Living Water by the Dead Sea

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 profoundest wisdom, wildest hopes, and extravagant promises in the Bible. These promises extend to you and me, offering life lived with satisfaction. But to glimpse this we need to see that mirage and what those living there have had to learn to do because of it.

The Unique Dead Sea

The Unique Dead Sea

The Dead Sea, the most prominent geographical feature in the land of Israel, 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 and to extend promises to us.

Jeremiah Diagnoses our Thirst

Historical Timeline including Jeremiah

Jeremiah lived at the close of the period of Kings (600BCE), 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 sinned twice.
They have deserted me,
even though I am the spring of water that gives life.
And they have dug their own wells.
But those wells are broken.
They can’t hold any water.

Jeremiah 2:13

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 from a reliable source. God himself was the good Living Water which 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 end, 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 more wealth, entertainment, movies, music etc. than any previous generation. Our modern society is by far the wealthiest, best educated, most-travelled, entertained, happiness-driven, and technologically advanced out of any age. We can easily turn to these things – and the other things that come in our age: pornography, illicit relationships, drugs, alcohol, greed, money, anger, jealousy – hoping that perhaps this will satisfy our thirst. But as the Dead Sea is a mirage, holding only sterile death, even as it appears 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 of ourselves.

  • Why in our modern age with so much do we struggle with depression, suicide, obesity, divorce, jealousy, envy, hatred, pornography, addictions?
  • What ‘cisterns’ do you use to satisfy your thirst? Do they hold ‘water’?

Jesus taught on these same questions, promising to quench our thirst. He did so claiming to represent Israel. His teaching and promise regarding his 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, world-leading, reverse osmosis water desalination plants that convert seawater to drinking water. This technology is energy efficient and therefore 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 ‘global thirst’. Automaker Ford, has recently added this technology to some of their models, so that you can take a drink ‘from the air’ while you drive.

SodaStream, which sells C0 2 cartridges with kits to carbonize and flavor your drinking water, is an Israeli company with 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

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard about him. They had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John. 2 But in fact Jesus was not baptizing. His disciples were. 3 So Jesus left Judea and went back again to Galilee.

4 Jesus had to go through Samaria. 5 He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar. It was near the piece of land Jacob had given his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from the journey. So he sat down by the well. It was about noon.

7 A woman from Samaria came to get some 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. I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” She said this because Jews don’t have anything to do with Samaritans.

10 Jesus answered her, “You do not know what God’s gift is. And you do not know who is asking you for a drink. If you did, you would have asked him. He would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t have anything to get water with. The well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Our father Jacob gave us the well. He drank from it himself. So did his sons and his livestock. Are you more important than he is?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. 14 But anyone who drinks the water I give them will never be thirsty. In fact, the water I give them will become a spring of water in them. It will flow up into eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water. Then I will never be thirsty. And I won’t have to keep coming here to get water.”

16 He told her, “Go. Get 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 live with now is not your husband. What you have just said is very true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our people have always worshiped on this mountain. But you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus said, “Woman, believe me. A time is coming when you will not worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know. Salvation comes from the Jews. 23 But a new time is coming. In fact, it is already here. True worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth. They are the kind of worshipers the Father is looking for. 24 God is spirit. His worshipers must worship him in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah is coming.” Messiah means Christ. “When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus said, “The one you’re talking about is the one speaking to you. I am he.”

The Disciples Join Jesus Again

27 Just then Jesus’ disciples returned. They were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want from her?” No one asked, “Why are you talking with her?”

28 The woman left her water jar and went back to the town. She said to the people, 29 “Come. See a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 The people came out of the town and made their way toward Jesus.

31 His disciples were saying to him, “Rabbi, eat something!”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples asked each other, “Did someone bring him food?”

34 Jesus said, “My food is to do what my Father sent me to do. My food is to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying? You say, ‘It’s still four months until harvest time.’ But I tell you, open your eyes! Look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest right now. 36 Even now the one who gathers the crop is getting paid. They are already harvesting the crop for eternal life. So the one who plants and the one who gathers can now be glad together. 37 Here is a true saying. ‘One plants and another gathers.’ 38 I sent you to gather what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work. You have gathered the benefits of their work.”

