As a wife, mother, and grandmother the most disheartening time of any day is the moment I tune the television to any of the major news networks. With all of the tensions, violence, natural disasters and political shenanigans going on it’s a wonder any of us can keep our sanity and wit about us. Even the local news can bring such fear to the human heart. I find myself wondering, “Is there any hope for my children and grandchildren?” My soul can quickly feel parched and dry, thirsting for answers and direction in a world that seems to have gone mad. I am quite sure that I am not alone in that sentiment.
As a Christian – a follower of Jesus the Messiah – I am quick to turn to my faith in Him to find inner peace and calm. Yet, with all of the chaos going on around me I am sometimes perplexed as to where and how to set my priorities day by day. How does one live an orderly and stable life when surrounded by chaos and uncertainty? In such perilous times, is there a spring of “living water” that an individual, parent or grandparent can draw from that will quench the thirsty soul and provide the wisdom one needs to live and love life, let alone lead a precious family?
Again, I turn to my faith for answers. Jesus stated in His many teachings that “whoever drinks the water I will give him will never be thirsty again! On the contrary, the water I give him will become a spring of water inside him, welling up into eternal life!” (John 4:14) “If anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me and drinking! Whoever puts his trust in me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being!” (John 7:37-38)
I’ve known these verses since childhood. They are words of hope and promise. Yet it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I began to seriously ask “what is this ‘living water’ Jesus was speaking about?” I must admit that up to that point in my life my understanding was much more spiritual and mystical rather than practical. I discovered that Jesus was giving, “for those who have ears to hear”, a very practical instruction.
One of the many helpful discoveries I have made about Christ’s teachings is that they contain dozens of Hebrew idioms. An idiom is an expression that finds its home in a particular culture, subculture, field, subject or trade. For example, we have this strange phrase “kicked the bucket” that to most of us Americans means someone has died. Obviously, the literal image is far different than what we as saying through our use of that expression. The same holds true when reading the Bible. Scriptures are full of Hebrew idioms that we are not familiar with in American/Western culture. Unfortunately, this leads to some misunderstandings of some rather important teachings of Jesus and those of His apostles. Often this leads us to spiritualize a concept when in fact it has a very literal meaning. Such is the case with “living water”.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that “living water” is one of several Hebrew idioms for “the Torah”. Yes, the Torah – those first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament. Some misguidedly call this “the Law”, which is a very Greek-based legalistic interpretation. Yet, the Hebrew meaning of “Torah” is much different. Torah means “God’s teachings, instruction, and statutes” that provide His path to blessed and prosperous living. When anyone, Jewish or Christian, turns Torah into “law” the results bring condemnation and death. On the other hand when anyone, Jew or Christian, allows the Torah to instruct them in their daily journey, it brings direction, wisdom and life. The Torah is precisely this “river of living water” that Jesus is speaking of.
Interestingly, when you see the context in which Jesus gives His invitations to come to Him for rivers of living water you discover that He is speaking to Jews. Why would He promise to give them something they already had? The answer to that question is not that difficult. The religious leaders among the Jews in that day had done the same thing many of our religious leaders in Christianity have done today. They had taken the Torah – something God had given to Israel with the intention of providing protection, wisdom and liberty in their daily lives – and turned it into rigid laws and lists of “do’s and don’ts” with all sorts of weighty judgements and condemnations. They adhered to the “letter of the Law” instead of the Spirit of God within the Torah that He intended to serve a far greater and life-giving purpose.
Jesus, when offering “rivers of living water”, was inviting His people to return to the Torah’s original purpose and intent. He knew and understood the Torah in a far different spirit than those who were leading them. He most certainly could claim this, for as John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing made had being. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind…The Word became a human being and lived with us, and we saw his Sh’khinah [glory of His nature & character], the Sh’khinah of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14) By the way, “the Word” and “the Word of God” are also Hebrew idioms for “the Torah”.
This means that if what John said is true, Jesus was the Torah in the flesh, walking among and dwelling with us. He most certainly understood the Spirit within the Torah, because it is His Spirit!
This would also be why He emphatically stated, “Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete. Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud ( י ) or a stroke will pass from the Torah — not until everything that must happen has happened. So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot [instructions, commandments] and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness is far greater than that of the Torah-teachers [scribes] and P’rushim [Pharisees], you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:17-20)
What does this mean for us today? More than most of us have previously dared to think! If we believe the teachings of Jesus to be true and that all He declared about Himself to be true, we have some adjustments to make. Jesus, being the Torah or Word of God in the flesh, is not about to abolish or do away with himself! Instead, what He offers to us is a way back to Him…a way back to the lifestyle the Father has given to those who love Him and desire to dwell in His Presence forever. His Words of teaching, instruction and statutes go back to the very beginning of the creation of the earth. He is the Father who loves us, and therefore He gives us the instruction and the corrections that we need to live abundantly. He is not out to condemn or destroy anyone! Should that happen, it is by our own choice, not His desire…and often it is because of the consequence’s our mistaken choices have set into motion. We do reap what we sow.
The only thing that separates us from being able to get our feet back on the right path with Him is our sin… our dishonor of and disobedience to His Word of instruction, teaching and statues. Sin can only be forgiven and forgotten through the blood of a sacrificed innocent, perfect Lamb. The Good News is that Jesus took care of that once and forever! When we ask for forgiveness and place our trust in Him, we are delivered from our sin… but not just to be “saved”. We are delivered so that we can return to the “river of living water” and learn to LIVE again.
The implication for us as individuals, parents, and grandparents is enormous. We do not have to make our best guess in how to live our lives or be clueless in raising our children and grandchildren. God has given us the instruction, teaching and statutes that we need to live abundant, healthy, blessed and prosperous lives. The Torah gives us the lifestyle of His people – the family of God and the citizens of His Kingdom. He promised that in these days, though the life and death of Jesus, He would turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He promised that with this new covenant He would “put my Torah in their minds and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Hebrews 8:8-10; Jeremiah 31:31-33)
Jesus promised, “If you love me, you will keep my commands; and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another comforting Counselor like me, the Spirit of Truth, to be with you forever.”… “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own initiative but will say only what he hears. He will also announce to you the events of the future. He will glorify me, because he will receive from what is mine and announce it to you. Everything the Father has is mine; this is why I said that he receives from what is mine and will announce it to you. (John 14: 15-16 & 16:13-15)
We desperately need the Living Water today. Our children and grandchildren need the Living Water. Without it, they face a world filled with confusing messages and little hope. Will you join me on this journey in the Torah? Will you join me in exploring the teachings, instructions and statutes of Jesus, the Living Word, in the spirit of its intent and purpose…not in legalism? I truly believe that we will find His path to a blessed abundant life for ourselves and our families in His “rivers of Living Water”. May they become a constant “springs of living water” to us all.
Deborah Kaiser Munson June 28, 2016