The Living Water Throughout Time

Living Water, Throughout Time

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 7:37-39 (compare Jeremiah 2:12, 13; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Psalm 46:4; John 4:14)

Introduction

We have talked about this subject, before: probably five years ago, but we need to address it again. There is a rather “obscure” concept brought up several times in the Old Testament, without much explanation. It is sometimes used in such a context that it seems it could have no particular spiritual interpretation.

In its most common usage, the literal meaning of the Old Testament phrase “living water,” is just “flowing water.” (In other words, a stream; not a stagnant pool, a bucket of water, or, as stated in Jeremiah 2:13, a cistern.) Often the people were told to wash something in living water, or to do some ritual “over living water.” In those cases, it seems the context would make “flowing water” the correct understanding. But how about in Jeremiah 2:12, 13?

12 Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. 13 For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

God says it was a “two-part” sin that Israel was committing. They turned away from God, who was the source of “living water.” And, they made for themselves cisterns…and (ironically,) the cisterns were cracked, and couldn’t even hold water! What is the comparison he is making?

“Living Water” or Cracked Cisterns?

The water in a cistern might have begun as clean rainwater, but it was caught on a roof, perhaps, and we funneled into that tank we call a cistern. Whatever debris was on the roof will hopefully be washed off before we begin channeling the water into the cistern, but traces will still be there. And, with time, whatever impurities were included will build up. If any of them were biological impurities, (bird-droppings, insects,bacteria, etc.,) they will multiply. That tank of water will be pretty unwholesome, and probably pretty unappealing.

So, when Jeremiah makes that comparison, he may only be saying that the LORD is a source of constantly replaced and completely healthful flowing water. In contrast, whatever is in the cistern is questionable at best. And, of course, even in that context, it is clear that He is not talking about ordinary “water,” but something of spiritual significance. Because of what we see in the rest of the Bible, it also seems that there must be a much deeper, much more significant meaning to the phrase “living water.” But whatever God is offering, it is far to be preferred over whatever they have stored up for themselves in their cracked cisterns.

The Power and Limitations of Living Water

In Ezekiel 47:1-12, (read it!) we see the vision Ezekiel was given regarding the temple in the Millennial kingdom. Water is flowing from under the altar, and one stream heads off to the east, toward the Dead Sea. On the way there, it cleanses everything it touches, and it produces Life everywhere it goes. The places that are not touched by this water remain lifeless and sterile, and remain a source of salt, but will not support life. But the Living Water flows all the way to the Dead Sea, and the Dead Sea is no longer Dead!  

What was once literally dead, with virtually nothing surviving there, is to be healed by these living waters, and not only will it be made “livable,” but it will swarm with life! It will be commercially fishable! So, a “picture” is beginning to appear, regarding the power and the limitations of “living water.”

Every piece of ground it touched was cleansed and began to produce life. Plants and trees grew all along the banks of this water. Fish could live where that water flowed. The water was clean and healthy to drink. But anywhere the water was not allowed to touch, that land remained unfruitful and dead.

So, what else do we know about that River coming out of Jerusalem?

The River From the Altar

Psalm 46:4 “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.”

There is no question that this passage refers to the Temple. Probably the first thing to observe, then, is that, currently, there is no River flowing out of the Temple Mount. But, as we will see elsewhere, there will be such a river!

There is, however, a brook, off to the east, called the “Brook Kidron.” The name “Kidron” means “Turbid: thick with roiled sediment.” (Even the particular word translated “brook” means a choked creek in a narrow ravine…not a “pretty little stream, running across a lovely, sunny meadow.”) So, we have a tight little ravine, with a muddy creek running in the bottom of it, whose waters are “turbid: thick with roiled sediment.”

There is also a tributary to the Kidron, draining the valley of Hinnom, to the south of the city…which used to be the city garbage dump. It was the place they threw the carcasses of criminals and of unclean animals. That place was so foul that it became the “mental image of Hell,” to the Hebrew imagination. The place was called Gehenna, because everything about it was a picture of the eternal lostness of the unrighteous dead.

