Pool Party

Springs, Wells, and Streams

Springs (also called Fountains)

Judges 1:8-15, Caleb gives springs to his daughter Achsah

1 Samuel 29:1-11, The Philistines encamp by a spring

Nehemiah 2:11-18, 3:13-15, Nehemiah uses springs as landmarks in Jerusalem

Isaiah 35:1-10, God's coming will cause springs to arise in the desert

James 3:1-12, James compares speech to springs

Wells - Meeting Places

Genesis 16:1-16, The angel of the LORD and Hagar

Genesis 21:22-34, Abraham and Abimelech

Genesis 24:1-20, Abraham's servant and Rebecca

Genesis 29:1-14, Jacob and Rachel

Exodus 2:11-22, Moses and Zipporah

Streams, Brooks, and Rivers

Numbers 21:10-18, The Arnon. Note: Oboth means (water)skins

2 Kings 5:1-14, The Jordan, Abana, and Pharpar Rivers

Jeremiah 46:1-12, The Euphrates

Psalm 137:1-9, The rivers of Babylon

Isaiah 19:1-15, The river of Egypt (the Nile)

Deuteronomy 2:1-9, 13-15, The Zered

Deuteronomy 3:16, Judges 11:12-24, The Jabbok

Judges 4:1-13, 5:1, 20-21, The Kishon

1 Samuel 30:1-25, The Besor

1 Kings 17:1-16, The Cherith or Kerith

Pools, Seas, and Other Waters

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Judges 1:8-15, Caleb gives springs to his daughter Achsah (07/24/23)

It's hot - too hot to study. Let's just hike along the stream, swim in the lake, take a dip in the river, or jump into the municipal pool. Along the way, we'll see that the people of God have always been interested in water.

A city woman once came to visit my grandparents on their farm in Ladd Canyon, in Eastern Oregon. Their drinking water came from a clear, pure spring. The city woman was shocked and appalled to learn that they drank water that had come out of the ground! Well, boys and girls, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but unless you stand in the rain with your mouth open, your drinking water has spent some time in the ground. And except for streams that arise from glaciers or sudden rain storms, most surface water arises from springs.

You probably remember Caleb as one of the twelve men Moses sent to spy out the promised land. When they returned, he and Joshua were the only ones who said, "This is a great place, and God will give it to us! Let's go!" (The other ten said, "Aiiee! We're scared!"; Numbers 13:25-14:9.) It's not a coincidence that only Caleb and Joshua, of all the adult men who came out of Egypt, survived to enter the promised land 40 years later. When his daughter Achsah marries his nephew Othniel, Caleb gives them some springs to go along with their land.

1 Samuel 29:1-11, The Philistines encamp by a spring (07/25/23)

Here's a cool fact: In Hebrew, 'ayin means eye, but it's also a word for fountain or spring, because they are the eye of the landscape. Isn't that lovely? Whether you see fountain or spring depends on your translation.

The Philistines and the Hebrews engaged in border skirmishes and battles just about whenever they ran into each other. While David was on the run from Saul, he spent about a year and a half with Achish, who was the king of Gath, one of the Philistine cities. Achish is pleased with him, but the other Philistine rulers don't trust his allegiance during a forthcoming battle with the Hebrews led by Saul. (To be fair, they were probably justified. Whenever Achish had his back turned, David and his men would raid various Amalekite and Geshurite villages and then tell Achish that the spoil came from raids in Judah (1 Samuel 27:8-12).)

Anyway, the Hebrews encamp at the spring of Jezreel before a hard-fought battle that results in the deaths of Saul and his sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malki Shua. Although it's impossible to know what would have happened had David been there, we do know that he would never lift his hand against Saul, and Jonathan was his best friend.

Nehemiah 2:11-18, 3:13-15, Nehemiah uses springs as landmarks in Jerusalem (07/26/23)

As you know, when we do a topical study like "Pool Party," it gives us the opportunity to read passages that may be unfamiliar to us. Yesterday we read about an incident in the early history of the kingdom of Israel, and today we're reading about an incident that occurred several hundred years later, after the Jews began to return from the exile in Babylon.

