10. The Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42)
“This is the transcript of an ACTUAL radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995. Radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations 10-10-95. (This is an apocryphyal story, but still useful for illustration.)
Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.
Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Americans: THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH, THAT’S ONE FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER-MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.”184
Who you think you are is important, but who you really are is even more important. Every once in a while we begin to think too highly of ourselves … What am I saying? We always think too highly of ourselves. Every once in a while someone comes along who cuts us down to size. The captain of the USS Lincoln thought he was so important he could demand that a Canadian crew change its course to avoid a collision. When he finally learned that the “Canadian crew” was someone tending a lighthouse, things took their proper perspective. The American vessels changed their course.
This story reminds me a great deal of what is taking place in the Gospels, which is especially evident in the third and fourth chapters of John’s Gospel. Nicodemus is a bit like the captain of the American ship. He is a little too caught up in his position as a Jew, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, and a renowned teacher of the Old Testament law. There is a kind of confrontation in the third chapter of John. Nicodemus is willing to acknowledge that Jesus is “a teacher who has come from God” (3:2); yet he falls a little short of actually saying that Jesus is a prophet. When Jesus tells him that he will not make it into the kingdom of God as he is—without being reborn from above—he seems to try to get Jesus to change His course rather than to change his own. Nicodemus does ask questions, but there seems to be little progress toward genuine faith, at least so far. His questions do not convey a willingness on the part of Nicodemus to change his thinking, but rather a resistance to what Jesus is saying.
The same fundamental issues described in John chapter 3 are present in chapter 4. The “woman at the well” is a Samaritan, and Samaritans have their own distinct religion—a corruption of the Jewish faith.185 If the woman at the well is to come to a saving faith, she must change her course, just as Jesus required of Nicodemus. Both Nicodemus and the woman at the well must decide what to do with what Jesus has told them. Ultimately, this decision is based upon who they believe Jesus to be. To Nicodemus, Jesus is an “inspiring,” perhaps even an “inspired,” teacher. The woman at the well comes to see Jesus as much more than this, as we soon shall see.
This is a great story, one most Christians believe they know and understand well. Let us revisit the story, as though we are looking at it for the first time. Let us seek to learn what makes the difference between a “Nicodemus” and a “woman at the well.”
Jesus Retreats to Galilee
1 Now when Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself was not baptizing but his disciples were), 3 he left Judea and departed once more to Galilee.
We know that John’s disciples were watching our Lord and His disciples. They resented our Lord’s ministry because it was overshadowing theirs (John 3:26). It looked as though Jesus was putting them out of business, and they didn’t like it. The Pharisees were also watching Jesus (Luke 5:17), just as they took careful note of John the Baptist (John 1:19-28), whose popularity they feared (Luke 20:4-6). Intent upon gaining their own following (see Matthew 23:15), the Pharisees were bitterly jealous of our Lord’s success (see John 11:47-48; compare Matthew 27:18).
But it was not yet time for our Lord to take on the Pharisees. That time would come soon enough. To let the situation cool a bit, Jesus left Judea and returned north to Galilee, no doubt relieving the fears of the Pharisees. They must have felt that Jesus could cause them little trouble there. You may remember that even Nathanael felt that no one important could come from Nazareth (John 1:45-46). The Pharisees seem to agree:
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before and who was one of the rulers, said, 51 “Our law does not condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” 52 They replied, “You aren’t from Galilee too, are you? Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!” 53 And each one departed to his own house (John 7:50-53, emphasis mine).
It must be with a sigh of relief that the Pharisees receive the report that Jesus has left186 Judea and returned to Galilee. Their relief will only be temporary.
Samaria, Sychar, and Jacob’s Well
4 But he had to187 pass through Samaria. 5 Now he came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since he was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was about noon.
As Jesus made His way from Judea to Galilee, he “had to” pass through Samaria. Politically, Samaria was not a distinct region, but its culture and religion were definitely distinct from that of Israel. We would do well to recall the historical relationship between Israel and Samaria.
Under Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, the United Kingdom of Israel split into two fragments (1 Kings 12): the northern kingdom of Israel, led by the rebel Jeroboam, and the southern kingdom of Judah, under Rehoboam. Because Jeroboam feared that the two kingdoms might reunite, he established a counterfeit religion, with its own place of worship—Bethel (1 Kings 12:25-33). Later, a wicked northern king named Omri built the city of Samaria, which he made his capital, the capital of the Northern Kingdom. He also built a temple and an altar to Baal, a heathen deity (1 Kings 16:24-34). Eventually, the name of this city became synonymous for the entire Northern Kingdom, and thus its name, Samaria.
After repeated warnings from God’s prophets, divine judgment finally came at the hand of the Assyrians, who defeated Israel and scattered the middle and upper classes throughout the other nations they had conquered. They replaced the dispersed Israelites with heathen from other lands (2 Kings 17:23ff.). These heathen intermarried with the remaining Israelites resulting in a nation of half-breeds, a most distasteful and evil thing for a devout Jew (see Ezra 9 and 10; Nehemiah 13). Worse yet, the true religion of Israel became intermingled with heathen idolatry.
When the Jews of the Southern Kingdom of Judah were later taken captive by the Babylonians, they were allowed to maintain their racial and religious identity. After their 70 years of captivity were completed and they were granted permission to return to their own land, a number did so. When these returning exiles set out to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem, the Samaritans offered to help them and were summarily refused (Ezra 4:2ff.). In about 400 B.C., the Samaritans constructed their own rival temple on Mount Gerizim. At the end of the second century B.C., this temple was destroyed by John Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean ruler of Judea. This greatly increased hostilities between the Jews and the Samaritans.
The Samaritans professed to believe in the God of Israel and awaited the coming of Messiah (see John 4:25). They accepted only the first five books of the Law, but rejected the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures. Wherever they found it necessary to justify their religion and their place of worship, they modified the Law. The relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans was definitely strained.
