Living water in Jewish speech would have meant water that was flowing, like a river or a stream. The Samaritan woman wanted to know where Jesus found it. The water from the well was stagnant and still. Living water sounded so much more pure and filling.
Here in John 4:12 it appears that the woman is beginning to understand that Jesus was not speaking literally of water but of something or someone greater. So she asked the question, “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Meaning, is the water, the living water that you have to give greater than Jacob’s and his gift to his family from it?
And Jesus responded to her inquiry by revealing to her that, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Many times in the Old Testament, God is pictured as the One who can supply living water to satisfy the thirst for God that exists in every soul.
- Isaiah wrote, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3)
- David said, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1)
- God declared through Jeremiah 2:13, “My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
- Even Isaiah 55:1 declares to the people, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”
Jesus was referring to Himself as the living water. And He said whoever receives this gift of living water will not only never run dry, but will continue to well up into eternity.
Though this woman may still not have fully understood, she said to Him in verse 15, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus then led her to a turning point in their conversation. In doing so, He gave her a fuller picture of her need for this living water that leads to eternal life. He told her to go and call her husband and then come back.
She responded to His command by telling Him that she had no husband, which was only partially true. Yet Jesus uncovered the full truth and gently exposed her sins of the past and present. He said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
Whether or not the woman was feeling exposed and uncomfortable and was trying to push the conversation off of herself and the reality of her sins, we are not quite sure. Maybe she sincerely wanted to know who was right–the Jews or the Samaritans. She confessed clearly in verses 19-20, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
And He again opened her eyes and mind to the fuller and right understanding of what little truth she did know. He told her a time was coming (future) when she would worship the Father neither “on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” He said the Samaritans worshiped what they did not know, (false gods). Jesus and the Jews worshiped what they did know, for salvation was from the Jews. (God had entrusted the Jews with the Word of God and the message of it).
“Yet,” Jesus said, “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.”
In other words, Jesus was saying that the Samaritans got it wrong and the Jewish scriptures are correct. The “prophet” would come from the Jews. However, the Jews had it wrong at another point. That point was that the place of true worship would be neither a shrine nor the Temple.
The time was coming when the true worship of a believer would take place in the heart and not a physical building.
The Jewish religion had devolved. It no longer worshiped God spiritually, only in the performance of empty rituals and form. Wrongly thinking that their ceremonial practices were the essence of worship, they were not spiritually anticipating the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. Thus Judaism was without spirit and truth.
But a new day was dawning when that would no longer be the case. Worship would not be limited or reserved for a physical location but would be reflected in the heart, mind, and actions of every believer as they lived out the truth of the living Word.
And so the Samaritan woman responded to Jesus’ enlightenment of truth by admitting that she did know that they were all waiting for the Messiah and that when He came, He would explain everything to them.
Jesus then declared to her (verse 26), “I, the one speaking to you–I am he.”
Wow! What a revelation this woman must have had at that moment. The living water and His Word had come in person and supplied her deepest need.