The Babylonians had sacked the city of Jerusalem and razed the temple and the walls. Ezra led the effort to reconstruct the temple just a couple of years after the Jews started coming back. Some decades later, Nehemiah receives permission from King Artaxerxes to return to Judah and see about rebuilding the walls and gates (2:1-6). In describing the survey that he makes and the portions of the work carried out by various teams, Nehemiah uses springs, fountains, streams, and pools as landmarks. We can imagine that most of the buildings and streets were in ruins, but the waters remained constant.

Isaiah 35:1-10, God's coming will cause springs to arise in the desert (07/27/23)

Albuquerque is in the desert, but even for the desert, it's dry: we've had a total of 1.8 inches of precipitation this year. Even worse, this is theoretically our rainy season, and we haven't seen a drop in two months. We would be astonished, amazed, delighted, and grateful if our dry earth suddenly gave forth springs of waters. This is what Isaiah says the coming of God will be like.

James 3:1-12, James compares speech to springs (07/28/23)

Back in vs. 1:19, James gives the outline of his letter: be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Here in Ch. 3, he expands on being slow to speak. Mostly he is saying how much trouble we can get into by careless speech, which we all know and mostly ignore. James compares speech to springs. Remember the clear, pure spring on my grandparents' farm? Would you expect to go out one morning and find salt water? Let our speech be such that people come to expect clear, pure words, and not the poisons of bitterness or curses.

Genesis 16:1-16, The angel of the LORD and Hagar (07/31/23)

In your travels through the countryside, have you ever gone into a small-town restaurant for breakfast? There you saw a group of guys who get together every day for breakfast, or at least coffee, right? In the Bible, a well is the equivalent of a small-town coffee shop. It's where you meet people, both regulars and strangers, and get something to drink.

The difference between a spring and a well is that springs flow up out of the ground on their own, and wells have to be dug. Maybe a better Hebrew scholar than I am (which wouldn't take much) could tell you why the words are translated more-or-less interchangeably between versions. Anyway, the angel of the LORD meets Hagar, Sarah's runaway servant girl, at a well, which she calls "Beer-lahai-roi," that is, "Well-of a living one-my seer." "Ishmael" means "God will listen." Remember that the formula "called X because Y" either describes an event or means that X sounds like Y in Hebrew.

Genesis 21:22-34, Abraham and Abimelech (08/01/23)

Abimelech was the king of Gerar, a Philistine town in what is now south-central Israel. Abraham was living in the vicinity and dug a well there. Some of Abimelech's people have seized the well, but when Abraham reports this, Abimelech says he knows nothing about it (quite possibly true). The two of them make a covenant, which is sort of contract, stipulating that the well belongs to Abraham. The place is called "Beersheba," or "well of an oath."

Genesis 24:1-20, Abraham's servant and Rebecca (08/02/23)

Abraham knows very well that if Isaac marries a Canaanite woman, he'll start worshiping the Canaanite gods, which would be a catastrophe for God's plan. (If you don't believe that, just read Samuel and Kings, especially 1 Kings 11:1-10.) Abraham calls his chief servant and sends him back to the old country to get Isaac a bride. By now, we are not the least bit surprised to learn that when the servant gets to town, the first place he goes is the well, where he meets Rebekah.

Genesis 29:1-14, Jacob and Rachel (08/03/23)

Sometimes when I read the Bible I wonder about the untold backstory. Why couldn't the shepherds whose flocks were at the well water them? Where were the other shepherds? For that matter, how many other shepherds were expected? What was the reaction of the shepherds when Jacob, a stranger, ignores the local custom and waters Rachel's flock? Inquiring minds want to know.

Here's an important point about biblical study: if it doesn't say, you are allowed to think what you want to think, and other people have the same privilege. If it doesn't say, the question isn't important to salvation. If it doesn't say, then you certainly aren't allowed to argue about it! What you do need to do is read your Bible thoroughly enough that you know what it says and what it doesn't say.

Exodus 2:11-22, Moses and Zipporah (08/04/23)

Of course Moses meets his future bride at a well. Where else? Something I only noticed recently is that Zipporah and her sisters describe Moses as "an Egyptian." I've been doing serious Bible study since 1979 - 44 years! - and I'm always learning something new. Don't let me hear you say, "Oh, I already read [any Bible book]. Read it again! By the way, "Gershom" sounds like gare/stranger and garash/cast out. The Hebrews don't respect him, Pharaoh wants to kill him, and he's run away to another country. No wonder he feels like a stranger in a strange land.

