06.01.03 Jn. 4:4-26 The Village of Sychar; The Samaritan Woman
THE SAMARITAN WOMAN AT THE WELL
4 He had to travel through Samaria, 5 so He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening.
7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. “Give Me a drink,” Jesus said to her, 8 for His disciples had gone into town to buy food.
9 “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.”
11 “Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’? 12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”
13 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again — ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”
15 “Sir,” the woman said to Him, “give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.”
16 “Go call your husband,” He told her, “and come back here.”
17 “I don’t have a husband,” she answered.
“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus said. 18 “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus told her, “Believe Me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
26 “I am He,” Jesus told her, “the One speaking to you.”
Jesus went through Samaria about 4 months prior to the Samaritan Passover, at the Festival of Zimmuth Pesah (or Pesach) which would have been in January A.D. 27 or 28. There He stopped for a rest around 12:00 noon at a well in the small village of Sychar that has historic significance. It was in ancient Shechem where Jacob, the ancestor common to both Samaritans and Jews, purchased a plot of land (Gen. 33:19). On the day Jesus came by, a Samaritan woman of “poor reputation” came to draw water from the traditional well of Jacob and met Jesus. Even though there was legendary hatred between the two ethnic groups, in this encounter Jesus demonstrated that divine love and forgiveness could destroy four major taboos that were present at the time.
- Religious discrimination (Jew vs. Samaritan),
- Racial-ethnic discrimination (also Jew vs. Samaritan),
- Social discrimination (man to woman in public), The rabbinic rules of the Oral Law strictly forbade a man from having a private conversation with a Jewess, so having a conversation with a Samaritan woman must have been even more shocking to the disciples. Note the following:
Any man whose business is with women may not remain alone with women; and a man should not teach his son a craft that is practiced among women.
Mishnah, Kiddushin 4.14
- Moral discrimination (her moral history). While the terms “poor reputation,” “sinful woman,” and “sexual impurity” are commonly associated with prostitution, these were also applied to women of multiple marriages who were not prostitutes. However, no Samaritan man would have married a prostitute, so the probability that she was one is rather nil.
In the conversation, she displayed a modest and gentle spirit, two characteristics Jesus always loves. There was hatred between the two ethnic groups because each considered itself to be the true Israelite nation. In the middle of this hostility, the love of Jesus destroyed all forms of discrimination. As she listened, her knowledge and faith about Him grew. She concluded that He was the long expected Tahbe/messiah without the performance of any signs or wonders. Ironically, the Jews required a sign.
“A town of Samaria called Sychar.” Amazingly, the name Sychar means drunken town or lying town. Why anyone would want to identify their community with a name like that is unknown. No wonder the Jews avoided them.
“A woman of Samaria came to draw water.” The role of a woman was primarily one of a domestic servant in the home. While some women rose to positions of power and influence (i.e., Esther), but for the most part, those few were the exceptions. In the average home, the man was the dominant influence and the woman did as he directed. This was not only true within the biblical community but in neighboring cultures as well. It continues to this day in many Muslim countries.
Her duties included preparing food for meals and storage, weaving raw materials into fabrics, and maintaining the home. If the home did not have a cistern, she had to draw water from the village well and carry it home. These were distinctive chores and men were not to undertake them. However, Jesus was not troubled by prevailing cultural taboos. When He approached her at the well, He broke nearly every gender-based cultural norm that had established itself over the previous centuries, including the cultural taboo that “Jews do not associate with Samaritans.” This is why His disciples were surprised when they returned and found Him talking with her.
Jesus initiated a conversation by asking her for water. This was a radical request because it also required that He drink from her vessel – which in Jewish thinking, was a very unholy and defiled vessel. They avoided contact with the “mixed race,” and to drink from her vessel was even more unthinkable. In response, she acknowledged two cultural barricades: gender and ethnic differences. But Jesus shifted the cultural difference to a spiritual one. The “gift of God” (v 10) and of “living water” (v 10, 14), which means water of life, was also symbolic of eternal life. There was a time when oriental courtesy would never refuse a request for water. However, in the two previous centuries the relations between the Jews and Samaritans had become strained to the breaking point, so even giving water to someone of the other ethnic group was strictly forbidden. Two other examples,
- The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37) demonatrated the strong love Jesus had for them, and,
- A common saying was that one who eats the bread of a Samaritan is as one who eats the flesh of swine. This saying underscores the phrase, “Jews do not associate with Samaritans,”(Jn. 4:9). This does not mean that Jews and Samaritans never spoke with each other, but it meant that there were no friendships and social events shared by the two groups, which is precisely what Jesus did. Jews who traveled through Samaria had the freedom to purchase necessary items if they wished, but other than that, the two groups discriminated against each other.
