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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]


In the NT, after the Gospels, water is nearly always used in a figurative or symbolical sense.

1. The words employed by Christ in  Acts 1:5 seem to echo  Matthew 3:11,  Mark 1:8,  Luke 3:16,  John 1:33. Water was the element in which John baptized his penitents, and the best that he had; but he was profoundly conscious of its inadequacy, and eagerly expectant of an altogether different kind of baptism, to be introduced by the Messiah. It has been contended that the πνεῦμα ἄγιον and the πῦρ which he desired were the sweeping wind and the destroying fire of judgment (so, e.g., A. B. Bruce, EGT , ‘Matthew,’ London, 1897, p. 84), but it is more likely that what he longed for was the life-giving breath and the purifying fire of the Messianic era. If we must not read into his words the Pentecostal and similar experiences, we need not eliminate from them the highest prophetic ideals. When Christ confirms His forerunner’s distinction between baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit ( Acts 1:5), He certainly regards the latter not as a blast of judgment but as the supreme gift of Divine grace; and Peter, who ‘remembered the word of the Lord,’ and no doubt the tone in which He uttered it, quotes it not as a menace but as an evangelical promise ( Acts 11:16). Water is referred to in connexion with the baptism of the eunuch ( Acts 8:36;  Acts 8:38-39) and of Cornelius ( Acts 10:47). In the latter case the baptism in water is the immediate sequel to the earliest baptism of the Gentiles with the Holy Spirit, which was attended with the rapturous utterances known as glossolalia.

2. In  Ephesians 5:26 the Church is said to be cleansed by the washing (or laver, τῷ λουτρῷ) of water with the word, baptism being regarded as the seal and symbol of a spiritual experience which is mediated by faith in the gospel.

3. The writer of Hebrews ( Hebrews 9:19) says that water was used along with blood-either to prevent coagulation or as a symbol of purity-at the institution of the ancient covenant, a detail which is not mentioned in  Exodus 24:3 ff. It is a striking fact that in his review of the Levitical ordinances this writer never quotes the LXX phrase ὕδωρ ῥαντισμοῦ, ‘water of sprinkling,’ which occurs four times in Numbers 19, but coins in its place the phrase αἷμα ῥαντισμοῦ, ‘blood of sprinkling’ ( Hebrews 12:24). It is his conviction that, while the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer (according to a Scripture which he does not question) cleanse the flesh ( Hebrews 9:13), and while water purifies the body ( Hebrews 10:22), only the blood of Christ can sprinkle the heart from an evil conscience ( Hebrews 9:14,  Hebrews 10:22). He does not, as F. Delitzsch (Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, ii. [Edinburgh, 1870] 179) thinks, suggest that the water of baptism has cleansing virtue because ‘sacramentally impregnated’ with the blood of Christ. Just as he altogether ignores the sacramental value of the Levitical rites which he enumerates, it is not his task to give a philosophy of the Christian sacraments. His distinctive doctrine, to the enforcement of which he devotes his whole strength, is that, while all ritual is at the best but outward and symbolic, the spiritual appropriation of Christ and His atonement by faith has virtue to penetrate and purify the whole personality, beginning with the heart.

4. Peter sees a parallel between the water of Noah’s flood and that of baptism ( 1 Peter 3:20), and Paul finds a mystical and sacramental meaning in the sea and the cloud, in both of which the Israelites may be said to have been baptized into Moses ( 1 Corinthians 10:2).

5. It is the teaching of John that Jesus Christ came by (διά) water and blood, not with (ἐν) the water only, but with the water and the blood ( 1 John 5:6). Historically the baptism and death of the Messiah were crises in His activity, occurring once for all at the beginning and the end of His ministry, but spiritually He ever abides with and in the water and the blood, which are ‘the two wells of life in His Church, His baptism being repeated in every fresh act of baptism, and His blood of atonement never failing in the communion cup’ (H. J. Holtzmann, Handkomm. zum NT, Freiburg i. B., 1891, ii. 236).

6. James ( James 3:11-12) illustrates the moral law that the same heart cannot overflow in both blessings and curses by the natural law that the same fountain cannot send forth both sweet water and bitter-a variation on Christ’s words in  Matthew 7:16-17.

