Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: Living Water (En Gedi)

In the wilderness, water is very special. The Jews see God as the One who brings water. In the desert, water is life.

Episode is filmed in a wadi canyon near the Dead Sea in the Judean wilderness — En Gedi. 

David hid in the desert fleeing from Saul, eventually finding the “strongholds of En Gedi,” a place fed by a spring in the midst of the desert.

(Psa 63:1)  O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

David sees life as a desert and God like an oasis.


(Psa 42:1-2)  As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

David and his men hid in a cave near En Gedi. Saul slipped into a cave to relieve himself, and David wouldn’t allow his men to kill him.

(1 Sam 24)  After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” 2 So Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. 3 He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave.

4 The men said, “This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.'”

Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 5 Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” 7 With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.

8 Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 9 He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? 10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’ 11 See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. Now understand and recognize that I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. 13 As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.

14 “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 15 May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

16 When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. 17 “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. 18 You have just now told me of the good you did to me; the LORD delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. 19 When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the LORD reward you well for the way you treated me today. 20 I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. 21 Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.”

22 So David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.

The waterfall at En Gedi is an example of “living water” — as opposed to water in a cistern, known as cistern water or dead water, because the water would not remain fresh.

The Jews required mikvehs to contain living water — from rain or a spring, untouched by humans. Hence, “living water” can symbolize purity.

In John 4, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, Jesus refers to living water. Hence, Jesus’ water is always fresh, always pure — a spring that can refresh you and other people.

(John 4:6-15)  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. 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 flocks and herds?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him 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.”

We’ll return to this passage.

(Jer 2:13)  “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Would you rather than have a freshwater spring? Or a broken cistern? Water from God or water spilt on the ground (idols).

Life is like the desert. It can be dry and tiring. But God does provide living water where God himself can be tasted.

For some, it’s daily prayer time. For some, it’s Bible study. But we all need to leave the broom tree (1 King 19:3-4) and go to En Gedi, be with God, and drink.

Not only will this refresh us, it’ll allow us to refresh others.

Vander Laan calls “cistern digging” when we try to do it on our own, trusting our own strength.  But En Gedi has been flowing for 3,000 years. It never fails.

Being in the desert can make us more appreciative of being with God’s people.

The best of our culture can become a desert if we leave God out because only God gives water.

And we need to remember that there are people dying of thirst who don’t know where to find the oasis.

Finally, the Dead Sea looks like living water, but it isn’t. It’s poisonous. Sometimes you need a guide — or a book.

Additional notes

What is “living water” in John 4? It’s not eternal life, because Jesus says it produces eternal life. It’s the source of eternal life.

Jesus certainly could be referring to God, using Jeremiah’s metaphor, but there’s a more precise meaning that fits better.

(John 7:37-39)  On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Clearly, John means for us to understand that “living water” is the Spirit, given by Jesus to those who believe. And it fits the context.

(John 4:23-24)  “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Jesus doesn’t change the subject. In v 24, he uses “spirit” to refer to the nature of God: “God is spirit.” It doesn’t mean “attitude,” it means the substance of God. Therefore, “spirit” in the context of worship refers to “spirit” in the divine sense, not the sense of “attitude,” and more precisely, the Holy Spirit. 

It’s proper to conclude, first, that worship therefore is one place that should be our En Gedi, our source of spiritual refreshment. But we need to also ponder what, then, worshipping in “spirit” and in “truth” means. We’ve often taught that “spirit” means right attitude and “truth” means right rules. But both are entirely foreign to the context.

I’ve tried to explain my understanding at this earlier post. For reasons explained there, “truth” means the truth about Jesus, the gospel. Therefore, to worship in spirit and in truth is to worship as being re-born and re-formed by the Spirit, as beings sharing a bit of God’s own essence, and prompted by God himself though his Spirit, all made possible by and in fulfillment of the gospel. True worship is always Jesus-centered and Jesus-focused — and prompted and empowered by the Spirit in us. Moreover, as we together are a temple for the Spirit, our being together gives us something special, something ineffable we can’t have apart.

The goal is not to make too solid something intended to be ephemeral. Rather, the goal is just to get us away from thinking in terms of right rules and to think instead about the gospel enabled by the Spirit — which translates very roughly into spiritual formation (personal transformation into Christ’s image), community (the members bound together into a Spirit-formed unity), and mission (the Spirit driving us into the world to share Jesus). Read Acts in this light and it’ll all make better sense.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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