Having said this, I am not convinced things were as bad as some seem to think. It is often said that the Jews would not pass through Samaria. Instead, we are told, they would go East, cross the Jordan River, head north or south, bypassing Samaria, and then cross the River Jordan again when they neared their destination. D. A. Carson, citing Josephus, maintains that Jews much more commonly passed through Samaria.188 It would therefore seem that only a few strict Jews refused to do so.
If John chapter 1 informs us of our Lord’s deity, this chapter speaks also of His humanity: Jesus was tired. It was just about high noon,189 so that our Lord’s fatigue may have been partly related to the heat of the day. Weary from their journey, Jesus and His disciples come to a parcel of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph (Genesis 48:22?). On this land, a mile or so from the city of Sychar,190 was Jacob’s well.191 It was a deep well—a hundred feet deep or so—fed by a spring. Other water was available in the area, closer to town, but this well may have provided the best water. It was at this well that Jesus sat down to rest.
Why the emphasis on Jacob, and on this well which once belonged to him? It seems as though this woman (and perhaps the Samaritans more generally) took pride in claiming Jacob as their forefather. This is especially strange in the light of the way this patriarch is portrayed in the Book of Genesis. I don’t remember any self-respecting Jew boasting about being a descendant of Jacob, but only of being Abraham’s offspring (see Matthew 3:9). John sets the scene so that this woman will ask if Jesus is greater than Jacob, and the answer will be, “Yes” (see also John 6:30-36; 8:53).
Just as in the Book of Genesis,192 the “well” in John 4 seems to be significant. One cannot help but be reminded of Abraham’s servant, who asks Rebekah for a drink of water at a well in Paddan-aram (Genesis 24:11f.). There, the character qualities of Rebekah were revealed at the well. In the case of our Lord, this woman’s presence at the well at this time of day may be further evidence of this woman’s lack of character, or at least her lack of popularity among the women of Sychar.
“Give Me a Drink”
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone off into the city to buy provisions.) 9 So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you—a Jew—ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)
Three things about this woman seem to put her at a distinct disadvantage. First, she is a Samaritan. Second, she is guilty of sexual immorality, and third, she is a woman. We have already commented about the way the Jews felt toward the Samaritans. We are not left in doubt as to how the Pharisees would have dealt with such a woman:
36 Now one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 Then when a woman of that town, who was a sinner, learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster flask of perfumed oil. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with the hair of her head, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfumed oil. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:36-39).193
Neither should we be surprised that our Lord would deal with this woman in a very different manner, as seen by Luke’s conclusion to this story in his Gospel:
40 So Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He replied, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then, turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I entered she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfumed oil. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins (which were many) are forgiven, thus she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:40-50).
The Pharisees had a very simple system for being holy—they simply kept their (physical) distance from sinners. They thought sin was contagious, and that one could catch it by merely being close to sinners. This is one reason they are so distressed when they see our Lord having such close contact with “sinners”:
27 After this Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 So Levi got up and followed him, leaving everything behind. 29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for Jesus in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their experts in the law complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:27-32).
I must admit that I have come to view the “woman at the well” differently than I once did. I have also come to feel compassion toward her, as our Lord did. Here in chapter 4 and again in chapter 8 (the woman caught committing adultery), we see that the Jews were inclined to look down upon these two women as “loose women,” which indeed they were. On the other hand, they were certainly no more guilty than the men with whom they committed sexual immorality. In John chapter 8 only the woman is accused before our Lord. The couple was caught in the very act of adultery (8:4), and yet only the woman was apprehended and brought to Jesus. Why was the man not brought before our Lord as well? There was obviously a double standard—one for men, and another for women.
The “woman at the well” is a woman whose sins are apparent, but she has not sinned alone. In those days, husbands divorced their wives, but wives did not divorce their husbands. If this woman was married and divorced five times, then five men divorced her.194 This woman was “put away” five times. Think of how she must feel about herself. And the man she is now living with is not her husband. She isn’t even married this time, but just living with (or sleeping with) a man, perhaps another woman’s husband. This woman has been passed around by some of the male population of Sychar. Jesus’ words not only call the woman’s attention to her sins; they call our attention to the sins of the men of that city.
The third thing which puts the “woman at the well” at a disadvantage is the fact that she is a woman. John does not tell us the disciples are shocked to find Jesus talking to this Samaritan woman because she is a Samaritan, or because she is sinful (they don’t know this). They are surprised to see Him talking with her because she is a woman. There may be a race issue here, but there is also a gender issue. The Jews were inclined to hold a very demeaning view of women.195 The disciples seem to embrace this view.196 They cannot fathom why Jesus would be “wasting His time” talking to a woman.
With this background in mind, let us consider the process by which the woman at the well is brought to faith in Jesus as the Messiah. You will see by the way the text is formatted at the beginning of this lesson that I have highlighted the interchange between Jesus and this woman. A similar interchange occurs between Jesus and Nicodemus in chapter 3. There is a significant difference, however. The more Jesus tells Nicodemus about Himself and His teaching, the more uneasy Nicodemus becomes. His questions and comments become shorter and shorter, until he simply disappears from the text.
The conversation with the Samaritan woman is quite different. Each interchange brings her closer to faith. The conversation moves from literal drinking water to the spiritual “water” of salvation. Her grasp of who Jesus is continues to grow, until she eventually trusts in Him as the Messiah. While Nicodemus comes to faith very slowly and somewhat reluctantly, the woman at the well seems to much more quickly grasp the issues and trust in Jesus as the Messiah. While Nicodemus, an influential leader among the Jews, brings no one to Christ, the woman at the well brings the whole town out to hear Jesus, and eventually to trust in Him. Let us consider the conversion of this Samaritan woman in terms of the process by which she is drawn to faith.
