Jesus used an everyday experience to teach an important lesson to a woman that no one else would have dared to interact with. She is identified only as “a woman of Samaria” (John 4:7). Samaria became the capital of Israel after the nation was split into two separate kingdoms (Israel in the north and Judah in the south) following the death of king Solomon (1 Kings 16:29). Samaria was later destroyed when Shalmaneser king of Assyria defeated Israel and took its people into captivity (2 Kings 18:9-11). It says in 2 Kings 17:24, “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans was evident in the Samaritan woman’s response to Jesus’ request for a drink of water. She said, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).
Jesus’ open discussion with the woman of Samaria showed that he was willing to invite into his kingdom anyone that recognized him as Israel’s Messiah and the savior of the world. Pointing out her ignorance of God’s plan of salvation, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have have given thee living water” (John 4:10). The Greek words translated living water, zao (dzah´ – o) and hudor hudatos (hoo´ – dor hoo´ – dat – os) literally mean to live (2198) and water (as if rainy) (5204). What Jesus was referring to was the spiritual birth or eternal life that he associated with water baptism. In essence, Jesus saw God’s gift of salvation as an opportunity for everyone to experience a spiritual birth or as he explained it to Nicodemus, to be born again. In the same way that Jesus clarified the difference between a physical and spiritual birth to Nicodemus, he told the woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).
The concept of eternal or everlasting life was not new to the Israelites, but Jesus’ description of this kind of life as a well of water springing up inside the person was meant to convey eternal life as something that was a continual, ongoing gift from God that never ran out or dissipated. Rather than seeing salvation as a one-time transaction that merely entitled the recipient to entrance into heaven, Jesus wanted the woman of Samaria to understand that the gift that God wanted to give her was something that was available to her immediately and it could be replenished without limit. Jesus also revealed that the key that unlocked this everlasting fountain of life was worshipping God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Jesus’ reference to spiritual activity in the physical realm linked together the gift of eternal life and its source, the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit was not available to believers until after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus was preparing the way for his arrival and also letting his followers know that there was another person (Holy Spirit) involved in God’s plan of salvation.