7. The prophet of the Revelation (recalling  Ezekiel 1:24;  Ezekiel 43:2) once compares the voice of Christ ( Revelation 1:15), and twice that of the great multitude of the redeemed ( Revelation 14:2,  Revelation 19:6), to the voice of many waters, in the one case thinking perhaps of the music of waves quietly breaking, in the other of the thunder of great billows crashing, around the aegean island which was his place of exile. He constantly uses fountains of water, and clear rivers, as symbols of spiritual life and blessing. Per contra, he imagines ‘the angel of the waters’ turning Rome’s rivers and fountains of water into blood ( Revelation 16:4); for, as she has shed the blood of saints like water, it is but just that she should have to drink blood-a grim species of poetic justice. The great star Wormwood falls in Earth’s sweet waters, turning them to wormwood, and those who drink of them die because they are so bitter ( Revelation 8:9-11). The waters of the Euphrates are to be dried up, like the Jordan before Joshua, that the powers of the East-Parthia and her confederates-may come to the invasion of the Roman Empire ( Revelation 16:12). The great harlot, Rome, sits proudly upon many waters-ruling peoples and nations by many rivers and seas ( Revelation 17:1;  Revelation 17:15)-but her day of judgment and dethronement is in sight ( Revelation 17:1).

James Strahan.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

In the sacred Scriptures, bread and water are commonly mentioned as the chief supports of human life; and to provide a sufficient quantity of water, to prepare it for use, and to deal it out to the thirsty, are among the principal cares of an oriental householder, The Moabites and Ammonites are reproached for not meeting the Israelites with bread and water; that is, with proper refreshments,  Deuteronomy 33:4 . Nabal says in an insulting manner to David's messengers, "Shall I then take my bread and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men whom I know not whence they be?"  1 Samuel 25:11 . To furnish travellers with water is, even in present times, reckoned of so great importance, that many of the eastern philanthropists have been at considerable expense to procure them that enjoyment. The nature of the climate, and the general aspect of the oriental regions, require numerous fountains to excite and sustain the languid powers of vegetation; and the sun, burning with intense heat in a cloudless sky, demands for the fainting inhabitants the verdure, shade, and coolness which vegetation produces. Hence fountains of living water are met with in the towns and villages, in the fields and gardens, and by the sides of the roads and of the beaten tracks on the mountains; and a cup of cold water from these wells is no contemptible present. "Fatigued with heat and thirst," says Carne, "we came to a few cottages in a palm wood, and stopped to drink of a fountain of delicious water. In this northern climate no idea can be formed of the luxury of drinking in Egypt: little appetite for food is felt; but when, after crossing the burning sands, you reach the rich line of woods on the brink of the Nile, and pluck the fresh limes, and mixing their juice with Egyptian sugar and the soft river water, drink repeated bowls of lemonade, you feel that every other pleasure of the senses must yield to this. One then perceives the beauty and force of those similes in Scripture, where the sweetest emotions of the heart are compared to the assuaging of thirst in a thirsty land." In Arabia, equal attention is paid, by the wealthy and benevolent, to the refreshment of the traveller. On one of the mountains of Arabia, Niebuhr found three little reservoirs, which are always kept full of fine water for the use of passengers. These reservoirs, which are about two feet and a half square, and from five to seven feet high, are round, or pointed at the top, of mason's work, having only a small opening in one of the sides, by which they pour water into them. Sometimes he found, near these places of Arab refreshment, a piece of a ground shell, or a little scoop of wood, for lifting the water. The same attention to the comfort of travellers is manifested in Egypt, where public buildings are set apart in some of their cities, the business of whose inhabitants is to supply the passengers with water free of expense. Some of these houses make a very handsome appearance; and the persons appointed to wait on the passengers are required to have some vessels of copper, curiously tinned and filled with water, always ready on the window next the street. Some of the Mohammedan villages in Palestine, not far from Nazareth, brought Mr. Buckingham and his party bread and water, while on horseback, without even being solicited to do so; and when they halted to accept it, both compliments and blessings were mutually interchanged, "Here, as in every other part of Nubia," says Burckhardt, "the thirsty traveller finds, at short distances, water jars placed by the road side under a low roof. Every village pays a small monthly stipend to some person to fill these jars in the morning, and again toward evening. The same custom prevails in Upper Egypt, but on a larger scale: and there are caravanserais often found near the wells which supply travellers with water." In India the Hindoos go sometimes a great way to fetch water, and then boil it, that it may not be hurtful to travellers that are hot; and after this stand from morning till night in some great road, where there is neither pit nor rivulet, and offer it in honour of their gods, to be drunk by the passengers. This necessary work of charity in these hot countries seems to have been practised among the more pious and humane Jews; and our Lord assures them, that if they do this in his name, they shall not lose their reward. Hence a cup of water is a present in the east of great value, though there are some other refreshments of a superior quality. It is still the proper business of the females to supply the family with water. From this drudgery, however, the married women are exempted, unless when single women are wanting. The proper time for drawing water in those burning climates is in the morning, or when the sun is going down; then they go forth to perform that humble office adorned with their trinkets, some of which are often of great value. Agreeably to this custom Rebecca went instead of her mother to fetch water from the well, and the servant of Abraham expected to meet an unmarried female there who might prove a suitable match for his master's son. In the East Indies, the women also draw water at the public wells, as Rebecca did, on that occasion, for travellers, their servants and their cattle; and women of no mean rank literally illustrate the conduct of an unfortunate princess in the Jewish history, by performing the services of a menial,  2 Samuel 13:8 . The young women of Guzerat daily draw water from the wells, and carry the jars upon the head; but those of high rank carry them upon the shoulder. In the same way Rebecca carried her pitcher; and probably for the same reason, because she was the daughter of an eastern prince,  Genesis 24:45 .

