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Happily home from Israel and having gorged on the homegrown tomatoes, squash, and bacon I’d been missing, I reflected on the importance of having something to drink.

Before the trip, we encouraged participants to read James Michener’s The Source, a lengthy historical novel about the various peoples who lived on a single tell in northern Israel. (A tell is an artificial hill created when multiple cities or towns are built atop each other: it’s most commonly what archaeologists in Israel excavate).

Michener named the fictional tell Makor from the Hebrew word for “source,” with a spring near the tell being the root of the name, the source of water (and therefore life) for the town. The spring, and a massive effort to fortify it and build a tunnel from inside the city, were significant elements in the book.

Visiting Israel offers a constant reminder that you can’t live without water: the location of ancient cities was generally determined by the availability of water. While there, we climbed down a steep stairway and walked through a tunnel in Megiddo that was probably the inspiration for Michener’s tunnel. In Hazor, we saw a huge shaft dug in the middle of the town in an effort reach water, and in Caesarea, we saw remnants of above-ground aqueducts that brought fresh water to the seaside city from up to six miles away.

I found special joy in four spots we visited, and in each of them I made a point of drinking from a local spring. At the northern site of Banyas (where Herod Phillip built the Caesarea Philippi of the New Testament), a large spring that feeds the headwaters of the Jordan has inspired nature worship for millenia. On a hot and dusty day, I washed my face in the spring, and drank from it.

I did the same thing near the ruins of ancient Dan, the northernmost city in ancient Israel (where the extent of the land was often described as “from Dan to Beersheba”). A powerful rushing spring that becomes the Dan River emerges from the mountans there and ultimately becomes the Jordan River (Yar-dan in Hebrew), which fills and then exits the Sea of Galilee before emptying in the Dead Sea. Again, I washed my face and drank from the rushing spring’s refreshing waters.

Several days later, on the way back from Masada, we stopped at the ancient oasis of En Gedi, where an amazing spring emerges from the dry mountains of the Judean desert and drops through three waterfalls as it provides water that has sustained desert travelers for as long as people have lived there. After a hot and dusty hike, I knelt beneath the waterfall at the top of the trail and again found refreshment. If it was good enough for David, I thought, it’s good enough for me.

Finally, on a memorable day in Jerusalem we had the chance to walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, an impressive underground channel the King Hezekiah’s engineers cut through solid rock shortly before 701 B.C. The tunnel — about a third of a mile long — connects the Gihon Spring outside of the city with the Pool of Siloam inside the city walls. The spring was then covered and hidden to protect the city’s water supply during a long seige by the Assyrians. The water ran from ankle-deep to above the knee as we walked (often bent over) through the dark tunnel, lit only by the tiny flashlights that came with our tickets. While bent over, despite the fact that there were feet in the water behind me, I drank again, knowing that I’d found refreshment in the same water that has nourished Jerusalem for more than three thousand years.

The tangible act of drinking from springs that have made life possible for so many, for so long, helped me to appreciate in a new way the power of Jesus’ promise recorded in John 4:14: “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Amen.


[For a series of nine posts describing Campbell University Divinity School’s study tour of Israel, scroll down to the nine posts below.]

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