A Samaritan Woman Meets Jesus At A Well
In John 4, our Lord ministers to a variety of people: the sinful Samaritan woman, His own disciples, the many Samaritans who trusted in Him, and finally, a nobleman and his household.
What did these have in common? Faith in Jesus Christ!
John was fulfilling the purpose of his Gospel in showing his readers how various kinds and classes of people came to believe in Jesus as the Son of God.
Let’s meet these various persons and discover how their faith began, how it grew, and what it did for them and for others.
Samaria, a territory to be avoided if possible by Jews, became the scene of a spiritual triumph:
- A well,
- A woman,
- A witness,
- The winning of a harvest of Samaritans to faith.
Samaritanism as well as Judaism needed the corrective of Christ; it needed to be replaced by new creation life.
Christ’s Departure Into Galilee
Now when the Lord knew (learned, became aware) that the Pharisees had been told that Jesus was winning and baptizing more disciples than John—
Though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples—
He left Judea and returned to Galilee.
It was necessary for Him to go through Samaria.
John 4:1-4 (AMP)
The growing popularity of Jesus, exceeding that of John, began to come to the ears of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were trying to incite competition between Jesus and John the Baptist (John 3:25-30). His time had not yet come (John 2:4), and therefore, to avoid trouble with them at this time, He avoided a confrontation with them. We have to know when to fight and when to exercise discretion. This can only be properly evaluated by staying in close contact with the Lord (John 5:30 and 8:26-29).
The Samaritans were a mixed race, part Jew and part Gentile, that grew out of the Assyrian captivity of the ten northern tribes in 727 b.c. Rejected by the Jews because they could not prove their genealogy, the Samaritans established their own temple and religious services on Mt. Gerizim. This only fanned the fires of prejudice. So intense was their dislike of the Samaritans that some of the Pharisees prayed that no Samaritan would be raised in the resurrection! When His enemies wanted to call Jesus an insulting name, they called Him a Samaritan (John 8:48).
Ordinarily in John this word points to a divine necessity. Because He was on a divinely appointed schedule, it was necessary that Jesus go through Samaria.
Because He would meet a woman there and lead her into saving faith, the land of true faith that would affect an entire village, opening to them the gateway to life. Our Lord was no respecter of persons.
Along with this may be the more evident need of reaching Galilee by the most direct route from Jerusalem to Galilee. The first-century historian Josephus said it was a three-day journey. The only other way to make this trip would have been to cross the Jordan and go around Samaria. That would have added days to the trip. So, it was necessary to pass through Samaria. (Click Here to read more about Samaria!)
Yet, on His way to Galilee, the opportunity presented itself to minister to this woman and the people of Samaria, and Jesus took advantage of it. This shows that His focus on the Jews wasn’t a rejection of the Samaritans or other people. Jesus just had priorities and the Jews were His focus. But He loved and died for all people everywhere (1 Timothy 4:10).
But He Needed To Go Through Samaria
The Holy Spirit’s leadership is absolutely essential to one’s being an effective witness. Certainly Jesus could have remained in Judea, where He could have witnessed to many people. But the Lord of the Harvest, who is the Holy Spirit, knows just when, where, and to whom we should share our faith. One should not make the mistake, however, of waiting for direction alone. The Bible directs each believer to be ready for witness whenever asked and as a matter of Christian duty (2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Peter 3:15). Effective witnessing is the result of prayerful obedience to the Word and sensitive response to the Holy Spirit.
A City—Called Sychar
Now he came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
John 4:5 (NET)
“Sychar” is supposed by many to be a Greek corruption of “Shechem,” which was about thirty-two miles north of Jerusalem and six miles southwest of Samaria, in the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, on which the temple of the Samaritans was built.
After the ruin of Samaria by Salmanezer, Sychar, or Shechem, became the capital of the Samaritans; and it continued so, according to Josephus, in the time of Alexander the Great. It probably got the name of Sychar, which signifies drunken, from the drunkenness of its inhabitants. With this crime the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 28:1, 3, 7, 8) solemnly charges the Ephraimites, within whose limits the city stood. This place is remarkable in the Scriptures:
1. As being that where Abram first stopped on his coming from Haran to Canaan.
2. Where God first appeared to that patriarch, and promised to give the land to his seed.
3. The place where Abram first built an altar to the Lord, and called upon his name, Genesis 12:7.
The present name of this city is Neapolis, or Naplouse.