Numbers 21:10-18, The Arnon. Note: Oboth means (water)skins (08/07/23)

We're going to take a whirlwind tour of a dozen or so rivers in the next two weeks, so hang onto our map and index. Notice that, like all sensible desert travelers, the Israelites are moving from watering place to watering place. Unfortunately, the precise location of Oboth - which means (water)skins - doesn't seem to be known, but the Israelites are heading north out of the Sinai. I think we can safely assume it was (a) some kind of oasis or spring, from the name, and (b) somewhere to the south or southeast of the Zered Valley, since that was their next stop. According to this map here, the Zered River comes in from the east to the southern tip of the Dead Sea. The Arnon River also comes in from the east to the Dead Sea, and you can locate it on both maps - it runs right along the boundary between 4E and 4F near the southeast corner of our map. The Arnon is the northern boundary of Moab.

I like their song: "O Beer/Well! What a great well! Important people dug this well! What a gift!"

2 Kings 5:1-14, The Jordan, Abana, and Pharpar Rivers (08/08/23)

Have you ever left a message for a doctor about a serious condition, only to have the nurse call you and say you should take two aspirin and call for an appointment? If so, you can understand Naaman's indignation when Elisha sends his servant to tell Naaman to wash in the Jordan. "What? I'm an important man! We've got rivers at home! Who does this Elisha think he is, anyway?" Fortunately, cooler heads prevail, and Naaman is cured. Damascus is northeast of Israel, and you can see the city and the River Pharpar up in the very northeast corner of our map, in 5A and 5B. I don't see the Abana; it's apparently the modern Barada R., north of Damascus, like most of Aram, which is Syria. The Jordan, of course, arises north of the Sea of Galilee and flows south to the Dead Sea.

Jeremiah 46:1-12, The Euphrates (08/09/23)

The Euphrates is the longest river in Western Asia, arising in modern Turkey, flowing across the width of Syria and the length of modern Iraq, and ultimately discharging into the Persian Gulf. Along with the Tigris, it's what makes the Fertile Crescent fertile. Modern Iraq is located in roughly same area as ancient Babylonia, although Egypt has always been Egypt.

At the time of Jeremiah, Carchemish was located on the western bank of the Euphrates, near the border of modern Turkey and Syria. Judah was a vassal state of Egypt, and Babylonia was looking to take over the world. The baby-talk history is that the Babylonians defeated the Neo-Assyrians, the Egyptians took offense and came north spoiling for a fight, and the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish. This battle is what Jeremiah is talking about in today's passage.

Psalm 137:1-9, The rivers of Babylon (08/10/23)

After the battle of Carchemish, the Babylonians moved south and seized Judah as its own vassal state, replacing the Egyptians as overlords. The Jews, always a stiff-necked bunch, rebelled a couple of times. Finally the Babylonians came in force, besieged Jerusalem for three years, razed the city, destroyed the temple and walls, and took everybody into exile in Babylon. The Hebrew text of Psalm 137 talks about the "rivers" of Babylon, but some translations have "waters," and I like that better, so here you go. Since it's a song, talking about songs, I found you a musical version. In the round, you can almost see the waters of Babylon flowing past the exiled Hebrews sitting on the banks of foreign rivers.

Isaiah 19:1-15, The river of Egypt (the Nile) (08/11/23)

Here's a fun fact: the Nile River is never called the "Nile" in the whole Bible! It's called "the river of Egypt" or just "the river," when it's clear that we're talking about the one in Egypt. That makes sense, because Egypt only has one river.

Apparently "Nile" comes from a Greek word, Neilos, not a Hebrew or Egyptian word, but the Greek word also doesn't seem to appear in the Greek Old Testament. I think the reason we see "Nile" in English is that English speakers know about lots of rivers all over the world; which one is "the river"?*

Another reason for calling it "the river" is that all Egyptian agriculture, fisheries, and industry - almost life itself - depends on the waters of the Nile. Not surprisingly, there was a Nile god, that that's the connection between the threats to the false gods of Egypt (vss. 1-4) and the threats to the Nile (vss. 5-10).

