Jesus began the conversation by asking the woman for a drink from the well. The question caught her unawares, since it was not common for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan, much less a Jewish man to a Samaritan woman. Wondering about this uncustomary manner of Jesus and why he would speak to her, the woman asked him how it was that he would ask her for a drink.
Jesus answered her question by causing her to ask herself a more basic question concerning the teaching that he was about to give. He said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:14 BSB).
Thinking Beyond the Physical
This manner of getting people to ask themselves deeper questions was actually a common way that Jesus taught. He very often tried to get people to ask of themselves the deeper questions, instead of him putting the questions directly to them.
It is apparent at this point that even though Jesus used the term “living water” in his answer to the Samaritan woman, she understood him only to be speaking of the literal type water that she came to draw from the well.
She responded, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where then do you get that living water?”
But Jesus was not speaking about the water in the well, and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life.”
To this, the woman responded much like the people who had eaten the meal of bread and fish after Jesus had fed the five thousand. When Jesus spoke of the food that came down from heaven, they understood him to be speaking merely of physical food, and asked him to give them that food always (John 6:34).
The woman was thinking in terms of water, and she said, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw.”
Was Jesus speaking literally, as it seems that the woman was still thinking? It certainly does seem that she was still thinking of literal water. It is true that when she spoke of her having her thirst quenched, it could be interpreted that she may have been speaking of a spiritual thirst. However, since she also mentions never again having to come to the well of Samaria to draw water, it must be that she thought that Jesus was making some promise of a continual source of physical water to drink.
But of course, Jesus was not talking about the literal water in the well. Since the woman seemed to have had a difficult time understanding that Jesus was trying to speak of her need in a spiritual sense instead of a physical, Jesus dropped the subject of water altogether. He then turned to another subject to bring out what he was trying to teach her. He began to speak now of another need in her life, one that lent itself more to pointing out her need for a spiritual understanding in her manner of living.
I will return to this conversation between Jesus and the woman in a moment, and what Jesus told her to do, but first, I would like to look at what Jesus said about the subject of the living water in another occasion.
At the Feast of the Tabernacles
On another occasion, Jesus was again speaking of a source of water that gives life. In this case, Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles (also called Sukkot or the Feast of Booths). In our own day, we perhaps commonly think of a tabernacle as a temple-like and even magnificent structure, but this was not the original use of the word.
The true meaning of the word tabernacle is a portable and even temporary structure put up for the night. They were the type of structures that the Israelites put up in their years of wandering in the wilderness. They were the temporary shelters made of palms and willow branches—the tabernacles in the wilderness.
The Feast of the Tabernacles, much like the Passover Feast, also commemorated the time of the Exodus. It derives its name from the fact that during their time in the wilderness, the Israelites lived in these types of moveable shelters. The feast of the tabernacles was a remembrance and celebration of God’s provision during that time.
One of the unique features that is associated with this feast is what is called The Celebration of the Place of Water-Drawing. This commemorated the drawing of the water for the water-libation on the Altar. In this part of the worship, water was carried up the Jerusalem pilgrim road from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Jesus Speaks of Water
While in Jerusalem for this feast, Jesus had astounded the people with the depth of his teachings, although some things they did not understand. They asked one another, “How did this man attain such learning without having studied?” There were even many who wondered aloud if perhaps Jesus was the Christ—their awaited Messiah.
Water was already a significant theme of the feast, and then, on the final day of the eight-day feast, Jesus stood and said with a loud voice, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water’” (John -38 NAS).
The account in the Scripture of this event does not give the reaction of the people to this statement by Jesus, but here again, as with the Samaritan woman, we might expect many who heard it to have wondered what the nature of this living water was. Normally, when one speaks of a thirst, he is speaking in a literal sense.
However, here it is quite clear that Jesus is not speaking literally, at least not in the opinion of the Apostle John (as directed by the Holy Spirit). John follows this statement of Jesus with his own comment: “He was speaking about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.”
