On September 22, 1586, Sir Philip Sidney, whose name is like ointment poured forth, was desperately wounded in a cavalry charge before the walls of Zutphen. As he was being carried to a dressing station, there occurred that beautiful incident forever associated with his name. "Being thirsty with excess of bleeding, he called for drink, which was presently brought him. But as he was putting the bottle to his mouth, he saw a poor soldier carried along who had eaten his last at the same feast, ghastly casting up his eyes at the bottle. Which Sir Philip perceiving, took it from his head before he drank and delivered it to the poor man with these words: 'Thy necessity is greater than mine,' and when he had pledged this poor soldier he was presently carried to Arnheim."
Probably few persons in this country know what the torment of extreme hunger is, and fewer still the torment of intense thirst. But they who have tasted this cup of bitterness testify to the fact that the torment of thirst is the worst suffering that can come upon the human frame. Soldiers lying desperately wounded upon the field of battle between the hostile lines, where none dared venture to their rescue, have harrowed the hearts of friend and foe alike with their piteous cries for water. Patients in the hospital recovering from a desperate operation call for water and eagerly swallow the few drops permitted them. Travelers lost in the desert or on the plains have dug like animals in the sand for a sign of water, or with glaring, distended eyeballs have rushed frantically toward the mirage that they thought was water. Shipwrecked persons tossing for days in the sea in an open boat, crazed by thirst, in spite of all threats and warnings and entreaties, will bail up the salt water and drink it. Crucifixion was a form of punishment and execution designed by a cruel people to put criminals to death, and to do it with the greatest degree of humiliation and torture. But the most unmitigated of the sources of anguish combined in that worst form of death was the terrible thirst.
After the Second World War, under the caption 'The Drink that made history' a popular monthly magazine published an article which described how the turning of the tide at El Alamein in the Eastern section of North Africa was due to a fortuitous circumstance that blasted the last hopes of the Nazis of gaining Alexandria. It concerned a supply of water.
The strength of the British forces in and around El Alamein, and of the German forces pressing down upon them, was almost equal. Both sides were hard pressed for drinking water: and thirst is a terrible thing to endure in the heat of the desert sands. The British forces had laid pipes from a known source of good water to their encampment, but, as was the custom, for the purpose of putting the pipelines to the test, the pipes were first filled with sea water as an economy measure. This was a procedure of which all the British troops in the North African campaign were aware. Nazi patrols, reconnoitring, came upon this pipeline just a day after it had been laid. The information was immediately transmitted to their camping quarters, and before long the Nazi soldiers, in desperation with thirst, made their way to where the pipes had been located, struck a hole in one with a pickaxe, and one after another gulped down the liquid that gushed from the hole in the pipe. Having consumed quantities of water without restraint, they did not realize that the water was salt till they experienced the agony that followed. Driven to desperation by suffering that far eclipsed their original thirst, they decided to surrender in a body; and the British forces in El Alamein were surprised to see a large company of enemy troops approach, with swollen tongues lolling out of their mouths, their hands stretched upright above their heads as a sign of surrender. The first act of the prisoners was to seize the water bottles of their captors and pour down their burning throats the sweet, living water for which their whole beings were gasping.
That was the incident that proved to be the turning-point in the campaign. Had it happened a day earlier, the pipes would have been empty: had it occurred a day later, they would have been full of good, drinking water.
Physical thirst is a terrible thing, a pang that racks the human frame, and is accompanied by an indescribably intense longing for satisfaction. It has its counterpart in the spiritual being of men. Detecting its intensity in mankind, the Lord Jesus—when here on earth as Man—said, 'If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink.' There are many who, like those German soldiers, in order to obtain a temporary satisfaction, turn to whatever bears the slightest resemblance to a thirst-quencher. Millions are vainly endeavoring to slake their thirst with the useless and transient pleasures of sin. These are positively harmful and produce, sooner or later, an agony of remorse and disappointment. Only One can satisfy the thirsty soul, and the only way to find satisfaction is to come to Him, surrender to His claims and receive His gift.
(Jer. 2. 13; John 4. 10-14; 7. 37; Isa. 44. 3; Rev. 21. 6)
The explorer, Coulthard, who perished of thirst in the Australian desert, left behind, in the place of his last encampment, the feebly-scrawled lines: 'Lost, lost, for want of water.'
(John 7. 37; Luke 16. 24)