What the Bible says about
Water as Analogy
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Woven into the fabric of the Psalms are many of the very words that Jesus Christ used Himself during His life on earth, including some of the final words He uttered before His death. The understanding that David possessed, a gift and blessing that the Eternal gave to him, is further evidenced in Psalm 51:7: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
Here, David refers to the spiritual washing required for his cleansing. He makes a deliberate request of God to wash Him, knowing that only the cleansing power of Almighty God can make a man clean and pure. Though his sins have covered him in filth and stained him to the very roots of his being, the washing power of God makes a man whiter than snow.
In our understanding of the symbolism of colors, "snow-white" is considered the ultimate in white, the whitest of white, as pure and unsullied a white as possible. David's expectation was that God's cleansing power would exceed even that ultimate white - "I shall be whiter than snow." We can only relate this to absolute spiritual, moral perfection, the very state in which Almighty God exists. The wording expresses that the scrubbing God could give him would permit him to exist in that absolute, ultimate state of perfection.
At the beginning of verse 7, David makes the deliberate request of God to purge him with hyssop. Hyssop is an interesting choice as a cleansing agent. It is an herb, a species of marjoram and member of the mint family, and some Bible versions actually refer to it as "marjoram." It has long been considered an aromatic and medicinal herb, anciently indigenous to western Asia and northern Africa, including regions of the Middle East. The hyssop plant grows just under three feet in height, producing clusters of variously colored flowers. In ancient times, it grew naturally in rocky crevices, and people cultivated it on terraced walls.
The short, cut stems of the plant can be gathered into bunches, and in the Old Testament, these bunches were used for ritual purposes. The most spiritually significant of these uses is recorded in Exodus 12:22. Moses has just given the instructions for the killing of the Passover lamb, and he continues with some further instructions that must have been rather startling for those participating Israelites:
And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood [of the Passover lamb] that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning.
It is important that we consider all the aspects of this event. During repeated requests by Moses for Pharaoh to allow Israel to leave Egypt, Pharaoh had continually refused to let God's people go, and the nation had endured nine plagues of cataclysmic consequences. The economy of the nation was largely a shambles. Crops were ruined, and disease had run rampant.
Since the third plague, God had also made readily visible a clear distinction between the captive nation of Israel and the Egyptians, in that the Israelites in Goshen had been spared much of the devastation that had ruined the rest of Egypt. By the use of the blood of the sacrificial lamb, God was about to make a final, absolute distinction between these two nations that would never be forgotten.
We must recognize that Egypt suffered the devastation at the hand of God because though it was a sophisticated, dazzling, world-dominating empire, it was also a wicked, idolatrous nation. The Egyptians were a people who openly flouted the natural evidence of a supreme Creator by worshipping a pantheon of idols and gods dedicated to their own passions and lusts. Egyptians regularly engaged in a frenzy of immoral and idolatrous celebrations, sporting events, fashions, and music all dedicated to gods of materialism and human gratification.
The plagues God meted upon the land of Egypt and its people were just as much attacks on her idols and lifestyle as they were punishments for the sins of her people. As just one example, the Egyptians worshipped the Nile River as a god, and when God turned its waters to blood, the life-giving nature of the river was destroyed, along with the power that the Nile River god supposedly possessed.
Thus, in this solemn Passover event of Exodus 12, God used blood of a different nature to represent the saving, life-giving power that only He, the almighty, eternal God, possessed. The sacrificial lamb of Passover symbolized the future Son of God, who would take upon Himself the role of the sacrificial Lamb of God (John 1:29). The shed blood of the Passover lamb symbolized the blood to be shed by the coming Messiah.
The bunch of hyssop was dipped into the blood, and per God's instructions, that blood was sprinkled or brushed on the doorposts and lintel of each home. The Israelites were then told to stay within those homes, separated from the Egyptian people and their normal routines. That night, there was to be no interaction or communication with any aspect of the Egyptian civilization. Their very lives depended on their following this command to the letter.
The sacrificial blood, sprinkled or smeared by the bunch of hyssop, graphically represented a separation and a protection of Israel against the deadly havoc that God wrought upon Egypt that night. The blood ceremonially cleansed and protected the people inside those homes against the plague of death that struck a people who practiced the filthy abominations of godlessness.
Later, in the books of Leviticus and Numbers, hyssop was used as part of sacrificial ceremonies. The hyssop was always tied into bunches for use in sprinkling the blood of the sacrificed animal. In some sacrifices, the priest sprinkled the blood onto the person making the sacrifice.
In Numbers 19, Moses gives instructions for one who is unclean due to touching a dead body. These instructions include taking a bunch of hyssop, dipping it into clean, running water, and sprinkling the unclean individual, his tent, and possessions. This example clearly connects the use of hyssop and clean water for cleansing.