The account does also tell us that because of the words of Jesus, some of the people thought he must be a prophet, and others that he actually was the Christ, even if they may not have understood exactly the nature of the living water. Still, others rejected him, and even wanted him seized.
In general, the people were divided. This is not surprising. The words of Jesus still bring division, as any words that actually speak the deep truth will do.
Back to the Well
With the woman of Samaria speaking with Jesus at the well, it took her a little while to realize that when Jesus spoke of the living water, he was not speaking of the literal and physical type of water which one would draw out of a well. However, as I mentioned earlier, this realization did not come to her until Jesus changed the subject entirely and told the woman something about her own life.
As the two were speaking of water, Jesus suddenly told the woman to go back to the village and return again to the well. He also told her that she should bring her husband with her when she returned. When the woman told Jesus that she had no husband, he revealed something to her about her life which she had not been willing to share.
Jesus said to her, “You are correct to say that you have no husband. In fact, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. You have spoken truthfully” (John 4:17-18 BSB).
The woman had no idea how Jesus could know this fact. She was a stranger to Jesus, he was not from the area, and he was even not a Samaritan. When he spoke of her previous five husbands and of her present co-habitation with another man, it was only then that the woman seemed to realize that Jesus was more than an ordinary Jewish stranger who first began a conversation with her by asking for a drink from the well.
She replied to him, “Sir, I believe that you must be a prophet.”
To the woman, the fact that Jesus intuitively knew this private information about her was a sign that he was speaking from God. This I think this made the woman uncomfortable. She may have been uncomfortable already, since she perhaps had never before spoke with a Jewish man, but now that Jesus revealed that he knew about her private life, she was especially distressed.
“Let’s Change the Subject”
As people often do when they are feeling this way, they try to change the subject and speak about something that is not so personal. When changing the conversation in this way to divert the attention off of themselves, any subject may do, but when the discussion is about spiritual matters, a good defensive tactic is to speak about some common religious controversy. This is what the woman did.
Knowing that the Jews had different religious practices than those of the Samaritans, the woman responded, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place where one must worship is in Jerusalem” (John 4:20).
In the conversation that continued between Jesus and the woman, all talk of water or even the physical aspect of life was now forgotten. With the question of the woman, Jesus began to speak of the spiritual aspects of a relationship with God.
Jesus said to her, “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John -24 NAS).
Again we see that Jesus was directing the conversation and the thoughts of the woman away from thinking only about the physical aspect of life. To the woman, it was the place of worship that was the important matter—it was the mountain of Samaria. However, Jesus told her that true worship is the spirit in which it is done. The physical location was unimportant. In addition to this, worship must be done based upon truth, not upon custom.
Salvation Comes to the Samaritan Woman
The woman was beginning to understand. She was beginning to see the importance of the spiritual truths that Jesus was explaining to her. Jesus had awakened a slumbering spiritual thirst within her. No one had spoken to her like this before. She ventured a comment that revealed what she was coming to believe.
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.”
Jesus said to her, “I am He, the One speaking to you” (John 4:25-26 NAS).
Abandoning the Physical to Take Up the Spiritual
If the woman was still holding her waterpot when Jesus said this to her, she quickly then set it down. Perhaps the significance of the words of Jesus hit her hard, and in shock, she simply dropped it. But hearing what Jesus said, the woman next did something that was symbolic as well as significant. She left her pot at the well and went into the city to tell the people that she had been speaking with a man that she was coming to believe was the Christ.
Keep in mind, her whole purpose of going to the well in the first place was because she needed water in her home, but here we see her abandoning her waterpot without actually bringing any water at all back with her into the city. The physical water that she first sought and at first even hoped that Jesus could supply for her, now became unimportant. She finally had the sense that the spiritual thirst with which she had tried to fill in a physical way by searching for a good husband could be quenched with the living water that Jesus spoke of.
She did not even say to herself in cold practicality, “I am going to tell the people of the city about the Christ, but since I am going back to town, I may as well bring some water. Why waste a trip?”