Getting the Woman’s Attention
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone off into the town to buy supplies.)
9 So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you—a Jew—ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)
In contemporary terms, our Lord already has two strikes against Him so far as being able to share the truth of salvation with the woman at the well. He is a Jew; she is a Samaritan. He is a man; she is a woman. There seems to be no common ground, no reason to talk, and nothing to agree upon. In spite of this, our Lord succeeds in getting this woman’s attention, not by telling her something she needs to know (at first), but by asking her for a drink of water. She has something He needs—water. In asking her for a drink of water, Jesus catches this woman completely off guard. Jews did not share eating or drinking utensils with Samaritans. The woman cannot help but inquire of Jesus why He would ask the unthinkable. Our Lord’s willingness to cast aside cultural barriers gets this woman’s attention.
She must know why. Thus we see the question and the parenthetical remark: “How can you—a Jew—ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with197 Samaritans.) Why does Jesus do so? Why does He ask her for water to drink? Notice that in the verses that follow, Jesus does not answer this question. It is the gospel which changes all this:
26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29).
Jesus Whets the Woman’s Appetite
10 Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? 12 Surely you’re not greater than our father Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.”
13 Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”
Our Lord’s answer is far from what this woman expects to hear. Jesus does not explain how He can ask to drink water from her cup. Instead, He immediately seeks to show her that she is the one in need of “water,” and that the “water” He gives is vastly superior to the water she can give.
Notice the elements of this revelation. First, our Lord moves from literal water (a drink of water) to a “spiritual” water—the salvation which our Lord offers this woman. Second, Jesus indicates to this woman that there is something of which she is ignorant. She knows neither the “gift of God” nor the identity of the One speaking to her. If she knew these things, Jesus tells her, she would be asking Him for a drink, and He would have given her “living water” to drink. The woman does not understand what Jesus is saying, but she does understand that He is claiming to be someone important, and to have something she would want if she knew who He was and what He could give her.
As Nicodemus did earlier, the woman takes Jesus literally. She thinks Jesus is telling her that He can give her better water than that which this well provides. By “living water,” she understands Jesus to be speaking of spring water. If Jesus has “better water” than she can draw from Jacob’s well, how is He going to get it? This well is deep, and Jesus has no vessel with which to draw water. How, then, can He claim to have better water to give her?
If His water is truly better water than that which can be drawn from this well, then Jesus must at least think He is better than Jacob, who dug the well, used it to bountifully provide for men and flocks alike, and then gave it to his descendants, among whom this woman considers herself. Does Jesus dare claim to be better than Jacob?
Jesus does not answer the question about being greater than Jacob quite yet. He momentarily sets aside this question and answers it indirectly by showing that His “water” is better “water” than that provided by Jacob’s well. Jacob’s well “water” temporarily quenches thirst, but only for a time, and then more water is required. This woman recognizes the “inferiority” of this “water” because day after day she must return to the well for more. The “water” of which our Lord speaks is vastly better. This “water” permanently quenches one’s thirst. The one who drinks His “water” will never thirst again—and this “living water” produces eternal life.
The Woman Wants This Water
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.”
16 He said to her, “Go call your husband and come back here.”
17 The woman replied, “I have no husband.”
Jesus said to her, “Right you are when you said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands and the man you have now is not your husband. This you said truthfully!”
If there is one thing this Samaritan is willing to admit she needs, it is water. That is why she comes out to Jacob’s well. Jesus asks her for some of this water, and then proceeds to inform her that He has better water—living water—water that produces eternal life, water that permanently quenches thirst. The woman is ready for this kind of water. And so she tells Jesus she would like some of His “water.” She obviously doesn’t really understand what this “water” is, but she is ready to accept some of it. She would gladly make this her last trip to Jacob’s well in the heat of the day.
I want to pause for a moment right here. Let’s be honest. Doesn’t this woman sound gullible? Do we wonder if she would also be interested in the Brooklyn Bridge for $25? Would she foolishly believe anything anyone told her? I think not. Jesus Himself claims to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Should the woman not believe Jesus? Everything He says is true, is it not? If He who is the truth told you He had “living water” to give that permanently quenched your thirst and that produced eternal life, should you not believe Him? This woman is not foolish; she has faith in Jesus, faith to believe His word. Let me simply remind you that all those who take Jesus at His word will be considered foolish by those who are unsaved and blind to the truth.
Jesus is now ready to move this woman along in her understanding of what this “living water” is. He is not speaking of actual water, but symbolically of the salvation which He brings. And so he turns this woman to a deeper level of need. She has already indicated her “need” for “water” that permanently quenches thirst. Now, Jesus shows her that she has need of “water” that will cleanse her of sin. And so Jesus instructs this woman to go and get her husband, and bring him back to the well.
Jesus has now moved to the deepest level of this woman’s need, her need for cleansing from sin. To do this, He gently exposes sin in her life. He does so by telling her to bring her husband. She makes a choice—not an unusual choice, but a very predictable one. She chooses to conceal her sin by giving Jesus an answer that is factually truthful, but functionally dishonest. She tells Jesus she has no husband.
Any other man (apart from divine revelation) would have accepted her answer at face value and withdrawn the request. Jesus reveals His omniscience by informing the woman that she is (technically) correct—she does not have a husband. She has had five husbands, and the man she is now with is not her husband. At a minimum, they are not married; at the worst, she is actually sleeping with some other woman’s husband. Either way, Jesus has told this woman enough for her to (correctly) conclude that He has divine knowledge. He is, at a minimum, a prophet. She reasons from what He has told her that He could go on to tell her virtually everything she has ever done. Her sexual sins may be only the “tip of the iceberg,” but she is convinced He knows the whole iceberg. And she is right!
