By: Phil Barkman
Wasser, agua, voda, vesi, dlo, maji, amanzi, H2O. These words all refer to the same thing: water. (In case you’re interested, that is, in order: German, Spanish, Slovenian, Finnish, Haitian Creole, Swahili, Zulu, and the chemical composition of water.)
Every living creature and plant on Earth utilizes water in one form or another. It is used for sustenance, habitat, transportation, recreation, and cleansing. It can be utilized as a solvent or a tool, as part of a religious ceremony such as baptism, or to heat food or cool it. (Remember the old springhouses?)
It’s easy to take water for granted. We drink, cook, and shower; we swim, boat, and fish. We seldom stop to think that water is a vital part of our body. As adults, our bodies are almost 60 percent water.
When we get thirsty, we drink water, then think no more of it. But so many wonderful things happen after we have had that satisfying gulp. The water goes to our stomach where, depending on when we last ate, it may remain for a mere five minutes, or several hours.
From the stomach, water passes into the small intestine, where its primary work begins. It dissolves nutrients, minerals, and vitamins from your food and is then absorbed into the blood, which is 90 percent water.
The blood then begins to perform multiple tasks. It carries those nutrients, minerals, and vitamins to every cell of your body. It picks up toxins and carries them to the liver and kidneys, which filter out the toxins and dispose of them.
The blood also transports oxygen from your lungs to all your cells and then, on its return trip, hauls carbon dioxide back to the lungs for expulsion through your breath. Water vapor is released into the air with every breath you take, which is why your breath “smokes” on those chilly winter mornings.
Water creates saliva and digestive juices. It also helps to protect joints and tissues. One critical function of the water in your body is keeping your brain hydrated, which increases your cognitive function, your ability to think clearly.
“Years of research have found that when we’re parched, we have more difficulty keeping our attention focused. Dehydration can impair short-term memory function and the recall of long-term memory. The ability to perform mental arithmetic… is compromised when your fluids are low.”1
As we work hard or exercise, especially in warm weather, our body heats up. Signals are sent to the sweat glands—we have more sweat glands on the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet than anywhere else on the body—and they release water onto the skin. Since pure water is a poor conductor of heat, the body mixes salt into the water to help absorb more heat. As the sweat contacts the air, it evaporates, which draws the heat from the body and releases it into the air. And that’s how sweat helps us stay cool!
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Water is the most abundant substance on the surface of the earth.
It’s hard to imagine, but there are almost 326 million cubic miles of water in all the oceans, lakes, streams, glaciers, and groundwater. Nearly 25,800 cubic miles of precipitation falls on the earth each year. One cubic mile of water contains 1,101,117,147,352 gallons of water.2 (Okay, you do the math.)
Approximately 70 percent of this globe on which we live is covered by water. Almost 99 percent of this water is in the oceans, polar ice caps, and glaciers. The remaining 1 percent is what we see in groundwater, rivers, and lakes. If all the land on earth was leveled and formed into a smooth ball, there would be enough water to cover it all to a depth of 8,530 feet.3
Many people believe that the earth, our solar system, and the entire universe all happened by chance. However, when we look at the delicate balance required for life to not only survive but also flourish, it’s quite easy to see that there is a Creator behind it all.
When God created the earth, He not only placed it at exactly the right distance from the sun, He set it to rotating at precisely the correct speed. This sets the average temperature of the earth at approximately 57.2–59 degrees (F). This means that water can exist on earth in all three of its forms—liquid, solid, and gas. You can splash it, break it, or inhale it. This does not happen on any other planet in our solar system.
The water on earth is always on the move in a system called the “hydrologic cycle.”(3) It evaporates from open bodies of water, is released into the atmosphere from plants (evapotranspiration), and then returns to earth as rain or snow.
So when snow swirls down and sweeps across the fields, or rain from a summer thunderstorm lashes against our windowpanes, we’re watching more than just a local weather phenomenon. What we’re seeing is the intricate design of God, providing water for all of His creation.
I know this is a lot of scientific information, but stay with me… we’ll tie it all together.
