Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, John 4:1-26; 39—42

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.  (verses 1, 2)

What did what Jesus learn about the Pharisees that made the Lord leave Judea (verse 3) and return to Galilee (verse 4)?

Near the end of 27 A.D., John the Baptist was put in prison, according to Mark 6:17—20.  The Baptist’s ministry had turned the religious world of Jerusalem upside down, and the religious leaders, who were filled with jealousy because of his popularity, rejoiced that the voice crying in the wilderness had finally been silenced.  What was it about the Baptist’s ministry that incensed them so?  We know from when the Jews questioned John the Baptist, they were obsessed with his baptizing so many people.  We also know that some Jews sowed seeds of trouble among John’s disciples, apparently comparing his baptisms to those of Jesus.

But the joy that resulted from John’s imprisonment was short lived; there was a new Man on the scene whose brief ministry had already begun to surpass that of John the Baptist.

Exactly how Jesus “learned” about the Pharisee’s attitude toward Him is not stated by John but probably by word-of-mouth Jesus found out two things: His friend John the Baptist was now in prison, and that they knew He was gaining more followers than John ever had and that many of those followers had once been disciples of the Baptist.

From the standpoint of the religious leaders, things were bound to get much worse.  So did Jesus leave Judea just to head off a confrontation with those religious leaders?  One thing we know about Jesus is that regardless of the circumstances, His one ambition was to do God’s will.  The Lord also said this:

No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”  (John 10:18)

God the Father had a time-table; His plan was set and Jesus knew it and He was committed to it.  These religious leaders could not touch Him until the time was right.  What we see in this whole incident in Samaria is a marvelous example of how God is able to take life’s circumstances, positive and negative, and work them into His plan.  Just as God had a plan for Jesus’ life, He has a plan for yours.

1.  The necessity of Samaria, verse 4

Now he had to go through Samaria.

Did Jesus really have to go through Samaria to travel from Judea to Galilee?  While the shortest route was indeed the road through Samaria, most Jews of Jesus’ would have never taken that road.  For Jews, this area was a “no man’s land” and to come into contact with the half-breed Samaritans would have, in the mind of a proper Jew, defiled them.

Who were these Samaritans?  When the northern kingdom (Israel) fell in 722 B.C., the invading Assyrians deported the Israelites from their land and resettled the area with captives from other nations they had conquered.  These new settlers were heathens who brought with them their own religions and gods.  However, some Israelites had escaped deportation.  As the Israelite remnant intermarried with the heathen, not only did their races mix but their religions did as well.  The worship of Jehovah and Baal gave birth to kind of mongrel religion.  When the descendants of the southern kingdom of Judah returned from their captivity in 539 B.C. to rebuild Jerusalem and their Temple, they were met by a strange people who distrusted the returning Jews and opposed them both religiously and politically.

When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”  (Nehemiah 4:1, 2)

By Jesus’ time, Jews would have absolutely nothing to do with the Samaritans, and yet Jesus “had to” to visit their area.  That phrase indicates a “necessity.”  Jesus, the Savior of all people, had to confront this smoldering rivalry and animosity that persisted between Jew and Samaritan by ministering to His enemies.

2.  Two simple questions, verses 6—9

Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.   When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”   (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)  The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. )

Jacob’s well is located at the foot of Mount Gerizim, which was the very center of Samaritan worship.  While John was careful to always stress the divinity of Jesus, he also took care to make sure his readers knew of Jesus’ perfect humanity as well.  Jesus was tired, and being lunchtime, during heat of day, Jesus sent His disciples into town for some take out, and He sat by the famous well.

While it was not usual to see a traveler sitting by the well at noon, generally the towns people came to draw water out in the evening, after the hottest part of day (Genesis 24:11).   So it would have been unusual for this Samaritan woman to come at this time to draw water.  Even so, it was a normal question for Jesus to ask, though, as hot, dusty, and tired as He obviously was.  Jesus was clearly appealing to this woman’s sympathy.  Given the historical feud between her people and those of Jesus, her response to Jesus’ question was completely natural.

3.  A complicated response, verses 10—15

Jesus answered her, “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.”  “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”  Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus’ response to the woman did two things:  first, it revealed the fact that she had no idea who this Man really was, and second, it aroused her curiosity.   Jesus paid no attention to the woman’s slightly bitter and flippant response to Him, but rather proceeded to engage her in a dialogue.  He was far more interested in winning this woman than winning an argument.  “If you knew” was enough to pique her imagination.

The word “gift,” dorea, carries the idea of a precious “free gift,” one with no strings attached.  Westcott made this observation:

“Gift” here is a regal word, used of the benefactions of a king or a rich man.  It is always applied to the Spirit in the Book of Acts.

This was the gift Jesus was offering this woman, but she did not understand; she heard the words but missed the meaning completely.  When we share our faith with people, we often encounter the same thing; sometimes we misinterpret ignorance as a result of sin for hostility toward God.  This woman, blinded by sin, was not hostile toward Jesus, so He pressed His point by contrasting the water in Jacob’s well with the spiritual water that could quench her inner thirst forever.   This contrast between the old way (Jacob’s Well) and the new way (Jesus’ living water, the Spirit) was vivid and clear.  The old way of the law and the prophets, and specifically the Samaritan’s attachment to the Pentateuch, was not enough to satisfy man’s deepest needs.  Religion—any religion—is able to quench one’s thirst only temporarily; nothing save the “living water” that flows from  heaven is able to meet and satisfy every need man may have.

