Water is frequently used as a picture of sustenance or nourishment in the Bible. We saw this in my first post entitled An Invitation to the Thirsty. Thirsting for God is a thread that runs throughout the Bible: for instance look at these 3 references from the Psalms:
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” 42:2
“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” 63:1
“I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.” 146:3
Psalm 63 is a Psalm of David written from the desert. It was perhaps written during his years in the wilderness whilst being hunted by King Saul. He is in a dry and parched land where there is no water. But he sees this as a picture of his thirst for God. A thirst which consumes the whole of his being. It is God, his God, who he says he is earnestly seeking. David then says:
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. 3 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. 4 I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 I will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.Psalm 63:2-5
David recalls how he has seen God in His Sanctuary and how he has connected with His glory and power. This leads him to respond in praise as he reflects on how God’s love is better than life and he speaks of a deep satisfaction that he has found in God that he likens to the richest of foods. What follows are 4 further snapshots of how water is used to illustrate sustenance:
Snapshot 1: God’s Provision in times of Drought (1 Kings 17):
God sends Elijah to confront the evil King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom, Israel. Elijah declares that “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (v1b). After that God sends Elijah to hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan where he would drink from a brook and the ravens would supply his food (v4-6). But it wasn’t long before the brook dried up because of the lack of rain.
God then sends Elijah to the gentile city of Zarephath, where a poor widow was to provide for his needs. He met her at the town gate and he asked her for a little water. Then as she was going to get it, he also asked for some bread. The 2nd request presents a problem, because she only had a little flour and a little olive oil. She had been planning to collect some sticks and then go home and “make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it – and die” (v12). Elijah tells her not to be afraid, but to go home and do as she had planned. First, however, he asks her to make him a small loaf of bread and bring it to him. He tells her that God says that “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land” (v14b).Things work out just as Elijah had said and there was food everyday for Elijah, the woman and her family.
Later her son died and Elijah brought him back to life. Then the woman declared “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth” (v24). It seems that God was using the drought in the lives of each of these people. Having prophesied the drought, God was now teaching Elijah to trust in Him to provide in each of these different ways. God was also teaching this woman. Ultimately, God Himself was the answer to all their needs for sustenance!
Snapshot 2. The Tree by the River (Jeremiah 17:5-8):
The Second snapshot takes us back to the prophecy of Jeremiah who is prophesying here about misplaced trust. Negatively the Lord says here that cursed is the one who trusts in man. He likens such a person to a dry bush in the wastelands who dwells in the parched places where nobody lives. In contrast, God says that blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord and puts their confidence in Him. Such a person is likened to a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream (also in Psalm 1).
5 This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. 7 ‘But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’Jeremiah 17:5-8
The contrast is stark – one picture is of a bush that lives in a dry and parched wasteland. The other is a picture of a tree nourished through its roots which it sends out towards the life-giving stream. The difference here is about where we place our confidence – are we drawing on the Lord’s strength and resources or are we going it alone and trying to do it without Him? It is a beautiful picture and one that encourages us to look to the Lord – only He can provide the sustenance that we so deeply need.
Snapshot 3. Providing for the poor and needy (Isaiah 41:17-20):
The third snapshot takes us into Isaiah 41 and here we have another promise about God’s abundant resources. Specifically in focus, are the poor and needy who in their search for water are left with tongues parched for thirst. God however promises to answer them and not forsake them. What follows are a series of pictures of how God will bring life and sustenance to where there was none:
17 ‘The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. 18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.19 I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, 20 so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.Isaiah 41:17-20
Once again, water is at the heart of the pictures God uses here. God is going to make rivers flow on the barren heights and springs in the valley. Desert places and parched ground will be transformed into pools of water and springs. God will take the wilderness and make it into a forest. What is described here is a staggering turnaround, and this is what God promises to do to provide for the poor and needy. The final verse here is very clear that God does all this so that people would see clearly that it was His hand which had done this for them. God wants us to look to Him for sustenance and drink deeply of all that He provides us with.
Snapshot 4. A well-Watered garden (Isaiah 58:8-12):
Finally, we have these verses near to the end of Isaiah which talk about the blessings for those who worship the LORD. The context is that God has been talking about true fasting which He says is: “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (v6). If they do this, then the rich series of blessings which follow will be theirs. For instance their light will break forth like the dawn (v8), the LORD will answer their cry for help (v9) and their light will rise in the darkness (v10). Then comes verses 11-12 which is another incredible picture of blessing:
11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.Isaiah 58:11-12
God promises that He will be our guide always and He will satisfy all our needs in a sun-scorched land. Notice that again water is at the heart of this picture as God says that we will be like a well-watered garden and a spring whose waters never fail.
In all these snapshots the focus on the person who wholeheartedly seeks and serves the Lord. They are pictures of the nourishment and sustenance available to those who drink deeply of Him. I wonder what is nourishing and sustaining each of us amidst all the needs and challenges that life brings? I wonder what steps we each need to take in order to redirect our focus, our confidence and our trust to the God who is the ultimate source of all sustenance? Are you thirsty? God alone can meet that thirst because our physical thirst is a picture of our thirst for Him…
See other posts in this series:
- Invitation to the thirsty
- Idolatry: Broken Wells
- Sustenance: Drinking Deeply
- Suffering: Through the Waters
- Faith: Getting your Feet Wet
- River of Life