Pool Party

Pools, Seas, and Other Waters

Pools - Natural and Man-Made

2 Kings 18:17-22, 18:37-19:1, 19:14-20, 20:20, the Upper pool

Psalm 107:31-43, Pools in the desert

Isaiah 41:17-20; 42:10-16, Pools for the poor

John 5:1-15, Pools for bathing

John 9:1-11, the Pool of Siloam

Seas - Four of them are all the same

Numbers 34:1-12, the Sea of Chinnereth

Luke 5:1-11, the Lake of Gennesaret

Luke 8:22-39, "the lake"

Mark 7:24-37, the Sea of Galilee

John 6:1-21, the Sea of Tiberius

Other Seas

Jeremiah 49:7-22, the Red or Reed Sea

Joshua 15:1-12, the Salt or Dead Sea

1 Kings 7:13-26, a very large brass basin in the temple

Ezekiel 47:1-21, the Great or Mediterranean Sea

2 Corinthians 11:25; Acts 27:1-17, the Great or Mediterranean Sea

Waters can be almost any size or type

Psalm 23:1-6, Still waters

Job 38:1-11, 25-30, 34-38, Flood waters

Psalm 69:1-18, Metaphorical waters

Matthew 3:1-17, Baptismal water

John 4:1-15, Living water

Springs, Wells, and Streams

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The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam, by James Tissot
The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam, by James Tissot. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum and Wikimedia. Public domain in the U.S.

2 Kings 18:17-22, 18:37-19:1, 19:14-20, 20:20, the Upper pool (08/21/23)

When does a pool become a lake, or a lake, a sea? As we dip into these bodies of water, bear in mind that the boundaries are flexible and translations may vary. When we say "pool" in English, it could be anything from a small natural pond to a city swimming pool to a betting pool. The Hebrew and Greek are more specific and, to me, more entertaining. The word berekah/pool in 2 Kings 18:17 comes from barak/kneel, and it means "a reservoir (at which camels kneel as a resting place)." Isn't that neat? Hezekiah brought water into Jerusalem from the upper pool through a tunnel.

Anyway. King Hezekiah was one of the (very few) good kings of Judah. The Assyrians have been so successful against other kingdoms that apparently they decide, "Why fight? We'll just tell Hezekiah how great we are, and he'll give up." (This is known as the "Weird Al Method of warfare.")

So they tell Hezekiah's officers that Hezekiah takes the message to God and says, "LORD God! Do you see what these infidels are saying about you? Please come down and show them you're the best!" And that's what happened. Read all about it in 2 Kings 19:20-37.

Psalm 107:31-43, Pools in the desert (08/22/23)

Our psalm has a different word for pool, actually two words that mean "standing water." Anyone who has lived in the desert knows that a pool, like a spring, is a great blessing, worthy of a hymn of thanks to the LORD.

Isaiah 41:17-20; 42:10-16, Pools for the poor (08/23/23)

Isn't it amazing how pertinent the prophets are to current events? Depending on whom you ask and how you phrase your question, somewhere between a billion and two billion people suffer today from the effects of an inadequate supply of clean, safe water. Naturally the burden falls disproportionately on poor people. It's no surprise that Isaiah says the poor will be blessed with a pool of water, and the LORD's attackers will be punished by having their pools dry up.

Now, just because you have a computer doesn't mean you have safe water, but if you do have safe water, you might consider sharing it through one of the many organizations devoted to helping people around the world improve their water supplies.

John 5:1-15, Pools for bathing (08/24/23)

John's word for kolumbethra/pool comes from kolumbao/dive, so the New Testament pools in Jerusalem are specifically for bathing or swimming. (By the way, kolumbao/dive comes in turn from kolumbos/diver. Do you suppose the sailors working for Christopher Columbus knew that?)

Check your paper Bible. Does it have this verse?
5:4 [Sometimes an angel of the Lord came down to the pool and shook the water. After this, the first person to go into the pool was healed from any sickness he had. ]
That verse is not in the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament; John didn't write it. As near as I can tell, it first appeared around the fifth century. By that time, most Christians lived in other places, and they didn't know the story about the angel who came down and stirred the water in a pool in faraway Jerusalem. They were saying, "What? Why was the sick man even trying to get to the water?" So some scribe who knew the story decided, reasonably enough, to stick in this little explanation. That's called a "gloss," and sometimes translation teams decide to leave the ancient glosses in, and sometimes they decide to take them out. I'm unaware of any glosses that make a difference to God's plan for salvation, so it isn't anything to worry about.

John 9:1-11, the Pool of Siloam (08/25/23)

Do you remember Mark 2:8-10 (and Matthew 9:4-6)? Jesus heals a paralytic, saying to the grumbling scribes, "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - he then said to the paralytic -"Rise, pick up your bed and go home." It's pretty clear in that case that Jesus is not attributing the man's paralysis to sin, he's using his cure of the man's paralysis to make a point about his own authority to forgive sin.

