Living Water (John 4:1-15)
by Stan Cox

After Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus (John 3), He left Judea, and traveled through Samaria on His way back to Galilee. Many took a circuitous route between the two regions to avoid the Samaritans, who were despised by the Jews. However, Jesus determined to cross through Samaria, and immediately struck up a conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well in the city of Sychar.

Jesus' disciples had departed into the city to buy food, and upon their return (vs. 27) marveled that he had talked with the woman. Jesus' actions, and the content of the conversation itself, made clear that His purpose in coming to earth was to save all men, not just the Jews.

The beginning of the conversation supplies for us a wonderful application regarding the work of evangelism. Jesus used a mundane request, "Give Me a drink," (vs. 7), to introduce Himself to the woman as the Messiah. But first, he had to deal with the woman's perception of Jews. She wondered why he was talking with her, because, as she said, "Jews have no dealings with Samaritans" (vs. 9). Instead of directly answering the question, which was most probably an expression of her animosity, He intimated that He was the Messiah. He said, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water" (vs. 10).

The phrase "gift of God" is a bit obscure, as it could refer to the giving of Jesus himself (cf. John 3:16), or perhaps the gift of salvation. The phrase "living water" was likewise obscure, at least to the woman, as she made the same mistake as Nicodemus, assuming that Jesus was talking about the physical rather than the spiritual. However, Jesus' manner obviously disarmed and intrigued her, and allowed Jesus an opportunity to teach her important truths relative to her redemption.

Jesus' words caused her to first ask, "Are you greater than our father Jacob?" (vs. 12), then to proclaim, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet." (vs. 19). Finally, after their conversation was finished, she showed her growing faith by asking her countrymen, "Could this be the Christ?" (vs. 29). To the honest of heart, the words and works of Jesus clearly showed Him to be someone special, (cf. John 3:3), for He "taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:22).

The woman was first confused, as she thought Jesus was referring to the water in the well. The well was deep, and Jesus had no container to use to draw the water. Even after further clarification, she still thought Jesus was referring to actual water, perhaps from another location, that would forever slake her physical need (vs. 15).

Jesus, of course, was referring to the spiritual rather than physical. As Dan King puts it in his commentary on John,

It is easy for us to see in these words an allusion to the quenching of the spiritual thirst wrought by the gospel in the hearts of men. But this was a truth which the Samaritan woman could not yet hope to grasp. Her thoughts are upon physical needs and the relief which He might give her from the daily toil associated with visiting the well and drawing water from its depths. (pg. 76-77)
We should not be too harsh in our estimation of this woman, as she has many companions. Nicodemus was already mentioned, asking, "How can a man be born when he is old?" (John 3:4). The multitude in John 6 misunderstood Jesus' reference to the bread of God, saying, "Lord, give us this bread always" (vs. 34). Even his own disciples often misunderstood His spiritual references to his death, resurrection and reign as the Christ.

Of greater importance is the promise itself, "whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life" (vs. 14).

What Christ offers us sustains us for an eternity. While we will always get thirsty again, no matter how much we may drink, this spiritual water supplied by Christ quenches our spiritual needs forever. We have a better understanding of Jesus' words than did the woman at the well, but our request should be the same, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst…" (vs. 15).