Water sometimes signifies the element of water,  Genesis 1:10; and metaphorically, trouble and afflictions,  Psalms 69:1 . In the language of the prophets, waters often denote a great multitude of people,  Isaiah 8:7;  Revelation 17:15 . Water is put for children or posterity,  Numbers 24:7;  Isaiah 48:1; for the clouds,  Psalms 104:3 . Waters sometimes stand for tears,  Jeremiah 9:1;  Jeremiah 9:7; for the ordinances of the Gospel,  Isaiah 12:3;  Isaiah 35:6-7;  Isaiah 55:1;  John 7:37-38 . "Stolen waters," denote unlawful pleasures with strange women,  Proverbs 9:17 . The Israelites are reproached with having forsaken the fountain of living water, to quench their thirst at broken cisterns,  Jeremiah 2:13; that is, with having quitted the worship of God for the worship of false and ridiculous deities. Waters of Meribah, or the waters of strife, were so called because of the quarrelling or contention and murmuring of the Israelites against Moses and against God. When they came to Kadesh, and there happened to be in want of water, they made a sedition against him and his brother Aaron,  Numbers 20:1 , &c. Upon this occasion Moses committed that great sin with which God was so much displeased, that he deprived him of the honour of introducing his people into the land of promise.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words [3]

Mayim ( מַיִם , Strong'S #4325), “water; flood.” This word has cognates in Ugaritic and old South Arabic. It occurs about 580 times and in every period of biblical Hebrew.

First, “water” is one of the original basic substances. This is its significance in Gen. 1:2 (the first occurrence of the word): “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” In Gen. 1:7 God separated the “waters” above and the “waters” below (cf. Exod. 20:4) the expanse of the heavens.

Second, the word represents that which is in a well, “water” to be drunk (Gen. 21:19). “Living water” is “water” that flows: “And Isaac’s servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing [living] water …” (Gen. 26:19). “Water” of oppression or affliction is so designated because it is drunk in prison: “Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace” (1 Kings 22:27). Job 9:30 speaks of slush or snow water: “If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean.…”

Third, mayim can represent liquid in general: “… For the Lord our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the Lord” (Jer. 8:14). The phrase, me raglayim —(“water of one’s feet”) is urine: “Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss [water of their feet] with you?” (2 Kings 18:27; cf. Isa. 25:10).

Fourth, in Israel’s cultus “water” was poured or sprinkled (no one was ever immersed into water), symbolizing purification. So Aaron and his sons were to be washed with “water” as a part of the rite consecrating them to the priesthood: “And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water” (Exod. 29:4). Parts of the sacrificial animal were to be ritually cleansed with “water” during the sacrifice: “But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water …” (Lev. 1:9). Israel’s rites sometimes include consecrated “water”: “And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water” (Num. 5:17). “Bitter water” was used in Israel’s rituals, too: “And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord, and uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse” (Num. 5:18). It was “water” which when drunk brought a curse and caused bitterness (Num. 5:24).

Fifth, in proper names this word is used of springs, streams, or seas and/or the area in the immediate vicinity of such bodies of water: “Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood …” (Exod. 7:19).

Sixth, this word is used figuratively in many senses. Mayim symbolizes danger or distress: “He sent from above, he took me; he drew me out of many waters” (2 Sam. 22:17). Outbursting force is represented by mayim in 2 Sam. 5:20: “The Lord hath broken forth upon mine enemies before me, as the [break-through] of waters.” “Mighty waters” describes the onrush of the godless nations against God: “The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters …” (Isa. 17:13). Thus the word is used to picture something impetuous, violent, and overwhelming: “Terrors take hold on him as waters, a tempest stealeth him away in the night” (Job 27:20). In other passages “water” is used to represent timidity: “… Wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water” (Josh. 7:5). Related to this nuance is the connotation “transitory”: “… Because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away” (Job 11:16). In Isa. 32:2 “water” represents that which is refreshing: “And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Rest and peace are figured by waters of rest, or quiet waters: “… He leadeth me beside the still waters” (Ps. 23:2). Similar ideas are involved when one’s wife’s charms are termed “water of life” or “water which enlivens”: “Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well” (Prov. 5:15). Outpoured “water” represents bloodshed (Deut. 12:16), wrath (Hos. 5:10), justice (Amos 5:24; KJV, “judgment”), and strong feelings (Job 3:24).

