Spoken by Christ from the cross, these two words capture the horror of the cross and its ability to inflict unfathomable suffering. These two words also disclose a deep geographical context.
While in seminary, I recall numerous profs tirelessly emphasizing the critical need for context whenever opening the Scriptures. One example of context is water. Given the many references, uses, and metaphors concerning water throughout the Canon, much geographical context is revealed.
In the beginning, a river is introduced in Genesis 2. His river watered the Garden of Eden. Water also bookends the final story of God in Revelation 22. A river of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb; the tree of life grows next to the river, bearing twelve fruits for the healing of the nations.
Throughout the many pages between Genesis and Revelation, water is referenced constantly. Growing up among the amply watered and lush green fields of Lancaster County, it was not until Shirley and I spent a month trekking throughout Israel and Palestine that the value of context gripped me in a fresh way.
The dry, arid air of the Middle East provides incredibly crystal-clear weather. One day’s weather predictably mirrors the day before and, very likely, the day which follows. Clear, arid, sunny, and hot weather was to be expected. I recall stepping outside into the clear bright morning sun and frantically searching for my sunglasses—only to discover I was already wearing them. Given these conditions, within the center of every story was water.
Throughout the six-thousand-year story of humanity, the pages of history reveal that wherever water is found in the Middle East, there also is life. Wherever water is, a community, a story, and a future unfolded.
While in Israel, we travelled from the Golan Heights of the northern border of Syria, to the most southern corner of Elat which borders Jordon and Egypt and splashes against the Red Sea. Likewise, we explored west to Caesarea and the Mediterranean Sea, observing the amazing aqueducts built by Herod the Great. We then travelled east through the West Bank from Bethlehem to Hebron to Nabulus. I recall exploring the deep caves, hidden underneath another one of Herod the Great’s wonders, Herodium, a man-made mountain built in the middle of nothingness of the Judean desert in the West Bank. These immense caverns served as cisterns holding millions of gallons of water for the guests of Herod at Herodium, whether visiting for pleasure or in refuge under siege of an enemy.
Water was not merely a passing thought reflected in countless stories of the Scriptures, our need for water was ever before us. Whenever we exited our building, a mere stone’s throw from the Kings Highway and Rachel’s tomb where Jacob placed the body of Rachel just outside of Bethlehem, I recall our profs and guides constantly exhorting us to always carry adequate water.
So, we did.
While visiting Masada, yet another amazing wonder built by Herod the Great located adjacent to the Dead Sea, signage cautioned guests of the dangers of dehydration while also warning that no one drink the acidic water surrounding the region. Fresh water fed the fortress through first-century ingenuity which would impress most technological minds today.
While walking the “valley of the shadow of death” from Jerusalem south to Jericho, the narrow dangerous path taunted its travelers with its sheer cliffs dropping several hundred feet below. At the bottom, a dry riverbed stared back with mocking emptiness, further reminding those brave enough to risk the narrow path the hostility of the environment and your vulnerability. This is likely the same path David references in Psalm 23 and the familiar pathway from Jericho to Jerusalem which Christ interjects into the parable of the Good Samaritan. Only a fool would even consider the several hour journey in one-hundred-degree temperatures without ample water.
Snaking in total darkness through the ankle-deep ice-cold water of the quarter mile narrow tunnel built by King Hezekiah in Jerusalem, served as a stark reminder of how critical water was as the Israelites prepared for a siege by the Assyrians. (2 Chr. 32:2-4; 2 Ki. 20:20). The engineering exactness of this feat is quite amazing even by today’s standards. As one exits Hezekiah’s tunnel, it ends at the pool of Siloam, the place where years later Jesus instructed the blind man to wash after spitting into dirt and placing mud over the man’s eyes. As the man washed in the pool of water, he was healed, and his sight was fully restored. (Jn. 9:11)
While meandering the backstreets of Bethlehem near the Shepherds Fields, Shirley and I searched for, and supposedly found, the ancient, yet most unglamorous water source from which David’s three mighty men broke through the battle lines of the Philistines and accessed the Bethlehem well for David. Upon realizing the men risked their lives for this water, David, in humility, pours the water on the ground. (1 Chr. 11:18)
While in Samaria, following a lecture from the leader of the small remaining Samaritan lineage, I was privileged to drink from Jacob’s well. This well, hand dug by the Old Testament patriarch Jacob, would be where Jesus would stop, rest, and ask a Samaritan woman for a drink. This water source is where the Gospels capture the longest recorded conversation of Jesus. The entire Samarian community was touched through this unnamed woman’s conversation with Jesus at Jacob’s well (Jn 4).
In the first century, persons of lower standards and the poor lived at the top of the hills, furthest from the source of water. The wealthy and royalty lived at the bottom of the hill, closest to water. The birthplace of John the Baptist at Ein Karem is no exception. To see the cave in which John was born, one must hike up a long hill thus revealing the lowly status of Zacharias and Elizabeth. However, as water sources also served as the primary landmarks and meeting places in each village, a significant spring at the foot of the hill convinces historians as the likely meeting place where the expectant mothers, Mary and Elizabeth first met.
At every turn throughout the Scriptures, Middle East context reveals that water was the center of life.
So, in an opportune moment while in Jerusalem during a most familiar Jewish celebration, Jesus appeals to the daily need of water to quench human thirst and further reveals Himself.
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (Jn. 8:37-38)
Thirst—a need all humanity can identify with is precisely where Christ declares His Divine nature.
Jesus invites all to drink of the everlasting water He freely offers—with abundance! The Holy Spirit promised to flow through us—with abundance!
Sometime later, the human and divine intersect again—on the cross. As Christ’s life blood is emptied from His broken body as the perfect, spotless Lamb of God, Jesus cries out,
Indeed, what Scripture says is true. Jesus does identify with us in every way—including thirst.
However, look beyond the humanity of Christ and ponder His divinity—the promise of a fountain of water springing up to everlasting life through faith in Christ.
Behold the Lamb of God!
Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:13-14 NKJV