Rivers of Living Water.... From a Belly?
Compared to our English Bibles, when we look at the Bible in the Hebrew or Greek language, we discover that something is missing. Some of you may think I am referring to the chapters and verses but that’s not it. I am thinking of something else and that something is punctuation. There are no periods, commas, semicolons, etc. in the original Hebrew and Greek languages.
To show how punctuation can dramatically change the meaning of a text, read the following note that has been punctuated two different ways. Note that the words are exactly the same.
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy -- will you let me be yours?
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
Amazing how moving a few periods, commas, etc. can change the meaning completely.
I want to share a passage with you and look at it the normal way it is punctuated and then we will look at it punctuated somewhat differently. Secondly, I would like to point out another important key to understanding that same passage and then draw some conclusions.
Here is the passage and it is one that most of you will be very familiar with. It is John 7:37-38. My Bible has it punctuated as follows:
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, 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.”
This passage, supported by the punctuation above, is often interpreted in the following way. If anyone is thirsty they can come to Jesus and drink and as a result, rivers of living water will flow out from the person who drank from Jesus. That seems relatively straightforward though I must confess that I have often wondered where those rivers of living water are when I look at my own life and Christianity at large.
Here is the same passage, using a more current translation and with different punctuation.
“If any man thirst, let him come to me;
and let him drink, who believes in me.
As the scripture said,
from his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
In this version we have a Hebrew parallelism which is something that occurs throughout the Hebrew Old Testament. It is very common Hebrew form of speech. A Hebrew parallelism occurs in a verse when you say the same thing two different ways. For example, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Lamp equates to light and feet equate to path. Basically the message of the first half of the verse is repeated in the second half of the verse using different words. I think most people would agree that Jesus wasn’t speaking Greek when he delivered those words in John 7. Whether he was speaking Hebrew or Aramaic, using a parallelism was a common figure of speech during that time period and culture.
In John 7:37-38 we have the parallelism of “coming to Jesus if you thirst” which would of course imply drinking and “drinking by those who believe.” In essence to come to Jesus means you believe in Jesus’ teachings and of course one who is thirsty certainly would be one who would drink. Based on the parallelism, one who is thirsty and needs a drink would come to Jesus because it is in Jesus that one can find rivers of living water to quench that thirst. You wouldn’t come to Jesus unless of course you believed in him and his teachings. When we punctuate the verse this way and understand it as a Hebrew parallelism, we see that the verse is not saying that the rivers of living water are found in the one who is drinking but instead it suggests that the living waters are in Jesus.
Before we move on I want to point out that I am not trying to suggest that the first understanding of John 7:37-38 is inaccurate. I don’t see this as an “A” or “B” choice but rather I see it as both “A” and “B” being valid.
Why do “living waters” come out of the “belly?”
We will come back to the rivers of living water in a moment but first I would like to focus on another interesting aspect of this passage. The rivers of living water are said to come out of Jesus’ “belly.” What are these “living waters” and why do they come out of the “belly?”
In meditating on this passage today, I was really puzzled by the word “belly.” To be honest, I wasn’t so sure I knew what the “living waters” were either. I sensed that there was more to this than I was conscious of but I couldn’t come up with any explanation that made sense. I made a note in my head that when I finished the meditation I wanted to go and look up the word belly in Greek on my computer and then using a Greek Concordance for the Old Testament, I would also be able to figure out what Hebrew word Jesus would have used for the English word belly. I wasn’t sure but I had a feeling that this process might lead to a better understanding of this passage.
Little did I know that I was in for a surprise. God had already provided the answer before I had come up with the question. I sat down at my computer and opened up my e-mail program. As I write this I have about 190 e-mails on my computer. This morning I was drawn to one particular e-mail that arrived two days ago. I read it when it arrived but I hadn’t done anything with it. It was from Jeff Benner of the Ancient Hebrew Research Center. This morning I felt led to reread that e-mail and in doing so I was led to visit Jeff’s site and and that is how I found my answer.
Jeff points out that there is a big difference between Hebrew and Greek thinking as well as the languages. Greek is far more abstract. Hebrew is much more concrete. Greek thinking is also more dualistic than Hebrew thinking. In Greek the physical and the spiritual are much more separate but in Hebrew, there really is no dualism. The physical and the spiritual are very united. This is one reason you see Jesus constantly use concrete, physical things such as lilies, wheat, tares, pearls and so on to make spiritual points. This principle also shows up in another very interesting way.
In Hebrew, the words for different body parts also carry other meanings. For example, the word for arm in Hebrew is also translated as power. This makes sense in that the arm is a powerful part of the body. Power is a somewhat abstract term but arm is very concrete. Lev, the Hebrew word for heart, is also translated as mind. In North American culture we would associate the mind with the brain and the heart with emotions but that wasn’t the case in the ancient Hebrew culture. Actually, the kidneys were associated with emotions. Life was associated with the stomach. A full stomach was life and an empty stomach was death. We need to remember this when we read the Bible and not interpret things the way we currently understand them in the 21st century.
(A very brief rabbit trail - Apparently our heart contains similar types of cells that are found in our brains so the idea of a “thinking heart” is not as far-fetched as we might “think!”)
So what about “belly?” In Greek it is “koilia.” In a Greek Concordance of the Old Testament we discover the koilia is used to translate a few Hebrew words including “me-eh” which is pronounced may-aw. This word is most often translated as bowels. It is the abdominal cavity where we find the intestines. Jeff Benner states that to the ancient Hebrews, the intestines or the “gut” was the home of the subconscious mind. Today we still talk about a “gut feeling” which is knowledge or intuition that comes from some place beyond the mind. In essence, it arises out of a consciousness beyond the scope of our mind, a consciousness at a deeper level.