Tehôm ( תְּהֹם , Strong'S #8415), “deep water; ocean; water table; waters; flood of waters.” Cognates of this word appear in Ugaritic, Akkadian (as early as Ebla, around 2400-2250 B.C.), and Arabic. The 36 occurrences of this word appear almost exclusively in poetical passages but in all historical periods.

The word represents the “deep water” whose surface freezes when cold: “The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen” (Job 38:30). In Ps. 135:6 tehôm is used of the “ocean” in contrast to the seas: “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places [in the entire ocean]” (cf. Ps. 148:7 et al.).

The word has special reference to the deep floods or sources of water. Sailors in the midst of a violent storm “mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths” (Ps. 107:26). This is hyperbolic or exaggerated poetical talk, but it presents the “depths” as the opposite of the heavens or skies. This emphasis is especially prominent in the Song of Moses, where the word represents the ever-existing (but not eternal), ever-threatening, and perilous “deep,” not simply an element of nature but a dangerous element: “The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone” (Exod. 15:5). On the other hand, in such contexts tehôm may mean no more than “deep water” into which heavy objects quickly sink.

Tehôm can represent an inexhaustible source of water or, by way of poetic comparison, of blessing: “… With blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under …” (Gen. 49:25). In such contexts the word represents the “water table” always available below the surface of the earth—what was tapped by digging wells, out of which flowed springs, and what was one with the waters beneath the surface of oceans, lakes, seas, and rivers. This was what God opened together with the waters above the expanse (Gen. 7:11; cf. 1:7) and what later was closed to cause and terminate the great Flood (Gen. 8:2; cf. Ps. 33:6; 104:6; Ezek. 26:19). In such contexts the word represents a “flood of waters” (Ps. 33:6).

In Gen. 1:2 (the first occurrence of the word) tehôm is used of “all waters” which initially covered the surface of the entire earth: “… And darkness was upon the face of the deepw (cf. Prov. 3:20; 8:24, 27-28).

Holman Bible Dictionary [4]

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

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [5]

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.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [6]

The word "water" is used in a variety of metaphorical ways in Scripture. It is used to symbolize the troublesome times in life that can and do come to human beings, especially God's children ( Psalm 32:6;  69:1,2 ,  14,15;  Isaiah 43:2;  Lamentations 3:54 ). In some contexts water stands for enemies who can attack and need to be overcome ( 2 Samuel 22:17-18;  Psalm 18:16-17;  124:4-5;  144:7;  Isaiah 8:7;  Jeremiah 47:2 ). In both the Old and New Testaments, the word "water" is used for salvation and eternal life, which God offers humankind through faith in his Son ( Isaiah 12:3;  55:1;  Revelation 21:6;  22:1,2 ,  17 ). In  John 4:10-15 , part of Jesus' discourse with the Samaritan woman at the well, he speaks metaphorically of his salvation as "living water" and as "a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Following along this same theme, water sometimes symbolizes the spiritual cleansing that comes with the acceptance of God's offer of salvation ( Ezekiel 36:25;  Ephesians 5:26;  Hebrews 10:22 ). In fact, in  Ephesians 5:26 , the "water" that does the cleansing of the bride, the church, is directly tied in with God's Word, of which it is a symbol.

In a very important passage, Jesus identifies the "streams of living water" that flow from within those who believe in him with the Holy Spirit ( John 7:37-39 ). The reception of the Holy Spirit is clearly the special reception that was going to come after Jesus had been glorified at the Father's right hand and happened on the Day of Pentecost as described in  Acts 2 . Two times in Jeremiah Yahweh is metaphorically identified as "the spring of living water" ( Jeremiah 2:13;  17:13 ). In both instances Israel is rebuked for having forsaken the Lord for other cisterns that could in no way satisfy their "thirst."

In other passages of Scripture, the following are said metaphorically to be "water": God's help ( Isaiah 8:6 : "the gently flowing waters of Shiloah" ); God's judgment ( Isaiah 28:17 : "water will overflow your hiding place" ); man's words ( Proverbs 18:4 : "The words of man's mouth are deep waters" ); man's purposes ( Proverbs 20:5 : "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters" ); an adulterous woman ( Proverbs 9:17 : "Stolen water is sweet" ); and a person's posterity ( Isaiah 48:1 : "Listen to this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel and have come forth out of the line [waters] of Judah" ).

The reference to "water" in  John 3:5 has been variously interpreted by scholars. Some have taken the phrase, "being born of water, " to mean being born again by means of water baptism. Others have taken the verse to involve a hendiadys and take "water" and "Spirit" together as one reference since water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit in other passages. Still others take the birth by water to be one's natural birth and the birth by the Spirit to be the supernatural birth of being "born again" or regenerated. This seems to be what Nicodemus, in the context, understood Jesus to be saying. In order to enter the kingdom of God one must have two births, each a different kind. After all, water, in its ordinary sense, has a great part to play in the natural birth of a baby. Furthermore, there are too many clear passages and single verses in the Bible that base salvation, entrance into the kingdom of God, and eternal life on faith alone.