Over the years, some have suggested that hyssop contains valuable antiseptic or cleansing properties that would "disinfect" the contaminated person or his possessions. This cannot be the point because such an idea contradicts the fact that God is the only Source of true purification. The biblical use of hyssop in the Passover, the sacrifices, and the ceremonial cleansing rituals was a constant reminder, painting a detailed picture of the washing, cleansing, saving, purification, and salvation from death itself that come only from the eternal God.
This is the kind of cleansing that David requested of God when he asked to be purged with hyssop.
Purge Me With Hyssop
We need to consider that Jesus also uses water in a figurative sense in John 3:5. To what, then, does He refer? John 4:13-14 gives us a clue. Jesus says to the woman at the well: "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." This water that Jesus speaks of can in no way be literal water.
John 7:37-39 expands on this:
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." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
These verses clarify that the Bible uses water as a figure of the Holy Spirit both in terms of its cleansing properties and as a source of power. Could Jesus be using water in this way in John 3:5?
The Bible frequently mentions the Word of God in conjunction with birth and life. Psalm 119:50 reads, "This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life." Paul adds in I Corinthians 4:15, "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." The gospel is composed of words. We are instructed in James 1:18, "Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth."
Peter makes a remarkable declaration in I Peter 1:22-23:
Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which lives and abides forever.
The imagery of God's Word also includes the idea of cleansing power. It is likened to water because water cleanses, as Psalm 119:9 shows: "How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word." Jesus adds in John 15:3, "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you." Paul says in Ephesians 5:26, ". . . that He might sanctify and cleanse [the church] with the washing of water by the word."
With all of these references feeding into Jesus' teaching in John 3:5, we can be confident that the water He refers to includes all three of these figures—that it quenches a person's spiritual thirst, facilitates his spiritual birth, and cleanses him from his spiritual filth. We can conclude that Jesus' reference to "water" in John 3:5 should be understood as closely attached to "Spirit."
E.W. Bullinger, in Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, p. 664, says that in this context we are dealing with a figure of speech called hendiadys, which literally indicates "one by means of two." In a hendiadys, two words—in this case, "water" and "spirit"—are employed to get the point across, but only one idea is intended. One of the words, "Spirit," expresses the point, but the other word, "water," intensifies "Spirit" to the superlative degree.
It is God's Holy Spirit that is the instrument of both the cleansing and the birth of the divine nature in us. "Water" intensifies and magnifies "Spirit" by means of the many figurative ways God's Holy Spirit is shown working: as a means of God's light- and life-giving Word, of spiritual power, and of cleansing.
Jesus says in John 6:63, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." This statement clarifies matters: The water, the Word, and the Holy Spirit must be considered together—as one element—that precipitate the new birth, all being given from above. Considering them as one makes Jesus' declaration stronger.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)
Consider water in terms of baptism. Even in baptismal contexts, water is used figuratively. Water is shown, not as a cleansing agent, but as a type of death, burial, and resurrection. In baptism, water becomes a grave from which we must be spiritually resurrected, not a symbol of life and regeneration. Paul makes this clear in Romans 6:1-8:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.
In these verses, we see pictured the figurative burial of the old "dead" man living in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1-2) in preparation for the birth of the new man in Christ. Jesus permitted John the Baptist to baptize Him as an example for our benefit, though He had committed no sin:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. Then Jesus, when He had been baptized, came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. (Matthew 3:13-16)
John 1:32-34 adds to this account, helping to pinpoint the time of our receipt of God's gift of His Holy Spirit:
And John bore witness saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me. 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."
Our receipt of God's Holy Spirit occurs when we are spiritually resurrected from our watery grave and by God's grace cleansed through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. God's Spirit gives birth to the new man as a child of God. It is not the waters of baptism that cleanse us but Christ's blood and the receipt of God's Holy Spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)
Because this is said as an explanation of Jesus' initial statement, being "born of water and the Spirit" is the same as being "born again" or "born from above." In that sense, as used here by Jesus, both "water" and "spirit" are spiritual entities.
It is easy to jump to the conclusion that Jesus' mention of water refers to baptism. However, as a figure, the part water plays is more complex than is commonly assigned in this context. Consider this: From righteous Abel on, all have been and are being saved by the same process encompassed by the grace of God. All must be called by God, all must repent and receive forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ, and all must be given God's Spirit. Note, however, that there is no mention in Scripture of any of the saints who lived before John the Baptist being baptized. This includes those who were under the Old Covenant. If all are to receive salvation by the same means, why does the Bible fail to show any of them being baptized?
