The word "water" is used in a variety of metaphorical ways in Scripture. It is used to symbolize the troublesome times in life that can and do come to human beings, especially God's children ( Psalm 32:6 ; Psalms 69:1 Psalms 69:2 Psalms 69:14 Psalms 69:15 ; Isa 43:2 ; Lam 3:54 ). In some contexts water stands for enemies who can attack and need to be overcome ( 2 Sam 22:17-18 ; Psalm 18:16-17 ; 124:4-5 ; 144:7 ; Isa 8:7 ; Jer 47:2 ). In both the Old and New Testaments, the word "water" is used for salvation and eternal life, which God offers humankind through faith in his Son ( Isa 12:3 ; 55:1 ; Rev 21:6 ; Revelation 22:1 Revelation 22:2 Revelation 22:17 ). In John 4:10-15, part of Jesus' discourse with the Samaritan woman at the well, he speaks metaphorically of his salvation as "living water" and as "a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
Following along this same theme, water sometimes symbolizes the spiritual cleansing that comes with the acceptance of God's offer of salvation ( Ezek 36:25 ; Eph 5:26 ; Heb 10:22 ). In fact, in Ephesians 5:26, the "water" that does the cleansing of the bride, the church, is directly tied in with God's Word, of which it is a symbol.
In a very important passage, Jesus identifies the "streams of living water" that flow from within those who believe in him with the Holy Spirit ( John 7:37-39 ). The reception of the Holy Spirit is clearly the special reception that was going to come after Jesus had been glorified at the Father's right hand and happened on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2. Two times in Jeremiah Yahweh is metaphorically identified as "the spring of living water" ( Jer 2:13 ; 17:13 ). In both instances Israel is rebuked for having forsaken the Lord for other cisterns that could in no way satisfy their "thirst."
In other passages of Scripture, the following are said metaphorically to be "water": God's help ( Isa 8:6 : "the gently flowing waters of Shiloah" ); God's judgment ( Isa 28:17 : "water will overflow your hiding place" ); man's words ( Prov 18:4 : "The words of man's mouth are deep waters" ); man's purposes ( Prov 20:5 : "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters" ); an adulterous woman ( Prov 9:17 : "Stolen water is sweet" ); and a person's posterity ( Isa 48:1 : "Listen to this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel and have come forth out of the line [waters] of Judah" ).
The reference to "water" in John 3:5 has been variously interpreted by scholars. Some have taken the phrase, "being born of water, " to mean being born again by means of water baptism. Others have taken the verse to involve a hendiadys and take "water" and "Spirit" together as one reference since water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit in other passages. Still others take the birth by water to be one's natural birth and the birth by the Spirit to be the supernatural birth of being "born again" or regenerated. This seems to be what Nicodemus, in the context, understood Jesus to be saying. In order to enter the kingdom of God one must have two births, each a different kind. After all, water, in its ordinary sense, has a great part to play in the natural birth of a baby. Furthermore, there are too many clear passages and single verses in the Bible that base salvation, entrance into the kingdom of God, and eternal life on faith alone.
Wesley L. Gerig
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wo'-ter (mayim; hudor):
(1) The Greek philosophers believed water to be the original substance and that all things were made from it. The Koran states, "From water we have made all things." In the story of the creation (Genesis 1:2) water plays an elemental part.
(2) Because of the scarcity of water in Palestine it is especially appreciated by the people there. They love to go and sit by a stream of running water. Men long for a taste of the water of their native village (1 Chronicles 11:17). A town or village is known throughout the country for the quality of its water, which is described by many adjectives, such as "light," "heavy," etc.
(3) The rainfall is the only source of supply of water for Palestine. The moisture is carried up from the sea in clouds and falls on the hills as rain or snow. This supplies the springs and fountains. The rivers are mostly small and have little or no water in summer. For the most part springs supply the villages, but in case this is not sufficient, cisterns are used. Most of the rain falls on the western slopes of the mountains, and most of the springs are found there. The limestone in many places does not hold the water, so wells are not very common, though there are many references to them in the Bible.
(4) Cisterns are usually on the surface of the ground and vary greatly in size. Jerusalem has always had to depend for the most part on water stored in this way, and carried to the city in aqueducts. A large number of cisterns have been found and partially explored under the temple-area itself. The water stored in the cisterns is surface water, and is a great menace to the health of the people. During the long, dry summer the water gets less and less, and becomes so stagnant and filthy that it is not fit to drink. In a few instances the cisterns or pools are sufficiently large to supply water for limited irrigation.
(5) During the summer when there is no rain, vegetation is greatly helped by the heavy dews. A considerable amount of irrigation is carried on in the country where there is sufficient water in the fountains and springs for the purpose. There was doubtless much more of it in the Roman period. Most of the fruit trees require water during the summer.
(6) Many particular wells or pools are mentioned in the Bible, as:
(7) Washing with water held a considerable place in the Jewish temple-ceremony (Leviticus 11:32; 16:4; 17:15; 22:6; Numbers 19:7; Exodus 30:18; 40:7). Sacrifices were washed (Exodus 29:4; Leviticus 1:9; 6:28; 14:5).
See also FOUNTAIN; PIT; POOL; SPRING; WELL.
Alfred H. Joy
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