Encamped by the Waters

Map of Israel showing location of BeershebaMuch has been written about the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting in the wilderness, with its ceremonies and sacrifices, so much so that other meeting places between God and men seem to have been overlooked. A study of the early records of God’s dealings with men indicate that a well or spring was such a place. When Hagar showed her contempt for Sarah she was forced to leave Abraham’s household and go into the desert. The Angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water and told her to return to her mistress. This well or spring became known as Beer‑lahai‑roi, ("a well to the living one who sees me" Gen.16:7‑14).

Later, when Isaac was weaned, Sarah saw Ishmael mocking Isaac. As a result Hagar was again forced to go into the desert, this time with her son Ishmael. Abraham gave her bread and water, but while she wandered in the desert of Beer‑sheba ("the well of the oath") the water ran out and Hagar put her son under a shrub to die, and they both wept. God heard the voice of the lad and the Angel of the LORD spoke to Hagar again. The record states that "God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the (empty) bottle with water." (Gen.21:19) In the same chapter (v.33) we read that Abraham planted a grove in Beer‑sheba and called upon the name of the LORD there, but other renderings prefer "tree" to "grove," which is much more likely.

In Genesis 18 it is stated that the LORD appeared to Abraham by the terebinths of Mamre. Gen.18:1 NKJV There three angels (messengers) appeared, and Abraham begged them to stay while water (from the well) was fetched to wash their feet while they rested "under the tree." Then in Gen.26:19‑25 there is an account of a quarrel over the ownership of some wells, but eventually Isaac’s herdsmen dug a third well over which there was no quarrel, and this was named Rehoboth ("Now the LORD has made room for us.") During his lifetime Isaac made his home by Beer‑lahai‑roi (Gen.25:11), and once he returned to Beer‑sheba and built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord, and Isaac’s servants were digging a well. (Gen.26:25) Jacob met God at Beer‑sheba and offered sacrifices there and God spoke to him. The Amplified Bible describes Beersheba as "a place hallowed by sacred memories" (Gen.46:1); many of God’s people today have their Beershebas.

In time this combination of trees and wells became oases, where rest and refreshment could be found in the heat of the wilderness or desert. The last verse of Exodus 15 describes such a place, and the scene stirs the imagination. And "they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they encamped there by the waters." (NKJV) We might dwell on the significance of the twelve wells and seventy palm trees, but it is more important to liken this wonderful oasis to the periods of rest and refreshment which are provided by a loving Father for his people as they journey through the wilderness of this life. However, it is important to remember that these oases do not just "happen." During their wanderings the children of Israel came to Beer (meaning "a well"). This is identified as the place where the LORD spoke to Moses saying "Gather the people together, and I will give them water." (Num.21:16‑18) Then Israel sang this song, "Spring up, O well! Let all sing to it," (Amplified Classic Edition) but water did not gush out of the rock. As they sang they dug deep into the earth and tapped the life‑giving stream that had been flowing beneath the surface, out of sight for so long.

So in this life we need to combine the songs of faith with digging in the Word of God, where we find still new beauties and still increasing light. Dwelling by the waters is pictured in another way in Jer.17:7‑8 (Amplified Classic Edition.) "Most blessed is the man who believes in, trusts in, and relies on the LORD, and whose hope and confidence the LORD is. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters that spreads out its roots by the river; and shall not see and fear when heat comes; but its leaf shall be green. It shall not be anxious and full of care in the year of drought, nor shall it cease from yielding fruit." The words of Jesus, as recorded in John 7:37,38, (Amplified Classic Edition.) express the reality behind this picture. "If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! He who believes in me, who cleaves to and trusts in and relies on me...from his innermost being shall flow continuously springs and rivers of living water."

The most spectacular pictures of dwelling by the waters are seen in the visions of Ezekiel and John. In Ezekiel 47 the prophet describes a spring (trickle) of water issuing from beneath the Altar in the New Temple, which becomes a river that could not be passed over. These waters reach the sea of "putrid waters" (v.8 Amplified Classic Edition) and heal it and make it fresh so that fish can live in it, "and everything shall live wherever the river goes." (v.9 Amplified Classic Edition.) On both banks of this river grow all kinds of trees for food; their leaf shall not fade nor shall their fruit fail to meet the demand. Their fruit shall be for food and their leaves for healing.

The new heavens and new earth, pictured by the New Jerusalem, portrays the same scene. (Rev.21) The "Alpha and Omega" promises to give to the thirsty, water without price from the fountain (springs) of the water of life. This is depicted by the river flowing out from the throne of God through the broadway of the city; this too has trees (as in Ezekiel) on both banks yielding twelve varieties of fruit, each month its fresh crop and leaves for the healing of the nations.

So through the ages the tree by a well, the dwelling place of Abraham, the father of the faithful, will, according to the Divine plan, become a great river lined with trees on both sides, beside which the whole world will one day be "encamped by the waters."

Bible Study Monthly,
May / June 1979