It is more likely that the "water" and "spirit" Jesus refers to are those mentioned in Ezekiel 36:25-27:
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
In this prophecy, Ezekiel indicates a cleansing from spiritual filth and a change of heart, from which spring obedience to God's commands. As the prophecy clearly says, both the water and the Spirit are from God above and precipitate the cleansing and birth that Jesus teaches in John 3. God says He will "sprinkle clean water," but as we know, that does not indicate the waters of baptism, since true Christian baptism is an immersion. Notice what John the Baptist says in John 1:33: "I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'" This suggests that a baptism of the Holy Spirit is also needed, which Acts 19:1-6 confirms.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)
The implication is, "My Father has been working from the beginning, and He's continuing to work." What is Their work? It is creating, creation. God is the Potter, we are the clay. He is the One doing the shaping, the molding, the creating. "It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves." He is the One who is continuing the creation that He began and revealed in Genesis 1. He is still working on us! Continuing the pottery metaphor, the Holy Spirit, then, can be compared to the water that the potter uses to bring the clay to the right consistency to enable him to shape it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Pentecost and the Holy Spirit
This verse is unclear on the nature of the Holy Spirit, and it must stand in the light of verses from other parts of the Bible before it is correctly understood. For instance, nowhere in the Bible is the Holy Spirit shown to have manlike shape. The Father and the Son are revealed to have body parts like us—they even sit on thrones—but the Spirit is described to be like wind, oil, fire, and water.
The only shape it is ever given is that of a dove (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32), and some dispute that the Spirit looked like a dove but rather in a visible form descended like a dove. Nevertheless, the Spirit is never described to have a humanlike shape. Man was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), so man looks like God. If the Spirit were also a person in a "trinity," it too would look like a man just as the Father and Son do (John 14:9). Yet, at best, the Spirit had a dove's shape in one instance, and a man and a dove have never been mistaken for each other.
Other verses show the apostles giving praise, glory, and honor to the Father and Son without mentioning the Spirit (Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:1-4; Galatians 1:1-5; and so on through the epistles). If it were part of the Godhead, this would be a grave omission.
Many of the Spirit's attributes can be shown to originate in the Father or the Son. For example, the Spirit is named "Comforter" in John 14:26 (KJV), yet the Father is called "the God of all comfort" in II Corinthians 1:3-4. Other examples include making intercession: Romans 8:26—I Timothy 2:5 and Hebrews 7:25; and enabling spiritual understanding: I Corinthians 2:10-16 and I John 5:20.
In addition, the Spirit has no familial relationship to Christians. God is our Father and Christ is our Elder Brother. Paul says "Jerusalem above . . . is the mother of us all" (Galatians 4:26). The Spirit, though, is not a person but a gift of God, the mind and power of God working in and through us (II Timothy 1:7).
Finally, the history of the trinity doctrine is open knowledge. The true church never accepted the idea, and even the false church did not embrace it until three centuries after Christ! Even then, it was only accepted as a political concession to the Roman emperor, Constantine. Add these facts to its absence in the Scripture, and it is no wonder the Catholics and Protestants call it a mystery!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Lying to the Holy Spirit
Hitchcock's Bible Name Dictionary mentions that the name "Berea" represents something that is heavy or weighty. Even the city's name hints at a vastly different nature than that described in Matthew 23:23, where Christ condemns the Pharisees for neglecting the weightier matters of God's law. The Berean's example was a balanced one in that they separated themselves from the world around them yet still influenced the conversion of others. The Pharisees' strictness, while perhaps technically correct, lacked the love and concern that the Bereans embraced as a way of life toward God and others.
The people of Berea certainly placed great importance on their belief system, but also strived to see the balance of things so that even those of other cultures and religions could see the fruit produced in their lives. Hypocrisy does not seem to be a problem that hindered this faithful but open-minded people.
The Bereans were a unique people with a strong desire to follow God's truth. They combined genuine character with zeal to lead and live by example and by the whole Word of God. Their search for the truth did not rely just on the accepted sources of their time but also on the words and actions of those shown to be credible leaders of God's people. Once this was evident, their lives became living examples that others around them could emulate. Their lives began to show fruitful "works" that centered on God and his truth.
A final intriguing factor unique to the city of Berea is that it was known for the many streams of water that flow through it. As we know, water symbolizes several Christian ideas, among them baptism and the Holy Spirit being most recognized. Water is critical to the survival of a town and its inhabitants, just as the Holy Spirit is to those within the body of Christ.
In John 4:13-14, Christ speaks of this to the Samaritan woman at the well. He tells her of the living waters, His Holy Spirit, that would soon become a part of a person's life if he believed. Once converted, God's elect soon understood this living water to be as important to spiritual survival as drinking water is to physical survival. Jesus says, "Whoever drinks of this water [from Jacob's well (verse 6)] 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" (verses 13-14).
Not only Berea's name but also the city's physical attributes have spiritual connotations. That the city is well-watered symbolizes the relationship between the Berean's faith and flow of God's Holy Spirit through their lives on a daily basis. This, too, should be a good reminder to us to partake of a daily diet of God's Holy Spirit through study, meditation, and prayer.
The Berean Example
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