Berean Literal Bible Matthew 12:43

Now when the unclean spirit is gone out from the man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it.

Do these places exist in the spiritual realm or physical realm. Or are they metaphors of what?

Luke 8:26 And they sailed down to the region of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27And He having gone forth upon the land, a certain man out of the city met Him, having demons, and a long time he was not wearing clothing and did not abide in a house, but in the tombs.

Demons were comfortable among tombs.

28And having seen Jesus, having cried out, he fell down before Him and said in a loud voice, “What to me and to You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore of You that You might not torment me!” 29For He was commanding the unclean spirit to come out from the man. For it had seized him many times, and he was bound, being kept with chains and shackles. And breaking the chains, he was driven by the demon into the deserts.

They didn't mind deserts either.

30And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

And he said, “Legion,” because many demons were entered into him. 31And they were begging Him not to command them to depart into the abyss.

They were scared of the abyss.

32And there was a herd of many pigs feeding there in the mountain, and they begged Him that He would allow them to enter into them; and He allowed them.

33And the demons having gone out from the man, entered into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and was drowned.

What are these waterless places?

  • Deserts are dry and arid places, avoided by people; see also Mark 5:2 (tombs) and Luke 8:29 (wilderness).
    – Lucian
    Jul 26, 2020 at 16:00

10 Answers 10


This passage, Matt 12:43, is steeped in Hebrew metaphor which is typically agrarian. Then as now, water is central to life, and as such, was regularly used as a spiritual metaphor to teach spiritual truth. For example:

  • Ps 23 describes being lead by the great Shepherd beside still waters
  • John 4:10, 13, 14 records Jesus using water as a metaphor of Gospel
  • Water was and is used as a metaphor in the rite of baptism, see Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8, 10, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, 3:5, Acts 1:5, etc.
  • John 7:39 Jesus uses water as a metaphor of for the Holy Spirit. See also Acts 10:47, etc.

In Matt 12:43 we have the spirit passing around various places seeking rest. This is another Hebrew metaphor for a place to live as shown in places like Ruth 1:9, 16, 3:1.

That is, the spirit is seeking a place to live that supplied by water and so has to pass by waterless places. Without water, one cannot rest/live comfortably. This is why the deserts were deserted.

So, what is the evil spirit seeking? The spirit is evidently seeking a place, in this case a person that is receptive to such evil/unclean spirit whose spiritual condition would provide "rest" for the spirit.

The force of Jesus' parable here is (as usual) highly instructive. Jesus tells us (V44) "On its return, it finds the house vacant, swept clean, and put in order." That is, the spirit returns to the person (with "friends") to find the "house" (= person) unoccupied and so takes up residence again. That is, the spirit can return because the house was vacant and not occupied by (implied) the Holy Spirit.


Waterless places does indeed refer to the ‘physical’ realm. Because, a spirit can not interact with the ‘physical world’ ...... without a body. And that’s what ‘it’ is seeking. The body being ‘physical’.

This ‘spirit’ in Mat 12:43 is seeking ‘rest’, that is, a ‘home’. It is ‘seeking’ a body. In the next verse we have ...

MAT 12:44 Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.

This ‘house’, that is, a ‘body’ has everything the spirit ‘needs’, which is ‘rest’ and a way to to express itself. The ‘body’ provides what the ‘spirit’ needs, including [metaphorically] water.


Firstly, it is a metaphor to mean uninhabited places due to lack of water. This particular demon is looking for a human/home so that it can rest.

Secondly, they are physical places where the demon is in transit. It has just come out of a human body, ie, a watered place. It is looking for a watered place to occupy.

Thirdly, they are also spiritual places where it cannot rest due to some kind of spiritual motions. It has to keep moving for some spiritual reason, perhaps due to some kind of spiritual heat.


There is no end to the restless fearful imaginations of men in regards to things that go bump in the night. The OT does not belabor the matter as much as the NT but the folk tales and cures seem endless:


The beliefs expressed in the passages in which Jesus is cited would be familiar to first century Jews who would alter their behavior to avoid demons or hire exorcists frequently to get rid of them. It is difficult even in our modern scientific age to dispel many people's concern that Covid-19 might be divine or Satanic activity rather than a virus.

The well intentioned answers I see represented here are, to my thinking, actually fueled by the appearance of such superstitions in the scriptures but redacted by novel interpretations of ancient folk and religious understandings.