Jacob had bought this field from the children of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for a hundred pieces of silver, or lambs, Genesis 33:19; and in it he built an altar, which he dedicated to El Elohey Yishrael, the strong God, the covenant God of Israel, Genesis 33:20. This, Jacob left as a private or overplus inheritance to Joseph and his children. See Genesis 48:21-22, and Joshua 24:32.
Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since he was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was about noon.
John 4:6 (NET)
He arrived at Jacob’s well at noon, the usual time for women to come for water. The disciples went to the nearby town for food while Jesus deliberately waited at the well. He was weary, hungry, and thirsty. John not only presents Jesus as the Son of God but also as true man. Our Lord entered into all the normal experiences of our lives and is able to identify with us in each of them.
As you read our Lord’s interview with this woman, notice how her knowledge of Jesus increases until she acknowledges that He is the Christ. There were four stages in this experience.
- He is “a Jew”!
- Greater Than Jacob.
- A Prophet
- The Christ
He Is “A Jew”
A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
John 4:7-10 (MSG)
Why didn’t Jesus just start this conversation with the statement that this woman had been married five times and the man she was living with was not her husband? Wouldn’t that have gotten the job done?
The answer is no. The gifts are given for edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3). If Jesus had just attacked her ungodliness, this would have turned her away, even if the facts were true.
First, Jesus humbled Himself and asked for help from a woman whom a proper Jew would never ask help from. This grabbed the woman’s attention and lowered her defences against Him. It is a wonderful approach to come to those who expect you to reject them and politely ask for their help. Many “soul winners” would do well to learn this approach.
In that day, it was not considered proper for any man, especially a rabbi, to speak in public to a strange woman. But our Lord set social customs aside because a soul’s eternal salvation was at stake. It certainly surprised her when He asked for a drink of water. She surmised that He was a Jewish rabbi, and perhaps she tried to “read between the lines” to find another meaning to His request.
What was He really seeking?
Why would Jesus, a Jew, want to use her “polluted” vessel to get a drink of water?
Jesus is saying the reason He was talking with her wasn’t just for His benefit but for hers. He was able to give her something she couldn’t get anywhere else. This living water is a metaphor for the God-kind of life within that this woman had never known.
Jesus pointed out to her that she was ignorant of three important facts:
- Who He was,
- What He had to offer, and
- How she could receive it.
Here was eternal God speaking to her, offering her eternal life! The Samaritans were as blind as the Jews (John 1:26). But our Lord’s words had aroused her interest, so she pursued the conversation.
Greater Than Jacob
She said to Him, Sir, You have nothing to draw with [no drawing bucket] and the well is deep; how then can You provide living water? [Where do You get Your living water?]
Are You greater than and superior to our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well and who used to drink from it himself, and his sons and his cattle also?
Jesus answered her, All who drink of this water will be thirsty again.
But whoever takes a drink of the water that I will give him shall never, no never, be thirsty any more. But the water that I will give him shall become a spring of water welling up (flowing, bubbling) [continually] within him unto (into, for) eternal life.
The woman said to Him, Sir, give me this water, so that I may never get thirsty nor have to come [continually all the way] here to draw.
John 4:11-15 (AMP)
Jesus promised something that could not be delivered by any natural means. This woman’s question is a question as to what power He was able to deliver on this promise. She didn’t see anything special about Him. She was asking for some indication that He could deliver on His promise. Jesus had promised living water.
Why should she believe He could produce?
Who was He?
Is He saying He is greater than the patriarch Jacob?
Jesus was speaking about spiritual water, but she interpreted His words to mean literal water. Again, we see how easily people confuse the material and the spiritual. Furthermore, this woman was concerned about how He would obtain this water, instead of simply asking Him to give her a drink of it.
Of course Jesus is greater than Jacob—and greater than the well itself! To paraphrase His reply:
“Whosoever continues to drink of this material water (or anything the world has to offer) will thirst again. But whosoever takes one drink of the water I give will never thirst again!”
How true it is that the things of this world never completely satisfy. In hell today, people are crying, “I thirst!”
Yet, Christians routinely speak of going through droughts and periods of depression where they are thirsty once again for the joy and relief that only God can provide.
So, which is it? Is what Jesus said the truth, or is what we feel the truth?
Both are true. In the natural, our souls fluctuate all the time. There are times when we perceive more of the living water of Jesus in our souls than other times. But in our born-again spirits, there is no fluctuation. We are constantly filled with love, joy, peace, etc. (Galatians 5:22-23).
Therefore, in our spirits, we are constantly supplied with this living water, but the average Christian soul only draws from the well within occasionally. If we would walk in the Spirit, we would never be thirsty again. Those who are thirsty are not walking in the Spirit where thirst doesn’t exist. Those in the Spirit are in a constant state of satisfaction.
