Song of Songs 4:15, John 7:38 – What Does “Rivers of Living Water” mean?

In John 7:38, Jesus says “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (NIV)

So the question is … what is the Scriptural text(s) that Jesus is referring to? Lets look at this in the ESV:

“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said,’Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

Again so what part(s) of Scriptures is Jesus is referring to?

From what I have heard, commentators have struggled to understand what passage Jesus was referring to. One really good online commentary by Dr. Thomas Constable of Sonic Light states the following:

“There is no specific passage in the Old Testament that contains the same words that Jesus mentioned here. Consequently He must have been summarizing the teaching of the Old Testament…”

Perhaps that is the answer, however I do like another answer that I have seen. Its found in Christopher W. Mitchell’s commentary, The conc1Song of Songs.

Mitchell sees a connection between John 7:38 and Song of Songs 4:15, which states:

You are a garden fountain,
a well of flowing water
streaming down from Lebanon. (NIV)

Wells in back then were essential for life and were gathering places for people. During certain season in the Middle East, when it did not rain, the whole towns depended upon wells. Mitchell suggests that the well mentioned in 4:15 was a source of “living waters.” Lets take a look at the verse in the ESV also:

15 a garden fountain, a well of living water,
and flowing streams from Lebanon. (ESV)

Notice that the “You are a” beginning found in the NIV isn’t there. It is placed higher up in v.13 and begins a larger sequence. How does Jesus’ statement here have anything to do with SOS 4:15? (Mitchell also thinks that this verse forms the OT background for Jesus’ discussion of living water withe the Samaritan woman at the Well.) I am not 100% clear.

The guy in SOS is stating that the woman is somehow a well (or source) of living water. She is a source of life. Hmmm … In some sense, isn’t it true that women are a source of life? – as in childbirth. Take a look at Proverbs 5:15, which Mitchell states has to do with an exhortation to having conjugal relations with ones wife only.

“Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.”


Anyway… other intriguing verses (among many) that Mitchell brings into the discussion are:

“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.”
(~ Jeremiah 2:13)

and –

O LORD, 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)

Here God is pictured as the source of all life. He is the spring … the fountain of living water.

So what is the picture we have thus far?

1. God is the source of all life. He is the spring from which all living waters flow forth from.

2. All people, men and women who believe in Jesus Christ, the life-giving Spirit, from them also streams of living water flow. They too become sources of life.

3. And finally, in women we find a picture of this also – a physical reality – where woman are sources of life also, in that they give birth to babies.