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Exodus 17:1-7 1
1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” 3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” 4 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The LORD answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Background 2

The question in our lesson plaguing God’s people is whether God is with them. When we are served up a “test of faith,” will God be there to answer us, to hold our hand, to light our path? This is not the first time the Israelites have lacked for water. The first time, they had been in the wilderness for three days (Exodus 15:22). When they arrived at Marah, they found the water there undrinkable on account of its bitterness. After the people complained, Moses called out to God and God provided a piece of wood, which, when thrown into the water made it sweet and potable (15:23-25a).  God then tested them (15:25b), saying that if the people would listen to God’s voice and keep all of God’s commandments He would not bring diseases on them as He did with the Egyptians, “for I am the LORD who heals you” (15:26).

In Exodus 16, the chapter right before our lesson, the people struggle to listen to God’s voice with regard to the gathering of manna. In particular, to the command not to store it up. This was, in essence, a test of their faith. Exodus 16 ends with the statement: “The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to habitable land” (16:35). The faithfulness of the people to trust God on a daily basis was fulfilled.

When we get to Exodus 17, the Israelites hit another speed bump. They have camped at Rephidim, but there is no water to drink. The complaining that was so prevalent in chapter 16 resurfaces, and this time, it is intensified with quarreling. They say to Moses, “Give us water to drink” (17:2). Apparently unfazed by the lack of water himself, Moses accuses the people of testing God. “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test  the LORD?” (17:2). Previously God had devised tests for the people (15:25b; 16:4) and Moses has interpreted the people’s quarreling and requests for water as testing God. What precisely is being “tested”?

The people’s continuing doubt seems both to be about who is in charge (they still identify Moses as the one who brought them up out of Egypt, rather than God) and why they have been chosen by God. In Egypt, they were chosen by the Pharaoh for work (Exodus 1:11) and ultimately, for death (Exodus 1:16). They suspect that this is Moses’ and God’s intention for them as well, for they wonder if they have been brought into the wilderness to die, to be killed, along with their children (their futures) and their livestock (their security).

Based on their questions, they seem to assume that God has left Moses in charge and that Moses’ agenda mirrors that of the Pharaoh — to use the people: for labor and as a means to gain glory for himself and God over Pharaoh’s authority. So Moses goes back to God again, complaining about the people: “What shall I do with this people?!” God tells Moses to take the staff he used at the Nile River and to meet God on the rock at Horeb, from which water will flow when Moses strikes it with his staff.

God chooses to bring the people life, not death, as they suspect. God takes something that is lifeless, stone, and brings forth water representing life itself. For without water there is only death. The Israelites are about to learn another lesson. Out of Egypt and out of the wilderness, God will find ways to make life flow in unexpected ways. God will require a certain amount of trust from His people, a willingness to put their faith in a god who seems not to do things in the typical way. Remember, their perspective on what a god was like had been heavily influenced by their time in Egypt.

God seems almost to forget about the people’s needs but responds with creativity when the people loudly protest. The people keep pushing the question: “Are you another god like Pharaoh?” It may be that the people are working to shape God’s character just as God works to shape the character of His people. The mutual testing in the wilderness yields a people with a unique faith who have inspired countless generations of people to follow them. Amazing isn’t it, after 6,000 years, we still believe in God!

The story does not tell us about the people’s reaction to this little miracle at Massah and Meribah. But Moses names the place, not after the miracle, but after the people’s doubting and testing: “Is the LORD among us or not?” (17:7). While this name highlights the wildness and freedoms of God, it also memorializes the fears, questions, and doubts of people of faith. The lesson for us is to never forget that when faced with the same types of fears and begin to question whether God is among us or not, God will always respond with and through flowing streams of life-giving water.

Items for Discussion

  • What is it about the character of humans that would soon forget gifts from God?
  • Why might it take dramatic miracles to help define the characteristics of God for His people? Do you think God still does this today?
  • Can you think of ways in which God has acted in our world to make life to flow from places of death?
  • How do we still quarrel with God?
  • The very character of God has been passed on from generation to generation. How?

John 4:5-42
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.” 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.” 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.”

Background 3

Jesus, like so many times in His examples, crosses social boundaries. He asks a Samaritan woman for a drink.  The encounter has three parts:

  1. First, it is all about water.
  2. Second, Jesus has a conversation about the woman’s private life.
  3. Third, their is a conversation about worship in Spirit and truth, which leads the woman from the well wondering about the Messiah and His revealing to her that it is really He.

The reference to living water in Greek refers to water that is flowing rather than still “fresh rather than stagnant” while also actually meaning “living.” Jesus links the water to the gift of eternal life gushing up in the believer who receives Jesus’ gift. The language of the well scene “water, water jar, and drawing” — reminds us of the miracle at Cana when Jesus first revealed His glory to His disciples. The word used initially for well (in 4:6; a different word is used in verse 12) and then for the spring gushing up to eternal life appears several times in Revelation.

The Lamb will guide them to “springs of the water of life” (7:17). Jesus also says, “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” (21:6).In John 7:37-39 when on the last great day of the Feast of Tabernacles Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

To summarize, we interpret the meaning of the living water as the gift of the Spirit here in verse 4:14.

As soon as the woman asks for the living water, the conversation turns to her life, and Jesus will now tell her everything she has ever done, as she later confirms. Then, having been seen by Jesus, she sees him differently, and the conversation takes another turn. She immediately understands Him to be a prophet and asks Him a serious question about worship to which He gives a serious answer.

The Spirit is introduced here explicitly. To worship God as God wants is to worship in the Spirit, presumably with the Spirit that Jesus offers gushing up from the heart, and in truth, which we will later understand to be embodied in Jesus himself (8:31-32; 14:6). Worship, this seems to suggest, is about relationship, dwelling in the vine Jesus. The Samaritan woman, who has entered into relationship with Him here, perhaps understands this. She suggests in her roundabout way that He is the coming Messiah, and for the first and only time in John, Jesus says that He is.

What is life-changing for the woman is, according to her, that she has been entirely known by Him, and this being known has enabled her to know Him. The story is about her being able to begin to see who He is, being given a gift which leads to real worship. She now is a conduit for the living water. The woman’s testimony, in turn, has brought a harvest to Jesus.

In order to be changed, the woman had to experience the truth and love of Jesus. Now, with the courage to become a witness, she was able to share the Spirit and the truth with others.

Items for Discussion

  • Why is water such a good visual for Jesus’s truth and love?
  • What happens when water becomes stagnant, polluted?
  • Of all the significant information, John gives us verse 28,  “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people,” – Why do you think we were given a fact so trivial as to “she left her water jar behind?”
  • Between our Old Testament and New Testament verses, water is the common theme. What other commonalities do you see?

Discussion Challenge

  • What are the ways we can share the “Spirit” we see here today and keep the “water” pure?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
  2. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1067
  3. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=905
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