Now, I'm in the minority here, but I read John 9:3-5 exactly the same way. The first manuscripts of the New Testament had no punctuation, and I would punctuate differently from most translations: "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents. But that the works of God might be displayed in him, we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day. Night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." With this punctuation, Jesus isn't attributing the man's blindness to sin, he's using his cure of the man's blindness to make the point that he is the light of the world.

Anyway, the blind man went down to the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, and when he washed the mud out of his eyes, he could see.

Numbers 34:1-12, the Sea of Chinnereth (08/28/23)

Unless a geographic feature has stayed the property of the same ethnic group forever, it's likely to have more than one name. The Bible mentions eight seas and lakes, and four of them are the same body of water. We saw before that brooks or rivers were commonly used as borders, and today we see that seas are used in the same way. The Sea of Chinnereth forms part of the eastern border of the promised land when Moses is telling the Israelites what part of Canaan they are supposed to occupy. And just where is the Sea of Chinnereth, you ask? You probably know it better as the Sea of Galilee, which is sometimes also called a lake.

The Great Sea and the Salt Sea are also part of the border; we'll get to them later.

Luke 5:1-11, the Lake of Gennesaret (08/29/23)

Here's a little note on translations. I was going to use the Weymouth New Testament for the rest of the week, but when I had the emails almost completely set up, I noticed something. Weymouth translates both thalassa/sea and limne/lake as "lake." I figure that this week will be confusing enough without that problem, so I switched to the World English Bible. Have I mentioned lately that you need to have - and read - translations from two different families? (The WEB would probably be considered part of the American Standard Version branch.)

Anyway. Quick! Raise your hand if you know where the Lake of Gennesaret is! You probably know it better as the Sea of Galilee.

Luke 8:22-39, "the lake" (08/30/23)

Whenever the New Testament refers to "the lake," it's the Sea of Galilee. I just learned from Wikipedia that it's the lowest freshwater lake in the world, at about 700 feet below sea level - a number I checked with a couple of independent sites, because another website has a table saying it sits lower than the Dead Sea. That would be odd, because the Jordan River would suddenly start running backwards, from the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee. To be fair, that site also has it at the correct altitude in the text; however, this gives me the opportunity to remind you not to believe everything you read on the web - especially including my stuff!

Anyway, the lake is about 8 x 13 miles, big enough that you can't see the other shore from a fishing boat, and a storm out in the middle is no joke.

Mark 7:24-37, the Sea of Galilee (08/31/23)

Finally! The Sea of Galilee is called the Sea of Galilee! Remember that the Sea of Galilee was one of the original borders of the promised land, under the name of Sea of Chinnereth. In the time of Jesus, it was still a border, now between the region of the Decapolis to the east of the Jordan and Galilee to the west. Today's reading talks about Jesus' only (documented) trip outside of the Jewish regions of Palestine. Tyre and Sidon are on the northern coast.

I added some cool maps to the website, courtesy of fellow-reader Rob. One shows Palestine in NT times; the next one is the same map, showing the travels of Jesus (today's reading is part of the one marked "Fourth Journey"); and the last one is a closeup of today's star, the Sea of Galilee.

Also notice the distinction between a demon-caused illness in the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman, and the ordinary physical ailment of the deaf and mute man. Demons cause illness (not sin), but not all illness.

John 6:1-21, the Sea of Tiberius (09/01/23)

Scholars use a lot of internal clues to date the books of the Bible, and we see one today. The city of Tiberias was founded on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee about 20 A.D., and the lake came to be called the "Sea of Tieberias" late in the first century. That's a good clue that John had to have written his Gospel fairly late, which agrees with many other clues both in the Bible and in the writings of ancient church leaders. This late writing is also the reason that John's Gospel is so different from the other three: the first Gospels didn't say much about Jesus' ministry prior to the imprisonment of John the Baptist or about his ministry in Judea. John wrote his Gospel in part to fill in these gaps, after the others had been in circulation for a while. All four of the Gospels, however, relate the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, and Matthew and Mark also report that Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.

Jeremiah 49:7-22, the Red or Reed Sea (09/04/23)

Did Pharaoh and his army drown in the Reed Sea or the Red Sea? The Hebrew Old Testament has "sea of reed," where "reed" usually refers to papyrus, which is kind of reddish. The Greek Old testament has "red sea," which according to Wikipedia was "a former maritime designation that always included the Gulf of Aden and at times other seas between Arabia Felix and the Horn of Africa." I've also read that it referred to the papyrus-filled wetlands in northern Egypt, so who knows?

Once in a while God sent a prophet to one of the nations, that is, to nations other than the Jews. (Who knows? Maybe they got a lot of prophets of their own and just didn't pay attention to them or record them.) Jeremiah prophesies against Edom, saying (as is usual in prophecy) that they are in trouble with God for their sins. I'm not sure where Teman is, but Bozrah is on the right of our map, just south of the 31 degree line. We aren't sure exactly where the Jews crossed the sea, but the closest proposed point is quite a ways from Bozrah. Jeremiah says the sound of their destruction will be so great that it will be heard at the Reed, or Red, Sea.

