Water in the Old Testament: A sign of God's presence

By John Pacheco

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters" (Genesis 1:1-2). Even in the first two verses of the Bible itself, an allusion to God's relationship to the natural world is revealed. The Spirit of God is described as "moving over the surface of the water" which hints at God's inclination to be close and not distant to the natural world He created, even going so far as to use the natural world to explicitly communicate with humans (Cf. Exodus 3:4). With the Flood, of water is employed as a cleansing instrument - to cleanse away the wickedness of men (Cf. Genesis 6:5), to usher in an end of sin (Cf. Genesis 8:23), and to usher in a new beginning. (Cf. Genesis 9:9). "The Church has seen in Noah's ark a prefiguring of salvation by baptism, for by it 'a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water [1 Peter 3:20].' 'The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness'" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pt. 1219).

The idea of cleansing is again reinforced with the chosen people crossing the Red Sea - an event which affected their liberation from the slavery of Egypt and gave them a taste of the salvation which was to come (Cf. Exodus 14:13). "If water springing up from the earth symbolizes life, the water of the sea is a symbol of death and so can represent the mystery of the cross. By this symbolism, baptism signifies communion with Christ's death" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pt. 1220). Hence, water is the means by which the liberation and 'salvation' are granted to Israel, as Saint Paul reminds the Corinthians, "For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:2). The noteworthy point of Saint Paul's teaching is the phrase "in the cloud and in the sea." The Catholic view of baptism sees God using water to infuse His supernatural life into the soul. There are therefore two objects necessary in this conception: water and God's spirit (Cf. John 3:5).

Now Saint Paul has clearly alluded to the water by his reference to the Red Sea, but what about the spirit? Note the phrase Saint Paul uses: "in the cloud." This phrase is a very singular one since it refers to God! "And the Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way. " (Exodus 13:21; Cf. Exodus 16:10, Deuteronomy 31:15). The prefiguration of baptism is also seen in the crossing of the Jordan river by which the People of God received the promise God had made to Abraham's descendants (Cf. Joshua 3:14-17). Whereas the water was used for deliverance from the Egyptians in the Exodus, it is used here to witness to the inheritance of the promised land. Similarly, baptism frees us from the power of the devil and brings us into the 'promised land' - the mystical body of Christ.

In addition to these more well-known passages, the Bible has formal prophesies concerning baptism. Consider this passage from Ezekiel, which captures the Catholic teaching on baptism perfectly: "For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." (Ezekiel 36:24-27).

The allusion to sin being 'washed away' is also made by the prophet Isaiah (Cf. Isaiah 1:16, 4:4). Furthermore, in Zechariah, the Lord says, "In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity" (Zechariah 13:1). The prophet is clearly pointing to the baptismal promise, as does King David in the Psalms: "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin" (Psalms 51:2). And finally, Isaiah links water and salvation, "Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation. Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation." (Isaiah 12:2-3).

Before the Fall:Why We Need Baptism
Infusion vs. Imputation: Two views of justification
Baptism in the New Testament: Baptism now saves you!
Answering the Evangelicals: A biblical response to objections
Infant Baptism: A family affair
A Visual Image and Some Closing Thoughts
Return toApologetics of Baptism

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