The River of Life

by Lois Tverberg

Every living creature which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live. Ezekiel 47:9

One of the most beautiful prophecies about living water is in Ezekiel 47:1-12. The prophet Ezekiel is at the temple, and sees a little trickle of water flowing out from under the altar. The water flows out of the temple down the south stairs.

As it flows, this paradoxical river does a strange thing – it grows wider and deeper until finally it becomes a stream so great that it can’t be crossed. Moreover, this little stream from the temple is flowing southeast out of Jerusalem toward the Dead Sea, twelve miles away. The area near the Dead Sea is a salt wasteland where nothing can live. But this stream has a marvelous effect. Trees grow on either side, and the waters of the Dead Sea suddenly teem with life.

It is beautiful to see how the image in Ezekiel 47 describes the outpouring of the Spirit that occurred at Pentecost. The Living Water of the Spirit first fell on the people in the temple as they were worshipping there, as if the Spirit started trickling out of the sanctuary to that little “puddle” of believers. Interestingly, when Peter preached to the people at Pentecost, he was probably standing on the south stairs, where the water in Ezekiel’s vision flowed. Also on that south stairs are the mikvehs (ceremonial baths), where 3000 people that day were baptized in living water. They have been excavated and are visible even today!

The trickle of God’s Spirit became ankle deep as the first believers shared the gospel and many in the city believed, and then knee deep as they carried the gospel to the surrounding countries. Instead of running out of energy as it flowed, the river of God’s Spirit got deeper and wider as it flowed! And its ultimate destination is that of the most desolate of wastelands, full of the poisonous water of the Dead Sea. This is the dark reality of a world devoid of a true knowledge of God. Anywhere it touches it gives new life where there was only death before.

The Blessing of Rain

by Lois Tverberg

“I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil.” Deuteronomy 11:14

One kind of living water that was considered a great blessing in biblical times was rain. Between the spring rains that ended in April and the fall rains that began in October, six months would go by with clear skies over Israel. When the rains returned again, it was considered to be a miracle directly from God’s hand. We can hear the positive attitude about rain from some ancient Jewish sources:

The day of rain is greater than the resurrection of the dead, because the resurrection of the dead benefits only the righteous, but rain benefits both the righteous and the unrighteous. (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 7a)

Also, in an ancient commentary on Psalm 117:1 (Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples.), the rabbinic discussion followed:

At what times are all men equal, and when do the nations worship God?”
“On the day when all rejoice.”
“When is that?”
“When the rain comes down, and all rejoice and praise God.”

It is interesting, then, that we as Americans do not rejoice – we look on rainy days as bad days. Because water is relatively abundant here, and because we can rely on reservoirs, irrigation and clean water piped into our houses, we actually curse the days that are blessings to us. When you think about it, our abundant food here is just as dependent on the rain that we complain about as the crops are in Israel, but we just have forgotten the blessing.

It is easy for us to forget to be thankful for our blessings – but even worse when we complain about good gifts simply because we have so much. How many other gifts have we forgotten to be thankful for? Maybe the next time we should pray the traditional Jewish prayer that is said when it rains, and other happy occasions: “Blessed is he who is good, and gives good things!”

What Did Moses Do Wrong?

by Bruce Okkema & Lois Tverberg

Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Numbers 20:11-12

Have you been wondering about this question? The Lord had clearly been developing Moses throughout his lifetime for the specific task of leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised land. God had rescued Moses as a baby from Pharaoh’s edict to drown the Hebrew boys in the Nile. Then, through Pharaoh’s daughter, he had been raised in the royal palaces where he learned leadership skills and had access to the best education in the world. As a shepherd, Moses had learned how to protect a flock in the harsh desert while finding food and water, essential skills for what was to come. Then there was the call at the burning bush, the miraculous signs, the plagues, the deliverance, and all these years of leading this difficult people…

This story has puzzled Christians for ages: how the seemingly small sin of striking the rock could have made God so angry as to deny Moses the goal for which he had been raised. One answer comes from understanding what Moses’ actions would have meant to the people of his time.

Both the Egyptian and Canaanite religions believed that there were many gods. These gods were not supreme in power, but could be manipulated by invoking spiritual forces even more powerful than them. It was believed that by using incantations, occult magic, and fertility rites, people could force these spirits into obeying their will. God made it very clear to the Israelites that he was supreme and they must never make idols or do anything that treated Him this way.

Moses shouts angrily, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” By using the word “we,” he attributes to himself and Aaron the power to give them water, suggesting that he and Aaron would use pagan rites to force God into giving them water, rather than publicly acknowledging the Lord as the supreme power.

In that one weak moment, he undermined all of what God had been teaching them about his absolute sovereignty. In Moses’ desire to show his own authority, not only did he fail to give God the glory, but to the Israelites who had grown up in paganism, he was acting as an occult magician who controls the spirits. This was extremely serious to the Lord, especially because it is a public sin. This underscores the responsibilities of leadership.

God demands that we always treat him as sovereign, so he did not revoke this severe punishment for Moses. But, the story does not end there. In his kindness, God honored his dedicated servant by showing him a vision of all of the land of Israel. The story ends with these beautiful words from Deuteronomy 34:

“Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo … There the LORD showed him the whole land and said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, `I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is … Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.”

