“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.
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!
“Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. “Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them…You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” Luke 12:36-37, 40
A friend recently told me of his belief that a certain Middle East city would be utterly wiped out in the near future because of how he read Bible prophecy. But the potential death of thousands of people didn’t seem to be much of a concern to him – just that he was excited about “knowing” the future. It seems like we have watched so many gory movies that the suffering of others doesn’t seem real enough to horrify us.
Many folks are fascinated with understanding world events in the light of end-times scenarios. We feel secure by feeling we have an understanding of the story being played out before us, and we get a thrill when a Middle East headline fits our reading of Revelation. But this excitement about end-times can develop into a callous “spectator mentality” that is numb to the suffering of others.
Jesus speaks several times about the end times too, and he said of his second coming, “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Mark 13:32). He reminds us that our attempts at date-setting are futile, because not even he knows. But when Jesus talks about being ready for his return like the servants waiting for their master, what does he mean?
Jesus’ parable is to remind us that we need to always be mindful of the fact that he will return to judge, and that we should be faithful at all times because of it. We shouldn’t say to ourselves that if we abandon our walk with the Lord that we can just fix things later, because “later” may not come. All of us should have a special urgency to share the gospel and live lives that are a witness to Christ, that we will be found faithful when he arrives.
Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:26-30
When we went to the northern area of Israel, we visited Dan, a large city where much archaeology has been done. It is amazing that one thing that has been uncovered is an altar and Temple that were probably used for idol worship for thousands of years.
Throughout the biblical story, the city of Dan has been prone to idolatry. When the Danites first moved into the area, they coerced a idolatrous priest to set up his graven images there as their gods (Judges 18:30). Later, Jereboam built a shrine with two golden calves to persuade the people to worship there, rather than in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26-30). Later Ahab and Jezebel were there, who established Baal worship in much of the northern tribes.
To our modern ears, it is hard to imagine being tempted by idolatry. This is because we are strict monotheists – we simply don’t believe any other gods exist besides God, so idolatry seems pointless. In the ancient Middle East, however, people believed that many small, territorial gods existed that controlled prosperity and fertility of the people, but did not make moral demands on them – only that they be worshipped to grant their favor. These small gods were not all powerful – they actually were subject to spiritual forces beyond themselves, so that a person could manipulate them by sorcery and incantations. A person who became prosperous through devious means was admired for his or her cleverness in coercing the gods to do his will.
In contrast, the real God, YHWH, rejected all sorcery and insisted on moral conduct, and that he is God over all. The Danites (and all of Israel, at first) were used to manipulating their gods to get their favors, rather than asking God what he wanted. The golden calves at Dan and in the Exodus were not idols to other gods, but God objected to them because the people were treating him, the Lord of the universe, like a small, territorial god that they could manipulate. The Danites ignored that he had set up his own house of worship in Jerusalem, and given instruction on how worship should be done. By setting up another altar and using idols, they were defying his express orders to do their own thing.
We can look at ourselves in this picture and ask ourselves if we treat God like the Lord of the universe, or use our prayers to get him to do our will. Do we ask what he wants done and then go do it? Do we hold our conduct up to what his word says? Or do we have our own agenda and use our prayers to ask God to get things done for us?
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and as was his custom, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. – Luke 4:16
When we visited Israel we saw many churches, but we were more interested in the synagogues that remained from Jesus’ time, where he may have even taught. We might think that the tradition of “church” would have come from the laws in Leviticus about the tabernacle or Temple. Instead, the church is a continuation of the weekly synagogue meetings that were in practice in Jesus’ day. In fact, Paul’s custom was to attend synagogue on the Sabbath (Acts 17:2) and James speaks to the early believers about their synagogue meetings in James 2:2.
The tradition of the synagogue began more than 500 years before Christ, during the Babylonian exile, when faithful Jews needed a way to worship God in the absence of a temple. When they returned to the land they persisted, because most lived too far from Jerusalem to go to the Temple more than a few times a year. Through the synagogues, average laborers could study the Bible together every Sabbath. Children learned the scriptures through the local school that was also held there.
Common folk who dedicated themselves to study were encouraged by that culture to become itinerant teachers called rabbis, who traveled from synagogue to synagogue to teach. Through this practice, faithful Jews were hiding God’s word in their heart, and the scene was being set for Jesus’ ministry on earth. This is was the reason for the high level of scripture knowledge in Jesus’ time, and his ability to teach large crowds of interested, educated listeners.
We can be very thankful for this innovation of the local synagogue. Much of the religion of the Middle East, including bibical Judaism, focused on sacrificial offerings with priests at a central temple or tabernacle. Even in Acts, the early Christians worshipped at the Temple for feasts and took part in sacrifices (Acts 21:26). These practices were entirely dependent on having a temple, and ended when it was destroyed in 70 AD.
But through the synagogues, and later churches, average people could grow in faith and knowledge of God’s word wherever they lived. When Paul went to the diaspora, he brought the gospel first to the synagoges there. And when the church moved outward, it brought people a way to worship God wherever they lived, to the ends of the earth.