And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Acsah to him in marriage. One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?” She replied, “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs. Joshua 15.16-19.
On the face of it, this is just a simple record of a small incident in the life of Caleb, Joshua’s right-hand man. He needs a difficult hill town to be taken and Othniel manages to do it, so Caleb rewards Othniel with some land in the Negev. (The text seems a little corrupt at this point but the meaning is clear.) However, the Negev is dry and barren. Without water it is useless and unproductive and will remain so. So Caleb’s daughter comes to him and asks for a bit of adjoining territory that includes a spring. That way Caleb’s original gift can be irrigated and watered and transformed. And Caleb does more than she asks; he gives her land that has upper and lower springs in it. A great blessing!
And when the story is told that way, it can, of course, easily be seen as a parable … an illustration of a kingdom truth. And so it has been seen by many through the centuries. During my time in the Closed Brethren, I recall the upper springs being synonymous with “blessings above” and the lower or nether springs being synonymous with “blessings below”. And indeed, in our own day, far removed from the world of the Closed Brethren, the ‘Mother House’ of the Northumbria Community is called “Nether Springs” because it is a place of blessing on this earth for those who visit it.
But “blessing” is perhaps too vague a word to use of the springs of water that God wants me to ask for and that he will put into my life when I do. For a spring of water was always, for Jesus, a picture of the Spirit that brings life wherever he is found. “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him,” he once said. And as John comments: “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (John 7.38-39).
“Living waters” was an expression that was current throughout Biblical times for spring water as compared with water that was gathered in cisterns, which is probably why the woman of Samaria at first misunderstood Jesus when, having asked her for a drink, he told her: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?” (John 4.10-11). But, of course, Jesus is again talking about the Spirit who she, like Acsah with Caleb, should be asking him for.
What is all this saying to me this morning? It is reminding me that, whatever I have from God, it needs the enlivening power of the Spirit in it to make it productive … or even fully enjoyable. And that goes for things spiritual and things temporal. I need both upper and lower springs. I need the Spirit to fill my life “in every part” so that everything in my life becomes blessed and becomes a blessing to others; and I need to ask for that afresh today. For in that Scripture I quoted earlier (John 7.38) Jesus emphasises that, having flowed in, the spring waters must flow out!
Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
grace to cover all my sin;
let the healing streams abound,
make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
freely let me take of Thee;
spring Thou up within my heart,
rise to all eternity.