The Well of Bethlehem: Scriptural Meditations on the Trinity and Desire

1 Chronicles 11:15-19

David said longingly, “O that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” Then the Three broke through the camp of the Philistines, and drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and they brought it to David. But David would not drink of it; he poured it out to the Lord, and said, “My God forbid that I should do this. Can I drink the blood of these men? .”

Written by
Josiah Andrews
Jun 7, 2021
Josiah Andrews

“Then David said longingly: ‘oh that someone would give me water to drink from the Well of Bethlehem’”

David, whose name means “Beloved”, the ‘man after God’s own heart’, is the one who says “My soul thirsts for God, the Living God” (Ps42), “as the deer pants for flowing streams so my soul longs for You [God]” (Ps42). He cries “God You are my God… my soul thirsts for You, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps63). He exclaims “One thing I have desired of the Lord... to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” (Ps27), and “My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Ps84).

The Spirit in David longingly cries out for Water from the well of Bethlehem. As the Apostle Peter has written “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory… things into which angels long to look!” (1Pet 1:10-12). David’s thirst was for God and the Spirit of Christ within him longingly indicated with yearning the time when God would be near, the time of Christ’s coming—David longed for the Immanuel, “God with us”.

He desires the “fountain that never runs dry”, the Well of Bethlehem! As the Prophet Micah declared “But you, O Bethlehem… who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One Who is to rule in Israel, Whose Origin is from of Old, from Ancient Days”. David longed for the Only-Begotten. David thirsts for Christ, for the Spirit of God. He craves to drink from the “river of pleasures” that flows from the sacred heart of God and he cries out “longingly” for God’s kingdom to come. Christ is, as Micah says “the ruler of Israel”, the “Auto-Basilea” as Origen called Him, “the Kingdom Himself”. He thirsts for the Word of God, for the Beginning and the End, the Crucified and Risen Lamb who comes from Bethlehem and Whose Origin [Father] is the “Ancient of Days”. Immanuel, God with us, the Incarnate Lord. David is gripped by God’s Spirit with “longing for God” and this Divine Eros cries out for the Wounded One, the Son given to us in Bethlehem—the Well of Bethlehem—Whose water “satisfies the longing soul”. If one will drink from this Well “he will never thirst again”, for Christ is the End of all desire, and the goal of all our longings. 

This passage of Divine Scripture presents a type, and a shadow of things to come (the longing of David for the Well of Bethlehem is the very same thirst he describes countless times in the psalms as “thirst for God”); and yet it pierces into the mystery of human longing and desire. As St Gregory of Nyssa observed concerning human nature we are creatures of desire. God’s desire for us to be is the very ground of our being—we exist not because God needs us (from lack) but because God wants us (from infinite abundance and generosity)—“by Your will” say the elders of the Apocalypse “and for Your pleasure we exist”. To exist is to be wanted by God, to be desired by God. This being desired is at the very core of our existence, we are creatures who crave God. When we seek pleasure, or goodness, beauty or love we are looking for—longing for— the God Who is Himself Goodness, Beauty, Truth and Love. All of our desires are cravings for God’s very life. 

To exist is to be wanted by God, to be desired by God

This desire is, as Apostle James says, also the first step in temptation. Satan cannot change our desire; he cannot reconstitute our nature. We are God’s Beloved, and as such we are possessed by longing for His face, for intimate communion, to imbibe upon the wine of Divine Romance. What Satan can do, however, is--as Christ said he is “a liar from the beginning”--decieve us into believing that any created and finite ‘thing’ could satisfy our internal longing for the boundless and infinite Creator of all. This lie is the demonic lie that sits at the root of all sin and idolatry. When we are capable of calling evil good, falsehood truth, ugliness beautiful, or violence holy we are capable of constructing a world that crucifies God. Satan is always seeking to convince us of a “greater good” that requires the sacrifice of the plain and simple “Good’. He knows our very being is constituted by desire for Goodness Himself, our hearts are ceaselessly crying out “oh that someone would bring me water from the Well of Bethlehem”; as St Augustine famously whispered to God in prayer “You have made us for Yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You”. Knowing this, Satan seeks to put a veil over our hearts, to obscure our spiritual vision and blind us to the One Who “satisfies the longing soul with goodness”. 

We have seen this restless longing of our heart for the conscious experience of Divine Glory, of face-to-face communion, is the abyss of love from which proceeds our ‘fellowship with the Mystery’; or a fountain spring of wickedness. Desire for God is the joy of all life and must be endlessly baptized in His Spirit so that the vision of the Divine in Christ may consume all idolatry and send falsehood fleeing away. Thus we must keep our eyes ever steady upon the Crucified Lord whose very life is the glittering radiance of Goodness, Truth and Beauty so that we may heed the Apostle James. He says of desire “No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved”, my David.