A Spiritual Solution for Sin
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus said to her, Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Now all the cards are on the table. The cat is out of the proverbial bag. Her sin—worthy of death—is out in the open. Now her true “thirst,” her real need, is self-evident. Some think the woman’s response is evasive, an attempt to get the conversation away from the subject of her sin. I disagree. I think this woman is eager to hear what Jesus has to say, and more eager than ever to have some of this “living water.” She perceives that Jesus is a prophet, and tells Him so. Is this not progress? Isn’t this more than Nicodemus was willing to grant? Nicodemus seems to “clam up” when Jesus gets too close to his sin, but this woman seems to “open up,” to want to know more. And so she asks Jesus (a prophet, in her mind) to give her the authoritative word on who is right, the Jews or the Samaritans. Her question does not look like a rabbit trail to me; rather it seems an honest effort to get to the heart of the difference between the “faith” of the Samaritans and the “faith” of the Jews.
One crucial difference between Samaritans and Jews was that the Samaritans’ believed they must worship God on Mount Gerizim, while the Jews insisted God must be worshipped in Jerusalem. If Jesus were “a prophet,” then He could settle the dispute, at least for this woman. Once again, our Lord’s answer is not what she might have expected. We would think that Jesus should say to her, “The Jews are right and the Samaritans are wrong; men must worship God in Jerusalem.” He does not say this, although this was true in the past.
Jesus takes up a point that John introduces in chapter 1, in the conversation between Jesus and Nathanael:
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, “Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus said to him, “Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 He continued, “I tell all of you the solemn truth: you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:47-51, emphasis mine).
Let me remind you of the relationship between the words of verse 51 and Jacob’s vision in Genesis 28.198 Jacob dreamed of a ladder, which reached into heaven. Angels were ascending and descending upon it. He came to realize that it was there, in the promised land of Canaan, that God met with men. This is why Jacob exclaimed, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Genesis 28:16-17, NKJV).
In the first chapter of John, Jesus indicated to Nathanael that with His coming, things would change. Men and God will no longer meet in a certain designated place, but in a certain designated Person—the promised Messiah. He is now the mediator between heaven and earth. This being the case, it was pointless to continue the debate over which place was the place where men could worship God. He was the Person through whom men must worship God.
Jesus does not yet tell the woman that He is the only means to God. At this point, He simply tells her that it is not profitable to continue the debate over the proper place of worship. There is, however, a serious error with the Samaritan religion: They have sought to worship God their own way, independent of Judaism. In this, they are wrong—dead wrong. Seeking salvation apart from the Jews is wrong. Salvation is “of the Jews.” If Samaritans wish to be saved, they must forsake their system of religion and turn to a salvation that is “of the Jews.” It is “of the Jews” in that the Messiah is a Jew. It is “of the Jews” in that it is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jews, through His Word given to the Jews. Just as Nicodemus could not see the kingdom of God through adherence to the traditions of the Pharisees, so this woman cannot see the kingdom by following the religion of the Samaritans.
The worship God finds acceptable is not Samaritan worship, nor is it Pharisaical worship (see Luke 18:9-14). Men can only worship God when they do so “in spirit and truth” (verses 23 and 24). Bible students understand these words in a number of ways. I am inclined to understand our Lord in this way: Because God is Spirit, men must worship God “in spirit”; that is, they must worship God spiritually. Thus, the place is not so essential as the “spirit” in which worship is conducted. I am further inclined to think that Jesus uses the word “spirit” with a double-meaning, as He so often does (for example, with “water”). Thus, our Lord is saying that men can only worship through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who facilitates spiritual worship. Finally, I understand “truth” to refer to truth both generally (according to what is true), and more specifically (the truth of God’s Word, and of our Lord’s words). Men cannot worship God any way they choose (as the Samaritans did by limiting the Old Testament to the five books of the law); men can only worship God in accordance with what He has divinely revealed in His Word. This is the kind of worshipper God seeks.
Trusting Christ as the Answer
25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah199 is coming (the one called Christ). Whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.”
26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.”
The woman is neither ignorant of the Samaritan faith nor of the Jewish faith. She makes the connection between our Lord’s words about worshipping “in spirit and truth” and the promised Messiah. She realizes that somehow when the Messiah comes, He will clear up these matters; He will reveal the truth about how men must worship God.
Would you not love to have witnessed this conversation, especially the words spoken in these two verses? The woman tells Jesus that she is waiting for Messiah, who will reveal the truth about true worship. Jesus says to her, “I am the Messiah.”200 I am reminded of Mary, weeping outside the empty tomb of our Lord. Her eyes are so filled with tears and her hopes so dashed that she pays little attention to the One who is speaking with her. But with that one word, “Mary,” comes the full realization of who is speaking, and what His being there means.
I would not assume that this woman is saved at this moment in time, but she is certainly “not far from the kingdom of God.” I do believe that by the end of our Lord’s stay with these Samaritans, not only this woman, but most of the people of Sychar, believe in His name for salvation. At this point, I simply wish to emphasize that our Lord brings this woman to the point where she understands that she is a sinner, in need of salvation, where she understands that her (Samaritan) religious system cannot save her, and that salvation comes only through faith in Jesus as the promised (Jewish) Messiah. This leads us to the next and final step.
Step Six: Sharing the Good News
27 Now at that very moment his disciples came back. They were shocked because he was speaking with a woman; however, no one said, “What do you seek?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left201 her water jar, went off into the city and said to the people,202 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely he can’t be the Messiah, can he?” 30 So they went out from the city and began coming to him.
I am going to pass by verse 27 and pick it up when we see our Lord dealing with His disciples. For the moment, we will consider verses 28-30. These verses depict the final step in the process of salvation—the sharing of one’s newly-found faith with others.203 The woman’s original purpose was to draw water from the well, but now she forsakes her waterpot and hurries back to Sychar, where she tells the others about Jesus. She sees beyond our Lord’s revelation of the truth about her marriages and sexual morality, telling them that a man “told her everything she ever did.” The woman speaks of Jesus as a possible Messiah. The way she phrases her question does not indicate her certainty on this point, but she at least regards Jesus as a possible Messiah. The effect may have aroused curiosity among those who heard her question. The whole city begins to make its way out to the well, along with the woman.