Water is very cohesive; it wants to “stick” together. This is because, “In a water molecule, the two hydrogen atoms align themselves along one side of the oxygen atom, with the result being that the oxygen side has a slight negative charge and the side with the hydrogen atoms has a slight positive charge. Thus when the positive side on one water molecule comes near the negative side of another water molecule, they attract each other and form a bond.”4 Remember the little “Tricky Dogs” magnets? That’s an easy way to visualize how this attraction works.
This unique bonding of water is what causes it to form drops or to bead when it’s poured onto a flat surface. It’s also what causes the phenomenon often referred to as “surface tension.” This tension is strong enough to support the insects known as “water striders” or “water skeeters.” You can even float a needle on a glass of water, if you do it very carefully. Try it!
The unusual arrangement of the atoms in water causes it to be denser in its liquid state than in its frozen form. Freezing changes the molecular structure of the water, and ice is at a 90 percent density level of the liquid. As water at the surface of a lake or pond freezes, this fact causes the ice to remain on top instead of sinking. Most other liquid substances are denser in their frozen state; if this were the case with ice, the layers of water at the top would keep freezing, then sinking. In a long, cold winter, this could replace entire bodies of water with ice. That would certainly put an end to ice fishing!
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We know water is crucial to our physical survival, but even more vital are the truths we find in Bible accounts and teachings that refer to water.
The Bible is filled with references to water, beginning… well, at the very beginning. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1, 2).
A simple drink of water can make for a risky adventure. David was hiding in the cave of Adullam during a time when he and his men were both fighting the Philistines and trying to evade Saul. Three of his best warriors joined him there, and David mentioned how he would love to have a drink of water from the well at the gate of Bethlehem.
“Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” This was not just David being thirsty; he wanted water from that specific well, probably because of a sentimental memory.
There was just one little problem—there was a force of Philistines garrisoned in Bethlehem. The chance of anyone getting to that well, drawing the water, and then actually getting away unscathed was slim to none. David seems to have voiced his longing without too much thought or expectation of actually getting a drink from that well.
It turned out, however, that these three men were not called “mighty” for no reason. While the Biblical account (2 Samuel 23:14–17) is sparse on details, we know that these three men traveled the approximately thirteen miles to Bethlehem, “broke through” the ranks of the Philistines, filled a container with water, and brought it back to David.
When they brought the water to him, David realized how foolish his statement had been. His three friends could easily have been killed, and David would have felt the guilt of their blood on his hands. So instead of drinking the water, he poured it out as an offering to the Lord.
“Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?”
Something as simple as giving a drink of water to a thirsty person will bring glory to God. Matthew 10:42 says, “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”
Not only does that cup of water refresh the body, but the love and kindness shown in the giving of it can be an encouragement to someone who is facing a difficult season of life. That scripture causes us to understand that any act of kindness, no matter how simple or small, can be God’s way of drawing another person to Himself. We never know how God will use our acts of kindness, our “cups of cold water,” to give hope and life to a weary pilgrim.
Water is a thread running through Jesus’ teaching and life. His very first miracle involved water. In John 2, He showed His power over even the chemical makeup of water, turning it into wine at the wedding in Cana.
Water was also an important part of hospitality in Bible times. When a guest showed up at someone’s door, whether invited or not, they were received as friends. Part of the welcoming ritual involved having a servant wash the guest’s feet.
The most well-known incident of washing feet is, of course, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. Washing a person’s feet was the job of a servant, and Jesus took that role upon Himself. It is a moving example of how we should always have a servant’s heart as we interact with those around us. This includes our family; sometimes it’s easier to be kind to strangers than to those who are closest to us.
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The Sea of Galilee, around which much of Jesus’ ministry took place, is of comparable depth to Lake Erie, one of our Great Lakes. Both are quite shallow, with a maximum depth of 210 feet. Water this shallow is easily moved by strong winds, and gigantic waves can be generated in a very short time. Like Lake Erie, the Sea of Galilee experiences sudden, violent storms, as the cool air drops down from the mountains and interacts with the warmer air at the surface of the lake.
One of the more intriguing stories in the Bible concerning water is when Jesus took a stroll out to the disciples in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. He had finished feeding the crowd of 5,000 and sent the disciples to the other side of the sea.
