Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” – John 4:10
The story of the women at the well (John 4) is a famous one, and its narrative elements are as old as time. A wise sage (Jesus) meets a broken person (the woman at the well) and offers her insight about God, life, and herself. As a result, the person and the village are changed, rejoice, and the sage goes on His way to the next group of people who needs His wisdom. Every movie ever. Except this isn’t just a story, Jesus isn’t just a sage, and He gives the broken woman not only sound insight but hope and life. Here’s the scene. It’s a hot afternoon, Jesus, a pure-blooded Jewish rabbi, sits alone by the side of a well. A Samaritan woman (typically hated by the Jews), also alone, comes to draw water from the well when Jesus asks her for a simple drink. This simple request, scandalous for its time, ended up showing the woman that her need was more than just a cup of water, instead, she needed living water from which she’d never thirst.
The theme of living waters is splashed (pun intended) all over the Scriptures. Like most themes, we find it on the first few pages of the Bible in Genesis 1. The first time water is even mentioned is in Genesis 1:2 “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Coupled with the term without form and void (wild and waste), the imagery here is an earth that is a chaotic watery wasteland with God’s Spirit sovereignly hovering over it ready to order and shape. In the rest of the chapter, waters or seas are mentioned for a total of 16 times. We see from the beginning of the chapter that waters are chaotic, but God eventually turns it into something ordered, good, and life-giving. The theme continues:
- In Genesis 2 after God rests in His cosmic temple, God places the Garden in Eden, and with the tree of life at the centre of the Garden, rivers flow forth to water and give life to the entire world (Genesis 2:10-14).
- In Genesis 6-9, the world has become exceedingly wicked. Everyone has turned away from Yahweh and follows after their own rebellious desires. As an act of judgement and restoration, God floods the world both destroying it with chaotic waters but also renewing with those same waters. The flood is giving life to a sort of newly created order in which God will start again with His new Adam Noah.
- In Exodus 14 after Israel has been freed from the oppressive rule of Pharoah in Egypt, they come to the beach of the Red Sea that separates them from the promised land. God, through Moses, parts the waters to allow His people to safely travel through eventually closing the sea behind them, destroying the pursuing Egyptians.
- God is depicted as being living water in opposition to idols and other gods (Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13).
- Like the Garden of Eden, the temple is depicted as having water flowing out of it (Ezekiel 47:1-12) giving life to the surrounding area.
- Zechariah 14:8 talks about living waters flowing out of Jerusalem (also analogues for sacred space) watering the whole earth in the new creation.
- As we come back to the woman at the well, we see Jesus obviously identifying Himself as the waters of life. Jesus is the temple that houses the presence of God, that gives life to those around Him (John 4:10-11). In fact, John depicts water flowing from the side of Jesus on the cross (John 19:34).
- Those who are united to Jesus in faith will also have living waters flowing from their hearts (John 7:38) as part of the new temple and the new creation.
- Finally, in the new heavens and earth, we see Jesus, the Lamb of God leading people to rivers of living water (Revelation 7:17) to drink from (Revelation 21:6) that flow from the throne of God and the lamb with the tree of life on each side of the river (Revelation 22:1-2).
These are just a few examples of what living waters throughout the Bible. Whether or not the woman at the well was clued into even most of these ideas is uncertain. However, what we do know is that after the conversation she had with Jesus she believed, she was transformed, and as a result, many others believed in Jesus as the Messiah as well. At the end of the day, two things can be taken away from this. 1. That real-life comes from Jesus the Messiah. You will never thirst. 2. If you’re a Christian, your job is to go about watering the earth and giving life to it with the Gospel and by loving others. If salvation is anything, it is giving life to those who don’t have it.