Thirsting after God

“He leadeth me beside the still waters.” —Psalm 23:2

WATER is used in the Scriptures as a symbol of refreshing truth concerning God and his plan for us as Christians, and for all mankind. The green pastures of the shepherd psalm nourish and sustain, while the still waters refresh. Both are symbols of the truth, and both emphasize the vital necessity of knowing the truth in order to be spiritually healthy and vigorous as new creatures in Christ Jesus. The truth of the divine plan serves both as food and drink for the Christian, each representing the benefits of the truth in its own appropriate manner. The still waters of the psalm seem to portray more particularly the thought that by means of the truth we are refreshed by knowing and feeling an intimate and personal relationship with God, which produces a peace and tranquility of soul implied in the revised text, “waters of quietness.”

In another psalm David wrote, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42:1,2) And again: “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is.” (Ps. 63:1) In these two beautifully phrased longings of the soul, David indicates his thirst after God, and in the shepherd psalm he exults in the fact that the Chief Shepherd does lead him beside the still waters of truth, and that he is thereby refreshed by the knowledge of God.

Water was not plentiful in that near-desert country where David tended his father’s sheep. Therefore it was necessary for the shepherd to know where water could be found, and to lead the sheep to these places of refreshment, else they would perish. It was, as the psalmist expressed it, a dry and thirsty land—or as the margin states, a “weary land without water.” This was true of much of the land of Palestine, and it is symbolically true of conditions throughout the world and in worldly churches—Babylon. God’s sheep, his true people, find no refreshing truth anywhere in the world. They must be led by the Good Shepherd to the fountains of still waters.

But first, like David, they must realize their need. They must discover the dryness of the land, and become truly thirsty for the living waters. Jesus said, “Blessed are they which … thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:6) Once we realize the arid conditions of the world by which we are surrounded, we will listen carefully for the voice of the shepherd in order that we might be led to the refreshing waters.

More than Sentiment

There are millions of people throughout the earth who, in one degree or another, long to know God and to serve him. This is natural, for man was created in the image of God and endowed with a desire to worship his Creator. Through the centuries, this attitude of worship has been largely effaced in the majority of people, and in others, grossly distorted. To many, the experience of knowing and serving God is merely an emotional feeling. With these, the matter of understanding the doctrines of the divine plan as set forth in the Scriptures is of little importance. Whether they believe that the wages of sin is death or eternal torture seems to be of no special concern so long as emotionally they imagine that they feel near to God.

But this is not what the psalmist had in mind when he wrote concerning his thirsting after God. To him, drinking of the still waters to which the shepherd led him was more than an emotional ecstasy. After crying out, “My soul thirsteth for thee … in a dry and thirsty land,” David continued, “to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.”—Ps. 63:1-3

Here we have the sum of the matter—to see God’s power and glory as it is represented in the sanctuary; that is, in the Most Holy of the Tabernacle. How may one know of God’s power and glory, and be refreshed by that knowledge? It was David again who wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech and night unto night showeth knowledge.” (Ps. 19:1,2) Truly we can see in the heavens a marvelous demonstration of the power and glory of God, but the heavens do not explain the relationship of the Creator to his people. The plan of God cannot be read from the stars.

David knew this, and while he delighted in this heavenly display of God’s glory, he rejoiced still more in the thought that “the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” (Ps. 19:7-9) The law, the testimony, the statutes, the commandments, and the judgments of the Lord are his expressed will for his people—his plan for them and through them for the blessing of all mankind. It is these that delighted David’s soul even more than the display of God’s glory which nightly was spread out before him in the heavens.

