As I mentioned last Sunday there are a lot of ways you can approach this particular story recorded by John in the fourth chapter of his Gospel of Grace. That said, I felt it best to work our way from the outside/in… Last Sunday we read the story in its entirety before discussing the larger, macro-perspective of Jesus “leaving Judea” to specifically minister in Samaria.
This morning we’re going to re-examine the story, but with the more particular micro-implications of this incredible exchange between Jesus and this woman at the well being our main consideration. Let’s begin by re-reading the relevant parts of this story…
John 4:1-26, “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there.
Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?’
Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’
The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’”
John 4:28, “The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ Then they went out of the city and came to Him.” John 4:39, “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’”
Before we dive into this conversation Jesus has with this un-named woman at the well, I want to take a few minutes and establish a profile of her from what recorded in the text.
First, we know she was a “Samaritan” which actually does tell us quite a lot about her. As a Samaritan the first strike against her was her ethnicity. Following the fall of Judah by the Babylonians and the removal of the upper levels of society, the few Jewish communities that remained failed to remain pure by intermarrying with the Gentiles who moved in.
When the exiled Jews were finally allowed to return to the land 70 years later, they rejected these people as their brethren calling them instead “Samaritans” because of their compromise. With this in mind… While this woman possessed Hebrew roots (she clearly mentions “our father Jacob”), please note she was of a mixed race. This women as all Samaritans was viewed by the Jews as being a half-bread and in some circles traitorous.
As such we can imagine this woman had personally encountered the overt racism and bigotry of her Hebrews neighbors. In actuality, Jewish violence towards Samaritans was commonplace. She says as much to Jesus when she asks, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman? For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”
As a Samaritan the second strike against this woman would have been her religion. Though the Samaritans held to many of the same beliefs outlined in the Old Testament (for example she “perceived” Jesus to be a “prophet” before articulating an expectation for the promised “Messiah”), they had blended Judaism with many pagan superstitions.
As just one of what could be many examples, the Samaritans specifically broke with the Jews by worshipping God on Mount Gerizim as opposed to the Temple in Jerusalem.
You see, in addition to ethnic bigotry, this woman would have also been the victim of religious persecution. The Samaritans were viewed by the Jews as being heretics. As we noted last Sunday in 128 BC the Jews actually burned their temple to the ground.
Aside from these two strikes on account this woman was a Samaritan, the third was the simple fact she was “a woman.” With the exception of Roman citizens, women in the first-century possessed few rights if any at all. Because women were viewed as inferior to their male counterparts, this woman couldn’t work, her testimony would have been inadmissible in a court of law, and she would have been largely seen as the property of her husband.
Beyond this gender bias, as a woman, she would have been denied any type of formal educational opportunities and would have been barred from religious training. In this cultural context, aside from the abnormality of a Jew speaking with a Samaritan, it would have been completely taboo for Jesus to have spoken publicly with this woman at all. It was uncouth.
But that’s not all we know about this woman… Consider that, in response to Jesus’ command to “go and call her husband,” this woman deflects by saying, “I have no husband.” Though in a literal sense she was being truthful, Jesus points out that not only was the man she currently with not her husband, but she’d actually “had five husbands!”
Before unpacking this, I want to take a moment to correct a misconception many have about this woman. Contrary to how many portray her - she was not a prostitute or a woman with loose morals. In no way shape or form does the passage say anything close to this.
Keep in mind, Jesus brings up her life-story not to rebuke her or call her to account. Instead, He brings these things up to reveal Himself to her. Not only does she immediately “perceive” Jesus to be “a prophet,” but her later testimony was that “He told me all that I ever did.” In the end her confession was simple… Jesus was “the Christ, the Savior of the world!”
In actuality I find it telling that Jesus doesn’t once use the word “sin” in His exchange with her when He wasn’t shy from calling out sin. Note: With the woman caught in adultery, Jesus no doubt treated her with love and compassion, but He exhorted her to “go and sin no more.”
Though we know very little about Samaritanism and how their religious beliefs concerning marriage and divorce may have differed from the Jews, if we look only at the Levitical Law there are many explanations for her situation. While it would have been undoubtedly a string of terrible luck, it’s not outside the realm of possibility she’d been widowed five times.
Another explanation for her current situation would be that this woman had been divorced by five husbands. One of the great debates within Judaism was the interpretation of what constituted a woman as being “unclean” which was the only accepted grounds for divorce.