Wesley L. Gerig

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [7]

In a hot and dry country such as Palestine, water was extremely important. God promised his people that if they were obedient to him, he would always send them enough rain to ensure a constant supply for all their needs. But if they were disobedient, he would send them droughts and famine ( Deuteronomy 28:12-24;  Joel 2:23;  Amos 4:7-8). (For further details concerning the problems of water in Palestine see Palestine ; Weather .)

The refreshing and life-giving benefits of water made it a popular biblical symbol to picture the spiritual refreshment and eternal life that God gives to those who trust in him ( Psalms 1:3;  Psalms 23:1-3;  Isaiah 44:3;  Isaiah 55:1;  Jeremiah 17:13;  John 4:14;  John 7:37-39;  Revelation 21:6;  Revelation 22:1-2). Water could, however, be a means of judgment ( Genesis 6:17;  Exodus 14:23;  Exodus 14:26-27;  Psalms 32:6;  Matthew 7:24-27;  2 Peter 2:5).

Water was also used in the cleansing rituals of the Israelite religion. Ceremonial washings for the priests spoke of the purity required of those in official religious positions ( Exodus 29:4-5). At times the washing had additional practical benefits ( Exodus 30:18-21). If people became ceremonially unclean, they had to be ceremonially cleansed with water. Again there were cases where the washing had additional practical benefits ( Leviticus 14:1-9;  Leviticus 15:16-18;  Numbers 19:11-13; see Uncleanness ).

Ritual cleansings may have involved bathing the whole body ( Numbers 19:7), bathing only parts of the body ( Exodus 30:19), or merely sprinkling ( Numbers 8:7). The water used in the rituals in some cases was pure water, in others a specially prepared mixture ( Leviticus 15:13;  Numbers 19:17).

In figurative speech, water was a picture of cleansing from sin ( Psalms 51:1-2;  Ezekiel 36:25-26;  John 13:5-10;  Acts 22:16;  Ephesians 5:26;  Hebrews 10:22; see also Baptism ). Such cleansing can occur only through the activity of God, who in his mercy removes sin and creates new life within the cleansed sinner ( John 3:5-7;  1 Corinthians 6:9-11;  Titus 3:5-7;  Revelation 7:14;  Revelation 7:17; see Regeneration ).

Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [8]

This type is sometimes presented as a river as in  Psalm 1:3;  Ezekiel 47:5;  John 7:38. In these cases the water undoubtedly represents the Holy Spirit. It is plainly indicated. He is constantly working, blessing, enriching, and those who permit Him to be a living personal power in their lives do flourish for GOD, grow in grace, and bear much fruit. This type is sometimes presented as a fountain, as in  John 4:14. Again, the Spirit of GOD is the one thus described. He does not stay dormant in the soul, but works up and out in the life, and produces evidences of His presence. Sometimes water is presented as a drink, as in  John 7:37. This also represents the Holy Spirit, and we drink Him into our souls and lives, as the living Lord, who satisfies the cravings of the heart for the things of GOD. (See also1Co  12:13).

 Proverbs 11:25 (a) In this wonderful passage the Lord is telling us plainly that if we will give blessings to others, they in turn will give blessings to us.

 Isaiah 58:11 (a) The soul that is blessed by GOD, who walks with GOD, and loves the Word of GOD will be filled with joy and gladness, his life will be beautiful in character, and he will be a blessing to many. (See also  Jeremiah 31:12).

 Jeremiah 2:13 (b) Our Lord is the giver of the Holy Spirit who is the living Water. Those who turn away from GOD and refuse His life and His gifts find that the things in which they trust, and on which they lean, will fail them and they are left at the end of the journey with no peace, no eternal life, no hope, no joy, and only the outer dark.

 1 Corinthians 3:0 (a) The work of ministering the Word of GOD to others has a two-fold aspect. The seed is the Word of GOD, and Paul planted it. No seed, however, will grow without water, no matter how good the seed, nor fertile the soil. Therefore, Apollos came ministering the Spirit of GOD to those who had heard the Word of GOD. The Holy Spirit is the water, and when He is present in power, recognized and trusted, then the seed of the Word of GOD grows and prospers in the hearts of the people.

 Ephesians 5:26 (b) This type represents the cleansing effect of the Word of GOD on the habits and ways of the people of GOD. As the Christian studies the Scripture against temper, he will become sweet-spirited. As he reads the Scriptural warning against liquor and profanity, he will avoid it. In this way, evil ways are cleansed from a Christian's life.