This attitude is preserved in the writings of a second century B.C. Jew named Jesus, the son of Sirach, who wrote the following:
Two nations my soul detests,
And the third is not even a people;
Those who live in Seir and the Philistines,
And the foolish people that live in Shechem.
Ben Sirach 50:25-26
Evidently, she did not grasp the full concept of what Jesus was saying and the conversation was about to become more remarkable. When He asked her to get her husband (v 16), she indicated that she had none. Until now, the dialog was one that she could have had with any man who was not too discreet. But Jesus captured her undivided attention when He said she had five husbands. To this she acknowledged Him by saying “I see that You are a prophet.” She chose not to continue to discuss her former husbands, but she obviously recognized Jesus as One who had unusual divine insight of both current events, the future, and was a proclaimer of God’s word (Gk. prophetes). Her statement was not merely a compliment, but was one of the highest honors among the Jews. In modern society today, there is no similar position. However, the discussion continued on the major issue between Jews and Samaritans: where is God to be worshiped. But the response by Jesus was one referring to a different issue, the coming of the Kingdom of God (cf. Rev 21:22).
She had been in a marriage covenant with five men, was now living with a sixth man with whom she did not have a marriage covenant. And now, number seven – Jesus, told her of a new spiritual covenant. However, while she did not fully understand it, she obviously had a basic concept of what Jesus was trying to communicate. She reflected the opinion of many Middle Eastern people in saying that, “When He comes, He will explain everything to us.” That statement may have been one of the deepest mysteries of the gospels, because, just as the Jews had unanswered questions, so did the Samaritans. Both groups had questions they pondered for centuries.
There have been countless sermons that condemned her because preachers have assumed that she was a prostitute who had been divorced five times and now lived with a man outside of marriage. Most likely, her former husbands divorced her because she could not bear children for them. The ancients believed infertility was a curse that came directly from God. In a society where divorce was condemned, to have been divorced five times simply meant that she was the constant subject of gossip and ridicule. Not only was she childless, but she had no friends and was indeed, was a very lonely woman. At that time women seldom divorced their husbands because living as a widow or divorced woman almost always insured a life of poverty.
She probably did not choose to live an unmarried lifestyle, but she had to in order to survive. She, most certainly, gave up on life thinking God condemned her and she lived with someone only as a means of survival. No one would have helped a woman who was repeatedly divorced. Therefore, her conversation with Jesus became her only hope for life.
Then Jesus said that He would give her “living water.” There are two interpretations of the term “living water.”
- In a physical sense, it was flowing water as found in a river or stream.
- In a spiritual sense, it reflected upon common phrases pertaining to teaching and explaining the Law. The term was similar to the phrase “To give water to drink.”
Jesus referred to the imagery of both interpretations. He spoke of “living water,” as a reference to water flowing from a stream that is always fresh and vibrant. It is in sharp contrast to well water, or worse yet, cistern water, which is collected rain water that after several months becomes stagnant. People in this area have always been dependent upon cisterns since there is no rainfall for six to eight months of the year. Living water is water that was never stored in a vessel and was considered clean and refreshing. His words were not like those spoken by the Pharisees, but were filled with kindness and compassion and she responded in like manner. Earlier Jesus had turned water into wine, now He opened the gates of living water of eternal life for an impoverished soul.
As with hundreds of other rules and regulations, the leading Pharisees developed clever ways to circumvent them and that included a way to turn stagnant water into “living water.” They simply let it flow a short distance through a small channel or pipe to where it was needed. What was stale and stagnant one moment “suddenly” became ritually pure and desirable. But Jesus was referring to living water that flows fresh from a mountain spring, not that which was manipulated by the religious leaders.