Dealing With the Disciples
27 Now at that very moment his disciples came back. They were shocked because he was speaking with a woman; however, no one said, “What do you seek?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” … 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 So the disciples began to say to one another, “No one brought him anything to eat, did they?”
34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Don’t you say, ‘There are four more months and then comes the harvest?’ I tell you, look up and see that the fields are already white for harvest! 36 The one who reaps receives pay and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that the one who sows and the one who reaps can rejoice together. 37 For in this instance the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap what you did not labor for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”
Let me attempt to paint this picture as I see it. Jesus and His disciples stop at the well. Jesus is tired and remains there while His disciples go into town to buy food. After they leave, the Samaritan woman arrives, and a conversation begins which John records for us. The conversation ends just as the disciples return from Sychar. The woman leaves her waterpot behind and rushes back to town. The disciples then urge Jesus to eat what they have just brought from town. In the background, just over the shoulders of the disciples, the people of Sychar are approaching en masse, to see and hear the One of whom the woman has testified.
The disciples arrive from Sychar just in time to observe the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman end. They are astounded that Jesus has been talking with her. This is not because she is a Samaritan, nor because she is a sinner (they don’t know about her moral life, as Jesus does), but simply because she is a woman. This is not so much a case of racial bias as a manifestation of gender bias on the part of the disciples. They cannot think of a good reason why Jesus would be talking to a woman. Morris helps us understand why, from the Jewish point of view:
Perhaps the greatest blot on the Rabbinic attitude to women was that, though the Rabbis held the study of the Law to be the greatest good in life, they discouraged women from studying it at all. When Ben Azzai suggested that women be taught the Law for certain purposes R. Eliezer replied: ‘If any man gives his daughter a knowledge of the Law it is as though he taught her lechery’ (Sot. 3:4).204
In spite of their amazement that Jesus would talk to a woman, the Lord’s disciples do not bring it up. Perhaps they have put their foot in their mouth one too many times lately, so that none wishes to be embarrassed by being the one to ask another stupid question. They are at least beginning to learn that what our Lord does is always right, even if Judaism calls it wrong.205 Perhaps the disciples simply set their question aside because of a more important matter—lunch. It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But is it not the case? Are the disciples not preoccupied with getting our Lord to eat? Why would this be?
Several reasons come to mind, none of which are particularly pious. The best reading one could give the disciples’ words would be something like: “Jesus, You’re tired, and You need to regain Your strength. Please eat because You need the nourishment if we are to continue our journey.” There may be some of that here. It may also be that the disciples have been waiting to eat until Jesus can eat with them. They may wish that He would eat so they can eat also. (Or, perhaps Peter has already wolfed down half a sandwich, and with his mouth full, urges Jesus to do likewise: “Com’ on, Jesus, eat up.”) Finally, the disciples may be preoccupied with lunch because this is what they have worked so hard to provide, walking all the way into town and back. They went to town to purchase food. Having gone to all this effort to obtain lunch for our Lord, the least He can do is to take time to eat it. The disciples might have been a collective, male version of Martha (see Luke 10:38-42).
Once again, our Lord’s response to His disciples’ prodding is not what we expect. Instead of speaking of literal food, He talks of spiritual “food.” Our Lord’s response to His disciples sets down some very important principles, principles which not only governed His life and ministry, but which should guide His disciples as well—and we are to be included among such “disciples.”
(1) Our Lord’s most essential “food” is doing the Father’s will by completing His work (verse 34). Why does Jesus refer to His “work” as His “food”? I wonder if the answer is not suggested in the temptation of our Lord:
1 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days; and when they were completed, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone’” (Luke 4:1-4).
Jesus is hungry because He has been fasting for 40 days. Satan seeks to persuade Him to command a stone to become bread. Of course, Jesus has the power to do so. But Jesus refuses, citing from Deuteronomy 8:
1 “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3, NKJV).
God allowed the Israelites to experience hunger as a test, to show what was in their hearts. Even Satan believes that men will worship God if He blesses them with everything they want (see Job 1:6-12). The real test of men’s faith and obedience to God comes in the midst of adversity and affliction. Thus, God allowed the Israelites to experience hunger and thirst so that the condition of their hearts would be made evident, either by their obedience or by their rebellion.
Our Lord undergoes a similar testing in the wilderness, which involves His fasting for 40 days. Satan seeks to tempt our Lord to “create” bread to satisfy His hunger. Jesus refuses, pointing to this text in Deuteronomy, which parallels His circumstances. “Man does not live by bread alone,” Jesus reminds Satan, “but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” It is not just physical bread that sustains our Lord (or anyone else); it is God’s Word, and specifically obedience to it.206
When Jesus is pressed by His disciples to eat, He refuses to do so, telling them that He has other “food” to eat, of which they are unaware. In so doing, He is expressing the same truth He spoke to Satan, which God, through Moses, spoke to the Israelites. It is not just eating physical food that sustains us; it is doing the will of God. If eating interferes with doing the will of God, eating must be set aside, not obedience to God. Fulfilling God’s will—providing and proclaiming salvation (even to the Gentiles!)—was our Lord’s primary purpose and calling. He would not allow a meal to keep Him from it. There is work to be done at this very moment—the people of the city are almost there. This is no time for lunch.
Is this not the truth that underlies the practice of fasting? I know some may make more of fasting than they should. Fasting is not magic; it does not manipulate God to do our will. It is our submission to His will, as evidenced by the fact that our time is better spent in prayer or in some specific ministry than in eating a meal. Is this not also evident on less frequent occasions, when a husband and wife voluntarily agree to abstain from sexual relations, so that they can devote themselves to prayer (see 1 Corinthians 7:5)?