Truth Limited in David’s Time

The psalmist realized that his study of the heavens would not provide an intimate knowledge of God, and he knew also that there were great truths of the divine plan which the Creator at that time had not revealed to his servants. He rejoiced in the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as given through Moses. He was refreshed by the testimony of the Lord as recorded by the prophets who went before him, but he knew there was a depth of meaning to that testimony which he had not been able to reach. The apostle tells us that the prophets did not understand the things which they wrote, for they were written for our admonition and enlightenment upon whom “the ends of the ages” have come.—I Pet. 1:12; I Cor. 10:11, Diaglott; Rom. 15:4

It was not until the beginning of the Gospel Age that the plans and purposes of God began to open up in a manner to reveal the fullness of his glory and power. Jesus brought “life and immortality to light through the Gospel,” the apostle tells us; and Paul speaks of the mystery which had been hidden from ages and from generations, but is now made known to the saints. (II Tim. 1:12; Col. 1:26,27) God’s glory was revealed through Jesus, the living Word of truth, and the mighty power of God was displayed as never before in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.—Eph. 1:17-20

The testimony of the Lord, spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets, held out the hope of a coming Messiah, but not until the beginning of the Gospel Age did the people of God learn that the Christ was not one member, but many. (Acts 3:21, I Cor. 12:12) David knew and wrote that when God created man he crowned him with glory and honor, but this, as Paul informs us, was merely the terrestrial, or earthly glory. (Ps. 8:3-9; I Cor. 15:40) David did not know that the Christ, both Head and body, was to partake of the glory of God, the celestial glory. Not knowing this precious truth pertaining to the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” David did not comprehend the power and glory of God as it is our privilege to do. (Phil. 3:14) He rejoiced in, and was refreshed by the still waters of truth to the extent that the plan of God was due to be understood at that time, but those still waters were not nearly so refreshing as they are today.

Knowing God through Present Truth

The opening of the Gospel Age marked a great advance in the unfolding of the divine plan for the refreshment of God’s people, but the Lord promised that the end of the age would witness a still further revealing of the mysteries of God in order that his people in this time of great need might be refreshed by an understanding of the wisdom, justice, love and power of God such as had never before been vouchsafed to his people. It was to be a time when the wise would understand; when brethren would not be in darkness; when meat in due season would be served to them; yes, a time when the words of the prophet would be fulfilled, “Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days.”—I Thess. 5:14; Luke 12:42; Dan. 12:10,12

How soul-satisfying indeed is the knowledge of God that has come to us through present truth! (II Pet. 1:12) The nominal church world today is more arid of the refreshing waters of truth than ever before; but the Good Shepherd has led us beside the still waters of truth which reveal God’s glory in a manner and to a degree that truly satisfies. Now the whole plan of God as it centers in Christ Jesus can be understood. And how wonderfully it reveals God’s glory! The glory of God is made up of the sum total of his attributes of wisdom, justice, love, and power, and never before have these attributes of God been so clearly understood as they are today through the aid of present truth.

The creative work of God shows forth his power. So do the resurrection of Jesus and the church, and the promised resurrection of all mankind. The sentence of death upon Adam and the race in Adam shows forth God’s justice, as does also the ransom feature of his plan. God’s love is revealed in the gift of his Son to be man’s redeemer, and in all the gracious provisions he has made for both the church and the world. God’s wisdom is displayed in every marvelous detail of his plan for the redemption and restoration of fallen man—in the permission of evil; in the arrangement whereby one man could redeem the entire race; in the foretold increase of knowledge at the end of this age by which the old world is destroyed in preparation for the new; and in the exact timing of every feature of his plan.

In all of these truths is displayed the glory of God. It was David’s longing to understand these things that constituted the great thirst of his soul. David wanted to know God as he believed him to be revealed in the sanctuary—the Most Holy of the Tabernacle. In the typical Most Holy there is a wonderful illustration of the four cardinal attributes of God’s glory. The Mercy Seat, which covered the Ark of the Testimony, is where the blood of the typical sacrifices of the bullock and the goat was sprinkled. The sprinkling of the blood pictured the satisfaction of justice. The Mercy Seat therefore represented justice.