According to Jewish tradition, there were six grades of water. Flowing water was the best and stagnant water was the worst. The best two or three were acceptable for mikvaoth (or mikvah singular) immersions, each “one more excellent than another.” A mikvah was a small reservoir of fresh water into which one would immerse himself/herself to be ritually pure. At the temple, the priests immersed themselves three times daily. The Midrash stated that the best quality was from a continuous flowing source and was known as “living water.” It was ideal to be immersed in living water, which was considered the best grade and, therefore, approved for “the sprinkling of lepers” and for “mixing with the ashes of the sin-offering.” Here Jesus said that He would make this living water flow out of the believer. Jesus offered her living water.
On the other hand, the Essenes seemed to understand the phrase living water to mean a life in covenant with each other. In a fragment of the Damascus Document is a reference that whenever members left the Essene community, they left the well of living water from where life and refreshment flowed. Consequently, they were no longer counted as part of the Essene community. In detail, the document reads as follows:
And like this judgment will be that of all who reject God’s precepts . . . and forsake them and move aside in the stubbornness of their heart. And thus, all the men who entered the new covenant in the land of Damascus and turned and betrayed and departed from the well of living waters, shall not be counted in the assembly of the people and shall not be inscribed in their lists, from the day of session of him who teaches.
Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 19:32-35
The Essene covenant of membership was considered to be equal to a well of living waters. Therefore, the words of Jesus concerning living water could have been understood by some as attaining knowledge of God and as a reference to a new covenant.
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06.01.03.V The Samaritan Woman at the Well. Gordon Franz discusses the preparation days of the Samaritan Passover known as the Festival of Zimmuth Pesah when Jesus met the Samaritan woman.
When Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman, He was also speaking to an adulterous people. Her people were represented in her life and she was a “type and shadow” of all Samaritans. Jesus knew that she had five husbands – so did the Samaritans in a spiritual sense. The Samaritans originated from five pagan groups who intermarried with Israelites, and these pagan groups each had their own god(s). In the 8th century B.C., the king of Assyria brought in foreign people, who spiritually polluted the land when they married their Jewish neighbors who had remained in Samaria. According to Josephus, each of these five people groups brought their own gods with them into Samaria. The historian and the author of 2 Kings preserved the details.
In essence, the Samaritan woman was symbolic of the Samaritan people. Since the marriage covenant is a “type and shadow” of the covenant believers have with God or gods, her life with five husbands (covenants) was reflective of the Samaritan people whose background was with pagan gods (covenants). When Jesus spoke with her, she lived outside of a marriage covenant, and the Samaritan people lived in spiritual confusion.
It was the desire of Jesus to see them return to the worship of the One True God. In fact, His mission was and still is to see all humanity come to the saving knowledge of the One True God. Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus to come to the Jews, this woman prepared the way for Peter, Philip, and John who came later (Acts 8:5-25) and had a successful ministry among them. From Peter’s converts, there arose a certain man named Justin, who was born in the ancient city of Shechem. He became a significant second century church father and writer, who willingly died for his faith. The English word martyr is from the Greek word martys, which carries a sense of witness. Justin was killed because he was a witness for Jesus, and is known today as Justin Martyr.
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain.” People in all ancient cultures believed their god or gods had to be worshiped in the same temples as where their deities lived. At the time of this encounter, the Samaritan temple had been destroyed for nearly a century and a half, and the Samaritans waited its reconstruction (see 03.05.07). They were jealous that the Jews had a beautiful temple but theirs was destroyed by a Jew. So they had strong expectations that the Taheb would come and rebuild it.
Jesus, however, introduced a new concept of worship “in spirit and truth” without a temple. His “temple” would be those believers in whom the Holy Spirit would live and, therefore, there would be no need for a temple of stone. Clearly, the opinions expressed by the woman were not light-hearted comments, but serious expectations shared by the Samaritan community at large.
“Salvation is from the Jews.” Salvation is from the Jewish people in the sense that God made His covenant with them, beginning with Abraham. Since Jesus is the central focus of that covenant, salvation is through Him alone, and He is of human Jewish origin.
“Worship the Father in spirit and truth.” The term “in spirit” indicates that the worshiper has changed character and is focused on Christ. He has the new life, which he received at his new birth (Jn. 3:5-8; Heb. 9:23-24). The phrase “[in] truth” refers to the complete honesty and openness that the worshiper has when he comes to God in prayer, for God knows all things. To worship God in Spirit and truth is a high privilege and the Father seeks those who desire to worship him.
