Conflict is for control, and to control a population’s water is to control their life.
What I want to explore today is the relationship of water to life and water to war. Portions of scripture are dedicated to the use and misuse of water, either for woe or for life. Water is for creation, for flooding, for crossing, for purity and for baptism. But it’s the more obscure biblical passages that will interest me here, those that deal with rivers and city water systems, especially as they are paralleled by the water system at Gezer.
Before I departed for Israel, I presented a Power Point on Nineveh and talked about the redirection of water for the siege of a city — presumably at Nineveh and certainly at Babylon. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and the prophet Nahum wrote a water oracle against the city. He wrote in the time of Josiah when Assyria was wanning in power. His prophecy would have emboldened king Josiah to jettison the covenant that Ahaz made with the Assyrians. Nahum wrote of a flood, one that would end Nineveh. The name Nahum means repent, and the prophesy recalls how God repented of creating man and sent a flood. The prophesy is the story of a rebellious creation set apart for a water ordeal:
2:5 The commander orders his officers; they stumble as they advance; they rush to the city wall and they set up the covered siege tower. The sluice gates are opened; the royal palace is flooded and dissolves.
Water here is for woe, it razes cities and weakens defenses. It is a weapon of warfare, used against Assyria as they used it against their enemies. The Assyrian King Sargon II — who bragged of his excessive cruelty — destroyed the canal system of the Halidians and flooded their lands. Sargon is the king mentioned in Isaiah 20:1 in connection with the destruction at Ashdod (for all my students who I took to Chicago, we went to see his throne room at the Oriental Institute). Likewise, Sennacherib destroyed Babylon then redirected the water system to flow through its ruins. When he attacked Jerusalem, Hezekiah had a tunnel dug so as to protect the water supply during the siege. Later, the Assyrian king Assurbanipal flooded the city of Sapibel by damning up the Ulai River with the carcasses of his enemies.
At Jerusalem, it was through the water system that David and his men were able to take the city (II Sam 5:6ff.):
Then the king and his men advanced to Jerusalem against the Jebusites who lived in the land. The Jebusites said to David, “You cannot invade this place! Even the blind and the lame will turn you back, saying, ‘David cannot invade this place!’” But David captured the fortress of Zion (that is, the city of David). David said on that day, “Whoever attacks the Jebusites must approach by the water tunnel the ‘lame’ and the ‘blind’ who are David’s enemies.” For this reason it is said, “The blind and the lame cannot enter the palace.” So David lived in the fortress and called it the City of David. David built all around it, from the terrace inwards. David’s power steadily grew, for the Lord God who leads armies was with him. King Hiram of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar logs, carpenters, and stonemasons. They built a palace for David. David realized that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and that he had elevated his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel. David married more concubines and wives from Jerusalem after he arrived from Hebron. Even more sons and daughters were born to David. These are the names of children born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet.
Like Jerusalem, Megiddo had a water system that made the city vulnerable. However, the Megiddo water system had a secret entrance that was concealed to prevent such entry. In the picture below on the left side, notice the walled off and hidden entry:
Both Megiddo and Gezer were on main routes, and as garrison cities, the water systems were carefully protected with main access being inside the city walls. Gezer’s water system matches those found at Hazor, Gibeon, Bal’ama, ‘Amman and Jerusalem. And here I am, standing in the water tunnel looking out to photograph some of the excavation staff:
A city without water would soon cease to be a city. Conversely, a dry place can be turned into a city with the addition of water. It was at Caesarea Maritima where Herod the Great built a water system that allowed him to create a city out of nothing. By the Power of the Empire, a city was born. From ten miles away, the Roman built aqueduct delivered water to Caesarea. A section of it is pictured here:
The people of the created city would be able to understand the Empire and the King as bringing life to the place. Rome and her kings were architects and builders, bringing life and protection to the border regions. The Power of Rome testified to a control which moved water — the same Power that brought death by sword and cross. Rome had the power to stabilize a region, to bring about a forced peace and the control of water. From the perspective of Paul and the book of Romans, this power was a parody. A different kind of King and a different kind of Power was revealed in one who was the architect and builder of the cosmos. The resurrection of Jesus was the Power of the Spirit — a Power that Rome could not mimic or control.