A couple years ago, our congregation’s Spokesmen’s Club hosted a joint Ladies’ Brunch event with the neighboring congregations’ Spokesmen’s Club chapter. I happened to have a speech for that event , but I was not fortunate enough to have a lady with me, which was a matter of particular frustration and dissatisfaction on my part , one that indirectly led to a host of personal difficulties for me in 2013, some of which continue to be problematic. One of my fellow brethren had an awkward experience as well, being a single man who happened to be assigned to give an evaluation for a heavily symbolic speech about “drinking water from your own cistern,” a matter that clearly involves how one treats a wife. This is, it should be obvious, an immensely awkward problem for those who do not have a wife. It is especially awkward in the presence of a lot of women, most of whom happen to be wives of speakers, or failing that family members like sisters and daughters. Even though the issue of drinking water from our own cisterns certainly does apply to single people like myself, those of us who are not fortunate enough to be happily married and strive to follow God’s ways do not enjoy the pleasure of drinking from anyone’s cisterns, whether our own or anyone else’s.
Three times in the Bible, in two different contexts (two of the passages are duplicate accounts of the same event, one occurring in 2 Kings 18 and the other in Isaiah 36), the Bible discusses drinking water from one’s own cisterns. The passage in 2 Kings 18:28-35 reads as follows: “Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out with a loud voice in Hebrew, and spoke, saying, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he shall not be able to deliver you from his hand; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us; this city shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”’ Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make peace with me by a present and come out to me; and every one of you eat from his own vine and every one from his own fig tree, and every one of you drink the waters of his own cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive groves and honey, that you may live and not die. But do not listen to Hezekiah, lest he persuade you, saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations at all delivered its land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim and Hena and Ivah? Indeed, have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their countries from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’” Here we see that the reference to drinking water from his own cisterns refers to an agricultural wealth that is supposed to resemble an Edenic paradise, and not the harsh and exploitative rule of the Assyrian Empire that existed in reality.
It is, of course, the second reference that was being made in the speech, in which the water from one’s own cisterns, a type of well that is common in dry climates like the Middle East and Turkey where water is collected from the heavens and stored for drinking or bathing purposes, or to water crops, is made to serve as a metaphor for being faithful to one’s wife, as it is written in Proverbs 5:14-16: “I was on the verge of total ruin, in the midst of the assembly and congregation. Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well. Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets?” It is straightforward to understand why this passage is awkward for single people to deal with. This passage assumes that someone has a cistern to care for, and quite sensibly states that to engage in rampant adultery and promiscuity is to threaten oneself with a run that is total and public. As it is common for people to think merely of sexuality when it comes to this passage, there really is no good way for a single person to deal with this passage as without having a cistern or well to drink from, there remain no godly options available in singlehood for the expression of romantic or passionate longings, which is one of the biggest factors that encourages people to marry.
Yet we would be remiss to assume that this passage was only talking about sexuality, or that if one merely refrained from fornication or adultery that one was obeying the advice of this passage. There are more routes to ruin and public humiliation than simply the route of sexual immorality. Nor is sexuality the only way in which it is a shame for waters to run in the streets or for fountains to be disbursed abroad. I often ponder this passage when it comes to emotional needs as well as sexual ones. It can be a source of great public embarrassment and ruin for a man to find that his wife has to go to other men for emotional support because he is unable or unwilling to be a compassionate and caring friend to his wife. Likewise, the loyalty of a husband can be threatened if another woman serves as his confidante and friend and emotional support because she is unable to be tender and kindhearted with him. As a man who has always, by virtue of my own personality and temperament, had a large number of female friends, this is a passage that reminds me, if any reminder were necessary, that it can be hazardous to be a close friend to women with tremendous emotional needs, especially if they are married and their husbands are not doing part of their job of being loving and compassionate companions to those women. I often feel myself somewhat constrained and uncomfortable with building emotional intimacy with those whose loyalties must be elsewhere, even above and beyond my usual feelings of discomfort and concern with emotional intimacy in general. This is so even as I feel deeply compassionate for those who have profoundly strong feelings and are unfortunate in not having husbands (or children) who are gentle or compassionate with their hearts, and wish to help however I may do so honorably and appropriately.
For I know that I am someone too who wishes to have a wife that would be tenderhearted and compassionate with my own feelings, someone who combined open honesty and a compulsive need to communicate with gentleness and kindness. I am aware that this is an unusual mixture of qualities, but it is one of considerable personal importance for my own happiness. I would expect that such a wife would be especially concerned that I did not share my heart to the same extent with anyone else, and even though I would not want her to be a particularly insecure person, or to give her any just reason to feel insecure about my own loyalty to her, I would respect her sensitivities in the matter. I would wish to be a husband who was tender and understanding with my wife’s feelings, a gallant and tender guardian of her heart, someone who she could trust to be caring and compassionate and concerned for her own best interests and her own welfare, and not neglectful of my duties. I am not sure whether these wishes, as fervent as they are, matter much at my present stage of life, but if my experiences with friends serve any purpose, hopefully I may be prepared to be a good husband to a good wife, and that we may grow together for the rest of our lives in obedience to God and in service to others. The obvious and unanswerable question is, though, how and when am I to become such a husband, and to find such a wife, so that I may have at long last my own treasured cistern to drink from for my own refreshment, and that she may have the same for herself?
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