Though one group of religious thought viewed “uncleanness” as exclusively the result of adultery (sexual infidelity), more liberal influences in Judaism had a more expansive view. There was even a school of thought that allowed a man to divorce his wife if she burnt dinner. As one scholar noted, “It was not uncommon for women to be married several times.”
Whether it was on account she’d been widowed, divorced, or a combination of the two for that matter, one thing is undeniable… In order to survive in that society she needed to be married explaining why she’d been married five times and was about to marry for a sixth.
Take a moment and consider either scenario… Imagine what life had been like for this woman. One heartache after another. One disappointment followed by another. She’d loved and either the object of her love was taken from her or turned on her. Terrible sorrow.
Aside from the personal pain and constant disappointment this woman had no doubt experienced over the years, I also think it’s safe to say an obvious societal stigma would have been inescapable. Case in point, in verse 7 John tells us that it was “about the sixth hour” (around noon) when this woman “came to draw water” from Jacob’s well.
Culturally speaking, beyond the activity of coming to draw water informing us that this woman wasn’t wealthy (if she were such a task would have been done by servants), the timing of the activity is interesting in and of itself. Customarily the women of the town would come to the community well “to draw water” for the day early in the morning.
Not only would it make logical sense to do such a physical task in the coolest part of the day, but the activity was somewhat communal and social. The very fact this woman “came to draw water” at noon, seemingly by herself, reveals much about her standing in Sychar.
Yes, being a Samaritan ostracized this woman from a Jewish culture who persecuted her both ethnically and religiously - and being a woman generally placed her at a significant disadvantage, but on account of her many marriages it seems her own tribe had rejected her.
You see this woman came to the well at such a strange hour because she was an outcast and likely a loner. She intentionally avoided coming to draw water with the other ladies because she wasn’t welcomed. She was friendless. Because of the glances and judgment she found it easier to come to the well alone when no one else would be there.
John opens the chapter telling us that Jesus “leaves Judea” because He has an appointment in Samaria. It doesn’t take long to discover Jesus had this lonely woman in mind all along. When there is a sovereign God active in this world there is no such thing as a coincidence.
John also says that upon their arrival in Sychar (capital of Samaria), being “wearied from His journey” Jesus intentionally decides to sit down at “Jacob’s well” for a little RNR while His disciples go into town to purchase some food. This word “wearied” literally means Jesus was both physically and emotional drained. He was utterly exhausted “from His journey.”
Please understand while the text in no way says this Samaritan woman was seeking out Jesus, the passage is clear Jesus specifically left Judea, came to Samaria, the city of Sychar, to sit down at Jacob’s well, at the noon hour because He knew this woman would be coming to draw water. Jesus made sure “His journey” intersected with this woman’s!
I love the fact that Jesus stepped into this woman’s life in the most mundane of moments. She wasn’t on a spirit-quest. She wasn’t at church or a prayer meeting. She was coming to draw water. It was part of her daily routine. There was no anticipation. In no way would she ever have expected to meet God at Jacob’s well. A Samaritan woman who’d been in five marriages and was friendless was about to have her life forever changed by Jesus.
It should also be mentioned that Jesus knew everything about this woman before He even met her. What’s more… None of these things deterred Him! She was a child of compromise, a religious heretic, insignificant, a woman, broken and disappointed, an outcast by all… And yet, Jesus specifically goes out of His way to work in her life.
As we approach this conversation remember the much larger end-game… Jesus was reconstituting who would be His people. In a way He lays the framework for calling unto Himself a new wife - The Bride of Christ. It’s not an accident the scene occurs at a well - the local for so many hookups in Scripture. The stories of Rebekah and Isaac (Genesis 24), Rachel and Jacob (Genesis 29), Zipporah and Moses (Exodus 2) all began at wells.
The other component that’s central to understanding the flow of this interesting conversation is that Jesus intends to reveal Himself to this woman as “the Christ, the Savior of the world.” This will ultimately become her testimony and eventually that of the Samaritans.
As we look at a dialogue that admittedly takes some odd twists and turns knowing the end-game that Jesus wants this woman to see Him as her “Savior” helps understand the flow.
Imagine this woman’s surprise when she arrives to find a Jewish man sitting at the well! What was He doing there? Why was He alone? Why was a Jew in Samaria? Not only was this offbeat, but the scene grew even stranger when Jesus asks her, “Give Me a drink.”
