural and casual consequence somehow evolved from water, no matter how important water is to life. It is wishful, willful and arrogant of human being to think that if we wait long enough something good will “naturally” come out of a barren and dead condition. It often does, but not by the virtue of the barren and dead condition, but as a result of merciful interception of God. But sinful man would have total faith in “nature” but no faith in God the Creator. It is also a reflection of human sinful nature to always take the very work of God as “evidence” that God did not exist. It is like a starved man who was given a meal by a merciful savior, after being fed, arose to argue that there had never been a savior because he was never hungry.
(2) Water is an important part of God’s first creation – ever since God spoke these words “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water,” (Gen. 1.6), the waters of darkness have come into a beautiful formation under the sky and in the air. The Lord God arranged the waters and governed them so that the water became the basis for life. What a blessing God has given us in this substance.
Let us review some of the basic facts of water. Pure water at a proper temperature is an odorless, tasteless, transparent liquid. It is colorless in small amounts but exhibits a bluish tinge in large quantities. It is the most familiar and abundant liquid on earth. Water covers about 70% of the earth’s surface. It is also present in varying amounts in the atmosphere. Most of the living tissue of a human being is made up of water; it constitutes about 92% of blood plasma, about 80% of muscle tissue, about 60% of red blood cells, and over half of most other tissues. It is also an important component of the tissues of most other living things.
Water has amazing chemical and physical properties. Chemically, water is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, having the formula H2O. So God created water by combining oxygen, a gaseous substance that is essential to many forms of life, with hydrogen, the simplest possible element among all substances God has created. What an amazing combination of liveliness and simplicity to produce something that is entirely different and takes a whole new level of meaning to life!
One of the reasons why water is so important to life is that water is a very unique solvent, a kind of substance that dissolves other substances (solutes). Many substances that are essential to life would be useless unless first being dissolved in water. This is because an unresolved substance, although has the potential to serve a certain function, is simply “unavailable” due to its self-containedness. This is analogous to the use of our spiritual gifts, and we will discuss about it later.
How water performs as a solvent is also amazing. It is as if every single water molecule has a pair of small touching “hands” that “cuddle” the solute molecules and make every solute molecule “at ease” and not being “afraid of” leaving the bulk material and not being afraid of losing itself in the solvent. Certainly God has wisdom here.
In addition to being a solvent, water also actively participates in many very important chemical reactions in human bodies (as well as other living organisms). For example, virtually every form of the most important chemical reactions for supplying energy to our body is participated by water molecules and cannot take place without water molecules.
Water also has interesting thermal properties. When heated from 0°C, its melting point, to 4°C, it contracts and becomes denser; most other substances expand and become less dense when heated. Conversely, when water is cooled in this temperature range, it expands. It expands greatly as it freezes; as a consequence, ice is less dense than water and floats on it. Biologists all agree that without this unique property of water, life in water would not be able to survive the seasonal changes. Also, because of hydrogen bonding between water molecules, the latent heats of fusion and of evaporation and the heat capacity of water are all unusually high. For these reasons, water serves both as a heat-transfer medium (e.g., ice for cooling and steam for heating) and as a temperature regulator (the water in lakes and oceans helps regulate the climate).
It is evident that these amazing properties of water are specifically designed for facilitating and preserving both life in water and life on dry lands. Believing that all this has happened by chance is not only a very rude attitude toward the Owner of the world who has designed and made this world, but also requires a very devoted heart worshiping “the nature”, which is a mere a creation, as a god without giving glory to the One to whom the glory really belongs to.
(3) Water played an important role in the lives of God’s people’s in Old Testament times. Because of its both biological and environmental importance, water plays an important role in societies. Water resources and supplies in particular are always an important feature in people’s lives, particularly in a part of the world where water is in short supply. It must have been God’s design that His people lived in a land that generally did not entirely lack water, but the water did not come easily and freely either. For Israelites, water had to be taken with a significant effort. As a result, water featured significantly in their lives. From Abraham, Isaac to Jesus’ time, Israelites relied on digging wells for water. On the one hand, the land had water so that digging was not in vain. On the other hand, Israelites did not have the luxury of flowing rivers of water. For Israelites, few things are more serious to them than absence of water (1 Ki. 17.1; Je. 14.3; Joel 1.20 ; Hg. 1.11 ), and conversely rainfall is a sign of God’s favor and goodness.
An equally serious menace to life is water that has been polluted or rendered undrinkable. This was one of the plagues of Egypt (Ex. 7.17). The Israelites found the water at Marah bitter (Ex. 15.23), and the well at Jericho was unpleasant in Elisha’s day (2 Ki. 2.19–22).
