Water’s Importance—Physical Benefits and Spiritual Applications
We all know that water is a substance we can’t live without.
Not only does it quench our thirst and keep us hydrated from the inside, but it’s necessary for hygiene and cleansing on the outside as well.
But did you know that the cleansing properties of water are also talked about in the Bible? And because water is such a fundamental need in our lives, Jesus often uses it as a metaphor for how He sustains us and helps us thrive.
That’s why water is considered an important component of the Seventh-day Adventist health message.
Let’s explore this further by looking at:
- What the Bible says about water
- How the benefits of water are reflected in the Adventist health message
- Does Ellen G. White talk about water’s role in health, wellness, and spirituality?
- How to apply these health principles to benefit physical and spiritual health
Even while we already know of water’s crucial role in our health and wellbeing, there’s always more to learn. Let’s get to it.
What does the Bible say about water?
Water is talked about 722 times1 throughout the Bible, and in several different ways. But let’s focus on a few specific ones:
- Quenching thirst/salvation
Hygiene and bathing
The first references to bathing are casual references in Genesis. We are told that people would wash their feet before entering a dwelling area after traveling or working outside. Offering the water for this footbath was also considered an act of hospitality when welcoming travelers inside (Genesis 19:2; 24:32; 43:24).
We find more specific references to bathing, washing, and keeping things clean when the children of Israel had been set free from slavery and were re-learning how to govern themselves in practical, healthy ways.
Among many sets of instructions for avoiding disease and maintaining health, God included the importance of washing their clothes (Exodus 19:10, 11; Leviticus 14:8; 15:5, 13) as well as washing themselves with water if they become unclean (Leviticus 15:11, 16; 16:4; Numbers 19:19; Deuteronomy 23:11).
Throughout the rest of the Bible, there are several casual references to bathing, as well as a few times that its importance is implied because of the symbolic way it is referenced. For example, when Namaan was following the prophet Elisha’s instructions to be cleansed of his leprosy by God’s power, he was to bathe in the river (2 Kings 5:14).
Jesus even brings up bathing while discussing how it’s just as important to be inwardly clean to be outwardly clean (John 13:10).
Another way water is discussed in the Bible is regarding baptism.
Baptism by being immersed in water is a symbolic act of dying to your human self and being resurrected into a new, righteous self by the cleansing power of Jesus.
Jesus Himself displayed this public act of dedication in the Bible by being baptized in the Jordan river by John the Baptist (John 1:29-34).
Baptism by immersion remains a celebration of commitment in Christian churches today, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
And the water’s symbolism of cleansing and purity is at the heart of it all. It demonstrates the restorative power of God, serving as a public declaration that the person is claiming Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Cleansing and purification
Similar to the metaphor used in baptism, the Bible also talks about water in relation to events that cleanse or purge sin and disease.
One example is the story about Noah and the ark.
During Noah’s lifetime, the world was so sinful that all people except for Noah and his family had rejected God. In order to preserve goodness in the world, and to keep humanity from destroying one another, God sent a flood—a lot of water—to cleanse the earth of the evil that had become rampant (Genesis 6-9).
We can also look at the rituals of the priesthood when the Israelites worshiped at the sanctuary in the desert. Before doing any rituals or making any sacrifices that symbolized the power and restorative love of God, the priests were instructed to wash their hands and feet first. Not only did this make sure they were physically clean as they performed their temple tasks, but it represented an intention for spiritual purification as well.
Another example has to do with the cleansing of disease.
In the story of Elisha and Naaman mentioned earlier, Naaman was told to wash himself in the river. But he was given specific instructions on how to do that. He had to dunk himself in the Jordan seven times, and after the seventh dip, God healed him from leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-19), which was a disease that was considered highly “unclean.”
The water’s literal use of cleansing and purifying also provided meaning to the spiritual cleansing Naaman experienced.
Thirst and salvation
The Bible does talk about water as necessary for satisfying thirst, but it expands upon the idea by using the idea of thirst-quenching metaphorically.
Some examples are…
- “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3, NKJV).
