The Biblical land of Israel straddles the world’s largest mirage, giving an illusion of life where there is none. This has forced her inhabitants to lead out in the human quest for that indispensable and life-giving substance – water. It also provides an enlightening backdrop for some of the wisdom, wildest hopes, and extravagant promises in the Bible. These promises extend to you and, offer a life lived with satisfaction. But to glimpse this we need to see what those living there have had to learn to do because of it.
The Unique Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is the most prominent geographical feature in the land of Israel. It is located at the lowest elevation on earth, 431 m below sea level in the middle of a desert. To have such a beautiful and large body of water in the middle of a parched land would seem to be most fortunate for the surrounding inhabitants. However, at 35% salt content it is the largest permanent hypersaline lake in the world. Therefore it supports no life – hence the name Dead Sea. You cannot drink this water. Even getting some in your eyes and on any open sores causes extreme irritation.
The Bible first mentions the Dead Sea in accounts of Abraham some 4000 years ago. The Dead Sea has provided the backdrop to all subsequent writers, kings, and prophets through Biblical history, just a few miles from Jerusalem. These writers used water, a life-or-death necessity in that region, to illustrate truths about ourselves. They used water as a theme to extend promises to us.
Jeremiah Diagnoses our Thirst
Jeremiah lived at the close of the period of Kings (600 BCE), when corruption and evil extended through Israelite society. He denounced their evils, the same ones also common today in our societies. But Jeremiah began his message with this.
13 “My people have committed two sins:Jeremiah 2:13
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Jeremiah used water as a metaphor to help them understand sin better. He declared that they were like thirsty people searching for water. There was nothing wrong with being thirsty. But they needed to drink good water. God himself was the good Living Water that could quench their thirst. However, instead of coming to Him to quench their thirst, the Israelites relied on other sources, leaking ones, to drink from. But their broken cisterns would not hold water long-term and would thus leave them even thirstier.
In other words, their sin, in all its many forms, could be summed up as turning to other things apart from God to satisfy their thirst. But these other things would not be able to quench their thirst just as a leaky glass cannot be relied on to provide ongoing refreshment. In the, after all, their empty pursuits, the Israelites remained thirsty. They were left holding only their broken cisterns – i.e. all the problems and difficulties caused by their sins. Solomon, the richest and most successful person in all history, detailed, in masterful ways, the pursuit he undertook to quench his thirst.
Thirsty People in a Sea of bad water sources
This aptly also applies to us today in our age of wealth, entertainment, self-fulfillment and pleasure. Modern society is by far the wealthiest, best educated, most-travelled, entertained, happiness-driven, and technologically advanced out of any age. We easily turn to these, and other things of our age: pornography, illicit relationships, drugs, alcohol, greed, money, anger, jealousy. We hope that perhaps these will satisfy our thirst. But as the Dead Sea is a mirage, holding only sterile death even while appearing like fresh water from afar, these are also mirages. They cannot quench thirst in a lasting way and will only result in death.
Jeremiah’s warning and Solomon’s chronicles should provoke us to ask some honest questions ourselves.
- Why in our modern age with so much, do we struggle with depression, suicide, obesity, divorce, jealousy, envy, hatred, and pornography,?
- What ‘cisterns’ do you use to satisfy your thirst? Do they hold ‘water’?
- Do you think you will ever get enough to satisfy your thirst? If Solomon’s thirst could not be quenched with all he obtained, how will you?
Jesus taught on these same questions, promising to quench our thirst. He did so claiming to represent Israel, with our conclusion here. His promise regarding water stands out particularly as we note that the nation Israel leads the world in water technology. The two Israels offer water, albeit of different kinds, to a thirsty world.
Israel offers great water to the world
Because of their arid conditions, Israelis have had to become world leaders in water technology, vital to their national survival. They have developed and built industrial-scale and world-leading, reverse osmosis water desalination plants that convert seawater to drinking water. This technology is energy efficient and less expensive than other desalination methods, which evaporate water. Israel has five such desalination plants giving it so much drinking water that it can now replenish the Sea of Galilee with drinking water. Countries across the Middle East are signing agreements with Israel so that this water technology can be developed for them.
Another Israeli technology can generate drinking water from moisture in the air. Begun by helping militaries to supply drinking water to troops, the technology has been expanded to quench the ‘global thirst’. Automaker Ford has recently added this technology to some of their so that you can take a drink ‘while you drive. SodaStream, which sells C02 cartridges with kits to carbonize your drinking water, has a global distribution allowing you to ‘fizz your way to sparkling water’.