Many Samaritans Believe in Jesus

39 Many of the Samaritans from the town of Sychar believed in Jesus. They believed because of what the woman had said about him. She said, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” 40 Then the Samaritans came to him and tried to get him to stay with them. So he stayed two days. 41 Because of what he said, many more people became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said. We have now heard for ourselves. 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 not her husband. Thus her neighbours viewed her as immoral. This explains why she had gone alone to get water at noon since the other village women did not want her along when they went to the well in the cool of the morning. This woman’s conduct had alienated her 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 had to be 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 – 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 sin.  But if we want to experience the quenching of his ‘living water’ then we must be honest and admit our ‘broken cisterns’, because the Gospel promises that:

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, when Jesus told the Samaritan woman that

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 – while ignoring 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:

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

As Jesus promises to quench our internal thirst with Living Water today, the Bible also promises that one day the Dead Sea, that ever-present Holy Land picture of our dead spiritual condition in the future will:

“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, the Lord, will return and when he does, in His Kingdom, he will transform the Dead Sea into one teeming with life, because that image of sterile death will no longer be needed. 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.

Corrupted (part 2) … and Missing the Target

The Bible describes us as corrupted from the image God made us in.  How did this happen? It is recorded in the book of Genesis of the Bible. Shortly after being made ‘in the image of God’ the first humans (Adam and Eve) were tested with a choice.  The Bible describes their conversation with a ‘serpent’.  The serpent has always been understood to be Satan – an spirit enemy to God.  In the Bible, Satan usually speaks through someone.  In this case he spoke through a serpent:

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis 3:1-7)

Their choice (and temptation), was that they could ‘be like God’. Up to this point they had trusted God for everything, but now they had the choice to become ‘like God’, to trust in themselves and be their own god.

In their choice to be independent they were changed. They felt shame and tried to cover up. When God confronted Adam, he blamed Eve (and God who made her). She blamed the serpent. No one accepted responsibility.

What started that day has continued because we have inherited that same independent nature.  Some misunderstand the Bible and think that we are blamed for Adam’s bad choice. The only one blamed is Adam but we live in the consequences of his decision. We have now inherited this independent nature of Adam. We may not want to be god of the universe, but we want to be gods in our settings, separate from God.

This explains so much of human life: we lock our doors, we need police, and we have computer passwords– because otherwise we will steal from each other. This is why societies eventually collapse – because cultures have a tendency to decay. This is why all forms of government and economic systems, though some work better than others, they all   eventually breakdown. Something about the way we are makes us miss the way things should be.

That word ‘miss’ sums up our situation. A verse from the Bible gives a picture to understand this better. It says:

Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16)

This describes soldiers who were experts at using slingshots and would never miss. The word in Hebrew translated ‘miss’ above is יַחֲטִֽא .  It is also translated sin through the Old Testament.

The soldier takes a stone and shoots it to hit the target. If he misses he has failed his purpose. In the same way, we were made in God’s image to hit the target in how we relate to Him and treat others. To ‘sin’ is to miss this purpose, or target, that was intended for us.

This missed-the-target picture is not happy or optimistic.  People sometimes react strongly against the Bible’s teaching on sin. A university student once said to me, “I don’t believe because I do not like what this is saying”.  But what does ‘liking’ something have to do with truth?  I do not like taxes, wars, or earthquakes – no one does – but that does not make them untrue.  We can’t ignore any of them.  All the systems of law, police, locks, and security that we have built into society to protect us from each other suggest that something is wrong.  At least this Biblical teaching on our sin should be considered in an open-minded way.

We have a problem.  We are corrupted from the image we were first made in, and now we miss the target when it comes to our moral actions.  But God did not leave us in our helplessness. He had a plan to rescue us, and this is why Gospel literally means ‘good news’ – because this plan is the good news that He saves us.  God did not wait until Abraham to announce this news; he first announced it in that conversation with Adam and Eve.  We look at this first Good News announcement next.