I must confess that very few things keep me from a meal. Jesus subordinated eating to doing the will of God. Usually, we should eat, so that we have the strength to do His will (see 1 Samuel 14:24-30). But there are times when we must let nothing keep us from full devotion to our duty. Doing God’s will is more important than downing a meal. I wonder what we are willing to do without so that the gospel can be shared with those who are lost and destined for an eternity in hell?
(2) Our Lord’s mission was all the more urgent because His time on earth was short (verses 35ff.). Does Jesus not have the time to sit down and eat a sandwich? Jesus has a sensitivity to the proper time for things to be done (see John 2:4; 7:6)—His time really is limited. And because He has so little time, He will not take the time which eating a meal requires.
Surely the application to saints today is obvious. Do we realize how short the time may be? Do we have a sense of urgency about our mission? It is the wicked servant who feels there is much time, and therefore no need for urgency (Luke 12:35-48). The Word of God consistently challenges us to redeem the time, for our time is short.
15 Therefore, be very careful how you live, not as unwise, but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:15-17).
29 And I say this, brothers and sisters: the time is short. So then those who have wives should be as those who have none, 30 those with tears like those not weeping, those who rejoice like those not rejoicing, those who buy like those without possessions, 31 those who use the world as though they were not using it to the full. For the present shape of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities (Colossians 4:5).
You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life like? For you are a puff of smoke that appears for a short time and then vanishes (James 4:14).
Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near (Revelation 1:3).
The time for the harvest is now— not later. It seems that the statement, “There are four more months and then comes the harvest” is a way of saying that harvest time is still a ways off. That may be true for the grain harvest, but it is not true for the harvest of souls about to take place right there, within moments. There is no time to lose, no time to waste. Harvest time has come.
(3) Our Lord fulfilled His mission, but He has given us the task of proclaiming the gospel to a lost world before He returns. The time is short, and a team of workers is required to complete the task (verses 36-38). It would seem that a different group of individuals had sown the fields than those who were to reap the harvest. I believe this is still true today. Where wheat is grown in the United States today, the farmers may plant their own crops, but the time to harvest is so short that a caravan of professional harvesters is often employed. Trucks and combines are brought in, and the fields are harvested within hours. If there is undue delay in the harvest, much of the grain is lost.
The disciples have no idea that a great “harvest” is about to take place, and that they are the harvesters. They have been so preoccupied with lunch, while others have been at work sowing the gospel. In the past, the prophets had sown the seed through their words and the Scriptures. Men like John the Baptist207 had also sown the seed of the gospel. And this very day the Samaritan woman has gone into the town, bearing testimony that Jesus is at the well, and that He has “told her all she had done.” She did the sowing; now it is time for Jesus and His disciples to reap. No wonder there is no time for lunch. The “fields are already white for harvest.”208
In our country, individual effort is highly prized and rewarded. Competition seems more appropriate than cooperation. Jesus tells His disciples that they are about to reap a harvest, but He also reminds them that they are reaping where others have sown. It is not their work alone. They are completing what others have begun. Evangelism in not a one man-show, but a team effort.
Salvation Comes to Samaria
39 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the report of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they started asking him to stay with them. He stayed there two days, 41 and because of his word many more believed. 42 They said to the woman, “No longer do we believe because of your words, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world.”
What a contrast chapter 4 is to chapter 3. In chapter 3, Jesus speaks with Nicodemus, who is the most prominent teacher and leader of his day. This man recognizes something special in Jesus and confesses that God is somehow with Jesus; yet he resists everything our Lord tells him. There is no evidence that Nicodemus comes to faith during this first meeting with our Lord. This great “leader” finds it difficult to “follow” Jesus, and he leads no one to Him. The woman at the well seems much more perceptive and receptive to what Jesus has to say. She is well on her way to faith as a result of her first conversation with Him. More than this, she brings many others to Him as well. Who would have ever imagined how little Nicodemus would do for the kingdom of God, and how much God would use this Samaritan woman?
Look at the kind of faith these Samaritans possess, as reflected by their words. At first they took the word of the Samaritan woman, but having heard Jesus for themselves, they no longer relied on her testimony, but on what they heard Jesus say. We are told of no miracles (other than Jesus letting this woman know that He knew all about her life of sin), of no signs being performed by our Lord in Samaria (though of course there could have been miracles that John chose not to record). These Samaritans have a vastly superior faith than mere “sign faith.” Their faith is “Word faith,” faith in Jesus Christ, based upon His own words. They came to trust in Jesus as the Messiah, as the “Savior of the world.”
This is a great text, is it not? There are many lessons to be learned from this text, but I shall conclude by pointing out only a few. Is this whole chapter not a prototype, a foretaste of things to come? Was it not due to the hardness of heart and unbelief of the Jews that the gospel came to the Gentiles? What an amazing example of the grace of God, manifested toward sinners, and what an encouragement! Once again we see that those who reject the gospel are those who think themselves “too good for it.” But this woman, along with many from her home town, acknowledge their sin and find salvation in Jesus Christ. No one is ever too sinful to be saved, but many are those who are too “righteous” (self-righteous) to be saved. John chapter 4 prepares us for the great harvest of Gentile sinners, who are soon to be saved as a result of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the rejection of Him as Messiah by the Jews.
What an amazing thing that our Lord found it necessary to pass through Samaria. Why was this? Well, of course it was because God had purposed to save these Samaritans from their sins. But there is yet another reason, a very simple one: These Samaritans would not come to Jesus, but Jesus did come to them. I think there is sometimes the presumption that the unbelievers should come to us, but it is a presumption on our part, and a bad one. “Go” is an important word in the great commission, and Jesus has set the example for us.209 If the church is saying, “Come” to unbelievers, let us remember that our Lord says, “Go” to the church. The first thing the Samaritan woman does is to “go” to those who are lost in her home town.