Overshadowing the Mercy Seat were the two cherubim with outstretched wings looking toward the Mercy Seat as though waiting until the blood was sprinkled before flying to take the glad tidings of justice satisfied to the people. These beautifully depict love and power as they operate for the blessing of the people when the work of atonement is complete and Christ appears in the presence of God, first for the church, and later for the world.

There was a miraculous light which constantly appeared over the Mercy Seat, and between the cherubim. Light symbolizes understanding or knowledge, and may, together with the Ark and its contents, represent the fourth attribute of God’s character—his wisdom. Thus in the typical sanctuary is revealed the glory of God, the glory of his character of wisdom, justice, love, and power.

The Truth Satisfies

All of the glorious attributes of God’s character are revealed to us through present truth. And how satisfying are these still waters of refreshing knowledge of God! Yes, they satisfy our longings as nothing else could do. Through the truth and the application of the truth in our lives, we know God. We see his glory, and rejoice in it. Knowing him gives us confidence and strength, for we are assured that he is willing and abundantly able to do for us more than we can reasonably think or ask; and that no good thing will he withhold from us as long as we walk uprightly, following the voice of the Good Shepherd.—Ps. 84:11

And there is a special significance, we think, in the assurance that the symbolic waters of knowledge of which we are privileged to drink are still—not a fast-running stream which dashes headlong over rocks in uncertain spurts and whirls, as does the ordinary mountain stream. In such streams, especially as they reach the lowlands, there are still places to be found, deep pools or ponds, where the water scarcely seems to move. It is to these that the trained shepherd leads the sheep, because here they can safely drink and be satisfied.

The truth is just like these pools of still waters. If we can imagine a sheep trying to drink from a brook at a place where it is dashing over rocks in a whirl of foam, we can get the picture of the Lord’s people vainly trying to refresh their souls with the uncertain and ever changing theories of men. And yet, at times, false shepherds lead God’s sheep to just such places to drink. They expect the sheep to drink and be refreshed by truth, or new light, which changes so rapidly that they are bewildered and confused. In such cases the sheep are restricted in their drinking to the foam of human speculation. It may appear bright and exciting, but it fails to satisfy.

In contrast, the Good Shepherd leads the sheep to the still waters where they can drink, and where their thirsting souls are quenched. The real truth is still, it is settled. It was the truth yesterday; it is the truth today, and it will be the truth tomorrow, and forever. We drink of this deep, refreshing fountain of knowledge over and over again. Having followed the Good Shepherd to this refreshing pool, we remain with him at the pool that we may continue to be refreshed.

But the still waters of present truth are not stagnant. The illustration gives us the proper thought, for the still waters of the stream are still merely in contrast with the rushing torrent which tumbles down over the mountainside. These still waters are deep, and they are continually renewed and kept fresh. So is the Word of God. It is new every morning, and fresh every night. Just so, there is progress in the truth—a wholesome, refreshing progress—but it is the same pool from which we drink; and the water from that pool ever remains the pure doctrines of the divine plan.

Jesus Gives Living Waters

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads the sheep of this Gospel Age to the still waters of truth which reveal the true knowledge of God. Jesus said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37,38) Jesus knew that in his day, even as in the time of David, there were those who were thirsting after righteousness, after truth, after life, and after God, who is the fountain of all these. As the Good Shepherd, he invited all such to come to him, assuring them that only in this way could their thirst be assuaged and their souls satisfied.

Jesus said that those who believed would not only be given water to drink, but that out of their bellies would flow rivers of life-giving water. This would be the blessing of those who believe, Jesus said. Thus, in turning from metaphor to plain speech, we see that drinking of the still waters to which the Good Shepherd leads us is a matter of believing on him, and of course, believing the whole plan of God of which he is the center and foundation. And how understandable this is! Surely it would do no good to be led beside the still waters if we did not drink of those waters. By the same token, it is of little value to know about Jesus and about the divine plan of the ages unless we believe and act upon our belief by conforming our lives thereto.