- “I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts” (Revelation 21:6, NKJV).
- “They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13, NKJV).
- “And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17, NKJV).
Jesus also describes Himself as living water or as relief for the thirsty and suffering. One notable moment is when Jesus encounters the woman at the well in John chapter 4.
A Samaritan woman, an outcast in her own society, traveled to gather water at the well in the heat of the day so she wouldn’t have to encounter anyone else. Jesus, however, was there at the well waiting for her.
After a brief exchange, He offers her water that will permanently quench her ultimate thirsting:
“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14, NKJV).
And just chapters later, Jesus will say “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38, NKJV).
Even though these references to water aren’t about literally drinking water, Jesus’ use of water to describe the spiritual healing, satisfaction, and salvation helps us to better understand water’s essential role in physical health.
The Bible’s use of water as a metaphor can also help us understand how we need Christ to live abundantly, just as we need water. David’s Psalms are a good place to start:
“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalms 42:1, NKJV).
There is nothing like the feeling of drinking a cold glass of water when you’re thirsty! Our soul feels that same kind of relief, joy, and fullness when we rely on God just as when we rely on water to quench us.
What does the Seventh-day Adventist Church say about water?
Along with a healthful diet, rest, movement, fresh air, and other principles of healthy living, the Adventist church emphasizes the importance of water in all its uses.
This is because the Adventist church advocates for whole-person care.
This means that one’s spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional health are all important and can impact one another.
And all health experts agree on the importance of drinking water, so it’s only right for it to be included in a holistic picture of complete wellness.
In a study at Loma Linda School of Medicine, Jacqueline Chan, MD, reports that just drinking enough water can greatly reduce our risk of heart disease, stroke, and many other health complications.2
But beyond physical health, the Adventist church is also clear that water is an important part of our spiritual health as well.
There was even a seven-day Bible study lesson about water that highlights its physical and spiritual importance. It talks about Jesus as the water of life, and that whenever we make sure that we are hydrating ourselves with pure, clean water, we are being good stewards of the bodies that God gave us.3
Water is definitely an important part of the modern Seventh-day Adventist church. Now, let’s take a look at how the Adventist church has embraced water’s important role in whole-person health, even since the mid-1800s.
What does Ellen White say about water?
Ellen White, one of the prominent founders of the Adventist church and an advocate for health reform, wrote extensively about how to be good stewards of our bodies and minds. Her counsels on diet, health, and lifestyle, frequently mentions the importance of water. She highlights it as a way to keep us well and to acknowledge God’s care for His creation.
In The Ministry of Healing, one of her more popular books about health and wellness, she writes:
“In health and in sickness, pure water is one of heaven’s choicest blessings. Its proper use promotes health. It is the beverage which God provided to quench the thirst of animals and man. Drunk freely, it helps to supply the necessities of the system and assists nature to resist disease.”4
When the body is hydrated and well taken care of, our organs work better, our blood flows better, and our minds can think more clearly.5
For Ellen White, water was not only important for hydration, but it was important for hygiene and even for therapy and treatment of illness.
The first defense against the spread of illness lies in good hygiene practices. While this idea is widely accepted today, this was considered groundbreaking or even outright controversial in Ellen White’s day (mid-to-late 1800s).
Indoor plumbing was largely inaccessible to the general population, and regular bathing or the full washing of clothes was not standard routine.
Because of this, White makes it clear in her writings that the use of water for cleanliness is absolutely essential:
“Upon rising in the morning, most people would benefit by taking a sponge or hand bath. This will remove all impurities from the skin, and keep it moist and supple, thereby aiding the circulation. Persons in health should on no account neglect frequent bathing. Whether a person is sick or well, respiration is rendered more free and full by bathing. The mind and body are alike invigorated…the bath is a soother of the nerves.” 6
Now who would disagree that a warm bath can calm frazzled nerves and help us unwind after a hectic day? But back then, things were different. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that doctors even regularly washed their hands in between patients!7
When it comes to more purposeful uses of water in the prevention of illness and disease, it’s usually referred to as hydrotherapy. And Ellen White often promoted its use at different Adventist sanitariums.
