John 4:1 – 15

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – Pt. 1

4 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.”

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The event of Jesus and his conversation with the woman from Samaria is perhaps one of the richest stories in the Gospel of John, and one of my own personal favourites.  There are so many interesting details just in the background to this story, in addition to the deep spiritual truths that come out in this dialog.  To paraphrase a saying, “So much story, and so little space to write about it.”

The complete details of this event are given to us in verses 1-42 of chapter four.  But there are four distinct subsections to this story.  Three of the sections deal with Jesus and the woman from Sychar in the District of Samaria.  The fourth section consists of a dialog between Jesus and his disciples and interrupts the story of the woman.  We will look at that last in these four articles.  Now let’s see what we learn from verses 1-15.

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What We Do Know

A careful examination of the text will reveal a number of important details about Jesus, the Samaritan woman, and where the event takes place.  We learn such things as:

  • there is a hint of growing antagonism between Jesus and the Pharisees.
  • Jesus continues to travel to find people who are open to hear spiritual truths.
  • Jesus experienced normal human needs like thirst and the need for rest.
  • there must be significant differences between being a Jew and being a Samaritan.
  • the woman misunderstands that Jesus is not talking about natural water.

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What We Need To Know

There are many obvious details that we can learn from the story, such as outlined above.  But there are a number of important things we need to know that may not be as obvious.  This is where it is important to know the Old Testament stories which provide the background to the New Testament.  In addition, it is also often quite helpful to read resources which provide insights into the culture and history of the Jewish people and other nations of their time.   Let me highlight a few important background issues:

  • It was customary for a Jew who was travelling from the south province of Judea going to the north province of Galilee to either follow the Jordan River along its western bank, or to cross over the Jordan and travel up through the eastern regions to get to Galilee.  This was to avoid the possibility of travelling through the middle province of Samaria.  Thus, we can probably discern that Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman was no accident, but a divine appointment.
  • Jacob was one of the earliest ancestors of the Jewish people.  Called the Patriarchs, Abraham was the father of Isaac, who was the father of Jacob (whom God also called Israel), who was the father of Joseph.  As travelling desert nomads, these Patriarchs overcame great difficulties in claiming the land of Canaan, which included digging and protecting important wells.  So was Jesus greater than the Jewish Patriarchs?  We know the answer is “Yes!”
  • Jews and Samaritans would have nothing to do with each other, publically or privately.  When the Assyrians conquered Samaria and the Northern Kingdom in 721 B.C., they imported a large number of non-Jewish people to live among and intermarry with the people and they became known as the “Samaritans”.  In other words, they were viewed as “cursed half-breed Jews” and association with them would make a Jew unclean in God’s eyes.  But Jesus saw this woman through eyes of love and as a person who needed to hear about God.
  • Finally, note that the woman went out of town to get water at “the sixth hour”.  Starting with the Roman/Jewish reckoning of 6 a.m. as the start of the day, she was getting water at noon, the hottest part of the day.  And why?  Probably because she was a social outcast as we will see in the next article.

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Stay tuned for more articles about Jesus and his talk with the Samaritan woman.

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