The story about the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4 is well-known. I will give a brief narration to help refresh your memory of it.
Jesus was en-route to Galilee from Judea and “had to pass through Samaria”. Exactly why he had to is unknown. He had, after all, instructed his own disciples not to “go among the Gentiles or enter the towns of the Samaritans” for the purpose of preaching the gospel (Matt 10:5). This was the shortest route from Judea to Galilee that many Jews used, but it wasn’t the only route. Some strict Jews, who didn’t want any contact with the despised Samaritans, would take a longer route, crossing the Jordan River to the east, traveling north, and then going back west into Galilee. To the Jews, the Samaritans, “both in blood and religion, were mongrel Jews, the posterity of those colonies which the king of Assyria planted there after the captivity of the ten tribes, with whom the poor of the land that were left behind, and many other Jews afterwards, incorporated themselves” (Matthew Henry). At around mid-afternoon (3pm), Jesus stops to rest at a well – one of the many wells Jacob dug.
The normal time for women to collect water from the well was either early in the morning or later in the afternoon, when it was cooler. The well was a place where women gathered to talk as they filled their water pots. We can only speculate why this woman came to the well at this unusual hour. As we will learn later, she probably felt ashamed of her disgraceful past (having had five husbands) and ‘immoral’ present (having a live-in boyfriend), and preferred to come when she would be alone in order to avoid their painful scorn and hateful stares.
It is Indispensable
“Give me a drink.” Jesus’ request was out of the ordinary but purposeful. The request for water quickly turned into an offer of “living water”.
Jesus, here, is using something everyone is familiar with – water – to convey a spiritual truth. So, let’s, for a moment, think about water and its role in our lives.
How important is water to you and I?
It is crucial. Indispensable. A matter of life and death.
Can we live without water?
Absolutely not. Human beings might be able to stay alive without food for days, even weeks. After three days, you will need water or you’ll perish.
What space explorers look for on planets to determine if there had been life on it or if it is capable of supporting life in the future is the evidence of water. While oxygen is also essential for life, its presence is not crucial because water is a molecule formed by two elements: two positive Hydrogen ions and one negative Oxygen ion. Separate the Oxygen and you will be able to breathe it.
By weight, the average human adult male is approximately 60% water and the average adult female is approximately 55%. Your body uses water in many ways. Water cushions and lubricates joints; nourishes and protects the brain, spinal cord and other tissues; keeps the body’s temperature normal; and helps remove waste through perspiration, bowel movements and urination.
It is clear why Jesus used water to illustrate the benefits he brings to our souls.
Living water is to the human soul/spirit what water is to the human body.
It is Sufficient
So, what is this gift of ‘living water’ that Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman at the well?
Is it love? The sense of rejection must be strong in her after having been ‘unloved’ five times by her husbands. “Once bitten twice shy”, as they say. She must be skeptical of love by now. This why Jesus did not offer her love but something more, something lasting. Something neither she nor any one could draw with using man-made instruments. All she had to do to receive it was to ask.
This gift was no ordinary but divine. One that only Jesus, the Son of God, could give. Man’s gifts will wear out and spoil one day. Jesus’ divine gift, on the other hand, is lasting, imperishable. It satisfies sufficiently and completely. “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” What’s more, this gift is able to turn the receiver into a source of the gift itself.
It is Overflowing
Three chapters later, Jesus uses the term ‘living water’ again. This time, he was not at a well but in Jerusalem during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. In case you didn’t know, this feast revolves around the theme of water.
“In a decreased daily scale a special sacrifice of seventy bullocks was made. The temple-trumpets were blown on each day. There was the ceremony of the outpouring of water, drawn from Siloam, in commemoration of the refreshing stream which had come forth miraculously out of the rock at Meribah Ex. 17:1-7), and in anticipation of blessings both for Israel and for the world.” (William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-1954), vol. 2, p. 4.)
Imagine a whole parade of worshipers and flutists led by the priest to the pool of Siloam (where Jesus told the blind man to bathe his eyes after He put clay over them). The priest has two golden pitchers. One is for wine. He fills the other with water from the pool. As the flutes continue to play, a choir of Israelites chants Psalm 118. The whole procession heads back to the Temple through the Water Gate. A trumpet sounds as the priest enters the Temple area. He approaches the altar where two silver basins are waiting. He pours wine into one of the basins as a drink offering to the Lord and water from the pool of Siloam into the other. The whole ceremony, with the parade and the flutes and the singing, was such a joyful occasion that one of the ancient rabbis wrote: “Anyone who has not seen this water ceremony has never seen rejoicing in his life.” The ceremony was to thank God for His bounty and to ask Him to provide rain for the crops in the coming year. (David Brickner: Finding Jesus in the Feast of Tabernacles)
Midway through the week long feast, Jesus enters the Temple and began to preach, a great risk considering that the Jews were already seeking to kill him. Not only did his words fall on deaf ears because he was seen as uneducated, the people rumoured that he was demon possessed so that others will not listen to him either (John 7:14-36). Finding no open hearts, Jesus closed his mouth.
On the eighth day, when the feast has reached its climatic end, Jesus, unable to restrain himself any longer, seeing that the hearts of his people remained empty as religious procession began to fill the day, made an impassioned plea, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” John reveals to his readers that Jesus was in fact referring to the Holy Spirit who will be given to the believers, but not before Christ is glorified (by being crucified on the cross).
Which picture, the one on the left or the right, do you think more accurately depicts the concept of the filling of a believer by the Holy Spirit? The picture on the left is how most Christians understand the filling of the Holy Spirit is like. The believer is filled once to the brim, then over time the need arises for him to be topped-up or filled again because, as they say, “We leak”.
The fact of the matter is: the way we are being filled with Holy Spirit looks more like the picture on the right. What is formed as a result of the filling is, in the words of Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, “not a pool of water standing still, and becoming stagnant, nor even a stream of water gently gliding on—but a spring perpetually forcing itself upward. ” (Charles Spurgeon. Sermon: Life’s Ever-Springing Well) Living water is not only forced upward but also outward, resulting in “rivers of living water” emanating from the Spirit-filled believer.
In the Old Testament are numerous mentions of the term “fresh water”, one of which is in Leviticus 15:13. “When a man is cleansed from his discharge, he is to count off seven days for his ceremonial cleansing; he must wash his clothes and bathe himself with fresh water, and he will be clean.” When you consult the original Hebrew text, you will learn that the word ‘fresh’ literally means ‘living’ and it typically refers to moving water, such as from a stream or a river.
Note, however, that when living water is transported, say by means of a large vessel, to the person needing to be cleansed in the camp, the water no longer can considered living. It is dead. The only acceptable way in God’s eyes is for the man to bathe (or baptise) himself in the river. Then, and only then, will he be made clean.
It is Life-giving
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:6-12)
Interestingly, it was a river that Ezekiel was allowed to see in a vision. It was a eastward flowing, fresh water river that is teeming with life, both in and around it. John saw a similar river in his vision. It, too, was a River of Life.
Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)
These two pictures illustrates for us the life-giving effects we will have on our surroundings wherever we are when rivers of living water are indeed flowing out from the throne of God situated in each of us provided we constantly walk by the Spirit.