We have noted before that life is one of John’s key concepts. He uses the word at least thirty-six times. Campbell Morgan has pointed out that mankind needs air, water, and food in order to have life. (We might also add that he needs light.) All of these are provided in Jesus Christ.
- He provides the “breath” (Spirit) of God (John 3:8; 20:22).
- He is the Bread of Life (John 6:48) and
- The Light of Life (John 1:4-5), and
- He gives us the water of life.
The woman’s immediate response was to ask for this gift, but she did not know what she was saying. The seed of the Word fell on shallow soil, and the shoots that sprang up had no root (Matt. 13:20-21). She had made progress, but she still had a long way to go; so Jesus patiently dealt with her.
“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.
“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.
Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”
Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
John 4:16-24 (NLT)
The only way to prepare the soil of the heart for the seed is to plow it up with conviction. That was why Jesus told her to go get her husband: He forced her to admit her sin. There can be no conversion without conviction. There must first be conviction and repentance, and then there can be saving faith. Jesus had aroused her mind and stirred her emotions, but He also had to touch her conscience, and that meant dealing with her sin.
“I have no husband” was the shortest statement she made during the entire conversation! Why? Because now she was under conviction and her “mouth was stopped” (Rom. 3:19). But this was the best thing that could have happened to her!
This is a very important commentary by Jesus on the state of marriage. Jesus clearly said the man whom this woman was living with (and having sexual relations with) was not her husband. Therefore, God does not recognize “common-law” marriage. A marriage ceremony and exchanging of vows is required by God to have a husband-and-wife relationship.
However, instead of listening to Jesus, she tried to get Him on a “detour” by discussing the differences between the Jewish and the Samaritan religions. It is much more comfortable to discuss religion than to face one’s sins! However, Jesus once again revealed her spiritual ignorance: she did not know who to worship, where to worship, or how to worship! He made it clear that all religions are not equally acceptable before God that some worshipers act in ignorance and unbelief.
The woman was just like millions of people today who are deceived by Satan into being more occupied with theological questions about God than they are about their personal relationship with God. Jesus brought her right back to her personal need by saying that the place and method of worship was not what God was after. Rather, He seeks to be worshiped in the hearts of people.
The only faith that God will accept is that which came through the Jews. The Jews, as far removed from God in heart as they were, were still God’s chosen people, and God’s promise of a Savior would be fulfilled through the Jewish race.
The Lord seeks true worshipers: those who worship Him in spirit and in truth. This parallels the truth of 2 Chronicles 16:9, which says,
“The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”
The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”
Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” So the people came streaming from the village to see him.
John 4:25-30 (NLT)
In spite of her ignorance, there was one truth this woman did know: the Messiah was coming and would reveal the secrets of hearts.
Where did she learn this truth?
We do not know, but that seed had lain buried in her heart until that very hour, and now it was going to bear fruit. Our Lord’s response to her statement was, literally: “I Am the Messiah!” He dared to utter the holy name of God!
At this point, the woman put her faith in Jesus Christ and was converted. Immediately she wanted to share her faith with others, so she went into the village and told the men she had met the Christ. When you consider how little spiritual truth this woman knew, her zeal and witness put us to shame. But God used her simple testimony, and many of the people came out to the well to meet Jesus. The rabbis said, “It is better that the words of the Law be burned than be delivered to a wom– an!” But Jesus did not agree with that narrow prejudice.
Why did she leave her water pot when she hurried into the city?
For one thing, she had the living water within and was now satisfied. Also, she intended to come back; and perhaps in the interim, the disciples and Jesus could use the vessel to satisfy their thirst. Gone were the racial barriers and battles that had existed before! They were all one in faith and love!
This woman did not come to faith in Christ immediately. Jesus was patient with her, and in this, He sets a good example for us in our own personal work. Certainly she was the least likely prospect for salvation, yet God used her to win almost an entire village!
DECLARATION OF FAITH
I know Jesus and I recognize God’s gift to me.
I have become a partaker of the living water.
I have drunk the full measure of living water. I shall never thirst again. The living water that Jesus has given me has a spring of water welling up continually within me unto eternal life.
I am a genuine worshipper of my heavenly Father.
He sought me out and has called me out to fellowship with Him in an actual Father and son/daughter relationship.
I make my contact with Him through my spirit. As spiritual beings, we fellowship with each other in spirit and reality.
I pray this declaration of faith in Jesus’ name!