Our text challenges me to question just how committed I am to obeying our Lord. The “work” to which our Lord was committed was the “Father’s work,” the work of salvation. He was so committed to completing His work that He refused to eat a meal when it interfered with this work. Am I as committed to the salvation of men as God is? Am I willing to forego a meal, a restful evening, a bigger house, a more affluent lifestyle, so that God’s work might be advanced? This text exposes my own self-centeredness, my own reluctance to subordinate my self-interests to God’s interests.
I am also challenged to reevaluate what inspires and motivates me. My appetites provide me with strong motivation to eat and to satisfy myself. God’s purposes and work motivated our Lord. Food gives us strength and sustenance. If our Lord’s “food” was to complete the work His Father had given Him, then His strength and motivation for service came from this work. I hear a lot these days about “burnout,” and I’ve always been troubled because I don’t find this term in the Bible. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if the concept is biblical. Are Christians “burning out” because they have been working too hard at doing the Father’s will? It seems to me that if the Father’s work is that which strengthens and empowers us, then we can hardly “burn out” by making His work our work. This whole matter needs to be given more careful thought in the light of our text.
If the salvation of the lost is so important, then it is clear that nothing should keep us from it—even something as “good” as “lunch.” Is this not what Jesus told His disciples? And if something essentially good and necessary may need to be set aside to complete God’s work, then surely those things which are not good must to be set aside too:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).
What are some of the hindrances we ought to set aside so that we can more effectively carry out the Father’s will in the salvation of men? We have already seen that we must set aside “self-interest.” In our text, we see that we must also set aside our prejudices in regard to race, culture, and gender (to mention a few). We must set aside all self-righteousness, realizing that Christ came to save sinners, among whom we are chief (see 1 Timothy 1:12-16).
We must set aside our false views of piety. We are not more holy for separating ourselves from any contact with sinners. We are holy when we put off those practices that once characterized us as sinners. Keeping our distance from sinners as the Pharisees did was ineffective in making them more pious, and it kept them from sharing the light of the gospel with those who needed it.
We must also set aside erroneous ideas as to whom God can use to save others. Why do so many Christians today (of those who do attempt to evangelize) seem to fix their attention and focus their efforts on the “Nicodemuses” of our time? Why do we go after those whom we suppose to have position and power, thinking they will bring more to Christ? Does the contrast between Nicodemus in chapter 3 and the woman at the well in chapter 4 not teach us something? Is this not exactly what the Apostle Paul taught?
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will thwart the cleverness of the intelligent.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic Law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish? 21 For since in the wisdom of God, the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching. 22 For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, 23 but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. 24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 26 Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were members of the upper class. 27 But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, 29 so that no one can boast in his presence. 30 He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Finally, our text is instructive as to how we should evangelize the lost. I have already pointed out that we must see the importance of this ministry—it is God’s passion, and it should be ours as well. It is so important we should be willing to miss a meal (or more) to do it. We need to set aside our prejudices and rearrange our priorities. We need to go where the lost can be found. And, we need to start by talking to people where they are, in terms of things they understand, and that they know they need. We should move from these matters to the deeper issues of sin and of salvation. We need to earn the right to do this, and it will very likely take much more time that it took our Lord. But it is what God wants us to do, indeed what He commands us to do. It is what He did to seek and to save us. It is what we need to do as well.
186 Morris observes, “John’s word for ‘left’ is unusual in the sense of leaving a place. It often has the meaning ‘abandon’ (as in v. 28 of the woman’s waterpot), and there may be something of this meaning here.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 253. Morris then cites Morgan: “‘We should not misinterpret the thought if we said He abandoned Judaea. He did go back, but very seldom. He had been to Judaea. He had gone to the Temple. He had exercised His ministry in the surrounding country with marvellous success; but hostility was stirring there, and He left Judaea; He broke with it.’” Morris, p. 253, fn. 10.
187 “Although some take the impersonal verb dei' (dei, ‘had to’) here to indicate logical necessity only, normally in John’s Gospel its use involves God’s will or plan (3:7, 14, 30; 4:4, 20, 24; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9).” NET Bible study note on verse 4.
188 “Popular commentators have sometimes insisted that the longer route through the Transjordan was the customary route for Jewish travelers, so great was their aversion to Samaritans; this in turn suggests that the ‘had to’ language (edei) reflects the compulsion of divine appointment, not geography. Josephus, however, provides ample assurance not only that the antipathy between Jews and Samaritans was strong, but also that Jews passing from Judea to Galilee or back nevertheless preferred the shorter route through Samaria (Ant. Xx.118; Bel. Ii. 232; Vita 269).” D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), p. 216. Morris adds, “Josephus uses exactly the expression rendered ‘must needs’ when he says, ‘for rapid travel, it was essential to take that route (i.e. through Samaria).’” Morris, p. 255. He further adds, “Josephus says that it was the custom of the Galileans to pass through Samaria when they went up to Jerusalem for the feasts (Ant. xx, 118).” Morris, p. 255, fn. 16.
189 There is some discussion about the time here, since there were two ways of reckoning time in that day: the Roman method (by which reckoning it would have been evening), and the Jewish method, which puts the woman’s arrival at noon. Overall, it seems best to assume that the woman reached the well at noon, when others may not have been so likely to come. This also serves to contrast the woman’s arrival with that of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night.
190 The exact location of “Sychar” is not known. Morris writes, “Sychar is perhaps to be identified with the village called Askar, near Shechem. There is a reference to Jacob’s buying of a piece of ground in this vicinity (Gen. 33:19). … There is no Old Testament reference to his having dug a well there, but there is nothing improbable about it.” Morris, p. 257.