The Current Path of the Brook Kidron

So, the Brook Kidron flowed from somewhere between the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem, through a nasty, narrow ravine, down to the southeast corner of the old city, and it was joined there by whatever water drained Gehenna. Then it turned left and flowed pretty much straight to the Dead Sea, across salt-flats, marshes, and desert, but never producing much in the way of life. And, of course, once it reached the Dead Sea, there was no further life at all. The Dead sea has no outlets. Once the waters reached the Dead Sea, there was no way out of that “end-result.” I hope you are starting to see some “pictures,” here.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see that when the priests cleansed the temple, they threw the filth into the “brook Kidron.” When they broke down the idols, they threw the pieces into the brook Kidron. The Kidron seems to be a kind of  “Condemnation Creek;” it is joined by the drainage of their idea of hell: Gehenna, and then it winds its way across the desert, down to Eternal Death. In short, it is beginning to look a great deal like the condition of the Lost Human soul!

How does any of this apply to the question of Living Water?

Jesus offered the “Spring of Living Water”

In John 4:14, Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the City well, outside Sychar. He offered her a Spring; a source of Living Water, which He said, if she drank from it, would “well up unto eternal life.”

Initially, she was thoroughly confused by His offer. She wanted that water, but had no idea how to get it. But eventually, she believed in Him and found that she had drunk from that well. Does it say that, specifically? No; it says that she wanted to “drink from that well,” but she did not know what He meant. Afterward, it says that she and many others “believed on Jesus:” they placed their dependance on Him as their Messiah. And, here in John chapter seven, we are going to see what He meant.

“Come unto me and Drink”

In John 7:37-39, Jesus made a very public offer to “anyone who thirsts,” to come and drink.

37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, {Pentecost! What a great connection!] Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

Jesus said, “as the scripture hath said…” He may have been referring to Isaiah 58:11, where God promised that the people would be “like a well-watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Or He could have meant the passage in Proverbs 10:11, saying that the “mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.

But He pulled together all the Old references to Living Water, in this verse, and was kind enough to let us know exactly what He meant, so that we are not coming up with “Human-tainted explanations” of all kinds. It says that he spoke regarding the Holy Spirit, “…which they that believe on Him should receive.”

How does this apply to the Old Testament Prophecies?

Two weeks ago, during Bible Study, we saw that the “best commentary on the Word of God is the Word of God.” In this case, in spite of the “etymological fact” that (in the Old Testament) the phrase“Living water” possibly “just means ‘flowing water’,” we can see that “flowing water” cannot possibly be what Jesus meant, here in John 7, nor in John 4, because He said it would result in a flowing spring from within the person, providing eternal life. (Plain old “flowing water” can’t do that!)

Possibly even the water in Ezekiel 47 has some special properties, though it does not specifically say so. Flowing from under the altar would seem to hint that it might, at least. And the fact that “everything lives, when touched by that water” seems to hint that way, too. That River will be flowing out of Jerusalem, during the Millennial Kingdom, fulfilling Psalm 46:4.

We also see, here in John 7:39, that Jesus was specifically referring to the indwelling Holy Spirit. That relationship between the Believer and the Holy Spirit did not begin as a “normal” state of affairs until the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. With that explanatory note, let’s go back and look at the other passages again:

Looking Back

In Jeremiah 2:13, if God is the only source of spiritual life, namely, via the Holy Spirit having an effect, even on the lives of Old Testament Believers, then “storing up spirituality” was an exercise in futility. There is no “vessel”, certainly not a cracked cistern, which can hold a store of the Holy Spirit, nor even the effect that He has on a life. It has to be renewed daily! Turning away from the true source of life to find some sort of man-made self-sufficiency, is a pretty terrible idea. But people still do it today!

If the stream in Ezekiel 47, coming out of Jerusalem, is a “picture” of the “Living water” of the Indwelling Holy Spirit, then both Psalm 46:4 and Ezekiel 47:1-12 make a different kind of sense than we first understood (just knowing that there will be a physical river flowing out of Jerusalem.) What if those passages, too, are in some way linked to the living water of John 7:36-39? What if they, too are at least a “picture” of something far beyond just “Physical water?”