*Obviously, the Columbia River, which is the one I grew up on!

Deuteronomy 2:1-9, 13-15, The Zered (08/14/23)

Now that all the adult men who came out of Egypt have died (except for Caleb, Joshua, and Moses), the Israelites are finally headed north to the promised land. On the way, they have to cross the Zered Valley. The Zered River flows into the south end of the Dead Sea, so it isn't on our map. According to Wikipedia, it flows year-round even today. In ancient times, the Zered was the boundary between Edom, or Seir, to the south, and Moab, to the north. Notice that Israelites are not to conquer any of the lands of the descendants of Esau and Lot, who are also descendants of Abraham's family. Esau was the brother of Jacob, a.k.a. Israel. Esau's offspring lived in Seir. Lot was Abraham's nephew, and he was the father of the Moabites.

Deuteronomy 3:16, Judges 11:12-24, The Jabbok (08/15/23)

Back in Deuteronomy, the Israelites are still trying to get to the promised land. They had to go around their cousins the Moabites, located roughly between the Zered River on the south and the Arnon on the north. Once they pass the Arnon, they ask to go through the land of the Ammonites, a.k.a. Amorites, who are not related and who worship a god called Chemosh. The Ammonites don't want them to allow them through, so one of the kings, Sihon, comes out for battle and loses. Having won the country between the Arnon and the Jabbok by force of arms, Moses gives it to the tribes of Reuben and Gad. The Arnon River is at the north edge of F4 on our map, and the Jabbok is near the center of D4.

Fast forwarding a few hundred years, the Ammonites come for a fight. A judge, Jephthah, asks, "What's the problem?" They say, "We want all of our land between the Arnon and the Jabbok back. Give it to us without a fight." Jephthah reviews the history with them, and then he says, "You know what? Our God beat your god in a fair fight. So we're keeping what the LORD gave us, and you can keep what Chemosh gave you."

Judges 4:1-13, 5:1, 20-21, The Kishon (08/16/23)

The River Kishon is in Galilee; it enters the Mediterranean near the left center of C3 on our map. Deborah was an early judge and prophetess. The cyclical story of the Book of Judges is this: The Israelites are doing OK under a judge, who dies. The Israelites stop worshiping God. God allows them to be oppressed by their enemies until they repent. You can see these three steps in vss. 1-3. God raises up a charismatic military leader, who throws off the oppressors and leads the people until he or she dies, during which time the Israelites are doing OK again. This last step, "God raises up a charismatic military leader," explains why Barak wouldn't go to war without Deborah. They march out, and the Israelites rout the enemy. The enemy leader, Sisera, escapes and is killed by a woman (not Deborah). Read all about it in Judges 4:17-22.

1 Samuel 30:1-25, The Besor (08/17/23)

If you tried to make a major purchase during COVID, you probably ran up against the problem of interrupted supply chains. David seems to have understood intuitively that the people behind the lines who take care of the supplies are just as important as the people who go out to battle.

While David was staying among the Philistines to keep away from Saul, Achish, the king of Gath, gave a town called Ziklag to David (1 Samuel 27:3-6). We don't know where Ziklag was, except that it was somewhere in the south, in the Negev or Negeb. The Besor, which was a ravine or brook at the time of David, is called Sheriah on our map, and it's located down in E2. Today, according to Wikipedia, the Besor is the only significant source of water in the Gaza Strip.

Here's another socio-political tip from the Bible: When things go wrong, it isn't always the fault of the guy in charge.

1 Kings 17:1-16, The Cherith or Kerith (08/18/23)

King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel was married to a Philistine princess, Jezebel, who was a devout Baalist. Ahab also worshiped Baal and was an all-around bad guy (1 Kings 16:31-33). The great prophet Elijah tells Ahab that there will be a drought for three years, which is not popular, and the LORD tells Elijah to go and hide near the Kerith ravine or brook. We're not sure where it was, except "east of the Jordan." When the brook dries up, the LORD directs Elijah to go to the Philistine town of Zarephath, a.k.a. Sarepta, in Sidon. You can find Sarepta on our map, near the coast, at the top of B3.

Pools, Seas, and Other Waters

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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