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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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Water of Bitterness
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WATER . The scarcity of water in the East lends it a special value. Its presence in some form is essential to life. The fruitfulness of the land depends on the quantity available for watering. The Jordan, with its great springs, is too low for the irrigation of anything but the valley. There are many fountains in Palestine, but most fail in summer. The average annual rainfall approaches 30 inches. But this is confined to the months from April till October; and the water would rush down the slopes to the sea, were it not caught and stored for future use. The limestone formation, with its many caves, made easy the construction of cisterns and reservoirs to collect the rain water: thence supplies were drawn as required during the dry months. Wherever water is found, there is greenery and beauty all through the year.

In the Maritime Plain plentiful supplies of water are found on digging (Genesis 26:13 ff.). To fill up the wells would make the district uninhabitable. Invading armies were at times reduced to sore straits by the stopping of wells ( 2 Kings 3:19; 2 Kings 3:25 ), or diversion and concealment of the stream from a fountain ( 2 Chronicles 32:3 f.).

The earliest use of water was doubtless to allay the thirst of man and beast. Refusal of drink to a thirsty man would be universally condemned (Genesis 24:17 f., John 4:7 ). It is held a meritorious act to set a vessel of water by the wayside for the refreshment of the wayfarer. The same right does not extend to flocks ( Genesis 24:19 f.), for which water must often be purchased. Use and wont have established certain regulations for the watering of animals, infringement of which frequently causes strife ( Genesis 29:2 ff., Exodus 2:16 ff.; cf. Genesis 26:20 etc.). The art of irrigation (wh. see) was employed in ancient days ( Psalms 1:3; Psalms 65:10 , Ezekiel 17:7 etc.), and reached its fullest development in the Roman period. To this time also belong many ruins of massive aqueducts, leading water to the cities from distant sources.

Cisterns and springs are not common property. Every considerable house has a cistern for rain water from roof and adjoining areas. Importance is attached to plunging in the buckets by which the water is drawn up, this preventing stagnation. The springs, and cisterns made in the open country, are the property of the local family or tribe, from whom water, if required in any quantity, must be bought. The mouth of the well is usually covered with a great stone. Drawing of water for domestic purposes is almost exclusively the work of women ( Genesis 24:11 , John 4:7 etc.). In crossing the desert, water is carried in ‘bottles’ of skin ( Genesis 21:14 ).

The ‘living,’ i.e. ‘flowing’ water of the spring is greatly preferred to the ‘dead’ water of the cistern, and it stands frequently for the vitalizing Influences of God’s grace ( Jeremiah 2:13 , Zechariah 14:3 , John 4:10 etc.). Many Scripture references show how the cool, refreshing, fertilizing qualities of water are prized in a thirsty land ( Proverbs 25:26 , Isaiah 44:14 , Jeremiah 17:8 , Luke 16:24 etc.). Water is furnished to wash the feet and hands of a guest ( Luke 7:44 ). To pour water on the hands is the office of a servant ( 2 Kings 3:11 ). The sudden spates of the rainy season are the symbol of danger ( Psalms 18:16; Psalms 32:6 , Isaiah 28:17 etc.), and their swift passing symbolizes life’s transiency ( Job 11:18 , Psalms 58:7 ). Water is also the symbol of weakness and Instability ( Genesis 49:4 , Ezekiel 21:7 etc.). Cf. City; Jerusalem, I. 4. For ‘Water-gate’ see Nethinim, p. 654 a .

W. Ewing.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Water'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​w/water.html. 1909.
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