Understanding Figurative Language Used in the Bible:
Living Water (Holy Spirit)
Figurative language is used in everyday speech, most every piece of literature, and throughout the Bible itself. Many have found figurative sayings hard to comprehend. Questions arise, ‘Should this phrase be understood literally or figuratively?’, or ‘What does this saying signify?’Answering those questions can be difficult. To Answer them and find the true meaning, it becomes necessary to dedicate time conducting in-depth and thorough studies of any passage in which figurative language is used.
Living Water – Holy Spirit
This article,we wish to share with you an excerpt from one of the lessons on “Understanding Figurative Language Used in the Bible” entitled “Living Water – Holy Spirit.” As part of our lesson, we study John’s account of Jesus and the woman at the well found in John 4:3-39. The account opens with Jesus and His disciples leaving Judea and travelling back to Galilee. Along the way, they stopped at Jacob’s well near the town of Sychar, in Samaria. The disciples left Jesus there and went into the town to buy food. While Jesus was sitting by the well, a Samaritan woman came to draw water.
Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”
She replied, “How is that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”
*She was surprised that Jesus asked her for water, because Jews did not associate with Samaritans.
Jesus answered, “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.”
The woman responded, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman had no idea that Jesus was talking figuratively. She thought that Jesus was talking about physical earthly water. So she replied, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
We know the rest of the story about how Jesus told her to call her husband, and then told her about herself. Finally, He revealed to her that He was the Messiah, the Christ. There is no record that Jesus explained to the woman what He meant when said, “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
What Did Jesus Mean? Thankfully, John gives us the meaning three chapters later. Here Jesus was in Jerusalem attending the Feast of Tabernacles.
On the last day of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of His belly will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.John 7:37-39
Once we read John 7:37-39, we understand that the living water that Jesus talked about when He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well was actually the Holy Spirit, which Jesus would give to all who came to Him and believed in Him. Jesus' "Living water" was in fact 'The Holy Spirit.'
What is Living Water? In order to understand the significance of ‘Living water’ and why Jesus used this term in relation to ‘Holy Spirit’, we need to look into the history of Israel, their relationship with God and their use of the term “living water.”
Biblical Background: In ancient Biblical times, water and wells were precious. Water was scarce. Without a constant supply of water, there was no life. Villages and towns were built around brooks, wells, and springs. Battles were fought over wells; when one controlled a well, the surrounding land was his. Enemies blocked each other’s wells to drive them out of the land. In a land where water was scarce, wells were of primary importance. [See: Genesis 26:19-21]
Places that had living water were especially prized. The term ‘living water’ refers to the fact it is moving. A place with living water had running water with fresh water constantly feeding it. The water that came out of a spring was to them living water.
Remember that in the wilderness God demonstrated to the people of Israel that He was their provision and the source of living water; in other words – the source of life. Only one and a half months after the people of Israel left the land of Egypt they complained against Moses and Aaron. As they moved from the Desert of Sin (the wilderness between Elim and Sinai) to Rephidim, there was no water for them to drink. They accused Moses of bringing them out of Egypt to kill them, their children, and their livestock with thirst. Moses cried out to God. God told him to take the elders and stand in front of the rock at Horeb. God had Moses strike the rock in front of all Israel. Water came out. (Exodus 16-17)
Thirty-eight years later, the congregation of Israel was still wandering in the wilderness. They came to the Desert of Zin (a portion of the desert tract between the Dead Sea and Arabah) and stayed at Kadesh. Once again, they gathered against Moses and Aaron, complaining that there was no water for them to drink. The people said, "If only we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! Why have you brought up the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? In addition, why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink." (Numbers 20:3-5)
God instructed Moses to gather the congregation of the people together and speak to the rock before their eyes and it would yield water. Moses and Aaron gathered the people before the rock; and he said, "Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.
God the Source of Living Water After thirty-eight years of walking with God in the wilderness the people of Israel should have known that God is their provision. He is the source of life. He provided mama for them to eat, led them throughout their life to wells and brooks. Where the water was scarce, He had split rocks giving them life-giving water. As Psalmists said:
Psalms 78:15-16: He split the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink in abundance like the depths. He also brought streams out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
Psalms 78:20:Behold, He struck the rock, So that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed. Can He give bread also? Can He provide meat for His people?"
Psalms 105:41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it ran in the dry places like a river.
God kept the promise He gave to their fathers Abraham, Isaacs, and Jacob. He brought them into the Promised Land; a good land, a land of fountains and springs, brooks of water flowing out of hills and in valleys, a land of wheat and barley, vines, fig trees, and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey, a land in which they would eat bread without scarcity, lacking nothing.
Even though God gave Israel all these things, they sinned against God. They forsook God, their fountain of living water. Hundreds of years later, Jeremiah the prophet spoke to the people and prophesied against them that their judgement was near and God would bring destruction upon them. He used figurative language to describe their evilness saying, "For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns — broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2:13
(Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came and destroyed Jerusalem taking the people of Judah into captivity.)
From Living Water to Holy Spirit When Jesus told the woman at the well that he would have given her living water if she had asked him, she may have remembered how God split the rock providing water for His people. She may have thought that Jesus would do something similar; giving her a well so that she did not need to come to Jacob’s well to draw water anymore. She did not understand that Jesus was not talking about physical earthly water. All the stories that were passed down from the fathers were about physical living water. Why would she think anything else? When Jesus told her, “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” she did not comprehend the true meaning of His words.
However, now we know the true meaning which Jesus did not say (it was not time yet.) He was not going to give her physical living water that satisfies the thirst of this temporary life, but spiritual living water, which is the Holy Spirit, which satisfies one for life eternal. We know from the writings of the Apostles that those who received the Holy Spirit became born of the Spirit. They received a spirit that would live eternal. The Holy Spirit, which they received, was spiritual living water welling up within them. Therefore, they would never thirst again.
It was necessary that the people of Israel should understand this truth; God through Jesus gives this spiritual living water. It was given freely to those who came to Jesus, believed in Him, and asked from Him. Jesus during His earthly ministry commanded the Jews to come to Him and drink. Like the woman at the well, they too did not understand. All they need to do was ask, and they could have the Holy Spirit.
John 7:37-39 “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of His belly will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Jesus another time declared,
Luke 11:13 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"
Later, when the Apostles preached to them, they understood. They understood that the spiritual living water is the Holy Spirit, who comes from God and Jesus. Only through believing in Jesus, coming to Him, and asking Him, could one receive this spiritual living water.
At the preaching of Peter on the Day of Pentecost, (Acts 2) the Holy Spirit was given for the first time. Spiritual living water flew from the Throne of God and Christ to those who had come to Jesus and believed in His name. From that day forward, the Apostles went everywhere proclaiming Jesus, and the church throughout history, also proclaimed this truth: 'Come to Jesus and drink.'
In the Book of Revelation, the Lord had John state that the Holy Spirit would be given to those who come to Jesus and trust in His name. John still described the Holy Spirit in figurative language. The Holy Spirit flows like water out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation also repeats Jesus’ invitation to ‘come and drink’ this spiritual living water (Holy Spirit). All who partake of Him are refreshed and receive life.
Revelation: 21:6And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.
Revelation 22:1,2And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Revelation 22:17And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires let him take the water of life freely.
Revelation 7:17 "for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
This spiritual living water was given almost 2,000 years ago and continues until this day.