Following her statement “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ), Jesus identified himself as that Messiah. It was His most direct statement in His early ministry. She returned to her village and proclaimed her encounter with Jesus. A lowly woman of the despised Samaritans became one of the first profound evangelists of the New Testament era. It must be remembered that no one anticipated a messiah who would be fully human and fully God. Therefore, the term messiah is spelled with a lower case “m.” The Samaritan woman most certainly did not expect the Samaritan messiah to be God as well as man.
The progression of her understanding is even more profound when considering her theological background. While the Samaritans believed in a coming messiah, they had a unique perception of him because they only had the five books of Moses that comprised their Bible. Furthermore, some passages of their Bible were modified from the Hebrew Bible. One of those is the messianic prophecy of Deuteronomy 34:10 that reads in their Bible,
There will not arise a prophet in Israel like Moses.
Samaritan Bible: Deuteronomy 34:10
In essence, the Samaritan woman must have been wondering of Jesus was in fact, Moses. Yet that apparently did not influence her as did the conversation with Him. Theologically, she was prepared to meet Jesus and when she did, her heart followed. He never condemned her for what she did or believed because “in Christ all things are new” (Rev. 21:5).
Throughout this dialogue, Jesus was very patient and allowed her understanding to develop. As the Master Teacher, He guided her from the known to the unknown. She concluded her opinions believing Jesus to be the Messiah and the Savior of the world. This was an extreme departure from her preconceived ideas and her own faith. They believed the Taheb would come, live 110 years, die, and then would come again for the final judgment of the world. This was based, in part, on Deuteronomy 18:18 of the Samaritan BIble. Therefore, the ministry of Jesus was beyond their wildest expectations. In this discourse there are several points to be noticed.
- Jesus never confused doubt with unbelief, or ignorance with stupidity and carnal foolishness. He was the very model of patience and kindness and did not condemn her for her past actions or her beliefs. She evidently lived in shame (the reason for going to the well at midday was to avoid other women) and Jesus gave her hope. She, as a Samaritan, believed only in the first books of the Old Testament and some other theological issues, but Jesus never condemned her (Rom. 8:34) or argued with her. In Christ, all things are made new.
- He told her that He was the “living water” of eternal life. This is always the real issue. He pointed to himself, as as the way of salvation (Jn. 4:26), and
- She became an evangelist in her community. As a result of her testimony, many came to Jesus (Jn. 4:27-30).
- Both temples, the Samaritan and Jewish, were pronounced obsolete.
- The message of the Kingdom of God was available to the Samaritans, and later would be offered to the Gentiles as well.
- The irony is that it was Jesus who was thirsty and came to the well for a drink, and offered the thirsty woman who gave him a drink, living water. The words and works of Jesus are filled with ironies.
“I know that Messiah is coming.” Not only the Samaritans, but nearly all people groups in the ancient Middle East were expecting a Messiah to come. For example, in 63 B.C. the Romans attempted to pass a decree requiring the killing of infant boys because of a prophecy of a new-born king (see 03.05.15), and of course the magi came to Bethlehem because they too were expecting a Messiah. Then in 42-38 B.C. the Roman poet Virgil predicted the coming of a messiah (see 03.05.24). Yet this woman and her fellow Samaritans had something the others didn’t have – a Samaritan Torah. The first five books of Moses are similar in most details to the Jewish version – close enough to have the correct prophecies of the messiah whom they called the Tehab. Little wonder then, that she was expecting Him. In the course of discussion with Jesus, there is an interesting progression of her observations.
- She addressed Jesus as a “Jew” (v. 9),
- Then she addressed Him as “sir” which has a meaning similar to “lord” (v. 15),
- Then she addressed Him as a “prophet” (v. 19),
- Then she addressed Him as the “Messiah” (v. 25), and
- Finally, she recognized Him as “the Savior of the world” (v. 42).
- Without question, she must have considered Jesus to be the expected Taheb. The Samaritans, like so many others, believed that God would soon send someone to restore their land and people. That “someone” was called the Taheb or Restorer – a great prophet of the end-time whom Moses referred to in Deuteronomy 18:15.
A similar progression of observation was noted by the blind man who was healed by Jesus by the Pool of Siloam.
“I am He … the One speaking to you.” This is a direct statement by Jesus stating in no uncertain terms that He is God Himself, a declaration of deity. In the Hebrew Bible the phrase I Am is used to reveal the essence of God. Furthermore, in the Septuagint translation, the phrase I Am is the exact phrase used by God to identify Himself in the burning bush when Moses asked who was speaking to him. John used seven I Am statements in his gospel.
