1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” – John 4:1-15 ESV
Sychar and the Samaria Country
The history of Samaria and the Samaritans can be traced to the division of the kingdom of Israel that occurred after the reign of David’s son Solomon. When David became king of the Jewish people, he conquered Jerusalem and made it to the nation’s capital, and it was there that Solomon build the temple. But when Solomon’s kingdom was divided into northern (Israel) and southern (Judah), those who were in the northern kingdom constructed Samaria as their capital city. When the northern kingdom was defeated by Assyria in 722 BC, many Jews were deported and pagan people were brought in. This mixture of Jews and Gentiles eventually became the people known as the Samaritans.
Samaria became a place of refuge for all the outlaws of Judea. The Samaritans willingly received Jewish criminals and refugees from justice. The violators of the Jewish laws, and those who had been excommunicated, found safety for themselves in Samaria, greatly increasing the hatred which existed between the two nations. We read about the Jews “going around” Samaria. This was not always out of pride of not wanting to socialize with the Samaritans, but also for safety. Samaritans would attack pilgrims going from Galilee to Jerusalem, and so many would go a different way, down the Jordan valley to Jericho and the up the hill from there to Jerusalem. (The route Jesus and his followers take on the last journey together)
The Samaritans, as a people, accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament, so they ignored the writings of the prophets and the Psalms. They rejected anything that spoke of Jerusalem. Their central place of worship was Mount Gerizim, not the temple in Jerusalem, which had since been rebuilt by Herod by the time of John’s story is told. Because the Samaritans rejected so much of the Word of God and because of their syncretistic practices, the Jews were very hostile toward them. This hostility was so great that normally a Jew would prefer to not travel through Samaria and elected to cross over the Jordan river and take a different route.
One of the oldest places and objects in history is Jacob’s well. Today the well is inside the Church of St. Photina ( the name traditionally given to the Samaritan woman by the Orthodox Church). The church was originally built in 380AD. The church and the well can be visited today in the West Bank. The well is referenced in Genesis 48:22. Nearly 2,000 years after Jacob had the well dug, it was still providing water for the surrounding area. In fact, the well today still has water in it, now representing over 4,000 years of operational service.
The sixth hour
According to the Jewish method of keeping time, the hours started at 6am, so “the sixth hour” was 12 o’clock, noon. This was typically the hottest part of the day.
Right time and Right place
There are so many things that make this such a divine meeting.
In the culture, many devout Jewish men would not have allowed themselves to be alone with a woman, any woman. They would certainly not have entered into a conversation with a woman. We experience this same risk today, in what will be interpreted by our witness. They would have thought that the risk of impurity, risk of gossip, risk of being drawn into immorality was too high.
How do you approach such situations? What do you believe your risk is when encountering a woman alone? What are the risks you face today? How do you respond?
John tells us that Jesus was alone because his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. In our times, people may think that Jesus was acting a bit overbearing by making His disciples get food. However, this was a normal practice for rabbis and disciples. It was the expectation that the disciple not only learned from their rabbi, they were also expected to serve their master. Fetching food was just a part of their service. We will see where the disciples took care of where they lodged and in this case the food they ate. Let us not think that this situation was out of character, it was most likely a daily activity.
The normal time for women, as well as others, to visit the well, set as it was some distance from the town, would be at a cooler time of day, most likely first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon, not at noon. The common practice was that women would come to a well in the early morning and get the water for drinking, bathing and cleaning in the early morning. The women normally would come to the well in a group.
This just sets up the story with more than just a casual meeting. The fact that this woman came to the well at noon all by herself tells us volumes about her social status in the community and her mindset. She was obviously ostracized from the rest of the women in the community. She was something of an outcast; she had come by herself in the heat of the day to get water. There probably was no intention of people watching or meeting anyone this day at the well, from her perspective.
