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Streams of Water

"Streams of water" is a frequent image in Scripture. For example, Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 both describe people who are like trees planted by streams of water. In Psalm 42, David speaks of panting like a deer for streams of water. It's a favorite phrase of Isaiah's, such as:

  • "Waters will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert" (35:6)

  • "I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs" (41:18)

And, now in Isaiah 32:

Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. (verse 2)

Someone once pointed out to me that we Pennsylvania residents have trouble understanding Biblical descriptions of water, and we also may struggle to empathize with present-day world-wide struggles with clean water access. We have it in abundance here, as I look out at my backyard, where the predominant color is green.

For ancient and modern-day Israel, however, water is a vital concern. It is precious and life-giving in a way that those of us who use it freely and constantly don't fully comprehend.

Despite someone who has lived her entire life in the midst of forests, I draw spiritual solace from the desert places--in actual life whenever I have the opportunity to sit quietly and look out at a desert landscape, and also vicariously through others such as the Desert Mothers and Fathers (monastic leaders in Christendom), the Psalmists, and Isaiah.

Isaiah 32 is Messianic, foreshadowing the coming of a great kingdom where all wrongs will be made right. The specific areas being righted are fascinating. The "eyes of those who see will no longer be closed and the ears of those who hear will listen." It's a theme of Isaiah as well as Jesus--the people who think they can see and hear are actually spiritually blind, but some day all will know the Truth. Those who are rash and those who stammer will have healing brought to their minds and tongues. The fool and the scoundrel won't be in charge anymore--and Isaiah focuses at length on the problems with the world as it currently is to make sure we understand how wonderful this upheaval will be.

God is ultimately the one who will bring justice and redeem the world. In Scripture, it is almost always God who directly brings the streams of water in the desert (physically and spiritually). This makes it difficult for some commentary writers and others to see that there is something slightly new being described here. While much of the passage refers to the Messiah, modern translations and translators agree that "each man" or "each one" is the correct translation of Isaiah 32:2. It's a stunning twist--the righteous or noble person can model his or her King and be like a stream of water to others. This is exactly consistent with what Jesus taught. As He said,

'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.' By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive (John 7:38-39).

And, indeed, Isaiah 32 continues on to say that,

The fortress will be abandoned...till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.

Through the Spirit's aid, streams of living water can flow through us and refresh others.

In the blog, Impartial Christian Ministries (, the writer marvels that descriptions that were previously only applied to God are then applied to believers via Christ's teaching in John 7. And, more than that, there are additional descriptors packed into Isaiah 32:2. Through God's Spirit, we can be for others:

  • A shelter from the wind

  • A refuge from the storm

  • Streams of water in the desert

  • The shadow of a great rock in the desert

I know that I have been these things imperfectly for others, as they also have imperfectly been these for me. In our all-too-human minds, the latter takes up so much more of our mental energy than the former. Would that I spent as much time thinking of how I could be a better refuge and life-giving stream to others than bemoaning when they are not acting in this manner toward me! Would that I follow what both Isaiah 32 and John 7 describe and realize that I can't single-handedly do this separate from God's Spirit. I am far too selfish and weak.

Yet, I desperately want to be this for others. As a teacher, as with many in service areas of work, it was much easier to see what this looked like in everyday life. I had a goal that for every student and co-worker who stepped into my office, I wanted to make sure that they left the space more at peace and more refreshed than when they first stepped in. And, many remarked that these efforts were largely successful. I'm in a different phase of life right now, and it's more difficult to see the implementation. I need to see the refreshment as being boundary-less. That space of connection where refreshment can be given can occur anywhere, in any moment that we are in.

Holy Spirit, make me into a shelter from the wind for all who I encounter. May I be a stream in the desert, refreshing others with life-giving water that flows from You. Please use me in your topsy-turvy kingdom even now, as we partner with You to bring forth truth, peace, justice, and compassion.

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