The above waterfalls are called En Gedi, which are beside the Dead Sea. Among the Israeli sites that guided tours are likely to go to, this is one of the most popular. It’s beautiful, refreshing, and so in contrast to the barren, rocky, foreboding, surrounding land to the weary, walking traveler. Here’s a perfect analogy. If you wanted a child for a decade and had numerous miscarriages, how wonderous would your baby be. This “oasis” in the desert is more gratifying than most oases which are usually stagnant and algae-infested water due to sun exposure.
Jeremiah 2:13, My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Jeremiah 17:13, Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.
Ancient Israel called natural springs “living water.” That’s what Jesus was speaking of to the Samaritan woman, although he used it as an analogy for the work of the Holy Spirit. To contrast living water with what ancient Israel was used to, this is from the Zondervan’s Dictionary of Biblical Imagery:
Cisterns…became necessary…because it did not rain at all throughout…the summer months…rainwater that did fall had to be extracted from…spring and well, or it had to be rescued from runoff by directing it into underground cisterns…. Given the fact that wells were converted to cisterns and cisterns into wells, this terminology remains a bit fluid in the hands of the biblical authors.
Cisterns were a lot of work to create and maintain.
The excavation phase…always left a hole that was broad on the bottom and narrow at the top; in profile the cistern often has the appearance of a bell or bottle. If…dug in porous limestone, water loss was mitigated by plastering the interior. A narrow, covered neck was established…to limit the contamination of dust and dirt…evaporation, and to restrict…sunlight…prevent the growth of algae. Channels were cut in the surface of the earth to direct the water…into the…cistern…because this runoff water would also contain undesirable particles, small basins were built into those channels to slow the flow of water and allow particulate matter to settle out…. Each year when the water level in the cistern dropped, the sediment that collected in the bottom had to be removed; and if plastered, the interior had to be inspected and repaired to prevent leaks.
They couldn’t scientifically test the water for contamination. Only if it “looked bad” would they determine it was. Alcohol purified their water. This was why Paul advised Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23).
I referred in another blog to the inconvenience of living on top of a hill when natural water sources were in the valleys or wadis. This is again in contrast to En Gedi. Compared to the valley surrounding the Dead Sea it’s up quite high.
All these considerations reflect the wonder Jesus spoke of when he offered living water to the Samaritan woman. Of course, with running water from faucets today, we overlook the wonder. The analogy for the work of the Holy Spirit is also something we often take for granted. We tend to attribute the credit to the humans, not to the work of the Lord. But when we think about how much our sin ensnares us, if not for the grace of God, we should never stop being appreciative. The beauty and wonder of this work in our lives is so freeing, restful, and glorious.
I took the above picture in 2002.