Immensely important in the economy, religion, and imagery of Israel; rainfall determined the pattern of life, where settlements could be established and the sort of cultivation that was practicable. To offer a cup of water was a gesture of hospitality (Matt. 10: 42), as was the provision of a basin of water to wash guests' feet (Luke 7: 44). Washing with water was prescribed to clean away ritual impurities (Lev. 11: 29–38) as well as to sterilize skin diseases (Lev. 14: 8). Naaman was cleansed of leprosy by washing in the River Jordan (2 Kgs. 5: 14), and a blind man received his sight after washing in the pool of Siloam (John 9: 7).
Water has a place in the myths of Genesis: there was a primeval ocean which God divided into the upper waters (which provided rain) and the lower waters (which formed the sea). The latter came to represent chaos—the sea was always thought of as turbulent—but God sat triumphantly over it (Ps. 29: 10). To be submerged in the ocean (Ps. 69: 1–2) was equivalent to being in anguish of spirit, and salvation was the experience of being rescued from the water (of death; Ps. 18: 16). It is in accord with this concept of water that Jesus described his coming crucifixion as ‘baptism’ from which his human spirit shrank (Mark 10: 38), and in the early Church baptism was understood to be a participation in the death of Jesus (Rom. 6: 3); the baptized are those whom God has saved out of the flood (1 Pet. 3: 20).