Take Your Staff

by Bruce Okkema

The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. Exodus 17:5–6

Notice that God says, “….take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile.” This staff had also recently been turned into a serpent before Pharaoh’s eyes, and it had been stretched out to part the waters of the Red Sea. So the people would have immediately known that God was about to do something big.

For years Moses had used his staff in the deserts of Midian, leading his sheep and finding water for them. He may have even used it at times to strike rocks for water, because we know that in this area of the desert porous, water-bearing limestone was present which, with the crack of a sharp blow, could release a large flow of ground water. (1)

It was here at Mt. Sinai forty years earlier that God had spoken to Moses from the burning bush, calling him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Remember the story from Exodus 4, in which he questioned God saying,

“What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, `The LORD did not appear to you’? Then the LORD said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ … ’A staff’ he replied … The Lord said, ‘… take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it.”

Is it a coincidence that in both cases, Moses was pleading with the Lord about what to do with the people? Is it a coincidence, that in these cases, God used this staff to work miracles relating to water and deliverance? Of course we know that the Lord can do any miracle by simply speaking a word if he chooses too, but in this case, he added to the impact by choosing a visible symbol which recurs throughout Scripture.

Ultimately, it points to his to his power and kingship in Jesus, the source of all living water!

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is His.
Genesis 49:10

(1) JPS Torah Commentary on Exodus, N. Sarna, p 94.

Water Will Come Out

by Bruce Okkema

The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. Exodus 17:5–6

En GediIn this story we find the Israelites “grumbling” to Moses and Aaron about their present circumstances. The Hebrew meaning behind this translation conveys a much stronger picture, that of a riotous mob wanting to kill their leaders. I find myself quickly judging the Israelites, thinking that since they had just been brought out of the land of slavery, how could they be complaining already? After all, they had seen the mighty hand of God on the night of Passover, they had experienced the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, manna appeared with the dawn, quail fell from the sky, and they had benefited from many other miracles. How could they be so ungrateful as to be complaining about thirst?

Yes, they were wrong in “grumbling.” Yet, if you have ever experienced the harshness of the desert in this part of the world, you know how vital it is to have drinking water there. A person can literally die within hours without it, so perhaps we would have been desperate too. Also, imagine poor Moses standing in a leadership position over more than six hundred thousand people without water! Can you relate to his grief as he cries out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me!”

As you read the Bible, try to put yourself into the story and experience it as if you were there. The people in these stories are members of our covenant family, so in that sense, we really were. Also, learn to turn your eyes to the Lord in each situation to see how he will redeem it. You will see a God with amazing patience who loves us, walks with us, and provides water even when we complain!

Living Water Flowing

by Lois Tverberg

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink!” John 7:37

Living water is one of the many physical images used in scripture to express spiritual truth. We as Westerners don’t usually recognize the significance of the Hebraic use of imagery, and we miss them.

The image of living water is known around the Middle East, where water is scarce and precious. In biblical times, when rain fell after months of clear skies, it was considered a miraculous gift from God. And, in the dry areas, lush plant life was only found on the banks of rivers. From this arose the idea of mayim chaim (MY-eem KHY-eem), life-giving water from the heavens or from a natural spring.

Jordan River.

This image recurs from Genesis to Revelation, strongly associated with the presence of God. In Jeremiah it says, “Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water” (Jeremiah 17:13). From Eden, where God dwelled with man, a river welled up that formed four mighty rivers (Genesis 2:10). In Revelation, the river of life flows out from under the throne of God (Revelation 22:1). So, when Moses struck the rock on Mt. Sinai to yield water it would have made sense to the people, because if God was present on Mt. Sinai, water should miraculously flow from that mountain too.

By understanding the imagery of the scriptures, we can hear God’s word better. We hope you will be refreshed by having a little drink of living water with us each day!

Walk on Ahead

by Bruce Okkema

“The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.“ Exodus 17:5–6

Welcome to “Water from the Rock”! Join us on this new journey through the Bible as we walk slowly, peaking under every rock, looking up and down and around, closing our eyes and listening intently to experience everything that we can soak in. We don’t know exactly where our Guide is going to take us, but this is His territory and He has much to teach us. Where will we go? How long will it last? What will the Lord do? Isn’t it exciting to begin such an experience, knowing that it will be full of adventure, discovery and challenge, yet not knowing what we will see or who we will meet?

We will do our best to provide refreshment and wonder, stimulation and encouragement, nurture and challenge by exploring the rich treasures of scripture packed to overflowing by authors who knew only how to communicate through story and picture. We will see that they are assuming that we know scripture very well, and we may find out that we might not.

We hope you will join us each weekday for “Water from the Rock” by reading what your friends are sharing about their discoveries. Because the Lord has gifted all of us differently and leads us down different paths, so much good comes from studying together in community. We also hope that you will want to participate in this project by sending us your contributions and encourage your friends to do the same. (Guidelines for how to do that can be found on the menu choices below.)

I have already run out of space, but I hope you can feel our excitement! The journey begins July 1. Come along with us, this is going to be great!

