John 4. The Woman at the Well. The Divine Comedy.
Key Notes: Jesus wins a wayward woman. Comparing two interviews. The inner workings of the heart. Jesus as human and divine. Spiritual thirst and living water. Jesus' second sign in Galilee.
In this chapter, Jesus interviews a Samaritan woman. It is everywhere in contrast to Jesus’ talk with Nicodemus. The two people could not have been more different, and His approach is radically different.
4:1 Jesus left Judea to avoid the appearance of conflict with John the Baptist. He had to go through Samaria. The normal Jewish route was to go east across the Jordan opposite Jerusalem and follow the trans-Jordan route north to Galilee. The way through Samaritan country was shorter, but unpleasant, if not dangerous.
Years before, when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Samaria / Ephraim (720BC), they deported most of the Israelites into Mesopotamia and imported people from the city-states of Mesopotamia to farm the land. (IIK.17:24–41). The peoples intermarried and had a mixed religious culture of pagan gods and the worship of God. Things did not go well, and God sent lions that killed some of the people. The King of Assyria then sent back a priest to teach the people to fear God (IIK.17:27–28) but the religious practices remained mixed. The mixed population became known as Samaritans.
When the Judean exiles returned from Babylon after seventy years, the Samaritans objected. They interfered with the rebuilding of the temple and halted the work for a time. (Ezra 4:1–6). They wrote a letter to the Persian king that put an official stop to the work. (Ezra 4:7–24). Years later (445BC) when the wall of Jerusalem was being rebuilt, the Samaritans were a military threat to the work. (Neh. 2:15–20; 4:1–9). During the time of Alexander the Great, the Samaritans built a temple at Mt. Gerizim to rival the one in Jerusalem. There were periodic wars between the Jews and the Samaritans after 400BC so that mutual animosity could be expected during Jesus’ life. When the Jews said of Jesus that He was a Samaritan and had a demon they are telling us what they thought of Samaritans. (Jn.8:48). But Philip extended Jesus’ evangelism of the Samaritans early in the Church’s outreach. Acts 8:4–25
A few Samaritans still live near Sychar in Israel. They have a cherished scroll of the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. Their Scripture is limited to these five book , but their religious practices are otherwise similar to Jews. Their religion would not be considered pagan now. ("Samaritans" in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.)
4:5 Jesus stopped at Sychar at noon, and sat down by the well. He was half-way to Galilee. Jacob’s well was there, about 100ft deep. He was tired and thirsty.
4:7–10 A woman came with her bucket to get water. Jesus asked her for a drink.
She reacted. I should give you a drink? Are we on speaking terms? Jewish man? Samaritan woman?
Jesus showed His hand: If you knew the gift of God…
If you knew Who was talking to you…
You would ask Him for living water.
“Living water” usually meant flowing water as opposed to well water which seeped up from underground. Years before, the prophet Jeremiah said "My people have forsaken Me, the spring of living water...." Je.2:13. Jesus says that living water comes from God. And His living water is activated by the work of the Holy Spirit in the person’s life. 4:14.
4:11–15 She said “Sir”, responding with a little respect, perhaps a little amusement. “You have no bucket and the well is deep.” Was He greater than Jacob, who gave them that well almost two thousand years before? The thought crossed her mind that perhaps He was greater than Jacob.
Jesus said that the water from Jacob’s well could not permanently quench the thirst. He offered her a spring of living water that would later come from within her being. She asked Him for it.
4:16–18 Jesus then turned the corner. Bring your husband.
He turned the light on her private life.
Ideally her spiritual decision should be in harmony with her spouse.
She said she had no husband and He told her that she had had five and more. She was a serial adulteress.
4:19–28 She was quick. She blocked Him in the only way she knew, bringing up controversy in religion. “You say…we say”. You say we should worship in Jerusalem; we say in Mt. Gerizim. Mt. Gerizim is the site where Israel first pronounced God's blessing on entering Canaan, with the corresponding curses pronounced from the nearby Mt. Ebal. (Deut.11:29; 27:11; Josh.8:32). The Samaritans had built a temple on Mt. Gerizim.
Jesus gave her several insights with considerable authority.
The Samaritans are spiritually ignorant; salvation comes from the Jews. Psa.76:1
True worshipers from now on will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.
God is Spirit and His worshipers are not limited to one place.
God is seeking true, spiritual worshipers.
She made the next move. When Messiah comes He will make everything clear.
Jesus said she was speaking to Him.
4:27–33 Then the disciples came from the village with food. They were surprised to see Him speaking to a woman. Two questions came to mind. "What do you want'?--to her. "Why are you talking to her"? Apparently they had enough discretion not to ask either.
She ran off into the village to tell her neighbors that her notorious life had been exposed by the Christ. She is overflowing with excitement and gratitude.