Truly this arid land with its Dead Sea has become the world’s foremost leader in quenching the thirst of the world.
Israel offers Living Water to the world
It is fascinating then that the other Israel, Jesus, also offers water – Living Water – to the world. With the backdrop of Jeremiah’s diagnosis of our thirst, consider this conversation recorded in the Gospel.
Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman
1 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 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?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 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.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
The Disciples Join Jesus Again
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Many Samaritans Believe in Jesus
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”John 4:1-42
Jesus asked her for a drink for two reasons. First, he was thirsty. But he also knew that she was thirsty as per Jeremiah’s diagnosis. She thought she could satisfy this thirst through relationships with men. So she had had several husbands and was with a man her husband. Thus her neighbors viewed her as immoral. This explains why she had gone alone to get water at noon. The village women did not want her along when they went to the well in the cool of the morning had alienated themselves from the other village women.
Following Jeremiah’s lead, Jesus used thirst as a theme so she could realize that she had a deep thirst in her life – a thirst that is quenched. He declared to her (and us) that only he could ultimately quench her inner thirst.
To Believe – Confessing in truth
But Jesus’ offer of ‘living water’ threw her into a crisis. When Jesus told her to get her husband, he was purposefully provoking her to recognize and admit her broken cistern. He pushed her to confess it. We avoid this at all costs! We prefer to hide our sins, hoping no one will see. Or we rationalize, making excuses for our sins, but if we want to experience the living water’ then we must be honest and admit our ‘broken cisterns’ because the Gospel promises that:
19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,Acts 3:19
For this reason Jesus told the Samaritan woman that:
24 God is spirit. His worshipers must worship him in the Spirit and in truth.”John 4:24
By ‘truth’ he meant being truthful about ourselves, not trying to hide or excuse our wrong. The wonderful news is that God ‘seeks’ and will not turn away anyone who comes with this open honesty – no matter what they have drunk.
The Distraction of Religious Arguments
But this requires an honest vulnerability. Changing the subject from ourselves onto a religious dispute creates perfect cover to hide. The world always has many ongoing religious disputes. In that day there was a religious dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews regarding the proper place of worship. By turning the conversation to this religious dispute she was hoping to divert attention away from her leaking cistern. She could now hide her vulnerability behind religion.
How easily and naturally we do the same thing – especially if we have some religious affiliation. Then we can judge how others are wrong or how we are correct. We can ignore our need to be honest about our thirst.
Jesus did not follow into this dispute with her. He insisted that her honesty about herself in worship was what mattered. She could come before God anywhere (since He is Spirit). But she needed honest self-realization before she could receive his ‘living water’.
The Decision We all Must Make
So she had an important decision to make. She could continue hiding behind a religious dispute or perhaps just leave him. But she finally chose to admit her thirst – to confess. She did not hide anymore. In doing this she became a ‘believer’. She had performed religious ceremonies before, but now she – and those in her village – became ‘believers’.
To become a believer is not simply mentally agreeing with correct religious doctrine – important though that is. It is about believing that His promise of mercy can be trusted, and therefore you no longer should cover-up sin. This is what Abraham had modeled for us so long ago – he trusted a promise.
Vulnerable questions to ask oneself
Do you excuse or hide your thirst? Do you hide it with devout religious practice or religious dispute? Or do you confess? What stops you confessing before our Creator the broken cisterns causing guilt and shame?
The woman’s honest openness to her need led to her understanding of Jesus as the ‘Messiah’. After he had stayed for two days the villagers understood him as ‘the Saviour of the world‘. They realized that Jesus who gave them Living Water must also be the Lord God, because it had been written:
13 Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.Jeremiah 17:13
Postscript – Dead Sea will come to Life
Jesus promises to quench our internal thirst with Living Water today. So also the Bible promises that one day in the future the Dead Sea, that ever-present picture of our dead spiritual condition, will:
8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea.Ezekiel 47:8-10
This will happen when:
8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.
9 The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.Zechariah 14:8-9
The Bible foresees that Christ will return. When he does, in His Kingdom, he will transform the Dead Sea into one teeming with life. That image of sterile death will no longer be needed then. The Dead Sea will accurately picture the Living Water flowing from the two Israels, both the nation and its Messiah.
Next we see Jesus teaching about investing, and he does so with contrarian convictions.