Returning to John 7:37-38 and the idea that the “belly” of Jesus is his subconscious mind. What exactly are those who come to him actually seeking? What is it that they are thirsting for? Obviously they want those rivers of living water but what would those rivers of living water actually be?
If the belly of Jesus is his “subconscious mind,” what are the rivers of living water that flow out from his subconscious mind? It would seem that those rivers are rivers of divine knowledge, divine wisdom, infinite intelligence etc. They are the very thoughts of God and as such it is a knowing that surpasses any knowledge that arises out of human intellect. It is supernatural divine intelligence.
I find this concept rather ironic because in a recent mediation, I found myself picturing a stream but it wasn’t water. It was a stream of divine and infinite information passing by me and I had the ability to step into that stream and absorb that which was passing by. Instead of molecules of water, this stream was filled with pure energy made up of swirling molecules of pure intelligence. It contained all the wisdom and knowledge that exists in the universe.
Isaiah 12:3 “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.”
Are you thirsty for a drink from the well of infinite intelligence, from divine consciousness? Interpreting Isaiah 12:3 as an allegory about Jesus, Jesus is the well of God from which the water of salvation flows. I don’t for a minute believe that this salvation is an escape from hell but instead it is a “becoming.” It is you and I “becoming” all that we are destined to be and that is a perfect mirror image of God. It is becoming connected with God or as Jesus put it, it is becoming one with God and one with each other. It is becoming one with the universe.
In Jesus there exists that well that will provide you with the “water” you need to reach this state of awareness or consciousness. It is an awareness or consciousness that exists beyond the consciousness most of us experience day in and day out. However, that leads us to another question. If this is so, “Where can we find Jesus?” becomes a question of paramount importance. Do you have to travel to some ethereal place called heaven where we fill find him sitting on a throne at the right hand of God? If we come to him or believe in him, which really means believe in his teachings, where did he say we need to look to find him including this stream of infinite intelligence and divine consciousness?
I do not think that he ever pointed us to some ethereal place, somewhere out in space. Nor did he tell us that it was not yet available, something for a future time and place. What Jesus did consistently was point us inward. The kingdom of God is within us. God is within us. It is within us that we will find these rivers of living water. If humanity is the temple of God, where else would we expect to find the supernatural wisdom and infinite intelligence of God? Humanity is to be the “Garden” out of which flow life giving waters. The divine consciousness that is God or infinite intelligence that is God or pure energy that is God does not exist somewhere apart from God or outside of God? God is one. God is inseparable. Therefore all that God is must exist within God and yet, if you are the Temple of God, then God must be within you and therefore these rivers of living water are also within you. God is both transcendent and immanent.
John 7:37-38 says that somewhere in the scriptures, they mention these rivers of living water. Though there are passages in Isaiah, Joel and Zechariah for example that may be very relevant, I believe that Ezekiel 47 may be the key passage. I won’t go into detail in this article but despite the fact that many people, both Christian and Jew, believe that there is a temple described in Ezekiel that will ultimately be built in Jerusalem, I would like to suggest to you that this temple Ezekiel describes is in fact, not a man-made temple but instead is a God-made temple. Instead of a literal temple, this is the temple that could be called the body of the Christ. It is the ultimate manifestation of the Christ consciousness, the divine subconscious that John is referencing in John 7:37-38. God is using humanity as his building blocks. It is you and I and the rest of mankind that God is shaping and forming into His “temple.” Though it will require much meditation and study, I believe that it is very possible that all of the details that Ezekiel recorded regarding this temple are in fact allegorical. First, they all point to the Christ manifested in Jesus because the Christ is the ultimate and perfect human expression of God. That said, they also ultimately point to all of mankind as well because it is the destiny of all of humanity to perfectly manifest and express the divinity of God. All of mankind is to be the image of God or literally the “shadow of God” and without question, it is within mankind that God dwells. If Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father in His Temple and you’re that temple, why look for Jesus anywhere but inside yourself?
Isn’t it amazing to think that within us, in our subconscious level, or perhaps better, within our super consciousness, dwells all of the infinite wisdom and intelligence that makes up the divine consciousness of God? Within you are all the answers to all the questions that you will ever have. In fact, these rivers of living water are so supernatural that they can send out the answer to your question well before the question ever emerges in your mind. These rivers of living water can bring healing to you, to your friends and even to the nations. Within you there exists the knowledge, the wisdom and the intelligence to know how to overcome even the most difficult problems this world experiences. And not just within you but within each of us. The only question is whether enough of us truly thirst for the answer. Do we have a passion to know the answers and are we willing to do what it takes to make the answers a reality in our life? Are we willing to wade into that stream of consciousness and all that it entails? Are we willing to go knee deep? What about up to our waist? Are we (and humanity) so sick and tired of being sick and tired that we are willing to go all the way and totally be immersed in it?
Someone a few years ago had a phrase as a mantra for their business. It was “Stop The Insanity.” Have we come to the point where we see the insanity in our lives and in the current collective consciousness of humanity and as a result, we will lay aside our egos and seek to live from an entirely new source of life?
Who knows what would happen if even a small part of humanity truly experienced the rivers of living water flowing out of the consciousness of God? Who knows what would happen if those rivers of divine consciousness and infinite intelligence and pure energy were the source of our lives?
Blessings, shalom, namaste
For those unfamiliar with the term namaste, it basically means that the divine in me recognizes and honours the divine in you. To put it another way, the God in me acknowledges the God in you.