191 The word John uses here is phgh, rather than the usual Frear. “On the difference between the two Loyd comments: ‘A spring is a God-given thing. God creates the spring; man only digs the well.’ It is a curiosity that such a deep well should have been dug in a country where there are many springs. (Godet says that there are as many as eighty springs in the region.) The well must originally have been well over a hundred feet deep, so that digging and lining it was no small task. This has been worked into an argument that the well really was dug by Jacob. Only ‘a stranger in the land’ would have gone to all the trouble to construct such a well in a land as plentifully endowed with springs! Many commentators give the depth of the well as about seventy-five feet, but according to Hendriksen a great deal of debris has been cleaned out and the well restored to its original depth.” Morris, p. 257, fn. 20.
192 Time does not permit an extensive exploration of the “well motif” in Genesis, but it has been noted elsewhere. Many of the important events in Genesis took place at a well. It was at a well that Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac (see Genesis 24). It was also at a well that Jacob first met Rachel (Genesis 29). A spring plays a vital role in the survival of Hagar and her son, Ishmael (Genesis 16).
194 “A woman could not divorce her husband in Jewish law. But under certain circumstances she could approach the court which would, if it thought fit, compel the husband to divorce her (see for example, Mishnah, Ket. 7:9, 10). Or she might pay him or render services to induce him to divorce her (Git. 7:5, 6). In theory there was no limit to the number of marriages that might be contracted after valid divorces, but the Rabbis regarded two, or at the most three marriages as the maximum for a woman (SBk, II, p. 437).” Morris, p. 264, fn. 43.
195 “Whatever might be thought of the propriety of asking for a drink …, no Rabbi would have carried on a conversation with a woman. One of their sayings ran: ‘A man shall not be alone with a woman in an inn, not even with his sister or his daughter, on account of what men may think. A man shall not talk with a woman in the street, not even with his own wife, and especially not with another woman, on account of what men may say.’” Morris, p. 274, citing SBk, II, p. 438.
197 “The verb sugraomai has usually been understood here in the sense ‘to have familiar intercourse with.’ However D. Daube has shown that this sense is not found elsewhere and that it is highly unlikely in the present passage (JBL, LXIX, 1950, pp. 137-147). The verb means properly, ‘to use with,’ and this appears to be the meaning in the present passage. Jews do not use (utensils) with the Samaritans.” Morris, p. 259, fn. 25.
199 Was this woman looking for a Samaritan “Messiah,” or had she already come to embrace our Lord’s words about “salvation coming from the Jews” so that she was willing to accept the Jewish Messiah, whenever He came? I am inclined to see progress in this woman’s faith, even as our Lord speaks to her. She believes Jesus, as He moves from physical, literal “water” to the “spiritual water” of eternal life, and from the Jewish hope of Messiah, to Messiah Himself—Jesus. I believe all this happens within hours, not only for this woman, but for the people of Sychar as well.
200 Literally, the Greek text reads, “I am, the One speaking to you.” The “I am” is almost certainly tied to the “I am” of John 8:58, which the Jews understood to be a reference to Exodus 3:14. They knew this was a claim to be God.
202 Some would argue that “people” should be translated “men,” and that the males of Sychar are those to whom this woman spoke. Given her situation, this is at least possible. No wonder the “men” of the city came out to see this One who told the woman “all she ever did.”
203 I understand that salvation has a past, present, and future aspect. Here, however, I am speaking of the final step in the process of one’s coming to faith in Jesus Christ, and not of one’s subsequent progressive sanctification or ultimate and final salvation.
205 I would hasten to add here that I do not see the issue as being something inappropriate in the way Jesus is dealing with one of the opposite sex. What Jesus does is shocking, because He gives this woman credit for being capable of an intelligent spiritual and theological conversation, not because He is acting in a morally inappropriate manner toward the opposite sex.
206 Isn’t it interesting that Adam and Eve did not eat of the fruit of the tree of life, but fell because they disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? The Corinthians were not willing to miss a meal, so they insisted on eating “meats offered to idols” (1 Corinthians 8-10). So too they would not wait for their brothers and sisters to arrive at the Lord’s Table, choosing rather to indulge themselves to the detriment of those of lesser means (1 Corinthians 11). Food really is a test, is it not?
207 “J. A. T. Robinson has argued, convincingly to my mind, that the reference is primarily to the work of John the Baptist and his followers. His work in this very area had prepared the way for Jesus and His band.” Morris, pp. 281-282.
208 The “harvest” seems to have lasted longer than our Lord’s short stay. “Cullmann, who is supported by M. Simon (St. Stephen and the Hellenists, 1958, 00. 36ff.), sees in the ‘others’ the Hellenists of Acts 8 (pre-eminently Philip), who took the gospel to Samaria after which the apostles Peter and John entered the fruits of their labor.” Morris, p. 282, fn. 93.
209 I know all about the fact that the “go” of Matthew 28:19 is a participle, and not an imperative, but the force of our Lord’s words makes it so, and the grammar supports this. There is an excellent note in the NET Bible at verse 19:
“Go … baptize … teach” are participles modifying the imperative verb “make disciples.” According to Wallace (Exegetical Syntax 645) the first participle (poreuqevnte", “Go”) fits the typical structural pattern for the attendant circumstance participle (aorist participle preceding aorist main verb, with the mood of the main verb usually imperative or indicative) and thus picks up the mood (imperative in this case) from the main verb (maqhteuvsate, “make disciples”). This means that semantically the action of “going” is commanded, just as “making disciples” is. As for the two participles that follow the main verb (baptivzonte", “baptizing,” and didavskonte", “teaching”), according to Wallace these do not fit the normal pattern for attendant circumstance participles, since they are present participles and follow the aorist main verb. However, some interpreters do see them as carrying additional imperative force in context. Others regard them as means, manner, or even result.