And in this connection, Jesus takes the thought a step further by saying of those who do drink, or believe, that out of their bellies shall flow living waters. John states that this further explanation of the matter had reference to the effect of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. The Holy Spirit had not been given at that time, John reminds us, but later it did come upon the waiting disciples at Pentecost, and has blessed all true believers since.—John 7:38,39

It is well to ponder these words of the Master carefully, and note what he actually says. He emphasizes not only the refreshment of those who come to him to drink, but shows that, in addition, they in turn become fountains of living water. It is not through carelessness of expression that he says these living waters of truth were to flow out of the bellies of believers, instead of into their bellies. True, there must first be the inward flow; but one who is truly refreshed himself by this life-giving water will automatically become a fountain of truth for the blessing of others.

As John explains, this is the real evidence of a Spirit-filled life. Some have erroneously imagined that they can live nearer to God, know him better, and be more spiritual when living measurably by themselves. But true spirituality is not found in a monastery, nor in isolation of any kind. The truly spiritual will not be thinking first of themselves, but of others. They will realize that the refreshing waters of truth will be most stimulating to them when flowing out of their lives to refresh the lives of others. We have a good illustration of this in the Pentecostal experience of those early disciples. When the Spirit of God was poured out upon them, they at once began to bear witness to the truth. It rejoiced their hearts and loosened their tongues, and as Jesus foretold would be the case, living waters of truth began to flow out from their lives to refresh and bless others.

The people of God have been the channels of this living water of truth throughout the entire age. Jehovah, the Chief Shepherd, is the original fountain of truth. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was the one through whom the Chief Shepherd spoke at the beginning of the age. Then he became the main fountain of truth and life. (Heb. 1:2) He passed the water of truth on to his apostles, and they in turn to the Early Church, and through their writings to the entire church. And every true believer, to the extent of opportunity and ability, has been a fountain of living water, having first drunk deeply from the original fountain.

“Wells of Salvation”

When Jesus explained that those who believed on him would become fountains of living water, he cited the Old Testament as authority for his statement. He was evidently alluding to Isaiah 12:3, which reads, “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” This is a promise made to fleshly Israel. The context indicates that its fulfillment would take place following the return of God’s favor to them; that is, during the time of Christ’s kingdom. The promise does not state that they would become wells of salvation, but that they would obtain water from such wells.

Inasmuch as Jesus referred to this promise and said that those who believed on him would become fountains of living water, it is evident that in the divine arrangement they are to be the wells of salvation from which natural Israel and all the world will obtain life during the age to come. This agrees with Romans 11:26, which declares, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” In this arrangement also we see the glory of God reflected. Considering the great sin of Israel, and that he cast them off because of their unbelief, it is truly a wonderful manifestation of God’s love. Paul understood it this way, and wrote, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”—Rom. 11:33

Yes, the still waters of truth are indeed deep. We will never be able to drink from the full depth of this unlimited fountain of wisdom and knowledge. We drink as deeply as we can now, and are refreshed. Our souls rejoice because our thirst is quenched—we have found God—the while also, we pour out these living waters of truth that others may be blessed, even as our hearts have been made glad. But because of human limitations, our understanding and appreciation of the truth are far short of what we desire. For the same reason, our efforts to pass on a knowledge of the truth to others are puny, and generally speaking, ineffective.

But, if we continue faithful, it will not always be thus. We will, as David suggests, bless God as best we can while we live. We will now lift up our hands in his praise; but by-and-by, when we enter into his actual presence, we will know him, and will be able to serve him perfectly. What rejoicing that will be! Then, too, we will be actual wells of salvation from which Israel and all the world will draw their supplies of living water. Yes, through Christ and the church, the whole world will learn to know God; and those who respond to this knowledge in grateful and obedient service will be given everlasting life. Thus will the Good Shepherd also lead his other sheep, which are not of this Gospel Age fold, to the still waters of life and truth.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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