by Lois Tverberg
“Happy is the man who has not followed the counsel of the wicked, or taken the path of sinners, or joined the company of the insolent; rather, the teaching of the LORD is his delight, and he studies that teaching day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, whose foliage never fades, and whatever it produces thrives. ” Psalm 1:1-3, JPS Tanakh
Jewish readers of the scriptures over the centuries have enjoyed examining the images of scriptures, and how they can speak to our lives today. In reading the above passage about the one who studies God’s word as being a tree by water, they have meditated on God’s word as “pure water” or “living water.” From this they have found a remarkable number of lessons1:
- Just as rain water comes down in drops and forms rivers, so with the scriptures: one studies a bit today and some more tomorrow, until in time the understanding becomes like a flowing stream.
- Just as water has little attraction unless one is thirsty, so too, God’s word is best appreciated when one has great yearning for it.
- Just as water leaves a high place and flows to a low one, so too, God’s voice speaking through the scriptures goes past one whose spirit is proud and remains with one whose spirit is humble.
- Water is a great equalizer — no matter your station or class, all can drink water. So, too — a scholar should not be ashamed to say to a simpler fellow, ‘Teach me a chapter, a verse or a letter’.
- Just as water is a source of life for the world, as it says, A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters (Song of Songs 4:15), so God’s word is a source of life for the world.
- Just as water is cleansing, the words of the scriptures are purifying.
An interesting story is told about water’s amazing effects. One day a a great rabbi of around Jesus’ time, Rabbi Akiva, came across a stone by a river that had been greatly worn away by a slow drip of water falling on it over the centuries2. He remarked, “What has hollowed this stone? Is it not a small drop of water falling on it day after day? If soft water can wear away hard stone, how much more should the words of the Scriptures, which are like iron, carve their way into my heart, which is flesh and blood?
It is interesting to note that it was not one drip of water, but the constant force, drip after drip, year after year, that had a great effect. Often times we as Christians think a big event like a powerful speaker or weekend conference will change peoples’ lives. But most of the time, God’s Spirit tends not to work through big “splashes.” Instead, through the slow drip of study and prayer, day after day, year after year, he shapes into what he wants us to be.
(1) From a Jewish commentary from about 900 AD, Song of Songs Midrash Rabbah, quoted at the following site: http://www.saratogachabad.com/wellsprings.html
(2) From Avot de Rabbi Natan, written before 200 AD, quoted by J. Telushkin in The Book of Jewish Values,Copyright 2000, Bell Tower, New York, p.1.