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Ben-Hur Drinks Water from Jesus - A Deeply Moving Moment from "Ben Hur" (1959)


Ben-Hur receives water from Jesus after he collapses on his way to the slave galleys

I recently came across the popular film Ben-Hur (Charleton Heston, 1959). I had heard of the story since I was young, but until I saw the film, didn't know anything about the plot. When I watched the movie, I fell in love with the Biblical setting and most of all, the journey to forgiveness and redemption through suffering. 


The Epic History of Ben-Hur: 

Today, many people know commonly know the story of Ben-Hur from Heston's emotional performance as the Jewish prince sold into slavery, who returns seeking revenge. However, the original story goes back much further. The book, Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ was published in the 1800s, by the Civil War General, Lew Wallace. Doing some research, I found that when he began writing Ben-Hur he was not influenced by religion in any way. In fact, the original story Wallace had in mind was that of a friendship and betrayal between a Jewish boy and his Roman friend, but didn't include the second part of his title: A Tale of Christ. 

Only after Wallace met a well-known agnostic on a train whose hardened views on God and religion shook him deeply, did he decide to add Christ into the book. In his research for his famous novel, Wallace also based the life of Judah Ben-Hur on the life story of Josephus, the contemporary Jewish historian of Jesus' time. Two years after Ben-Hur was published, Wallace came to faith in Christ himself.

 Isn't it amazing to see how God works in people's hearts?

Ben-Hur's Water of Life:

I found this moment to be one of the most moving scenes in the film, for several reasons. The emotional depth Heston brings to Judah Ben-Hur in this short scene is raw and real. Ben-Hur was just arrested on false charges and sold into slavery by his Roman friend Messala, who now sees no use for him since Ben-Hur didn't agree to help Messala control the people of Judea. Ben-Hur has been walking on foot, chained in the slave caravan for several days, wondering what happened to his mother and sister after his arrest.

 When they arrive at a town, the Roman soldiers order water to be brought to the officers and their animals. Out of spite for the fallen prince, they specifically forbid him water. Ben-Hur, once a prince, is subject to humiliation trying to catch falling water from the Roman guard's ladle, before he collapses from the journey. Sweated, filthy, and exhausted, he cries out in a weak moan:

God, help me.

On the ground, Ben-Hur gives up, but at that moment, a hand reaches down with a ladle, gently wetting his face with cool water. Even when the guards demand Ben-Hur get no water, Jesus remains crouched down next to Ben-Hur. No words are spoken between the two men. There is no need. Though we never see Jesus' face or from the front in the movie, Ben-Hur's expression tells us how this moment will stay with him in the dark days ahead.

At the sight of the water, his desperation turns to a look of ravenous instinct to survive. But when he looks up for the first time, the light in his eyes changes. There is disbelief. Questions. It is as if the gesture of humanity touches Ben-Hur in a way he has yet to understand.

Little does he know he is face-to-face with the Son of God. 




Our Circumstances Do Not Matter

Besides the emotional intensity, what drew me to this scene was the pivotal moment when Ben-Hur was given hope - even if he didn't fully realize it. He still went to the slave galleys unjustly. He was still separated from his family. 

What's hopeful about that?

There is something profoundly moving, perhaps even inexpressible about the kindness Christ exhibits in this scene. Not only is Jesus fulfilling a physical need, reliving suffering even in a small way, and in doing so, an example to us as followers of Christ. Even more importantly, His compassionate gesture prepares Ben-Hur's heart for the greater truth, later in his life: how desperately he needs a Savior.

Our natural reaction after this scene might be that somehow, Ben-Hur is saved before he suffers any more. Perhaps this comes from our own weak, human nature and distaste for suffering or pain. Yet, upon consideration, what Ben-Hur's situation exemplifies so well is:


Christ doesn't guarantee a easy, painless life. Instead, it is often after our greatest times of suffering, when we cry out how God is farthest from us, that we look back and realize how He was beside us, preparing every part of our being for a greater purpose than we could understand at the time.

What about us? Suffering is a part of this life. People will fail us as they did Ben-Hur. When the suffering comes: what will we do? We could give up. Like Ben-Hur, we too may cry out weakly for our God, more out of a sense of religious knowledge than because we expect an answer. This will leave us angry as we demand retribution for our suffering. Such a bitter approach will poison our relationships with God and others, even after the suffering has passed. This is Ben-Hur's struggle when he is freed from slavery. 

Or, when we are caught by injustices or trials in our lives, will we choose to drink from the Living Water? (John 7:37-39). Whether things are going well, or we are suffering, our faith must be in a place where we are so confident in Christ our Savior that our circumstances do not matter. 


In a world concerned about our personal comfort and status, the truth of Paul's words may often be taken out of context, or easier to read than follow. " I have learned how to be content with whatever I have [...] I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation [...] For I can do everything through Christ,who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13).

When we come to the point of complete trust and dependence on God, even when we go through immense trials, our relationship with Christ is not stunted, but grows stronger. So, we aren't set back, consumed by anger, like Ben-Hur. Instead we face Christ as Ben-Hur does, we are able to recognize of Christ's presence in our lives and His love for us. 

When we personally experience Christ's compassion in our own lives - how He stoops into our dust and gives us water when everyone else abandons us - 


when we realize how Jesus would suffer unimaginably for us and die so we can live


with this realization comes the responsibility that we change our hearts to have mercy on others, who are suffering. 

At first, Ben-Hur drinks- but he sees only the physical water, so he is unsatisfied and seeks payment for his suffering. Only later in his life, does he realize he was given much more than a cup of water. When this realization eventually comes, Ben-Hur has the opportunity to show the same compassion Christ showed him. 

Ben-Hur does not waste the chance. 

Have you seen the film Ben-Hur? Do you have another favorite scene? Let me know in the comments!

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