The water of life. 4:1-26


In chapter 4, verses 1-42, we find recorded a conversation between Jesus and a woman of Samaria - a discourse on the water of life. In our passage for study Jesus proclaims that he is the source of spiritual life, the source of eternal sustenance - the life-giving Spirit. If we ask him for life eternal then it is ours as a gift.

The passage

v1-6. The Pharisees note that Jesus' disciples are baptizing more people than John and so Jesus moves out of the danger zone of Judea, northward through Samaria to Galilee. Going via Samaria was the shortest route. The Samaritans were Jews who interbred with imported foreigners after the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians in 722BC and so were despised by pure-blood Jews.

v7-15. Resting by a well, Jesus asks a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. She is taken aback by the request, given that Jews would not normally drink from the same utensil as a Samaritan. Jesus points out that she is the one who should be asking for a drink, not water as such, but "living water." The Samaritan woman assumes Jesus means running water. Does Jesus think he is greater than Jacob who gave the village this well? There is no fresh running creek nearby. Jesus points out that with his "living water" a person will never thirst again. Yet, the woman still can't quite grasp the fact that Jesus is using the image of fresh running water as a spiritual metaphor for the gift of eternal life. She thinks Jesus is promising some magical water that will overcome thirst. She would be happy to have some of this water and so never have to slave at this well ever again.

v16-26. Jesus cuts through the woman's confusion by asking to see her husband. She admits she has none and Jesus confirms the truth of her answer, given that she has lived with five men and that her present partner is not really her husband. The woman assumes that Jesus must be a prophet and so seeks to have him sort out a long-standing quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans over the authenticity of the temple of the Jews at Jerusalem and the temple of the Samaritans at Mount Gerizim. Jesus points out that the Jews have it right, but the time is coming when a new and radical means of approach to God renders any human sanctuary irrelevant.



God is a spiritual being, and those who want to approach him and know him eternally must be spiritually renewed (born again, washed) through the indwelling Spirit of Christ, and this guided by his word. The woman recognizes that the coming messiah will reveal such truth. Jesus discloses, "I who speak to you am he." The Samaritan woman accepts Jesus' self disclosure. For her, Jesus is the messiah, the source of the life-giving Spirit of God.

Living Water

The image of life-giving water found in our passage for study comes from Ezekiel 47:1-12. The prophet Ezekiel sees a river flowing from the new temple, starting as a trickle from the sanctuary, running out of the temple and becoming a great river. The prophet tells us that "where the river flows everything will live."

Life is lived at the material level. We love, enjoy, experience.... yet this is more existing than living. Existence is a bitter/sweet proposition, certainly more sweet than bitter for those living in Western Society. Living, on the other hand, is ultimately found on another level, a level where we experience true life, real life, a life lived with God, a life infused with the divine presence, a life filled with the Spirit of God.

So, where will we find this "living water" such that we will never thirst again? John reminds us that Christ is the source of authentic life. Seek and you will find.


1. List the parallels between Ezekiel 47:1-12 and John 4.

2. What is the "living water" that Christ will give to those who ask?

3. Jesus defines two substantial elements necessary for our worship / adoration / approach to God. What are they? Define and apply.

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