One common hydrotherapy treatment was contrast baths. Whenever a patient was ill or had a fever, they would undergo hot and cold water treatments to stimulate white blood cell production and help the body fight infection. During these treatments, a patient would switch between hot and cold water baths.
Nowadays, the way that we fight infections has changed, and though hydrotherapy still exists, we also have access to medications and antibiotics that weren’t available in the mid-19th century.
But hydrotherapy remains an essential form of treatment for many conditions of the body, and can even work together with modern medical care.8 Hydration, hygiene, and even hot/cold water treatments can still be helpful today.
Now, let’s learn how we can apply all these lessons about water to our lives today.
What is water’s role in maintaining wellness today?
There is no doubt that drinking water and using it for hygiene is absolutely essential to living healthfully.
The first and easiest way to acknowledge the importance of water is to simply drink more!
Sources say that 15.5 cups of water for men and 11.5 cups of water for women is a good goal, keeping in mind that water can also come from eating fruits and vegetables.9
It’s also a good habit to have a 16- 32oz water bottle and refill it throughout the day: about 6 times for a 16oz water bottle and about 4 times for a 32oz water bottle are good benchmarks. This is an easy way to meet your daily water needs.
How do you know if you aren’t meeting your daily water intake? Well, you might experience thirst, headaches, dark urine, constipation, or fatigue.10
However, by drinking water and staying hydrated, you can stave off these discomforts and help your body carry out the things it’s supposed to do.
Just a few benefits of staying hydrated include:
- Preventing thirst
- Keeping our joints healthy and lubricated
- Helping our body process waste
- Maintaining a stable body temperature
- Preventing kidney stones
- Promoting mental clarity
- Boosting our mood11
And when it comes to hydrotherapy, numerous scientific studies support its continued value in both treatment and prevention of illness and various lifestyle-related health conditions.12 People all over the world turn to contrast baths/showers, saunas, steam rooms, water exercise, mineral baths, and ice treatments to alleviate pain, assist in healing, fight sickness, or even to ease anxiety or other mental health struggles.
Also, when we care for our body and mind, we are keeping ourselves spiritually healthy as well. Our body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, CSB) and part of caring for our body and health is staying clean and hydrated.
And whenever we drink water, it can be a reminder that God will sustain us, too. Just as we depend on water to survive, our souls depend on God for peace, abundance, and salvation.
A substance as simple, common, and natural as water can have endless positive effects in our lives. When we choose to look at ourselves holistically—including our physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional health—we can more easily live lives that honor God.
If you want to improve wellness and learn more about the Adventist health message, you may also be interested to read about the secret to healthy living amongst Adventists.
- https://sites.duke.edu/theconnection/2014/06/05/remembering-gods-gift-of-water/#:~:text=Today%20I%20want%20to%20share,hope%2C%20prayer%2C%20and%20worship. [↵]
- https://adventist.news/news/more-water-equals-proportionally-better-health-say-church-health-leaders [↵]
- https://absg.adventist.org/pdf.php?file=2010:2Q:SE:PDFs:EAQ210_04.pdf [↵]
- White, G. Ellen. Ministry of Healing, (Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1905), p. 237. [↵]
- https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-much-water-should-you-drink [↵]
- White, Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene, (Good Health Publishing Company, 1890), p. 106. [↵]
- https://www.history.com/news/hand-washing-disease-infection; https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/handwashing-once-controversial-medical-advice. [↵]
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049052/ [↵]
- https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256#:~:text=So%20how%20much%20fluid%20does,fluids%20a%20day%20for%20women [↵]
- https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/9013-dehydration [↵]
- https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/water-and-healthier-drinks.html (all of the bullet points are supported by this website). [↵]
- https://www.uef.fi/en/article/frequent-sauna-bathing-reduces-risk-of-stroke; Textbook of Natural Medicine (Fifth Edition), 2020; “A Study of Hydrotherapy and Its Health Benefits,” International Journal of Research, vol. 1, Iss. 8 (2014) [↵]
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