Panting for God in the Age of Desalination

March 2018


Today, Israel is in the midst of a five-year drought. As we are ending this year’s short window of the rainy season, consistently below average rainfalls threaten to dry up the legendary “Land of Milk and Honey.” Historically, drought births famine, as lack of rain destroys agriculture and instigates starvation.  For example, we are reminded of ancient Egypt and Canaan’s seven-year famine that was assuaged by Joseph’s prophetic provision from the previous seven-year abundance.[1]  Many accounts in the Bible [2] testify to the cyclical meteorological reality in the Ancient Near East, where this fickle weather pattern is the harbinger of life or death. [3]

While arid Israel has always had water challenges, its explosive population growth over the last 70 years, has threatened its long-term survival.  Even more, Israel’s water resources are often intertwined with its burgeoning Palestinian and Jordanian neighbors, and can be crucial to good diplomatic relationships.  So, it is no small wonder that, despite having been bestowed with these environmental disadvantages, Israel is known today as a “Water Superpower.”  Because of Israeli long-term investment in water infrastructure it stands as an example to the world in conserving water, recycling wastewater, and producing drinking water.

Israeli inventor Simcha Blass first developed drip irrigation in 1959.  Israel drip-irrigates 75% of its agriculture, in contrast to the rest of the world that drip-irrigates only 5% of their fields.  Many countries, including the US, still rely on wasteful flood-irrigation methods.

Israel leads the world in water reclamation, purifying and reusing 87% of its wastewater for agriculture. Singapore is second on the list, reclaiming 35% of its sewage water, with most countries reclaiming less than 10% of their water. The US reclaims 9% of its wastewater.

Israel gets 55% of its domestic water from six large desalination plants on its Mediterranean coast which produce nearly 500 million gallons of freshwater a day. In fact, the Sorek desalination plant is the largest reverse-osmosis desalination facility in the world.

Desalinated water has traditionally been very expensive, but continuing Israeli development over the last two decades has reduced prices 70%. Yet, despite these breakthroughs, residents of Israel are rationed water per person. When a household goes over their allotted usage, the charges increase dramatically. “By charging the real price of water, Israel has gained a nationwide interest in saving water and a culture that values every drop.”

Israeli experience and innovation in water technology is also spreading all over the world in diverse ways.  California, which has dealt with acute water shortages over the last decade, has begun investing in Israeli desalination like the recent Carlsbad plant in San Diego and the Santa Barbara plant. India, as well, is beginning to use Israeli creativity in claiming water from heavy humidity in the air. The Israeli company Watergen has two models of atmospheric water generators that can extract up to 6,000 liters of water from the air every day. Cape Town’s current crisis in South Africa, where on July 15, all homes and most businesses in the city of four million will be cut off from running water, also finds hope in Israeli ingenuity in purifying water, regardless of their government’s anti-Israel politics.

Yet, despite all of Israel’s long-term investment and development in water resources, the country’s agriculture is still being negatively affected by the cumulative lack of rain over the last five years.  According to a recent Haaretz article, Israel’s “national water system will be allocating to farmers only 292 million cubic meters in 2018, as opposed to approximately 450 million cubic meters in 2017. And if the year is even drier than feared, water allocations are liable to be reduced to a mere 210 million cubic meters.” As a result of these measures, food prices will rise in a country that already has one of the highest costs of living in the world.  

With the effects of climate change, there are long-term predictions of an upward trend in drought years over rainy years, while the world population will continue to increase. These reports of expected mass migrations seeking good, clean water would dwarf the recent refugee crisis challenging Europe, and even embody apocalyptic scenes described by the Bible. [4] With a vacuum of healthy leadership in the midst of national crisis, no wonder the Bible often describes these “times of judgement” and social chaos with "sword, famine, and plague." [5] When internecine conflict breaks down community infrastructure, daily life becomes debilitated and public health is poisoned. The book of Revelation’s renowned description of the four horsemen of judgment as bearers of war, famine, pestilence, and death build an epic climax for catastrophe. The snowballing repercussions of unchecked chaos, violence, lack of clean water and food, and prevalent sickness, ultimately lead to the destruction of life. [6]


The book of Joel describes such a time of annihilation. The land of Israel had been invaded by locusts which had eaten and stripped the agricultural produce. [7] The people were facing starvation and impending doom. In the midst of this bedlam, the writer of Joel says,

To you, Lord, I call,

for fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness

and flames have burned up all the trees of the field.

Even the wild animals pant for you;

the streams of water have dried up

and fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness.       Joel 1:19-20

Joel’s locust nightmare is compounded by a land that is on fire and drying up. The thirsty animals are panting for God, because there is no water to drink. This Hebrew word for “pant” only appears in one other place in the Hebrew Bible.

“As the deer pants for streams of water,

so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When can I go and meet with God?”                 Ps 42:1-2

It is not surprising that the Bible describes spiritual dryness with imagery of drought and thirst. Water is the basis for life.  Most humans will die after three to four days without water. Just as our physical needs are crucial for humanity’s survival, so too, are our spiritual longings. In today’s world where we face the increasing complexities of globalism in the mushrooming information age, we are buoyed by our exponential increase in knowledge. The world may end, but we will figure out a way to live on Mars.

“My people have committed two sins:

They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,

and have dug their own cisterns,

broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”                     Jer 2:13

Self-sufficiency is a broken cistern.  While hard work, honed discipline, and personal investment are crucial for our spiritual journeys, they are not enough for finding true inner peace.  We cannot save ourselves.  We must be careful not to quench our spiritual thirst with our own self-supply of water.  Drought in the Bible is a scream for personal and national repentance, a last wake-up call for salvation.  Desalinated spirituality can never substitute for God’s living water.



[1] Gen 41:53-57

[2] Gen 12:10; 26:1; Ruth 1:1; 2 Sam 21:1; 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 4:38; 6:25; Jer 14:1-6; Acts 11:28

[3] Dt 28:22-24; Lev 26:18–20

[4] Isa 24:1-7; Zech 14:12-19

[5] Jer 14:12; 24:10; 27:13; 42:17; Ezk 7:15; 14:21; Lev 26:25-26; Lk 21:10

[6] Rev 6:1-8.  The description of Revelation’s four horsemen is not exact and has been variously interpreted.  Yet, verse 8 ends with, “They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”  See also Ezk 14:21.

[7] Some interpreters understand the locusts as symbolic for foreign invading armies, like the Babylonians, though there is no historical context given within the book of Joel.