The story of Jesus and the woman at the well is the longest encounter recorded in the book of John. That’s not the only significant fact. I realize that as I sit here today; it is this woman to whom I owe thanks. Yes, the unnamed Samaritan woman at the well was the first to spread the good news of Jesus, the Messiah, to her townspeople. That makes her the first evangelist in the Bible!
Why did Jesus choose her to reveal Himself as Messiah? This story is not only fascinating for its in-depth look at their conversation, but also gives us beautiful examples of Jesus’ love and acceptance.
It also shows us His radical attitude towards women and those who feel “less than” and marginalized.
Woman at the Well Scripture
We find this story only in John 4:1-42. It was early in Jesus’ ministry and His popularity was rising; the Jewish leaders were not pleased.
Jesus decided to leave Judea and return to Galilee. The Scripture tells us “He had to go through Samaria.” (v4) Technically, He could have gone the “long way” around Samaria (many did this) and avoid the hostile Samaritans.
But for reasons only He knows, He had to go through Samaria. Was it His Father’s will? Did He have an appointment to keep?
Who Were the Samaritans?
Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel.
[Mini Bible Lesson: The reasons are complicated, but contention, tax complaints, and a propensity to not follow God led to the breakup of the 12 tribes of Israel. Israel split in two- the northern kingdom of Israel (Samaria) and the southern kingdom of Judea; run by the tribe of Judah.]
Foreigners settled in Samaria and mixed their foreign gods with the true God of Israel. Samaritans were hated by the Jews for their intermarriage with non-Jewish peoples.
Difference Between Jews and Samaritans
Samaritans only recognized the first 5 books of the Bible, rejecting the remaining books of the Hebrew Bible.
Samaritans and Jews also disagreed over their holy sites.
Jews believed the temple in Jerusalem was the only proper place to worship God. The Samaritans, however, believed that their temple, on Mount Gerizim, was where true worship occurred. This was near the site of Jacob’s well, which still exists today.
Woman at the Well Story
It is at Jacob’s well that Jesus stops to take a break. Scripture tells us it was in the heat of the day, about noon. The approximately 70 mile journey from Judea to Galilee took about 3 days of walking, and Jesus must have been hot, tired, and thirsty.
Jesus sent His disciples to buy food and sat down at the well (waiting for someone to arrive?).
A Samaritan woman comes to draw water.
Why was the Samaritan Woman Drawing Water at Noon?
People usually sought a shady spot to eat and nap during the hottest part of the day. Cultural traditions tell us that women drew water from the well in the cool of the morning. It was also a social time for the women.
That she came to the well alone, at the most inconvenient time, tells us she was a social outcast.
Who Was the Woman at the Well?
John does not give us her name; only that she was from Samaria. As she arrives, Jesus asks her, “Will you give me a drink?” v7.
It seems like a simple request, but when Jesus spoke to her, it broke many cultural traditions.
Men did not speak at length to women who weren’t their relatives. They rarely spoke to their own wives, sisters, or daughters in public.
Women in Jesus’ day faced harsh discrimination on many fronts. The Jews always considered Samaritan women “unclean.” Part of the Jewish men’s daily morning prayers thank God for not creating them women!
A woman’s main purpose was childbearing and homemaking. Courts did not allow their testimony. Men considered women as property- given by their fathers to their husbands.
Now add in her race and her ostracism from society. Why would Jesus single out this woman?
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
Because none of these things bothered Jesus.
He asks her for a drink, but drinking from her cup would have made Jesus unclean. Which is why she asks Him, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” v9.
It must have surprised her to be greeted by this gentle Jewish man!
He continues to draw her into conversation-
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” V10.
“Sir, the woman said, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?” v11.
She may have thought Jesus was describing water that flowed from a spring- also called living water in their day. They felt it to be superior to well water.
But Jesus was referring to spiritual water, which quenches spiritual thirst and gives eternal life.
He tells her the water He gives ensures she will never be thirsty again. His living water will become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” V14.
Not understanding, she asks for this water so she wouldn’t have to keep coming to the well.
5 Husbands of the Samaritan Woman
“Go, call your husband and come back,” Jesus tells her. v16
This wouldn’t be out of the norm. Having her husband there would have made the conversation more socially acceptable.
“I have no husband.” V17.
This was true, but Jesus already knew her marital history. He tells her:
“You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.”
Not only did Jesus have what she needed (living water), He also knew things about her past that she had not revealed. Notice that Jesus did not condemn her or call on her to repent, but spent His time trying to draw her to Him.
Divorce in Bible Times
In today’s society, if someone has been married 5 times, we might question their relationship skills. But in Jesus’ day, the realities of women’s lives were much different.
Many choose to portray this woman as someone with a shameful sexual history, but we are not given any details. There are certainly many possibilities that could explain her history.
This woman’s husband’s could have divorced her- not of her choosing. It was the husband who gave certificates of divorce to their wives and sent them away.