It was common practice in time of warfare for an invading army to cut the water-supply of beleaguered cities, as did Jehoshaphat with the wells of Moab (2 Ki. 3.19, 25). Hezekiah averted this danger by the construction of the tunnel which exists to this day in Jerusalem, running from the Virgin’s fountain (Gihon), outside the city walls of his day, to the Pool of Siloam (2 Ch. 32.30 ). Under conditions when water had to be rationed (La. 5.4; Ezk. 4.11, 16), the phrase ‘water of affliction’ could fittingly be used (Is. 30.20). But with God’s dealings with His people, a lack of water was also a form of punishment or discipline (1 Ki. 22.27; 2 Ch. 18.26).
Spiritual meanings and applications:
In addition to biological, environmental and social importance of water, water in the Bible has rich and profound spiritual meaning. The spiritual meaning of water often draws in parallel from the use and the meaning of the physical water. This is no surprise and is indeed a general principle of how God speaks. God has two creations, the old creation and the new creation. The old creation includes the physical world we see now. But the old shall pass and God is introducing a new creation to replace the old. The old creation in many ways serves as an illustration of the new to come. In other words, the old creation is like a “parable” of the new creation that is to come. “He shall speak in parables,” and God indeed spoke in parables.
(1) Jesus is the source of living water – just as Jesus proclaimed that He is the true vine, he also proclaimed that He is the source of the true water. All things in the old creation are but a shadow of the true reality that is to come. Many people study God’s words as if the physical world (the old creation) is the only reality, while the spiritual world is but a beautiful imagination. These souls have not heard the Word of God. The water to our physical life (the old creation) is but an illustration of what the Son of God is to our born-again life (the new creation). While the former is all reality, the latter is the true reality.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” John 4.10.
(2) The river of living water – No longer must God’s children dig wells to draw water as the Israelites did in Old Testament time. “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” John 7.38. What Jesus promised is the true blessing of God for His new creation. This promise was made repetitively in Old Testament (for example, Ps. 23.2; Is. 32.2; 35.6–7; 41.18, Pss. 42.1 ; 63.1 ; Am. 8.11 ). etc.) and made explicit by the words of the Son of God Himself in the New Testament (John 4.9-11 and John 7.38).
Ezekiel saw a vision of The Temple – God’s house (47.1–11). In his vision, the waters poured out as a river from under the altar. The river in Ezekiel’s vision represents the unrestricted flow of Yahweh’s blessings upon His people. Jeremiah also describes Yahweh as ‘the fountain of living waters’ (2.13; 17.13). However, it is in Revelation that Ezekiel’s vision became a reality:
“Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
“He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life…” Revelation 21.6
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Revelation 22.1
“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” Revelation 22.17.
Clearly, living water is the highest, purest and supreme summation of God’s blessing to His children. The river of living water, the true water in the new creation, is to be a prominent feature in the eternal life of God people just as how the physical water has featured in our physical life.
Due to the scarcity of water resources and hard well-digging experiences, Jews truly understood the meaning of “River of living water” when Jesus spoke those words. The problem with us who live in modern times is that although we know we cannot live without water, we don’t consciously think about the importance of water in our lives. It is something that we come to realize its importance only when we suddenly rush out of it. But our spiritual experiences and understanding should nevertheless be clear.
(3) From altar to throne, the complete the story of the river. But we also see that from Ezekiel’s vision in the Old Testament to John’s vision of the heavenly reality there is a distance between the Altar and the Throne, and a transformation between the Altar and the Throne. This is the distance between the heaven and the earth, an infinite chasm caused by the fall of man. This is the distance walked by Jesus Christ as the son of man, covering the road to the Cross. As we are inspired and encouraged by the promise of God for the river of living water, we shall never forget it is the Lord Himself who paid the price for this supreme gift.
(4) Water also represents cleansing and separation. Although water predominantly represents God’s blessing to life, it also represents baptismal cleansing for forgiveness of sins. In the ceremonial system washing was a prominent feature. Priests were washed at their consecration (Ex. 29.4); Levites too were sprinkled with water (Nu. 8.7). Special ablutions were demanded of the chief priest on the Day of Atonement (Lv. 16.4, 24 in, 26), of the priest in the ‘water of separation’ ritual (Nu. 19.1–10), and of all men for the removal of ceremonial defilement (Lv. 11.40 ; 15.5; 17.15; 22.6; Dt. 23.11 ). The laver before the tabernacle was a constant reminder of the need for cleansing in the approach to God (Ex. 30.18–21). A developed form of this ritual ablution was practiced by the Qumran sect and by a variety of Jewish baptist sects which flourished before and after the turn of the Testament time. These provide the background to John’s baptism of repentance and to the Christian baptism of cleansing, initiation and incorporation into Christ.