Evening came, and the disciples were in a bit of trouble. One of those quick and violent storms had come up, and they were struggling to get to shore.
It was sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 am, and the disciples were despairing of life. Suddenly, in the faint predawn, they saw a figure that appeared to be moving on the surface of the lake. Their fear of drowning was replaced by the terror of seeing what they thought was a ghost. Then the voice of Jesus came clearly through the noise of the storm: “Hey, cheer up! It’s me, Jesus.” And what was Peter’s response? He wanted to walk out to Jesus. On the water. And Jesus simply said, “Come.”
The storm was still raging. The wind was still blowing, the waves were still threatening to swamp the ship, and Peter stepped out of that wildly tossing boat to walk to Jesus.
Have you ever wondered what the water felt like under his feet? Was it solid, like stone? Was it spongy, like a piece of thick rubber? With his cloak blowing wildly about him in the gale and sea spray in his eyes, he rode up and down the sides of the waves like a surfer. We can only assume that the same power of Jesus that kept Peter on the surface also enabled him to keep his balance.
Imagine Peter’s exultation as he realized what was happening—he was walking on WATER! This was by far the craziest thing he had ever done.
And then… he looked around. A roaring blast of wind whipped the foam off a wave and into his face. The boat was yards behind him, and he could see the shock on his friends’ faces as they stared at him in disbelief. The wind howled, the waves reared higher, and a chill shot through him as he realized there was nothing under his feet but deep, watery darkness.
The cold hand of panic gripped his heart, and quicker than he could think, the water gave way beneath him. He only had time to fling his arms in the air and scream, “Lord, save me!” as the waves closed over him. And in that moment, he felt a strong hand grip his, and Jesus hoisted him back to the surface. There was a bit of a rebuke, though; we can imagine Jesus shaking His head and saying, “C’mon, Peter, seriously? You had so little faith! Why did you doubt?” (My paraphrase)
As soon as they were back in the boat, the wind died down and the sea calmed. Jesus, the Creator, had once again shown that He was able to command that which He had created. You can read the story in Matthew 14.
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On March 11, 2011, an unexpected “storm” struck Japan in the form of a massive tsunami. As earth’s tectonic plates slipped past each other almost eighteen miles under the surface of the Pacific Ocean, violent temblors displaced millions of tons of water and sent them racing toward the coast. Waves in excess of thirty feet rushed ashore, destroying everything in their path. In some places, the powerful surge pushed six miles inland, leaving death and devastation in its wake. Approximately 20,000 people were killed and/or missing, and eight years later, the recovery is ongoing.
For all its positive uses, the destructive power of water is staggering. Unleashed in large quantities, it can level almost anything in its path. Buildings, earth, trees, and gigantic boulders all give way to its irresistible force.
Sometimes we feel as though we’re drowning in trouble and despair. David knew what that was all about. “Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me” (Psalm 69:1, 2).
God is our defender when hard times come in like a flood. “For this shall everyone that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him” (Psalm 32:6).
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As water is essential to our physical lives, Scripture uses the symbolism of water to show us what is essential to our spiritual lives.
The Word of God is referred to as water in the Bible. Ezekiel 36:25 says, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” And in Ephesians 5:25 and 26, husbands are told to “…love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word…”
Of all the various aspects of water mentioned in the Bible, its life-giving power is foremost. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters…” (Isaiah 55:1). And in Isaiah 12:3, salvation is portrayed as life-giving water from a well; “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.”
The redemption that is offered to mankind through Christ is like a drink of cool, refreshing water to someone dying in the sandy waste of a desert. In Revelation 21:6, Jesus says, “I am Alpha and Omega… I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.”
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Let’s step back and take another look. We don’t need to know the chemical composition of water to know that it’s vital for life. In one form or another, it’s above us, around us, below us, and it’s in us. Whether we realize it or not, we utilize it in every single moment of our lives. And as H2O brings life to every cell of our body, so the Water of Life, the Word of God, can permeate every fiber of our spirit and bring to us life and love that we can share with those around us.