The disciples tried to get Him to eat, but He was not hungry. "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me." He had won a victory. The results were streaming down toward them from the village—white-clothed people coming to see Jesus--a field ripe for the harvest. The disciples were permitted to do some of the harvesting, the rejoicing part.
When we compare Jesus' ministry with Nicodemus and the woman at the well, we see His versatility—His ability to go in different directions to meet needs. If possible, we should also learn to suit our message to the situation. No doctor gives every patient the same pill. “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” is a bad treatment for a bleeding colon cancer. The chart shows the dramatic contrasts between the two people.
|NICODEMUS||THE WOMAN AT THE WELL|
|A Jewish man at night.||A Samaritan woman at noon.|
|Old, rich, a religious leader.||Young, poor, a religious outsider.|
|Sterling character.||Soiled reputation.|
|He went looking for Jesus.||Jesus went looking for her.|
|Jesus pushed him hard on theology.||Jesus spoke to her gently about morality.|
|He went away puzzled, turning slowly to Jesus over years.||She grasped the truth quickly, and brought her village to Jesus.|
The back and forth in this conversation illustrates details of psychological and spiritual movement.
*Jesus asked a favor—just a drink of water. Asking a favor almost always wins a sympathetic response. She was not looking for a conversation but He got her attention.
*She challenged His right to speak to her.
*He reversed the roles by offering her a drink.
*She accepted the offer of His drink.
*He turned in a different direction and touched the tender spot, her love life.
*She tried to block Him from going in that direction by throwing up a religious controversy .
*He removed the block with satisfying information and received her saving trust.
*Her trust in turn lead to a change of heart--a new understanding of Jesus--and action.
*Action led to attraction, and a multiplication of trusting people.
*Now Jesus (and the disciples) had dozens of active seekers.
Commentators have offered the opinion that Jesus had no particular expectation from this walk through Samaria. Others wonder if He was really thirsty, or just used the request for water as a ploy. We always struggle to think of Jesus as truly divine and also truly human. If He did not know what was going to happen at Sychar, He is not really divine. We are ignoring John’s word that
“He knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for He Himself knew what was in man.” (Jn.2:25).
“Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe….” (Jn.6:64).
On the other hand, if He was not really tired and not really thirsty after a long walk, He was not really human. So we see His divine nature in His interaction with people and we see His humanity in His bodily reactions to everyday life—fatigue and thirst.
Jesus made three trips outside the Israelite territories during His ministry. This is the first, a visit to Samaria. He also went into Lebanon to meet a Syro-phoenician woman (Matt.15:21–28) to heal her daughter and confirm her faith. He went into Gadarene territory to liberate a demon-possessed man (Lk.8:26–39) and get him started on a mission to the Greek cities of the Decapolis. (Mk.5:19–20). These visits were to non-Jews and they were deliberate. They point out that Jesus’ ministry was primarily to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but also that He had other sheep that were not of this fold.
The topic of water is a beautiful example of using the materials at hand to teach spiritual lessons. Jesus will do that repeatedly. In the case of the Samaritan woman, the topic of water was perfect: she was a thirsty woman who hoped that men would meet her need and after the sixth try was still unsatisfied. Jesus interrupted her sexual pursuit and offered the Holy Spirit to satisfy her deepest longings. She would soon be a source of help to others, and also renew her worship.
We should be clear about different kinds of satisfaction. The thirst for water is so intense as to drive people into a frenzy. (Ex.17:3). In Africa people regularly drink dirty water rather than go without. In the Middle East, the scarcity of water is a nutritional problem and kidney stones are common. A sign in Mongolia reads "What color is your urine?" The need for food, rest and sexual gratification are also needs that must be met on different terms. However, the need for God, which uses these other needs as models or analogs, is different. Augustine knew that the need for God was different from his other needs and that his sexual indulgence, among other things did not satisfy his need for God. That need has been described as a “God-shaped blank”, a major piece of the jig-saw puzzle of our lives.
Spiritual thirst is a biblical theme.
“As the hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Psa.42:1
“Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Isa.55:1
“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd and He will guide them to springs of living water” Rev. 7:17
How does this Living Water flow out of one’s being, springing up to Eternal Life? It is the Holy Spirit’s work.
"If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water'. Now this He said about the Spirit, which those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." Jn.8:37–39
This living water is not mysterious and it is not rare. The Holy Spirit is God’s blessing upon the world, poured out from those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.
4:43–54 Jesus' second visit to Galilee was greeted with enthusiasm because of what He had done at the feast in Jerusalem. He went to Cana where He had turned the water to wine and thence to Capernaum where a village official begged Him to heal his dying son. Jesus challenged his faith. The man pleaded and Jesus assured him that the boy was healed. The servants confirmed that the healing occurred at the same hour that Jesus had spoken. The official and his family became believers. This was Jesus' second sign, both of them done in Galilee.