 Judges 1:12 (b) Water is typical of the refreshment and blessing that should characterize the ministry of one who claims to be the servant of GOD. In this Scripture the blessing is lacking, and the message is dry and unfruitful.

Webster's Dictionary [9]

(1): ( v. t.) An addition to the shares representing the capital of a stock company so that the aggregate par value of the shares is increased while their value for investment is diminished, or "diluted."

(2): ( n.) A wavy, lustrous pattern or decoration such as is imparted to linen, silk, metals, etc. See Water, v. t., 3, Damask, v. t., and Damaskeen.

(3): ( v. t.) To wet or supply with water; to moisten; to overflow with water; to irrigate; as, to water land; to water flowers.

(4): ( n.) The limpidity and luster of a precious stone, especially a diamond; as, a diamond of the first water, that is, perfectly pure and transparent. Hence, of the first water, that is, of the first excellence.

(5): ( n.) A solution in water of a gaseous or readily volatile substance; as, ammonia water.

(6): ( n.) Any liquid secretion, humor, or the like, resembling water; esp., the urine.

(7): ( n.) A body of water, standing or flowing; a lake, river, or other collection of water.

(8): ( n.) The fluid which descends from the clouds in rain, and which forms rivers, lakes, seas, etc.

(9): ( n.) To add water to (anything), thereby extending the quantity or bulk while reducing the strength or quality; to extend; to dilute; to weaken.

(10): ( v. t.) To wet and calender, as cloth, so as to impart to it a lustrous appearance in wavy lines; to diversify with wavelike lines; as, to water silk. Cf. Water, n., 6.

(11): ( v. t.) To supply with water for drink; to cause or allow to drink; as, to water cattle and horses.

(12): ( v. i.) To get or take in water; as, the ship put into port to water.

(13): ( v. i.) To shed, secrete, or fill with, water or liquid matter; as, his eyes began to water.

King James Dictionary [10]

WATER, n. Wauter. G., Gr.

1. A fluid, the most abundant and most necessary for living beings of any in nature, except air. Water when pure, is colorless, destitute of taste and smell, ponderous, transparent, and in a very small degree compressible. It is reposited in the earth in inexhaustible quantities, where it is preserved fresh and cool, and from which it issues in springs, which form streams and rivers. But the great reservoirs of water on the globe are the ocean, seas and lakes, which cover more than three fifths of its surface, and from which it is raised by evaporation, and uniting with the air in the state of vapor, is wafted over the earth, ready to be precipitated in the form of rain, snow or hail.

Water by the abstraction or loss of heat becomes solid, or in other words, is converted into ice or snow and by heat it is converted into steam, an elastic vapor, one of the most powerful agents in nature. Modern chemical experiments prove that water is a compound substance, consisting of a combination of oxygen and hydrogen gases, or rather the bases or ponderable matter of those gases or about two volumes or measures of hydrogen gas and one of oxygen gas. The proportion of the ingredients in weight, is nearly 85 parts of oxygen to 15 of hydrogen.

2. The ocean a sea a lake a river any great collection of water as in the phrases, to go by water, to travel by water. 3. Urine the animal liquor secreted by the kidneys and discharged from the bladder. 4. The color or luster of a diamond or pearl, sometimes perhaps of other precious stones as a diamond of the first water, that is, perfectly pure and transparent. Hence the figurative phrase, a man or a genius of the first water, that is, of the first excellence. 5. Water is a name given to several liquid substances or humors in animal bodies as the water of the pericardium, of dropsy, &c.

Mineral waters, are those waters which are so impregnated with foreign ingredients, such as gaseous, sulphurous and saline substances, as to give them medicinal, or at least sensible properties. Most natural waters contain more or less of these foreign substances, but the proportion is generally too minute to affect the senses.

To hold water, to be sound or tight. Obsolete or vulgar.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [11]

In the language of Scripture, this word hath numberless applications made of it, but in a peculiar manner is principally made use of in relation to the person, work, and offices of God the Holy Ghost. For as water is essentially necessary to animal life, so is the blessed Spirit to spiritual life. But it would form a subject in itself, and fill a volume, to shew how many and how various the ways by which the Holy Ghost is represented in the Bible under this sweet figure, as supplying the church with living water. Hence he is called the "water of life, a well of water springing up in the soul to everlasting life." And he is described as quickening the marshy ground; cleansing, refreshing, comforting, cooling, and strengthening the souls of his people, by the continued streams of his grace. "There is a river (said the Psalmist) the streams whereof do make glad the city of God..." ( Psalms 46:4) It should not be overlooked or forgotten also, that each and all of the persons of the Godhead are so described in the word of God, and which by the way, let it be observed, becomes a decided proof of the unity of the GODHEAD, while it no less shews the distinction of person. Hence, God the Father is set forth by the prophet as a fountain. ( Jeremiah 2:13) God the Son as a fountain. ( Zechariah 13:1;  Song of Song of Solomon 4:15) And God the Holy Ghost as a fountain, filling the hearts of the redeemed, and causing them to overflow in the day of Christ. ( John 7:38)