In other words, updated interpretations of such scriptural references to these old superstitions is still superstition, not fact and sets society back thousands of years when it triumphs over our more enlightened age. As just one tragic example, Christians who consider epileptics to be demon possessed and in need of the incantations of exorcists need to let go of such superstitions because they relate to epileptics with superstitious fears and false cures and not with understanding.


The unclean spirit is a demon looking for a place (human soul) to live/rest (dwell/reside). Finding that a person is seeking the truth moves on (seeking rest - a place to take up residence). Waterless places alude to "religion/good works which cannot save (redeem) - provide salvation. See John 4:13-14 . Though the place appears to be (in order because of good works & a religion/tradition) sweep clean, it is (the heart) not indwelt by the Holy Spirit (trusting in Christ Jesus & nothing else). The demon finding a place (swept clean) enters into the human heart - defiling it . Such a place becomes a good place for more demons to occupy - take up residence - & use as a "base" to spread their false doctrine through the human (become worse than when they 1st entered in).


Most of these answers are constructed with the doctrine of unconditional eternal security in mind. But this scripture coincides easily with 2 Peter 2:20, 21

20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and savior Jesus Christ they are again entangled therein and overcome the latter state of them is worst than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it to turn from the commandment given unto them.

The House is swept and garnished.

  • 1
    Yes, I believe you have it here. One (1) spirit inhabited the house before the person was called and converted. Then the evil spirit had to leave. Subsequently and unfortunately the person turned his/her back on God, and the Holy Spirit then left. Knowing that this person was now lost, with no hope, the original bad spirit returns and brings along a host of friends, and the party begins.
    – moron
    Sep 2, 2023 at 6:48

With this question, one must fully understand that the spiritual can exist in the physical. Thus, our souls exist within our physical bodies. However, the physical cannot exist in the spiritual, we must give up our physical bodies to become in spiritual unity with God. What happens in the Parousia is another subject and question to address at another time. The passage is truly metaphorical and finds its origin in “Q” the common quotes and events in Jesus’ life and a source for the synoptic Gospels.

Regarding the waterless point made in Matthew, all spirit seeks that which will continue it. If a demon cannot find sustenance in a weakened (waterless) soul, it must continue. Thus, our souls must remain staunch against evil. If we allow the evil to overtake us once or again, we become fodder for the evil.

What Jesus means in this passage is that the Jews have refused the true Word of God; they have refused the Son of God. He says that even with a realization that He may bring the Good News, their denial is that which will allow them to be overtaken by the evil again and again. In other words, the blind remain blind and will suffer from their blindness unless they realize the absolute necessity of the Incarnation. However, they may be the passive recipients of His Incarnation, in that, the Incarnation becomes that straight path and narrow gate offered to many. The message of the Christ is the key – love one another!


Although 12:43-45 has the metaphor of house for a person, "waterless places" are physical and have nothing to do with metaphor. They're simply land. These unclean spirits, demons, refer to disembodied man-like (since they speak, have intelligence, and seek to inhabit living people) beings which must have joined Satan's rebellion (Ezek 14; Isa 28) against the living God before God's six-day restoration of the earth and heavens, and creation of Adam and Eve, in Genesis 1:3-31. Water indicates their tomb, their place of rest, 1:2, 6, 9-10; Mt 8:26-32; Rev 20:13 if they cannot have a living human body


A waterless arid place could also be HELL, or HADES or ABYSS. The very place the demons were begging Jesus to NOT send them too. Cast out those unclean spirits by the power and authority of Jesus Christ and send them to the ABYSS to be chained up until Jesus decides what to do with them.

  • 1
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    Aug 30, 2023 at 0:35

I believe water kills demons. They cannot live in water. They seek waterless places- those places where there is no Holy Spirit. The flood killed the evil- on the earth. Pigs ran to water to drown demons. Jesus is baptized in water and is not defeated but rises to life- showing he is God. We can do the same. Water is life to the believer. Living water -but drowns evil- think Red Sea also.

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  • 1
    Thanks for your input. However, it is preferred that some research in the original languages, commentaries, or other scholarly works be consulted and referenced to present reasonable conclusions and insights. Topical summaries don't add much depth to the understanding of a particular verse questioned. Keep studying the Bible; it's great for the soul!
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