Like David, the Beloved, we often think what we imagine we are longing for is actually what we long for, but as this scripture shows us it rarely is; David’s longing for material water from geographical Bethlehem is *actually* a longing for the Living Christ, the End of all desire, God Himself, the Living Water from Bethlehem. As Sarah Coakley has eloquently shown (in her theological work on sexuality and desire) our desire for sexual pleasure is truly a desire for Divine Love in Whose hands there “pleasures forevermore”--desire, she says, must be purified in the Triune crucible of “Divine Desire”. Freud says all “God-talk” is in fact “sex-talk”, Coakley and St Gregory insist, inversely, that all sex-talk is in fact a veiled form of God-talk. The pleasure we seek in sex is the pleasure of God’s super-abundant Tri-unity. And we will never be satisfied so long as we seek the End in the means. This act of deception that veils us to the True Source of desire is the root that leads to all sin. James warns us, ‘do not be deceived Beloved’ He can, and will, fulfill your deepest longings; do not settle for the shadow when the substance has been brought near by the Holy Three.

The Trinity and Our Desire

From this story, which has always plagued me with bewilderment and confusion, a stream of types and shadows flow. In what follows a heretofore unnamed “Three” breakthrough the enemy’s camp and bring to the Beloved the water of Bethlehem. 

“Then the Three broke through the camp of the Philistines, and drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate”

While it is the One, and Only-Begotten, Son who was born in Bethlehem it is the whole and entire Trinity that draw near to us there--bringing the water for which we thirst. The Father sends the Son and is revealed by His glory, the Son is sent and comes to us in flesh, and the Spirit bestows the Son upon Mary, overshadowing her with the power of the Most High, and anointing the Son with His presence. 

The Three “breakthrough” the camp of the philistines. In this way, the Trinity, at Bethlehem, breakthrough upon human nature. The demonic strongholds, the spirits of darkness who have made their home in us, are broken through by the Trinity; dispelling falsehood and sin. Human nature sat in darkness, the ‘haunt of demons’, and fell ill with iniquity. Yet at Bethlehem the Trinity “shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it”, healing all our wounds. Our longing souls, thirsty for Divine Love, are quenched as the fountain of Divinity springs up in humanity at Bethlehem. The Well of Triune perfection sprang forth, gushing with perfect humility and love. Father, Son and Spirit draw near to us, nearer than our own skin, in the depths of our own nature. Deeper than our sin, more original than our failure, full of love, and ready to restore. In Bethlehem Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” (Is43:19-21). We no longer are to seek fulfillment of desire, or satisfaction from without; for God has broken through and set up camp in Man. Christ’s incarnation is nothing other than the Three being us the water we thirst for. And that not abstractly or philosophically—but in a baby in Bethlehem—the blood of the Crucified and Risen Lord comes to us here, humbly, in a Child.

 “... and they brought it to David.”

Without “the Three” our soul’s longings cannot ever be fulfilled and satisfied. We long to love, and to be loved. We long to belong, and to make others belong. If only there is a Father we can never share in Divine Perfection, for we would be children, offspring, sons and daughters and God would be no child. If only there were a Son we could not be made perfect in love; for our souls yearnings can only be fulfilled by the deep sense of belonging that can only come in the embrace of Abba. If only there were a Spirit we could not be saved, for we are creatures with bodies, and must be saved by a Divine Body. Fr. Dumitru Staniloae says “Only [the] perfect community of [The Trinity] can nourish, with its unending and perfect love, our thirst for love in relation to it and between ourselves. This nourishing can’t only be theory, but it must be lived too. This is so because love isn’t satisfied with only being theory, but wants to give itself, to welcome and be welcomed.” We are saved then, as St Cyril says, “by the whole and con-substantial Trinity; Father, Son, and Spirit”

St Symeon the New Theologian says of the man who drinks of God’s life “God dwells in him and becomes for him all that he desires, or rather, more than he desires. For God who is all goodness fills the soul in which He dwells with all goodness as far as our nature is capable of receiving it, because God is infinite and cannot be contained by any created nature… [this man] immediately becomes dizzy and is struck with amazement as he thinks of himself and who he is to be counted worthy to behold such things. As he looks on the greatness of God‘s loving kindness he is struck with amazement” . The man who drinks in God’s life through prayer finds that God has become all that He desires, and in fact, much more. St Maximus the Confessor says of the man whose mind always contemplates God “his desire grows beyond all measure into an intense longing for God and his incensiveness is completely transformed into divine love. For by continual participation in the divine radiance his intellect becomes totally filled with light… filling it with an incomprehensible and intense longing for Him and with unceasing love, thus drawing it entirely away from worldly things to the divine". We are delivered from ‘worldly things’ not by our supremely powerful ascetic exercise, but by contemplating Divine Love until ‘desire grows beyond all measure’. We are always longing for the Water from Bethlehem. We are David, in Christ, the Beloved of the Trinity, we long for their Living Water, and the Three bring it to us. In drinking it, it springs up in us. In springing up it washes us. And, in washing us it makes us liken unto itself. 