Living Water

by Rev. Ed Visser

En Gedi WaterfallMy people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. – Jeremiah 2:13

“Drink lots of water,” we were told. “Sip it constantly, 3 – 5 liters a day.” It didn’t take long to discover why. Israel is a desert culture; nothing is more precious than water. Maybe that’s why Bible authors often use water imagery — even for God!

Early on our trip, we sat by one of the sources of the Jordan River at Dan. Here there are 17 spots where the water comes out from Mount Hermon in springs, joining together to form a rapidly flowing river. The Jordan flows south into the Sea of Galilee, then it continues south until it empties into the Dead Sea.

In Jeremiah’s prophecy, God uses the spring as an image for himself. And for good reason. A spring produces water year-round, while all other water supplies are temporary or seasonal. Throughout the desert one can see hundreds of wadis, large and small, which flow with water Qumran broken mikvehduring the rainy season, but are dry riverbeds the rest of the year. To keep a steady water supply when not near a spring, people constructed cisterns from rock, plastering the insides. But these held tepid, often polluted water, when they were in good repair. …

Cisterns were useless, of course, when cracked from heat or usage. Springs, on the other hand, produced “living water” — water directly from the hand of God. Regardless of the season or location, the spring brought life in a “dry and weary land.”

Similarly, God is “living water” for our lives, much more like the spring at Dan, the headwaters of the Jordan, than the end of the Jordan, the Dead Sea. The water at Dan was fresh, cool and clean; we even drank from them. But drinking any quantity of the Dead Sea waters would cause rapid illness and even death.

God is also a constant spring, not a seasonal wadi. Yet his people have not only left him, the living water, but they’ve also forsaken him to build their own cisterns. Spiritually they’ve carved out a reservoir which they can control. Sometimes we develop a “cistern relationship” with God. We try to get along without Him, do it our own way, until we get dry and need refilling. Even a short time in the land will convince you how ludicrous it is to forsake “living water” — life itself!

The Land Between

by Rev. Ed Visser

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. – Genesis 12:1

“Israel was sandwiched between the superpowers to the north and south, and very often they were lunch.” That cleverly-phrased statement by Wink Thompson, one of our teacher-guides in Israel this summer, sums up a crucial truth about the land and history of Israel. The land in which God placed his people was, and still is, a land between.


Israel is a land betwen the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Arabian Desert to the east. Both proved difficult for travel. Early ships were not made to survive the raging sea, and people were not made to bear the intense heat and dryness of the forbidding desert. Israel, then, served as a narrow land bridge between these areas.

But a land bridge for whom? Most of the dominant nations grew up around rivers. Around the Tigris and Euphrates to the north, Assyria, Babylon and Persia became powers. To the south, the Nile River became the source of life for Egyptians. North and south needed each other’s products to survive. So Israel became the land bridge for trade between the main nations of the world.

Kings soon realized that if you control world trade, you could rule the world. And to do that, you had to rule Israel. For most of its history, Israel has been a land under occupation. Today, for one of the few times in history, Israel is actually an independent nation. Yet Israel remains a land between. In the northern Golan region, we traveled right near the Syrian border (watch out for mine fields from the 1967 war!). At Dan we could look into Lebanon. From Masada the hills of Jordan were very clear across the Dead Sea. To the south, Egypt looms large.

So why did God lead Abraham and Moses to this land? Two divine reasons stand out:

  • The land between tests your faith and reliance on God.
  • The land between gives you an opportunity to influence the world by your faith as they pass by.

God still places us in a land between as we confront our culture and its influences. And he gives us the challenge of complete reliance on him, as we seek to witness to our culture about the true God who rules the world.

Brightness of His Presence

by Mary Okkema

Now when Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the house. The priests could not enter into the house of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’S house. All the sons of Israel, seeing the fire come down and the glory of the LORD upon the house, bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave praise to the LORD, saying, “Truly He is good, truly His lovingkindness is everlasting. – II Chronicles 7:1-3

During our recent trip to Jerusalem we were privileged to visit the Temple Mount. We stood on paving stones which were bright white. The sunny day made it so that it was almost impossible to see without covering our eyes. We discussed the construction materials of the Temple, its courts and the fact that when a pilgrim would surface from the dark tunnels leading up into the Temple courtyard the contrast would be blinding.


Josephus describes the materials used in the Temple construction this way. “Now the temple was built of stones that were white and strong,” (1) And another of his writings says it this way. “But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for as those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white.” (2)

Bright white and glory of the Lord are synonymous in the history of this place. In 1 Timothy 6:16 we read, “who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light,” referencing Psalm 104:1 which says,” Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering Yourself with light as with a cloak,”

Even though the Temple no longer stands, we had a brief glimpse as to how it would have looked to pilgrims as they approached this holy place of “exceeding white.” We look forward to the time when in the new Jerusalem there will be “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes,” (Rev. 7:9) But in that day it will be said: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Rev 21:22)

We will then experience the brightness of His presence. “the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it”! (Rev 21:23)

(1)  Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book 15, Chapter 11
(2)  Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book. 5, Chapter 5, Section 6