Jesus (a Hebrew man) asking such a question of a “Samaritan woman” broke every societal norm. Her surprise instantly turned to disbelief. Not only would a Jew have nothing to do with a Samaritan, but a Jewish man would never have spoken publicly to a women - Samaritan or not! In speaking these four words to her Jesus is crossing all kinds of social taboos!
Aside from how radicle this was, the very nature of Jesus’ request for her to draw for Him a drink of water intended to demonstrate a measure of kindness and respect this woman was unaccustomed to experiencing. According to Eastern culture the very act of asking a favor was Jesus way of placing Himself into this women’s debt.
As you play this scene out in your mind it’s likely that between verses 8 and 9 this woman (totally and completely dismayed by what’s actually happening) graciously proceeds to draw from the well a drink of water for Jesus before her obvious curiosity demands an inquiry… In verse 9 she asks Jesus, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”
I love the fact that while this woman doesn’t refuse Jesus, she was bold enough to ask a question. She didn’t avoid the 800lb gorilla in the room. “How is it that You…” aptly articulates her wonderment. For all the reasons we’ve stated she had to know why a Jewish man would ask from her “a drink” - knowing she was both a “Samaritan” and a “woman?”
Look at Jesus’ response to her disbelief He would willingly show kindness… Verse10, “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’”
If this woman was initially surprised to find someone else at the well at high noon, then found herself in disbelief to discover it was a Jew, only to be shock when this man proceeds to break custom by asking her for a drink… Jesus’ response leaves her a bit perplexed.
To help unpack what Jesus is saying let me paraphrase this verse… Jesus said to her, “If you knew who I am (“who it is who says to you”) and what I’ve come to give (“the gift of God”) you would have asked Me for a drink and I would have given you living water.” Notice at the core of Jesus statement was the fact she had no idea who He actually was.
Keep in mind this woman’s question manifested from the love, respect, and kindness Jesus had just demonstrated towards her. In response she wanted to know what would motive Him to such grace, because frankly she’d never experienced anything like it.
So in order to address her inquiry (“How is it that You?”) Jesus moves her thought process to two things: “The gift of God” and the Giver of said gift! Again Jesus is saying, “If you knew Who I am and what I’ve come to give - you would never have asked such a question.” Jesus will begin by explaining the “gift of God” in order to set up the grand reveal.
It’s important to understand this phrase Jesus uses “living water” is in many ways a play on words. This woman had come to Jacob’s well in order to draw out water, but it was stagnant. You see spring water or river water was preferable because it was fresh and pure. Since it was moving (alive) it lacked the imperfections of water that was sitting, static, or dead.
In employing this phrase Jesus is contrasting this well-water with living water. Jesus is contrasting what she’d come to “Jacob’s well” to draw - with what He was offering to give! For a more thorough explanation of this point I’d refer you to last Sunday’s study.
Beyond this Jesus is doing something else vitally important… He’s asking if she’s thirsty? While she was trying to understand what motivated Jesus, He’s wanting her to consider herself the same thing. It’s as though Jesus is asking her, “Are you satisfied with what you’re getting from this well or do you long for something more?”
As you read her response don’t forget she literally has no idea who Jesus is. She’s never heard Him expound on the Scriptures or seen Jesus preform a miracle. She doesn’t even know His name and is clueless to His backstory. He’s just a random dude at her well.
She continues the dialogue in verse 11, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
In response to Jesus’ appeal for her to consider what she’s been drinking from and whether it’s good enough, there is no question she’s processing what Jesus is saying to her in the natural realm (“the well is deep” and “You have nothing to draw with”). That said… She does ask two questions that demonstrate some level of spiritual intuition.
How interesting that she first asks Jesus, “Where do You get that living water?” before asking Him, “Are You greater than our father Jacob?” In verse 13 Jesus will begin His explanation, “Jesus answered, ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.’”
I find it so very fascinating that Jesus moves her thought process from drinking (an outward activity) to thirst (an internal condition). Jesus says, “Whoever drinks of this water (and I can see Him pointing to Jacob’s well) will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him (I can see Jesus pointing to Himself) will never thirst.” In order to know Who Jesus is it’s helpful to know the radicle nature of what He came to offer.
Though Jesus will get to her question “where do You get that living water” in a few minutes, notice that Jesus first answers her question about being greater than Jacob by contrasting the water his well yields as opposed to the water He came to provide.
