Water - Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words

Usage Number: 1
Strong's Number: H4325
Original Word: mayim
Usage Notes: "water; flood." This word has cognates in Ugaritic and old South Arabic. It occurs about 580 times and in every period of biblical Hebrew.

First, "water" is one of the original basic substances. This is its significance in Gen. 1:2 (the first occurrence of the word): "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." In Gen. 1:7 God separated the "waters" above and the "waters" below (cf. Exod. 20:4) the expanse of the heavens. Second, the word represents that which is in a well, "water" to be drunk (Gen. 21:19). "Living water" is "water" that flows: "And Isaac's servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing [living] water…" (Gen. 26:19). "Water" of oppression or affliction is so designated because it is drunk in prison: "Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace" (1 Kings 22:27). Job 9:30 speaks of slush or snow water: "If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean…."

Third, mayim can represent liquid in general: "… For the Lord our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the Lord" (Jer. 8:14). The phrase, mê raglayim ("water of one's feet") is urine: "Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss [water of their feet] with you?" (2 Kings 18:27; cf. Isa. 25:10).

Fourth, in Israel's cultus "water" was poured or sprinkled (no one was ever immersed into water), symbolizing purification. So Aaron and his sons were to be washed with "water" as a part of the rite consecrating them to the priesthood: "And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water" (Exod. 29:4). Parts of the sacrificial animal were to be ritually cleansed with "water" during the sacrifice: "But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water…" (Lev. 1:9). Israel's rites sometimes include consecrated "water": "And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water" (Num. 5:17). "Bitter water" was used in Israel's rituals, too: "And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord, and uncover the woman's head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse" (Num. 5:18). It was "water" which when drunk brought a curse and caused bitterness (Num. 5:24).

Fifth, in proper names this word is used of springs, streams, or seas and/or the area in the immediate vicinity of such bodies of water: "Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood…" (Exod. 7:19).

Sixth, this word is used figuratively in many senses. Mayim symbolizes danger or distress: "He sent from above, he took me; he drew me out of many waters" (2 Sam. 22:17). Outbursting force is represented by mayim in 2 Sam. 5:20: "The Lord hath broken forth upon mine enemies before me, as the [break-through] of waters." "Mighty waters" describes the onrush of the godless nations against God: "The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters…" (Isa. 17:13). Thus the word is used to picture something impetuous, violent, and overwhelming: "Terrors take hold on him as waters, a tempest stealeth him away in the night" (Job 27:20).

In other passages "water" is used to represent timidity: "… Wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water" (Josh. 7:5). Related to this nuance is the connotation "transitory": "… Because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away" (Job 11:16). In Isa. 32:2 "water" represents that which is refreshing: "And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." Rest and peace are figured by waters of rest, or quiet waters: "… He leadeth me beside the still waters" (Psa. 23:2). Similar ideas are involved when one's wife's charms are termed "water of life" or "water which enlivens": "Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well" (Prov. 5:15). Outpoured "water" represents bloodshed (Deut. 12:16), wrath (Hos. 5:10), justice (Amos 5:24; kjv, "judgment"), and strong feelings (Job 3:24).

Usage Number: 2
Strong's Number: H8415
Original Word: tehôm
Usage Notes: deep water; ocean; water table; waters; flood of waters." Cognates of this word appear in Ugaritic, Akkadian (as early as Ebla, around 2400-2250 b.c.), and Arabic. The 36 occurrences of this word appear almost exclusively in poetical passages but in all historical periods.

The word represents the "deep water" whose surface freezes when cold: "The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen" (Job 38:30). In Psa. 135:6 tehôm is used of the "ocean" in contrast to the seas: "Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places [in the entire ocean]" (cf. Psa. 148:7 et al.).

The word has special reference to the deep floods or sources of water. Sailors in the midst of a violent storm "mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths" (Psa. 107:26). This is hyperbolic or exaggerated poetical talk, but it presents the "depths" as the opposite of the heavens or skies.

This emphasis is especially prominent in the Song of Moses, where the word represents the ever-existing (but not eternal), ever-threatening, and perilous "deep," not simply an element of nature but a dangerous element: "The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone" (Exod. 15:5). On the other hand, in such contexts tehôm may mean no more than "deep water" into which heavy objects quickly sink. Tehôm can represent an inexhaustible source of water or, by way of poetic comparison, of blessing: "… With blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under…" (Gen. 49:25). In such contexts the word represents the "water table" always available below the surface of the earth, what was tapped by digging wells, out of which flowed springs, and what was one with the waters beneath the surface of oceans, lakes, seas, and rivers. This was what God opened together with the waters above the expanse (Gen. 7:11; cf. Gen. 1:7) and what later was closed to cause and terminate the great Flood (Gen. 8:2; cf. Psa. 33:6; Psa. 104:6; Ezek. 26:19). In such contexts the word represents a "flood of waters" (Psa. 33:6).

In Gen. 1:2 (the first occurrence of the word) tehôm is used of "all waters" which initially covered the surface of the entire earth:"… And darkness was upon the face of the deep" (cf. Prov. 3:20; Prov. 8:24, 27-28).

Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words