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Holman Bible Dictionary


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The Bible speaks of water in three different ways: as a material resource, as a symbol, and as a metaphor.

A Material Necessity which God Provides Water as a material resource is necessary for life. The Bible states that God made water a part of His good creation and that He exercises sovereignty over it (Genesis 1-2 ; Isaiah 40:12 ). He controls the natural processes of precipitation and evaporation, as well as the courses of bodies of water (Job 5:10 ; Job 36:27 ; Job 37:10 ; Psalm 33:7 ; Psalm 107:33 ; Proverbs 8:29 ). God normally assures the provision of water for human needs (Deuteronomy 11:14 ). However, water is sometimes used in punishment for sin, as with the flood of Noah's day (Genesis 6:17 ) or the drought proclaimed by Elijah (1 Kings 17:1 ). The divine control of water teaches people obedience to and dependency upon God.

Many of the great acts of God in history have involved water, such as the parting of the sea (Exodus 14:21 ), the provision of water for the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 15:25 ; Exodus 17:6 ), and the crossing of the Jordan River (Joshua 3:14-17 ). Water was also involved in several of Jesus' miracles (Matthew 14:25 ; Luke 8:24-25 ; John 2:1-11 ).

Water was a crucial element in God's gift of the Promised Land to Israel (Deuteronomy 8:7 ). Palestine contains several natural sources of water: rain, springs, wells, and a few short, perennial streams. The average annual rainfall in Palestine is about 25 inches, all of which normally falls between November and April. The dry months of May to October made necessary the use of cisterns and pools for water storage. Several famous biblical cities had pools, such as Gibeon (2 Samuel 2:13 ), Hebron (2 Samuel 4:12 ), Samaria (1 Kings 22:38 ), and Jerusalem (2 Kings 20:20 ).

A Theological Symbol and Metaphor The Old Testament contains laws for the use of water in rituals as a symbol of purification. Priests, sacrificial meat, and ritual utensils were washed before involvement in rituals (Leviticus 1:9 ; Leviticus 6:28 ; Leviticus 8:6 ). Unclean people and things were also washed as a symbol of ritual cleansing (Leviticus 11:32-38 ; Leviticus 14:1-9 ; Leviticus 15:1-30 ; Numbers 31:23 ). The Book of Genesis uses water as a symbol of instability before the completion of creation (Genesis 1:2 ), and Ezekiel spoke of water as a symbol of renewal in the age to come (Ezekiel 47:1-12 ).

The Bible contains dozens of metaphorical usages of water. For example, in the Old Testament water is a metaphor or simile for fear (Joshua 7:5 ), death (2 Samuel 14:14 ), sin (Job 15:16 ), God's presence (Psalm 72:6 ), marital fidelity (Proverbs 5:15-16 ), the knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:9 ), salvation (Isaiah 12:3 ), the Spirit (Isaiah 44:3-4 ), God's blessings (Isaiah 58:11 ), God's voice (Ezekiel 43:2 ), God's wrath (Hosea 5:10 ), and justice (Amos 5:24 ). Among the metaphorical uses of water in the New Testament are references to birth (John 3:5 ), the Spirit (John 4:10 ), spiritual training (1 Corinthians 3:6 ), and life (Revelation 7:17 ). See Creation ; Famine and Drought ; Flood ; Rain .

Bob R. Ellis

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Water'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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