In a way Jesus is saying to her, “Let me tell you how I am greater than Jacob… You can drink and drink and drink from the water of this well and your thirst will never be quenched, but if you drink and drink and drink from the water I give you’ll never thirst again.” Note: The duplicate phrase “whoever drinks” is in the active tense implying a continual drinking.
The point Jesus is making is crystal clear… In one dynamic an outward activity (drawing water from Jacob’s well) always failed to address the internal need of being thirsty. While in the other dynamic - enjoying what Jesus gives - permanently satisfies!
As the gears are turning in her head Jesus immediately answers her unspoken question… How does the water you offer quench my internal thirst? He says, “The water I give will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” Jesus is saying that this living water we receive “becomes in” the individual “a fountain of water” - an internal spring.
I love this contrast… The woman comments concerning Jacob’s well saying, “The well is deep.” Drawing water from this well required work. It demanded effort. You had to earn a sip. And yet, Jesus now refers to a “fountain of water springing up!” Where does this living water come from? It’s something Jesus gives - you received - and then it bubbles forth internally.
There should be no surprise that in response to Jesus this women immediately replies in verse 15 “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” And yet, the exchange the follows is not what she expected. “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband.’ The woman answered, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have well said for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband.’”
Back in verse 10 Jesus initiated this conversation by stating, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” Now that she clearly understands the “gift of God” (which is why she now asks Jesus for this “living water that I may not thirst”) it’s equally evident she still doesn’t know who Jesus is and therefore is still wondering “where do You get that living water?”
Notice she begins her request, “Sir, give me this water…” In order for this woman to fully grasp all that Jesus was offering she needed to know His true identity. Once again this is why Jesus supernaturally lays out her backstory. He’s not judging her or airing her dirty laundry. Instead, Jesus is trying to get her to see Him in a different light.
Not surprisingly her reaction reveals her perspective is expanding. In verse 19 she replies, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.” Since this was the case she then asks a theological question central to the distinction and division between the Samaritans and the Jews. It’s at this point I’m also convinced she’s beginning to understand what Jesus is actually offering.
She inquires, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (Mount Gerizim), and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” In her mind this women had completely intertwined the true worship of God with a physical location. She asks, “We worship on Mount Gerizim and the Jews worship in Jerusalem - which location is best?”
Look at Jesus response… “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.” Jesus is basically saying the location had no bearing on true worship! In actuality, Jesus prophesied that the debate would soon be mute as “the hour was coming” when no one would be worshipping in either location.
Instead, Jesus explains that “the hour now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” His point was that God was more concerned with the essence of the worship… “The Father is seeking” those who “worship Him in spirit and truth!” Understand, the idea Jesus is communicating concerning worship was absolutely radicle to both the Samaritans and Jewish mindset.
Since this was the case, this woman’s only response was to concede, “I know that Messiah is coming (who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things.” It’s as though she says, “I’m not sure what you’re saying, but when the Messiah comes all will make sense.” And it’s in this moment the stage has finally been set for Jesus to fully reveal His identity.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’” Why was Jesus greater than Jacob? How could He offer this woman “living water” so that she’d never thirst again? He was the Christ, the Savior, the Messiah she was looking for! There is no question in this moment she finally understood. John tells us “the woman then left her waterpot, went into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’”
There are lots of ways pastors like to close out this passage and sadly they end up centering on nothing but platitudes. I could point out that Jesus was inviting this women to drink from a well much different than anything this world had to offer. While this world only offers temporary reprieves that can never quench an internal thirst, not so with Jesus.
You can work to draw a drink of water that fails to satisfy or you can receive a drink of water Jesus offers. “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
And while a point like this is absolutely true I think its unnecessarily vague. Don’t forget the entire purpose of the conversation and what reality actually changed this woman’s life. Yes, Jesus was offering living water, something that permanently satisfied an internal need, but these were the result of possessing a relationship with Jesus - the Savior. The entire purpose of the dialogue was to get this woman to see Jesus for who He really was!
As we close, if these truths concerning Jesus strike a cord in your heart you’re willing to accept and surrender yourself to, please in the depths of your soul pray…
“Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I believe You are the Son of God who died on the cross to atone for my sins. I place my complete faith in that work as the only basis for my forgiveness, restoration, and righteousness before You. I confess that on the 3rd day You rose from the dead providing me a relationship with You today. Right now, Jesus I choose to repent of my sins and ask that by Your grace You fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Take my broken life and make it whole. Transform who I am from the inside out. Jesus, I confess You as both my God, my personal Lord, and my eternal Savior. Amen.”
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