Joshua 15:1-12, the Salt or Dead Sea (09/05/23)

The shoreline of the Dead Sea, which the Bible calls the Salt Sea, is the lowest dry land on earth, at about 1,385 feet (420 meters) below sea level. Nothing lives in the Salt Sea but some bacteria tolerant of the its extreme salinity, about ten times that of ocean water. That's nothing to do with the Bible; I just thought it was interesting.

The Salt Sea has turned up in some of our earlier readings as part of a border, and here it is again, forming the entirety of the eastern border of the lands allotted to Judah when Joshua parceled out the promised land among the tribes. The Jordan River comes into the Salt Sea on the northern end. (The western border was the great sea, which we'll come back to in a couple of days.)

1 Kings 7:13-26, a very large brass basin in the temple (09/06/23)

Just to be sure, I checked whether the same word is used here in 1 Kings 7 for the brass sea in Solomon's temple as is used for the great sea, the Red Sea, the Salt Sea, and the Sea of Chinnereth - and it is. You can see why: it's 15 feet across and 7 1/2 feet deep.

Ezekiel 47:1-21, the Great or Mediterranean Sea (09/07/23)

This passage has two seas for the price of one, so if you don't pay attention, you might think it's only one. And of course, visions are naturally confusing. The first sea is the outlet of a river flowing out of the temple in Jerusalem (it's a vision - there isn't actually such a river); through the plain south of the Salt (Dead) Sea, i.e, the Arabah (D-E5), and into the Gulf of Akabah (E4), which is the sea in vss. 8-9. The other sea is the great sea (A-C4), which we call the Mediterranean, and it's real, and it's right where it should be, forming the western border of the promised land.

2 Corinthians 11:25; Acts 27:1-17, the Great or Mediterranean Sea (09/08/23)

This passage from Luke doesn't name the sea that Paul, Luke, and company were sailing on, but we know that it was the great sea, our Mediterranean, because Luke tells us exactly where they left from, where they stopped, and where they didn't stop. When I think about the Mediterranean, the picture in my mind is of sunny, sandy beaches in the south of France (never been there, but that's what I think of). For crew and passengers traveling on a small sailing ship in the fall and winter, it's a whole different picture. Speaking of pictures, I just posted another one of fellow-reader Rob's maps; this one shows the journeys of St. Paul. By comparing the text with the map, you can follow Paul and Luke across the sea.

Psalm 23:1-6, Still waters (09/11/23)

Hurricane Lee is headed up the East Coast of the United States, bringing floods, dangerous surf, and rip currents. What the people there really need is still water, which they aren't going to get for several days. The rest of us often suffer from metaphorical hurricanes - death of a loved one, loss of a job, grave illness - and we need some metaphorical still waters. Fear no evil, for God is with you.

Job 38:1-11, 25-30, 34-38, Flood waters (09/12/23)

For the first 37 chapters of Job, Job complains and demands answers from God, while his friends tell him he deserves everything he got. Finally God answers, saying, roughly, "I'm God, and you're not! Deal with it!" Along the way, God points out that Job has no control over flood waters, whether they come from sea or sky. Three thousand years later, we're still in the same boat. (MWAHAhahahaha!)

Psalm 69:1-18, Metaphorical waters (09/13/23)

Are you having trouble keeping your head above water? Are you in over your head? David sometimes felt that he was sinking in metaphorical waters, too.

Matthew 3:1-17, Baptismal water (09/14/23)

From time immemorial the Jews had used water for both ritual and hygienic cleansing. As far as I know, however, John is the one who came up with the idea of baptism as a sign of repentance. The Church also uses baptism as a sign that a person is a member of the Christian community (or sometimes, a member of a particular congregation of the Christian community). Some pastors insist on immersion; some sprinkle; some will use either method, depending on the circumstances.

Did you know that the Bible does not specify a method for baptism or a particular type of water? Those first come up in a later book called the Didache (which means "teaching"). The Didache says to baptize in "running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit." It also calls for instruction and fasting prior to baptism. Unfortunately, baptism isn't always a sign that you love God and love your neighbor, but John says it should be! The form of baptism doesn't matter, but the heart's intention does.
Reader Question: I had never heard of the Didache (that should come as no surprise to you). What is it?

Answer: Sorry, I should have said what it is. The title in Greek is "Teaching of the Apostles." Who wrote it and when it was written are unknown, but possibly it was put together by a committee sometime around 100-150 A.D., using earlier materials. The first part contains moral instruction, apparently intended for those who were about to be baptized and admitted to the church (sort of like confirmation classes), and the second part is a manual of church order and practice (sort of like the UMC Discipline, but a lot shorter).

John 4:1-15, Living water (09/15/23)

We've come to the end of our pool party, and it's time to go home for the weekend and then get back to work on Monday, when we'll start a new study. Our last metaphorical water is the living water that Jesus gives us, which becomes a well of water springing up to eternal life.

Springs, Wells, and Streams

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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