When I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, we didn’t pay much attention to drinking water. During the hot days of the summer, we would play outside all day and never once be reminded by our moms to hydrate; we’d simply turn on the hose and gulp down a few slurps of water when we wanted it. These days it seems people are very conscientious about hydration. We nag our children to drink. We track our water consumption and seek out the ideal drinking receptacle. Even as I type this, I have an insulated 40-ounce, metal water bottle by my side.
That hyper awareness of water should serve us in good stead as we read our Bibles. Throughout its pages, water plays a key role. Since we cannot live without water, it makes an ideal metaphor for our dependence on God. In Exodus, Moses strikes the rock, and God brings forth water to sustain and save His people in the wilderness. This is a story of survival, yes, but even more so of God’s willingness and ability to miraculously give life.
Of course God again willingly and miraculously gave life when He sent His Son into the world. In the Old Testament water symbolized life, but in the New Testament Jesus fully embodies it. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). He claims to be the source of living water, the source of eternal life. “Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again” (John 4:14). He says He can perfectly satisfy our souls. “In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life” (v.14). He declares that, when we quench our soul-thirst in Him, He will overflow out of us to give spiritual life to others.
It sounds almost too scientific to say “water gives life.” It absolutely does, but what we feel is that water satisfies our thirst. It soothes. Christ offers that too. He does give life, and in so doing He quenches our thirst and satisfies our longings, and He loves to do so. “I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21:6). While water can be a symbol that points to life, Jesus is no symbol or metaphor. He came to give eternal, joyful life and to fulfill our deepest longings.