As the woman approaches the well, she sees and knows that the man at the well was a traveling Jew. We have read many times that the Jews would not have anything to do with the Samaritans, but that is blown out of proportion by the translations over the years. It was true that the cultures did not always see eye-to-eye, but they did interact together. The disciples actually went into town to get food. What Jews were not allowed to do was to share eating utensils with Samaritans, particularly glasses or cups, because the Samaritans were considered to be unclean. The theory is that John provided the line in parenthesis for his non-Jewish readers that would not know their social status)
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) – John 4:7-9 ESV
Now with those verses explained we can now see the scene played out in front of us. How Jesus responds, in typical fashion, is a classic dialog for everyone, even us today. It was just in the last chapter when this same Jesus had the nighttime conversation with the prestigious church leader, Nicodemus. Now he swings the pendulum to the other side, now as he meets a Samaritan woman in this foreign country. In both cases and many times in the book of John we see time and time again where Jesus engages in conversations with people who misunderstand what he says. Jesus engages with individuals at a heavenly level dan they are listening and responding at the earthly level.
When we grasp the whole concept that Jesus is God incarnate, we then can realize why most of his conversations had challenges. Jesus came to bridge the gap of heaven and earth, resulting in the challenges he faced, and could seem natural.
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” – John 4:10 ESV
Once again we see where possibly John’s narrative is take as the words of Jesus, but truly it is in third person and most likely was not the quoted words of Jesus. As this story unfolds, we can almost feel sorry for the woman. He begins the dialog with asking her for a drink, it is hot and they are at a well and he has no bucket or cup, so how could she not think he was literally talking about the well spring? Jesus words in response should have given her a clue that he was not talking about drinking water.
We don’t refer to “living water” much in our day, but back then it was a regular phrase that people used to relate to ‘running’ water. Water in a stream or river, rather than a pool or well, water that’s more likely to be fresh and clean that water that has been standing around getting stagnant. But with our wide knowledge of the Bible, we know that he is really not even talking about fluid water.
What Jesus says about this ‘living water’ makes it clear that he’s talking about something quite different, something for which all the water on earth is just a signpost, a pointer. Not only will the water he’s offering quench our thirst so that we’ll never be thirsty again. It will become a spring bubbling up inside us, refreshing us with the new life which is coming into the world with Jesus and which is the life of the whole new world God is making.
We will see later in chapter seven, Jesus will say something like this again, and John will explain that he’s referring to the spirit. Here he does not go into detail, but leaves it like a cryptic puzzle, cryptic and puzzling.
Again, Jesus is the middle of dialog with someone that is baffled, and they just revert to worldly logic…
The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? – John 4:11 ESV
This mysterious offer is enough for the woman. She doesn’t know exactly what he’s talking about, but she wants to know more. What other meanings she was thinking of, we can only imagine. But she is in for a shock, as is everyone who starts to take Jesus seriously. He has living water to offer all right, but when you start to drink it it will change every area of your life.
Can you relate to engaging with Jesus and the church, but then getting a bit swig of the living water? What changed? What was it like?
R.C. Sproul put it this way: “Jesus said, If you knew who I was, you wouldn’t respond to My request by giving Me the history of the social problems between the Jews and the Samaritans. You would drop everything and would say to Me, ‘give me a drink'”
The woman is so astonished she really does not know how to respond and she just throws out a statement that radiates with Jesus.
Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” – John 4:12
Jesus had to be smiling with response. She could not believe that anyone who was greater than Jacob, the man who dug the well that had supplied water for two thousand years, could come along and talk to her. Jesus turns it around and attempts one more time to put it into perspective what he is referring to…
13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:13-14
Jesus does not discredit Jacob and his efforts, but puts it into context. The well that was established has provided water for thousands of people to live, but just like her, she has to return to the well, day after day. If you take water from this well today, you know you will be right back here tomorrow, because it will not prevent you from thirsting again.
Jesus was using the element of water as a metaphor to describe a spiritual reality, something that would meet not just a need of the moment but a need for all eternity.
How else can someone respond?
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” – John 4:15
Are you still struggling with trying to quench your thirst with worldly water? Are you relying on your daily efforts to sustain you? How may we pray for you to come to the well?
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
- R. C. Sproul. John (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary). Kindle Edition.
- Nicholas Thomas Wright. John for Everyone. Kindle Edition