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [12]

See Cistern and Wells

In  Isaiah 35:7 , the Hebrew word for "parched ground" that shall become a pool of water, is the same with the Arabic term for the mirage, a peculiar optical illusion by which travelers in hot and dry deserts think they see broad lakes and flowing waters; they seem to discern the very ripple of the waves, and the swaying of tail trees on the margin in the cool breeze; green hills and houses and city ramparts rise before the astonished sight, recede as the traveler advances, and at length melt away in the hot haze. Not so the blessings of the gospel; they are no alluring mockery, but real waters of everlasting life,  Isaiah 55:1   John 4:14   Revelation 22:1 . Compare  Isaiah 29:8   Jeremiah 15:18 .

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [13]

The heat of summer and many mouths of drought necessitated also appliances for storing and conveying water; and remains still exist of the (See Pools of Solomon situated near Bethlehem, and of the aqueduct near Jericho which was constructed by the Romans.

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [14]

No one can read far in the sacred Scriptures without being reminded of the vast importance of water to the Hebrews in Palestine, and indeed in every country to which their history introduces us; and more particularly in the deserts in which they wandered on leaving Egypt, as well as those into which they before or afterwards sent their flocks for pasture. The natural waters have already been disposed of in the articles Palestine and Rivers of Palestine; and in Cistern and Jerusalem notice has been taken of some artificial collections. It now remains to complete the subject, under the present head, by the addition of such details as may not have been comprehended under the articles referred to.

It has been shown that the absence of small rivers, through the want of rain in summer, renders the people of the settled country, as well as of the deserts, entirely dependent upon the water derived from wells, and that preserved in cisterns and reservoirs, during the summer and autumn; and gives an importance unknown in our humid climate to the limited supply thus secured.

With respect to reservoirs, the articles to which reference has been made, will supply all the information necessary, except that we may avail ourselves of this opportunity of noticing the so-called Pools of Solomon, near Bethlehem. 'They consist of three enormous tanks,' says Dr. Wilde, 'sunk in the side of a sloping ground, and which from time immemorial have been considered to be the workmanship of Solomon; and certainly they are well worthy the man to whom tradition has assigned their construction. These reservoirs are each upon a distinct level, one above the other, and are capable of holding an immense body of water. They are so constructed, both by conduits leading directly from one another, and by what may be termed anastomosing branches, that when the water in the upper one has reached to a certain height, the surplus flows off into the one below it, and so on into the third. These passages were obstructed and the whole of the cisterns were out of repair when we visited them, so that there was hardly any water in the lowest, while the upper one was nearly full of good pure water. Small aqueducts lead from each of these cisterns to a main one that conducts the water to Jerusalem. They are all lined with a thick layer of hard whitish cement, and a flight of steps leads to the bottom of each, similar to some of those in the holy city. Where the lowest cistern joins the valley of Etham it is formed by an embankment of earth, and has a sluice to draw off the water occasionally. A short distance from the upper pool I descended into a narrow stone chamber, through which the water passes from the neighboring spring on its course to the cisterns.

'On our return to the city we followed the track of the aqueduct as far as Bethlehem, and afterwards crossed it in several places on the road. It is very small, but the water runs in it with considerable rapidity, as we could perceive by the open places left in it here and there. From the very tortuous course that this conduit takes in following the different sinuosities of the ground, being sometimes above and sometimes beneath the surface, it is difficult to persuade oneself that it does not run up hill, as many have supposed. Finally, it crosses over the valley of Rephaim, on a series of arches, to the north of the lower pool of Gihon, and winding round the southern horn of Zion, is lost to view in the ruins of the city. It very probably supplied the pool of Bethesda, after having traversed a course of certainly not less than from thirteen to fifteen miles.'

Fig. 340—Well and Bucket at Jaffa

With respect to wells, their importance is very great, especially in the desert, where the means of forming them are deficient, as well as the supply of labor necessary for such undertakings, which, after all, are not always rewarded by the discovery of a supply of water. Hence in such situations, and indeed in the settled countries also, the wells are of the utmost value, and the water in most cases is very frugally used . We are not, however, to seek an explanation of the contests about wells which we find in the histories of Abraham and Isaac merely in the value of the well itself, but in the apprehension entertained by the Philistines that by the formation of such wells the patriarchs would be understood to create a lien on the lands in which they lay, and would acquire an indefeasible right of occupation, or rather of possession; and it might seem to them inconvenient that so powerful a clan should acquire such a right in the soil of so small a territory as that which belonged to them. Hence their care, when Abraham afterwards left their part of the country, to fill up the wells which he had digged; and hence, also, the renewed and more bitter strife with Isaac when he, on arriving there, proceeded to clear out those wells and to dig new ones himself.