Evidently, Jesus did not care about the Jewish or Roman reactions to such an announcement. In other situations He told various individuals not to reveal His identity or what miracle He performed. The Jews were far more nervous about the coming of their messiah than any other people group.
. http://www.lifeandland.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/lllj-seminar-notes1.pdf Retrieved December 18, 2012.
. A term associated with sexual impurity.
. See 02.01.17 “Samaritans” for a list of significant changes the Samaritans made to their Torah and an abbreviated listing of the hateful actions between the two groups.
. Freedman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 514.
. For this reason, men who were weavers were highly despised. It was clearly defined as “women’s work.”
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 283.
. Charlesworth and Evans. The Pseudepigrapha and Early Biblical Interpretation. 22. See also “Samaritans” 02.01.17.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 2:111.
. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 157.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 283.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 283.
. Other references are Jer. 2:13; 17:13; Job 22:7; Prov. 25:21.
. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:557; Fruchtenbaum, Life of the Messiah. Tape 4, Side B.
. See 02.01.17 and 03.02.04 for more information.
. The phrase “not even a people” clearly has some powerful negative cultural implications as 1 Peter 2:10a reads “Once you were not a people,” and Hosea 1:9-10 twice reads, “you are not my people.” The phrase was regarded as a high insult between cultural groups – meaning that those to whom it was addresses were less than human. In the Apostle Peter’s first letter he said that without Christ, the believers were, in a figurative sense, less than human; but with Christ they are more than mere human – they are a chosen people, a royal priesthood and holy nation unto God Himself.
. The second and fourth stanzas of this Hebrew poem refer to the Samaritans.
. Ben Sirach and Tobit belong to a classification of extra-biblical books known as the Apocrypha. These two literary works reflect the opinions of many Jewish people. See 02.02.03 “Apocrypha” for more information. The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives. See 01.02.04.
. Brown, “Prophet.” 3:74-92.
. Macartney, Great Interviews of Jesus. 24.
. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:298.
. Myers, “Yes, They are.” 48.
. Mishnah, Mikwaoth 1.1.
. Zondervan’s New International Version Archaeological Study Bible. 2005. 1562.
. Mishnah, Mikwaoth 1.1 – 2.1.
. Mishnah, Mikwaoth 1.8; cf. Lev. 14:5; 15:13.
. 19:32-35 = Column 19, lines 32-35; Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated. 46.
. See “type and shadow” in Appendix 26; See also Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. 768.
. As stated previously, the woman had a covenant with five previous husbands. Likewise, the ancestors of the Samaritan people had covenants with five gods. See also Josephus, Antiquities 9.14.3 (288) below.
. 02.01.17 “Samaritans.”
. See 03.02.04 and .05.
. See 2 Kings 17:24-25, 29, 32 and Josephus, Antiquities 9.14.3 (288) in 02.01.17 “Samaritans.”
. Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman, eds., “Martyr.” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. 539.
. Guignebert, The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus. 199.
. Jn. 4:23; Rom. 8:15; 1 Jn. 3:1; See also Heijkop, Unto Christ, 22-23.
. Barclay, Jesus. 230-32. Italic emphasis mine.
. The concept that intellectual teaching is based upon what is previously known to the person taught has generally been credited to Aristotle, in Posteriora Analytica. 1.1. However, the concept, although not described in this manner, is elementary and was practiced by the Jewish rabbis and prophets for centuries.
. Blizzard, “Judaism – Part 1” Yavo Digest 1:5, 8; Guignebert, The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus. 196.
. Gen. 3:15; 49:10; Num. 24:17; Deut. 18:15.
. Barclay, Jesus. 231.
. Bruce, New Testament History. 34-35.
. See 11.02.21, 11.02.24, 11.02.11.A, and 11.02.11.B.
. Ex. 3:14-15; Isa. 41:4; 43:10, 25; 46:4; 51:12; 52:6.
. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 211.
. The Seven “I AM’s”: Bread of Life (Jn. 6:35, 41, 48, 51): Light of the World (Jn. 8:12); Door of the sheep (Jn. 10:7, 9); Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:11, 14); Resurrection and the Life (Jn. 11:25); the Way, the Truth, the Life (Jn. 14:6) and the True Vine (Jn. 15:1, 5).