Back to the Riverbank

We saw in Ezekiel 47, that the water went from ankle deep, just 500 yards outside Jerusalem, to swimming depth in less than a half mile. And then we see that Ezekiel was taken back to the riverbank on dry ground, to consider what he had seen.

A Living Timeline

I would like to take the liberty of seeing a “picture,” here: when we first became believers, although we already were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we were also very immature: we were only “ankle-deep” in the Stream of Life being offered to us.

Time passed: and, as we grew, and learned to walk with the Lord, the stream reached our knees, possibly pointing to our prayer-life, or our heartfelt worship of the Living God.

More time passed, and it says the water reached the loins. (Some translations render this as “hips, or waist…and the Hebrew word is mothnayim, which probably does just mean “hips or waist.”) But I like to think of it as how we begin to reproduce as believers: That we are created to bear permanent fruit, in leading others to Christ. (Remember, there is only a “picture,” here: perhaps I am not seeing things clearly.)

Sometime later… “Afterward

But the next thing we know, at so,me point in our growth, the water is over our depth: we can no longer “wade” in this water: we have to swim. And usually, when a person is swimming, only their head is visible. They are fully suspended in the water they swim in.

Now, I fully recognize that I am “taking liberty” with the text. I don’t often do such things, and I don’t want to cause any confusion. But I would like to observe a few more things, tracking the idea that somehow, this River may be a picture of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of a believer.

Final Observations

The first thing to see is that the angelic messenger took Ezekiel back out of the flow and stood him on the riverbank. It is always possible to become a “castaway;” still saved, still indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but in terms of service, “set on the shelf.” Standing on the riverbank, looking out across the vastness of God’s Work and His love, and wondering why we feel so dry!

The next thing to see is the result of the free flow of that water. We see that it cleaned out the Kidron, because it provided a new source: a new headwater! It washed away the vile flow from Gehenna, and, though it still turned and flowed toward the Dead Sea, it produced life all the way there, only missing the places where it was not allowed to flow, and the end result was that instead of the eternal death of the Dead Sea, the Dead Sea was brought to life, and Eternal life and Eternal value was produced in its place. Death has lost its sting!

What about Us?

This is what is supposed to happen in the believer’s life! We have a new Head (Jesus!)…a new source of life (Jesus!) And that life should overflow through all of our old life-course, transforming it into a fruitful garden for God, producing new life at every turn, offering sustenance and healing to everyone around us. The places in our lives where we “hold back,” not allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us, will simply remain dead and unfruitful. But the end result, regardless of all else, will be the eternal life that Jesus promised. That is where the River is Going!

Jesus gives a River of Living Water. How we choose to use it will depend upon the individual. Some press deeper, feeding on the Word and growing in Love and Faith. Others “dabble around in the shallows,” never really desiring to become more like Jesus: never truly desiring to be transformed by His Grace, His Word, His power. And many of us are in between, vacillating between zeal and apathy. We run at a fitful pace, sometimes sprinting ahead, then being frustrated when it turns out that the Lord was going a different way. Sometimes we lag behind, and then we are prone to attack by spiritual predators.

Results

But Jesus said that River of life, that Spring of Living Water was supposed to change us, springing up unto Eternal life. If that isn’t happening, then we need to examine ourselves to find out why.

If you have received the Lord as your Savior, then His Living Water should be flowing out of you to all those around you. And the Flow of that Living Water in your own life should be cleansing and renewing life in all parts of your life.

What changes us?

God says His Word, by the Holy Spirit, is the one agent guaranteed to change our lives. He also commands that “as newborn babes,” we are to “desire the sincere milk of the word,” that we may grow thereby.”

Many of you have already seen the Word and the Spirit transforming your lives or the lives of those around you. None of us are finished with that process. We are called to press on, get off the Riverbank, and get into deeper water…quit wading, and learn to swim!

Lord Jesus, draw us along in your path, following closer to you, and learning to walk as You walk. Transform our lives into Your likeness, and teach us to thirst for your presence, the only source of the Living Water.

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