It appears in Scripture that the wells were sometimes owned by a number of persons in common, and that flocks were brought to them for watering on appointed days, in an order previously arranged. A well was often covered with a great stone, which being removed, the person descended some steps to the surface of the water, and on his return poured into a trough that which he had brought up . There is, in fact, no intimation of any other way of drawing water from wells in Scripture. But as this could only be applicable in cases where the well was not deep, we must assume that they had the use of those contrivances which are still employed in the East, and some of which are known from the Egyptian monuments to have been very ancient. This conclusion is the more probable as the wells in Palestine are mostly deep . Jacob's well near Shechem is said to be 120 feet deep, with only fifteen feet of water in it; and the labor of drawing from so deep a well probably originated the first reluctance of the woman of Samaria to draw water for Jesus: 'Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.' From this deeper kind of well the water is drawn by hand in a leathern bucket not too heavy, sometimes by a windlass, but oftener, when the water is only of moderate depth, by the shadoof, which is the most common and simple of all the machines used in the East for raising water, whether from wells, reservoirs, or rivers. This consists of a tapering lever unequally balanced upon an upright body variously constructed, and from the smaller end of which is suspended the bucket by a rope. This, when lowered into the well, is raised full of water by the weight of the heavier end. By this contrivance the manual power is applied in lowering the bucket into the well, for it rises easily, and it is only necessary to regulate the ascent. This machine is in use under slight modifications from the Baltic to the Yellow Sea, and was so from the most remote ages to the present-day. The specimen in the annexed woodcut occurs in the neighborhood of Jaffa. The water of wells, as well as of fountains, was by the Hebrews called 'living water,' translated 'running water,' and was highly esteemed . It was thus distinguished from water preserved in cisterns and reservoirs.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [15]

wô´tẽr ( מים , mayim  ; ὕδωρ , húdōr ):

(1) The Greek philosophers believed water to be the original substance and that all things were made from it. The Koran states, "From water we have made all things." In the story of the creation ( Genesis 1:2 ) water plays an elemental part.

(2) Because of the scarcity of water in Palestine it is especially appreciated by the people there. They love to go and sit by a stream of running water. Men long for a taste of the water of their native village ( 1 Chronicles 11:17 ). A town or village is known throughout the country for the quality of its water, which is described by many adjectives, such as "light," "heavy," etc.

(3) The rainfall is the only source of supply of water for Palestine. The moisture is carried up from the sea in clouds and falls on the hills as rain or snow. This supplies the springs and fountains. The rivers are mostly small and have little or no water in summer. For the most part springs supply the villages, but in case this is not sufficient, cisterns are used. Most of the rain falls on the western slopes of the mountains, and most of the springs are found there. The limestone in many places does not hold the water, so wells are not very common, though there are many references to them in the Bible.

(4) Cisterns are usually on the surface of the ground and vary greatly in size. Jerusalem has always had to depend for the most part on water stored in this way, and carried to the city in aqueducts. A large number of cisterns have been found and partially explored under the temple-area itself. The water stored in the cisterns is surface water, and is a great menace to the health of the people. During the long, dry summer the water gets less and less, and becomes so stagnant and filthy that it is not fit to drink. In a few instances the cisterns or pools are sufficiently large to supply water for limited irrigation. See Cistern .

(5) During the summer when there is no rain, vegetation is greatly helped by the heavy dews. A considerable amount of irrigation is carried on in the country where there is sufficient water in the fountains and springs for the purpose. There was doubtless much more of it in the Roman period. Most of the fruit trees require water during the summer.

(6) Many particular wells or pools are mentioned in the Bible, as: Beersheba ( Genesis 21:19 ), Isaac's well ( Genesis 24:11 ), Jacob's well ( John 4:6 ), Pool of Siloam ( John 9:7 ), "waters of Nephtoah" ( Joshua 15:9 ).

(7) Washing with water held a considerable place in the Jewish temple-ceremony ( Leviticus 11:32;  Leviticus 16:4;  Leviticus 17:15;  Leviticus 22:6;  Numbers 19:7;  Exodus 30:18;  Exodus 40:7 ). Sacrifices were washed ( Exodus 29:4;  Leviticus 1:9;  Leviticus 6:28;  Leviticus 14:5 ).

(8) The lack of water caused great suffering ( Exodus 15:22;  Deuteronomy 8:15;  2 Kings 3:9;  Psalm 63:1;  Proverbs 9:17;  Ezekiel 4:11;  Lamentations 5:4 ). See also Fountain; Pit; Pool; Spring; Well .

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [16]

Bibliography Information McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Water'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/w/water.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.