She did none of this. She left her waterpot so that she would be unencumbered in her mission to tell of the Christ.
Spiritual Water – Spiritual Food
Next Jesus said something of even more significance. Just before the woman had left, the disciples, who had gone into the city to buy food, returned, bringing food to eat. They tried to get Jesus to eat something, since the reason that they stopped at that place in Samaria in the first place was because Jesus had become weary. But when they returned from the city, Jesus did not take any of the food that they had brought out for him.
“Rabbi, eat,” the disciples urged Him.
“I have food to eat that you do not know about,” Jesus replied.
This surprised the disciples, since they knew that Jesus had earlier been hungry. They asked each other if someone had already brought some food to Jesus.
But Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John NAS).
This is actually a very interesting statement. We must remember that Jesus’ initial hunger was physical. He was wearied from the journey, so while the disciples went into town to buy food, Jesus rested at the well. It was while the disciples were in town that the woman had come out to draw water. Her thirst was for the water of the well.
In the ensuing conversation that Jesus had with her, Jesus explained to the woman how to achieve the water of life. He spoke of spiritual water. Learning of this, her thirst for the water of the well was forgotten. She left her pot at the well and went to tell others of Jesus.
At the return of the disciples and as they offered food to Jesus, he refused it, saying that he had food that the disciples did not know about. Of course he spoke not of food that was physical in nature, but spiritual.
Jesus told the disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”
Compare this statement with what he told the Samaritan woman: “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life.”
Trying to Fill the Spiritual with the Physical
Jesus spoke of spiritual food as opposed to physical food. He spoke of spiritual water as opposed to physical water. This distinction between the spiritual and the physical is a difficult lesson to learn. For our entire lives we are taught how to satisfy the physical, but there is relatively little teaching about the importance of the spiritual—and often none at all.
The result is that we have the billions of people of the world who are feeling a spiritual hunger and a spiritual thirst, but who do not know how to address these needs. All that they understand is the physical, and so when the spiritual hunger and thirst comes to them, they interpret it as something that must be satisfied by the physical.
“For My people have committed two evils,” God has said through the prophet Jeremiah. “They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water, and they have dug their own cisterns—broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13 BSB).
The Samaritan woman married five times, hoping to satisfy a thirst that was spiritual. Failing that, she then just moved in with a man without the bother of commitment. It was not until she learned of the spiritual water that her thirst was satisfied.
Her physical thirst now forgotten, the woman ran back into the city to tell others of the life that she had found with Jesus. She must have been very convincing, since the people of the city went out to the well for themselves to hear what Jesus had to say.
When they listened to the words of Jesus, they convinced him to go back with them into the city, where he stayed for two days, teaching them about attaining true fulfillment. Many more people of that city believed his message.
After all of this, they said to the woman, “We now believe not only because of your words, but we have also now heard for ourselves. We know that this man truly is the Savior of the world.”
Come to the Waters
The following words were written by the prophet Isaiah. It almost seems as if he wrote them especially for the woman at the well. They were not, of course, at least not specifically. They are written for all of us:
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. For the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and He also has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation, and on that day you will say:
“Give praise to the LORD; proclaim His name!
Make His works known among the peoples; declare that His name is exalted.
Sing to the LORD, for He has done glorious things. Let this be known in all the earth.”
(Isaiah 12:2-5 BSB)
Isaiah also writes, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat!” (Isaiah 55:1 BSB)
And as I read at the closing of last week’s sermon, the words of Jesus: “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give freely from the spring of the water of life. The one who overcomes will inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son [and she My daughter]. (Revelation 21:6-7 BSB)
Lastly, there are these words found near the end of the book of Revelation. They are some I think of often:
Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, then down the middle of the main thoroughfare of the city. On either side of the river grew the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit and yielding a fresh crop for each month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Let the one who hears say, “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come, and the one who desires the water of life drink freely. (Revelation 22:1-2, 17 BSB)
Is there a thirst in you that you have never been able to quench? Come to the waters. Take a good long drink from the waters of life, given freely to all who seek them!