Perhaps she had been divorced for an inability to conceive. Producing heirs was of the utmost importance.
Five husbands is a lot, but not all that uncommon. She might be living with another man as a second wife; socially acceptable at the time.
She also might not have had any living male relative to take her in which was customary. Maybe the only way for her to survive was to live with a man outside of marriage.
Jesus didn’t bring up her past to shame her. He wanted her to understand He knew everything about her and would forego the customs of the day to reach out to her in her unbearable situation.
“Sir, the woman said, I can see that you are a prophet.” No stranger passing through the area would have known these details of her life.
Can you feel her demeanor softening?
The only prophet the Samaritans were expecting came from the promise of Jesus as Messiah (not in the same way as the Jews, however) in Deuteronomy 18:15.
Possibly surprised and uncomfortable when Jesus speaks of her past, she tries redirecting the conversation away from herself and towards the correct place to worship- a dispute that bitterly divided Jews and Samaritans.
How Does Jesus Help the Samaritan Woman?
Not interested in where to worship, Jesus steers her towards true worship.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” v23-24.
Elaborate temples, golden bowls, and rich tapestries do not make worship. Jesus wanted to help her understand God is a spiritual presence that is not limited to physical places of worship. He is everywhere and we can worship Him at any time or place.
Not understanding what He is telling her, she finally responds with an open heart:
“I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” v25.
Can you hear the longing in her voice? It sounds as if she is yearning for the day when Messiah would come, and she would fully understand. She hung on to this tiny nugget of faith and promise of restoration.
Jesus Reveals Himself to the Woman at the Well
We watch the Samaritan woman grow from a bit hostile, to curious, to recognizing Jesus’ supernatural insight. His caring and thoughtful manner drew her in.
Jesus then declares, “I, the one speaking to you, I am he.” V26.
When Jesus makes His bold statement, He knew she was ready to receive what He offered and respond in faith.
She then sees Him with opened eyes and immediately leaves her water jars. (Doesn’t this remind you of the disciples leaving their nets to follow Jesus??)
She runs back into town to tell the people (who previously shunned her openly), “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” v29.
Jesus had confronted her with her sin and misunderstandings, yet she felt His love and concern for her well-being. What a switch from her normal, everyday life. You can almost feel her overwhelming joy!
Disregarding their reasons for shunning her, the people now listened to her and came out of town to meet Jesus. Her invitation was so impactful that “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him.”
Not only did the Samaritans believe, but they also encouraged Jesus and His disciples to stay with them for 2 more days.
Eating their food, staying in their homes, and even speaking to Samaritans would have been offensive. But Jesus broke those chains and because of His teachings, many more became believers.
“They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.’” V42
Interestingly, this is the only verse in John where Jesus is called “Savior.” The only other place we find it in the Gospels is in Luke 2:11. The Samaritans even called Him “Savior of the world”- recognizing He came not just for Jews, but for Samaritans and all people.
Lessons from the Samaritan Woman
What can we learn from the woman at the well? So many lessons!
●Her testimony led to the immediate salvation of many in her town.
As she believed, she could not keep the knowledge to herself. Every one of us has benefited from her bold faith and fearless voice.
If people are going to believe in Jesus, they need someone to tell them about Him! How will you share your testimony? How will you introduce Jesus to those around you?
●Her low standing in her community, gender, race, and marital status did not deter her from becoming a believer. Others saw her as shameful and undeserving. Jesus saw her as precious and forgiven. Do you embrace your identity in Christ?
Jesus has a heart for all people. His love, acceptance, and salvation are open to everyone. Do you accept His invitation, or believe you are too sinful/too far gone/ undeserving of His great love?
How does the story of the woman of Samaria affect how you feel about other people groups that society shuns?
●She had a desire to understand and was unafraid to ask questions of Jesus. She believed in Him as He revealed Himself to her. Contrast the Samaritan woman’s reaction to Nicodemus’:
Nicodemus was everything she wasn’t- a man, a Jew, upper class, and educated. Nicodemus did not come to a full understanding of who Jesus was even after a one-on-one nighttime conversation.
The woman at the well fully committed to Jesus, while Nicodemus continued his role as a Pharisee, probably coming to believe, but unwilling to go all in.
Are you “all in” or holding on to some part of your life?
●God can save you and forgive you no matter what your circumstances. We don’t need to live a better life before coming to Him. He wants to meet our spiritual needs with His living water so that we will never thirst again.
Woman at the Well Reflection
Our busy lives sometimes result in taking our eyes off Jesus. The Samaritan women needed her eyes opened; we need reminders to keep them focused on Him.
Behind all our sins is a failure to be satisfied with our lives. What/whom are you looking to for satisfaction?
Relationships, careers, possessions, control, health, reputations, and the pleasures of earthly life can leave us empty.
Jesus comes to us, just as He did to the Samaritan woman, to offer acceptance and an invitation to let Him satisfy our thirsty souls. Let His continuous love, understanding, promises, and power fill your deepest longings.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6.
All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.
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