See CISTERN and WELLS. In Isa 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, Isa 55:1; Joh 4:14; Re 22:1. Compare Isa 29:8; Jer 15:18.
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.
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 (Ge 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 (2Ki 3:19,25), or diversion and concealment of the stream from a fountain (2Ch 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 (Ge 24:17 f., Joh 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 (Ge 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 (Ge 29:2 ff., Ex 2:16 ff.; cf. Ge 26:20 etc.). The art of irrigation (wh. see) was employed in ancient days (Ps 1:3; 65:10; Eze 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 (Ge 24:11; Joh 4:7 etc.). In crossing the desert, water is carried in 'bottles' of skin (Ge 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 (Jer 2:13; Zec 14:3; Joh 4:10 etc.). Many Scripture references show how the cool, refreshing, fertilizing qualities of water are prized in a thirsty land (Pr 25:26; Isa 44:14; Jer 17:8; Lu 16:24 etc.). Water is furnished to wash the feet and hands of a guest (Lu 7:44). To pour water on the hands is the office of a servant (2Ki 3:11). The sudden spates of the rainy season are the symbol of danger (Ps 18:16; 32:6; Isa 28:17 etc.), and their swift passing symbolizes life's transiency (Job 11:18; Ps 58:7). Water is also the symbol of weakness and Instability (Ge 49:4; Eze 21:7 etc.). Cf. City; Jerusalem, I. 4. For 'Water-gate' see Nethinim, p. 654.
WATER. 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, De 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?" 1Sa 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, 2Sa 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, Ge 24:45.
Water sometimes signifies the element of water, Ge 1:10; and metaphorically, trouble and afflictions, Ps 69:1. In the language of the prophets, waters often denote a great multitude of people, Isa 8:7; Re 17:15. Water is put for children or posterity, Nu 24:7; Isa 48:1; for the clouds, Ps 104:3. Waters sometimes stand for tears, Jer 9:1,7; for the ordinances of the Gospel, Isa 12:3; 35:6-7; 55:1; Joh 7:37-38. "Stolen waters," denote unlawful pleasures with strange women, Pr 9:17. The Israelites are reproached with having forsaken the fountain of living water, to quench their thirst at broken cisterns, Jer 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, Nu 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.