Water baptismal is now a familiar concept to Christians:
“…to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,…” Christ speaks of His Church in Eph. 5.26;
“…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water…” Heb. 10.22.
Although Bible often uses one thing to represents, in different contexts, different (and even unrelated) subjects, here the representations of both the new life and cleansing from the world’s contamination may not be two entirely different subjects. The word of God teaches us that forgiveness of our sins and our salvation to receive eternal life are inseparable. Many people think that God has salvation in store for people regardless of what people’s condition are. They only nominally accept the notion of “forgiveness of sin” as if it were some type of extra comfort God confers upon His people. This is entirely wrong. One cannot receive salvation of eternal life until his sins are forgiven. Sin and eternal life are completely exclusive of each other and by no means can coexist. One who is quick to claim his right to a new life but never remembers the fact that he is a “sinner saved by grace” does not understand the salvation and perhaps only lives in his religious dreams.
“Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of WATER and the Spirit…” John 3.5.
Here, water represents cleansing and separation from sin. It represents the price our Lord has paid for the forgiveness of our sins, while the Spirit is the resurrection power of our Lord Jesus. We need both for our salvation. One whose sins are forgiven still needs the resurrection life to attain salvation, but one whose sins are not forgiven cannot even receive the resurrection life, because the Holy Spirit, like a dove, will not rest on a sinful man that is full of death.
(5) The presence of the Lord to our Christian life and our gathering is like water to our body. This is a practical observation. Remember we have previously learned about various kinds of food, what they do to our body and why our body needs them. We learned that there are three types of needs all body has: the first is taking in structural materials for growing and sustaining our body as a structure; the second is taking in energy to drive and sustaining our body as a living organism; the third is taking in nutrition so that our body works more efficiently as a system. All these needs are concrete and identifiable. But where do you put water among them? The water does not supply any structural material; the water does not provide energy; and the water is not in itself nutritious. Yet we know that our body cannot live without water.
Water works in a “behind the scenes” manner that is not often visible but absolutely essential. This is very much like the presence of the Lord in our Christian life, both individually and as a corporate. Yes we need all kinds of spiritual food, from milk to solid food. Some Christians and gatherings are not eating the right type of food. Sometimes it’s an out-of-balance diet, sometimes it lacks structure, energy, or nutrition, and sometimes even worse, it is full of junk food. But even in some gatherings that appear to have everything right in its “spiritual diet”, there would still be a lack life. Why? Often, when you look deeper, you see a lack of presence of the Lord. It is as if a body takes in right kind of food but never drinks water. The result is death.
There is another function of water that may also have a spiritual analogy. Remember we talked about water functioning as a unique solvent. Many substances that are essential to life would be useless unless first being dissolved in water. This is because an unresolved substance, although has the potential to serve a certain function, is simply “unavailable” to its function due to its self-containedness. This is not only true in our digesting system, but to the cell level of our body as a living organism. This phenomenon is analogous to the use of our spiritual gifts. Sometimes one may have spiritual gifts, but without the guidance of the Holy Spirit these gifts are like dry “solutes” that although have a potential to serve a function, but really are useless before they are gently guided by the Holy Spirit and dissolved into God’s presence.
How water performs as a solvent is also illustrative. As mentioned previously, it is as if every single water molecule has a pair of small touching hands that “cuddle” the solute molecules and make every solute molecule “at ease” and not being “afraid of” leaving the bulk material and not being afraid of losing itself in the solvent. What wisdom God has demonstrated! Some Christians go to a gathering and immediately complain about “incompatibility”. It is true that sometimes we may be in the wrong place, but the question is exactly with what we see ourselves to be incompatible. Are we as an individual feeling incompatible with other individualities? Or is it simply that our self-life is incompatible with the Holy Spirit? The truth is that as individuals we are seldom compatible with each other, and even if we do feel compatible with each other, the compatibility does not really lead to much meaning. We need to learn how to yield to the Holy Spirit and the presence of the Lord, and be dissolved in His presence. Once we find that we are compatible with the “solvent” (the presence of the Lord through Holy Spirit), suddenly we find ourselves compatible with other “solutes.”
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Revelation 22.1