Holy Scripture presents water full of meaning. It is associated with birth and fertility, suffering and conversion. Throughout the Bible, water is presented as a means of purification and ablution ultimately preparing souls for the indwelling of Divine Life by baptism.
Among the three other elements (fire, earth and air), water is the first to be described as created by God Himself, who grants it to whomever He pleases. Genesis distinguishes “the waters that were under the firmament, from those that were above the firmament” (Gn 1,7). Sometimes rain would fall on earth when “flood-gates from on high” (Is 24,18) were opened, and water would visit the earth with dew that would “continue in [God’s] harvest” (Job 29,19).
It often appears that water is a sign of God’s blessing. It was generously granted to those who were obedient to God’s Law:
“The Lord will open his excellent treasure, the heaven, that it may give rain in due season” while it was deprived from the unfaithful: “I will make to you the heaven above as iron, and the earth as brass” (Deut. 28, 12).
Those who live without God are compared to a dry earth who will soon die (Ps 143, 6) while those who are united to the Almighty are, on the contrary, similar to a flourishing garden that contains the source and origin of Life itself: “Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain of water whose waters shall not fail” (Is 58,11).
As the source of life, God can also use water to inflict punishment upon His people. In the book of Job suffering is compared to the “violence of overflowing waters” (Job 22,11) and Isaiah threatens the river Euphrates “shall overflow all his banks” as God chastises his people for their unfaithfulness (Is 8,7).
Whether used in blessing or chastisement, however, Holy Scripture ultimately uses water for conversion and spiritual regeneration. The washing of hands in Psalm 26, 6 points to a higher innocence, a moral purity and a sinless conscience. The High priest in the Temple also prepared himself for his consecration with purifying water:
“When thou hast washed Aaron and his sons with water, Thou shalt clothe Aaron with his vestments” (Ex 29, 4). Yet all of these purifications were only exterior and unable to purify souls. When Christ comes, however, He perfects regeneration and declares, “Now you are clean by reason of the word, which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you” (Jn 15,3).
Foreshadowing Christ’s Incarnation, God promises Ezekiel an abundance of purifying waters to the faithful, which will clean their hearts and enable them to accomplish His Law in perfection: “I will take you from among the Gentiles, and will gather you together out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. And I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness, and I will cleanse you from all your idols. (Ez 36,24-25).
Jeremiah prophesies that God “will bring them through the torrents of waters in a right way, and they shall not stumble in it” (Jer 31,9).
The city of Jerusalem, when all is accomplished, is compared to an infinite spring, where a large river will flow from the Temple to the Dead Sea. It will bear heath and life on its banks, along with growth of trees and fruits (Ez 47,1-12):
“Every living creature that creepeth whithersoever the torrent shall come shall live: and there shall be fishes in abundance after these waters shall come thither, and they shall be healed, and all things shall live to which the torrent shall come (Ez 47, 9).
Christ, Life Himself come to earth, fulfils the images of water in the Old Testament and presents us with true salvation in Baptism. He is the rock whose side was opened and from which “immediately came out blood and water” (Jn 19, 34).
He is the only one who can quench the thirst of all pilgrims on this earth and He offers this gift to all in prayer and the sacraments. When we are baptised, our souls receive the forgiveness of all our sins, the complete purification of the soul and of the conscience, the “laver of regeneration, and renovation of the Holy Ghost” (Tit 3,5). Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink” (Jn 7, 37). Let us then come to Jesus the true Temple, the source of the river that flows upon the New Jerusalem and slake our thirst in Him.