This role of Identity and Name is truly integral to the Mystery. David’s name means Beloved. The Three always bring the Water to “David”, the Beloved from Bethlehem. In order to have our longings satisfied we must “have faith”, “trust”, and “be convinced” that we are, in God’s Son, wholly and principally Beloved. How oft we cannot taste the water of Life springing up from the Well within for we are unaware of our own Beloved-ness to God. As Jacob said “the Lord is in this place and I knew it not” is surely the Spirit’s work in us, to “convict us of righteousness”. To convince our hearts of the belovedness we have in God’s Son. To make us aware of the One who has never left us, we have simply not paid attention.

“But David would not drink of it; he poured it out to the Lord and said, “My God forbid that I should do this. Can I drink the blood of these men?”

David’s spirit longed to drink the blood of Christ, He could not settle for the blood of mere men. He thirsts for the substance and must pour out the shadow. St. Ignatius of Antioch had tasted this glorious Well from bethlehem and said “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life; I desire the Bread of God, which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David, and for drink I desire His Blood, which is love incorruptible.” and again he says “My Love has been crucified, and there’s no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that lives and speaks saying to me inwardly “Come to the Father”. This water within him is none other than the Trinity, the End of all desire. The Spirit and the Son calling forth within us “come to the Father”. ‘Come and find your home in me’ He says. ‘You were made for my pleasure, and my embrace’. With one look from our Lover’s eyes we are embraced and permeated with an infinite and boundless love; we sense a deep and abiding knowledge that we belong. We were made for His embrace, and our hearts are restless, ever crying out for water from the Well of Bethlehem until it finds its rest in His arms. 


The whole of this story is but an example that ‘all scripture is inspired by the Spirit’, within each page a prophecy of Christ’s coming is hidden. David’s longing for water from Bethlehem, is nothing other than desire for God just as all human desire is for God. So also when David cries out longingly the Three bring him his heart's desire, we cry out in prayer and are caught up into the Triune Life. The whole and undivided Trinity pour out in us their liquid love. David refuses to drink the water of shadows, we must not refuse the water light “for the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. 

A short excursion here to be added is a note on prayer: The satisfaction of our desire is not found in our going out and looking for water. Rather we are to, with David, simply “cry out longingly”. The Holy Three are longing to fulfill us, to enjoy us, to surprise us—we must give voice to the longing inside. It is in prayer we experience the water of Life, for it is in prayer we express our longing for it. 

St Gregory of Nyssa carries this theology of desire to its natural end, theosis, glorification and deification in Christ. “The Divine Nature…” says St. Gregory “looks upon Itself and It desires what It possesses and possesses what It desires, and receives nothing from outside Itself... the life of that transcendent nature is love, in that the Beautiful is entirely lovable to those who recognize It, and so this recognition becomes love, because the object of recognition is in It’s nature Beautiful'' when we perceive the Divine Love of God in Christ, the Water from the Well in Bethlehem we are caught up in the perichoresis of Divine Desire, possessing what we desire and desiring what we possess. Lacking nothing and needing nothing. We are free to love our neighbor as ourselves, for we are satisfied in Him. This satisfaction of our longings purifies us from all false desires… Here God sees us, in Christ, as His own flesh and blood. Gregory says “If, then, the soul is purified of every vice, it will most certainly be in the sphere of Beauty. The Deity is in It’s very substance Beautiful; and to the Deity the soul will in its state of purity have affinity, and will embrace It as like itself”. How glorious! God beholds us in His Son as ‘like unto Himself’. He continues “Thus our ascent is unending. We go from beginning to beginning by way of beginnings without end. Nor, whilst ascending, do we cease to desire more, knowing what we know. Rather, as we rise by a greater desire to one still higher, we continue on our way into the infinite by increasingly higher ascents”. Our desire for the Well of Bethlehem can never, and will never cease to be--rather, we shall infinitely desire and infinitely be satisfied--for He brings out the best wine for the End. He will never stop pouring out His love on us in Christ, by the Spirit, and we will never cease seeing and savoring His beauty and fragrance. Yet this is not reserved merely for the eschaton, says Gregory: “Even now the soul united to God never has its fill of enjoyment. The more it enjoys his beauty, the more its desire for him increases. The words of the bridegroom are spirit and life [Jn 5.24], and everyone who clings to the Spirit becomes spirit. He who attaches himself to life passes from death into life as the Lord has said.”

Every desire we have is ultimately for God, the incarnate God, Who is found not in abstract philosophical manuals but in a manger in Bethlehem. “in His presence there is fullness of joy; and at His right hand there are pleasures forevermore”, and it is His Beloved Son, clothed in human flesh, Who sits at His right hand exalted and lifted high. Of all our wants, and all our needs, we need none other than Him, for it is written “You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”. We crave His love, we need His presence, we long for His glory, and in Bethlehem He has poured Himself out for all to drink and be satisfied. 

“Drink, yes, drink deeply, O beloved ones!” -- Song of Songs 5:1

Josiah Andrews is on Pastoral Staff at Life Church in Columbus, MS. He is married to his lovely wife Destiny, and together they have 2 beautiful children Wonder and Wilder.