Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” ~John 7:38
Living water – why would Jesus reference water in that way to the people at the temple and why is it important?
But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.~John 4:14. Jesus begins a conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well, purposed to draw her to himself by using a task central to her daily existence.
In Israel then and even now, water is a focused need, something that is required and sought. Israel has always had to work for water; today they are facing a water crisis with shortages due to drought and demand. We can shortchange the importance of obtaining water in our day to day because we have running water in our homes, but during Biblical times obtaining water was a daily task. And the adjective living is significant – I see this adjective through the lens of salvation almost immediately and think, “Of course, living for eternity” but that is not what the Jews thought. Living water then was vitally important because it was safe to consume and use. It brought healing. It was not tainted, dirtied, or stagnant.
In John 7, the Israelites were finishing up the Festival of Tabernacles in which every day the priest walked down to a spring and drew water and brought it up to the temple with the people celebrating, praising and praying as he walked. He then poured it out on the temple floor, signifying the living water that heals and replenishes, sates thirst, and satisfies a dry land so that new growth and a new season can happen. Into this Jesus stepped on the last day of the festival and announced that He is the one to whom anyone thirsty should come. Water would no longer have to be gathered; rather the Water would reside within.
Psalm 36:9 states, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”
In Israel a cistern or well would be dug in order to capture flowing water or runoff and store it for future use. This water never offered fresh, flowing streams, but it provided for times of drought. Unless there was great maintenance, these cisterns would crack or wear down. God uses this picture to caution the Israelites in Jeremiah. My cisterns are the things I trust hold what I think I need for life other than trusting in the constant flow of Jesus Christ – His grace, mercy, faith, power, fullness. Anything that moves me away from gospel dependence and toward self reliance is a cistern I am trying to fill. Sometimes that may look like the goodness of my character or hitting the marks of Christianity (church attendance, etc). It may be the picture I want others to see of me, of my success as a wife or mother; it may be a cistern filled with money, organization, or time management. Hoping that these faulty cauldrons can give me life is the great deception. Just like cisterns of old, I spend a lot of time maintaining, crafting, and shaping that which is already cracked. Life, “goodness,” and hope will all seep away when they are held by me, requiring my filling. I commit great amounts of energy hewing out my cisterns – working on their shape and construction when I could be trusting that the fountain of life will never run dry, that I will never be without Him and His work in me. He justifies. He sanctifies.
My cistern will always be broken, it will never hold water – I cannot DO enough for my salvation, but God doesn’t require my payments! Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come buy and eat! (Is. 55:1) He offers the exchange needed to taste, sip, and guzzle the living water of His salvation through His son, Jesus Christ. So am I hewing cisterns because I am more concerned with the disciplines of faith and less with my true position in Christ? Still seeking that which I can carve, shape, measure, or improve? or am I standing in the forceful blast of flowing, life giving water allowing the Spirit to fill me completely and flow through me? For He is Life.