In our time, just as in Jesus’ time, many people are attracted to any watering hole that promises to give them something they need.  Unfortunately, what people think they need isn’t what they need at all!  People are always looking for physical, not spiritual satisfaction.   In this brief exchange, Jesus has created a desire in this woman’s heart for what He had to offer.

Somehow, this woman knew that Jesus was talking about her.  She came daily to this well for water, but the real problem she had was that her religion was not quenching the desperate thirst of her withered soul.  So many people are devoted to their religions; they dutifully perform all that their religion requires of them, yet they find what this woman had found:  their lives remain unchanged.  But Jesus’ response to the woman struck a nerve; finally here is what she had been searching for all her life!  She had the slightest glimpse of the Light, but little did she know the full meaning of what Jesus had just told her.

4.  A difficult choice, verses 16—18

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”  “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to 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. What you have just said is quite true.”

Verse 16 is a master stroke; Jesus suddenly changed the direction of the conversation.  From appeal and promise, He switched His technique to probe and command.  Jesus had a habit of doing this; and even today when a person is confronted with the Gospel and the claims of Jesus, a choice must be made.  One cannot enjoy the benefits of Christ—a well of living water and eternal life—without meeting the demands of the Gospel:  confession of sin and repentance.

This “living water” was available to all, but she had to recognize her real need:  she had to admit she was a sinner.  Asking her to go and bring her husband back was actually a proper request; it was not proper for a woman to talk to a strange man in public like she was doing.  But even more than that, the command of Jesus struck a nerve and it placed her in a dilemma from which she could not extricate herself without admitting her real need.  This woman had no husband to call, and she would have to “own up” to that fact to this stranger.  How difficult this must have been for her!  How embarrassing it was to admit to a stranger her sexual irregularities.  There is a lesson here:  God’s gift of eternal life is free, but it does necessitate a difficult choice.

It must have surely shocked this woman to the core when Jesus revealed to her how much He knew about her sordid life!  The innocent conversation had passed from small talk to a dialogue that was intensely personal.  What she had done in the cover of darkness had been exposed by the light.

5.  Thrust and parry, verses 19—24

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”  “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  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.”

From the perspective of this woman, Jesus possessed “superhuman” knowledge!  How could this stranger know so much about this woman?  Embarrassed, uncomfortable and confused, this woman changed the topic; she called Him a prophet then tried to start an argument about religion.  She raised an age-old controversy between Jews and Samaritans:  where was the appropriate location to worship Jehovah?  The Samaritans believed that true worship of Jehovah needed to take place right where they were standing, at the foot of Mount Gerizim, Moses’ mount of blessing (Deuteronomy 27:1—28:68).  The Jews believed that the only place Jehovah could be worshipped properly was in Jerusalem where Solomon’s Temple had been built.  The controversy was endless, but Jesus refused to let her control the conversation and would have nothing to do with this useless argument.

Taking control of the conversation, Jesus elevated the discussion by changing the argument.  Location was the least of the Samaritan’s problems!   The Samaritan’s strange religion, with its emphasis only on the books of Moses, resulted in the worship of a god that may have been called “Jehovah,” but this deity was cold and impersonal.  This woman may have been sincerely devoted to her religion, but she was sincerely out to lunch!  What was true then is true today:  there is no such thing as genuine worship if it is based on ignorance.

Jesus’ statement is profound.  True worship is that of the spirit; the worshipper must deal with God openly and honestly.  This woman, on the other hand, had been furtive and unwilling to deal with Jesus, let alone God, honestly.  On the notion of worshiping in spirit, Strachen comments:

To worship “in spirit” means that we yield our wills to God’s will, our thoughts and plans to God’s for us and for the world.   “In truth” means that we are not worshipping an image of God; made out of our own ideas…Christ alone has introduced us to the real or “true” God.

6.  Two stunning confessions, verses 25, 26

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

This stranger’s knowledge of her life and insight into the worship of God reminded the Samaritan woman of some the traditions of her own religion.  As of that moment, she had not made that all-important leap of faith; she did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.  Even though the deal had not yet been closed, something very important had taken place.  Thanks to this conversation, the Samaritan woman now had hope; she now had an expectation that the Messiah was coming, sometime.

Jesus’ response to her statement about the coming Messiah is the climax to this incident and it the only time when Jesus voluntarily declared His Messiahship.  Those who are familiar with the synoptic Gospels know that normally Jesus did not run around telling people He was the Messiah, in fact, He frequently discouraged His disciples from do that.   Why did He tell her?  There were probably two reasons:  (1)  In Galilee there was great political unrest and many would-be messiah’s came and went, adding to that unrest.  (2)  In Samaria, there was no such unrest and the Samaritans were probably more receptive to the Lord’s Messianic claims.

7.  A heart won, verses 39—42

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”  So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.  And because of his words 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.”

The story of the Samaritan woman would be incomplete were it not for these few verses.  The great lesson of this encounter is how important our personal testimonies are in bringing others to Christ!   This woman told others about what Christ had said to her, and this in turn caused others to seek out Jesus themselves.

Personal stories, however, can only do so much; they may cause one to think, or a touching story about what Jesus did for someone else may touch one deeply, but each person who hears about Jesus must come to his or her own personal confrontation where their faith is based, not on what somebody else said, but in Christ Himself.

This woman from Samaria was truly remarkable.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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