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The Woman at the Well

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:19–20; John 4:1–42

Jesus is the Savior of the world. And like Jesus, Himself, we must not allow man-made boundaries to keep us from taking His gospel to people who need to hear it—in all the world.


As we begin our Wisdom Journey in John 4, Jesus is leaving Judea and heading north toward Galilee. In verse 4, we are told, “He [Jesus] had to pass through Samaria.” The verb here indicates it was necessary He go through Samaria—He “had to go there.” You see, Jesus has a divine appointment, and the Holy Spirit is leading the way.

Now as Jesus travels through Samaria, He comes to an ancient well Jacob had dug centuries earlier. It’s about noontime, and the disciples have gone into the village of Sychar to buy some food, leaving Jesus to sit down and rest by this well. John writes, “A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’” (verse 7).

This is a stunning encounter by the way. Jewish people did not talk to Samaritan people. According to the Mishnah, a commentary on Jewish life, they believed that Samaritan people were unclean from the cradle to the grave.

This bitter feud goes back in time some 700 years. It started when the Assyrians attacked the northern tribes of Israel and carried most of the people into captivity.

The Jews who were left behind intermarried with captives from other nations whom the Assyrians brought into the land to farm it and manage it. These mixed Jews, you could call them, developed their own religion—sort of a watered-down Judaism. They even built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, not too far from where Jesus is now talking to this Samaritan woman.

By the way, for Jesus to speak here is a violation of three Jewish traditions—sort of unspoken rules. First, He is talking to a Samaritan. You just did not do that if you were a good Jewish man.

Second, He is talking with a woman. You need to understand that in Jesus’ generation a rabbi was to be so circumspect that he was never to even greet a woman in public, much less talk to her. And this is not just any woman—she has quite a reputation as we will learn.

No doubt this explains why she is drawing water at noon, the hottest time of the day. Nobody else is going to come to the well at this time and stare at her or laugh at her or call her dirty names. Let me tell you, this is a lonely, sinful, needy woman. She is thirsty for something real—something that will last!

The third rule Jesus breaks is that He asks her for a drink of water. According to popular opinion, to receive food or drink from a Samaritan would be to share in that person’s ceremonial impurity.  

Well, none of this escapes this woman’s notice. She asks Jesus in verse 9, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus responds, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (verse 10).

Now this woman is confused, of course; she says to Jesus in verse 11, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” And she’s blunt with Jesus in verse 12, asking, “Are you greater than our father Jacob?”

In other words, she’s saying to Jesus, “Jacob, our great forefather dug this well; so if you can get better water than Jacob, who must you think you are?” Well, He is going to answer that question in a moment, but first He describes for her the living water He is offering:

“Everyone who drinks of this water [from the well of Jacob] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (verses 13-14)

She immediately says in verse 15, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” She is thinking about something physical; Jesus is telling her that her real thirst is spiritual.

Jesus may be alluding to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, when the chosen people are told to draw water with joy from the well of salvation (Isaiah 12:3). The prophet Jeremiah said that the Lord is the “fountain of living water” (Jeremiah 17:13).

She does not get the connection. So, what does Jesus say next? Almost out of the blue, He says, “Go, call your husband, and come here” (verse 16). The woman answers, “I have no husband.” Jesus knows that, and now He stuns her by saying, “You are right . . . for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (verses 17-18).

Let me tell you, all of a sudden she realizes Jesus must be some kind of special spiritual leader. She even attempts to turn on some spiritual vocabulary here in verse 19, saying, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” Well, no kidding!

She then attempts to distract Jesus by raising an age-old debate among the Jews and Samaritans about where people ought to be worshiping—in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim.

But Jesus is not distracted, as He speaks to her here in verses 23-24:

“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Now she is listening to what He is really saying. Perhaps she has connected the dots with some of those prophecies about living water. So, she says to Jesus in verse 25, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” And Jesus says to her, “I who speak to you am he” (verse 26).

Now at verse 27 the pace accelerates. The disciples return with food and are amazed to find Jesus talking to this woman. The woman then takes off running back into town shouting at everyone, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (verse 29). And the town empties, following the woman back to Jesus.

As they head up the incline toward Jacob’s well, Jesus says to His disciples, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (verse 35).

It is possible that as those Samaritan men, with their heads in white turbans, represented what Jesus meant when He said the fields are “white for harvest.” Wheat and grain fields are brown, not white. I have no doubt Jesus was talking about these Samaritans heading up toward the well of Jacob.  

Verse 39 tells us of the harvest: “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”

Let me ask you something: What well are you drinking from today? Are you seeking refreshing, life-giving water from wells that only leave you thirsty? Jesus knows who you are. He knows everything you have done wrong; and He knows all about your thirst for meaning and a life worth living.

I cannot force you to drink, but I can tell you where the living water is; it’s found only in Jesus, the Messiah. Often when I write a letter or an e-mail, I sign it at the bottom, “Satisfied in Christ.” That is what He has done for me, and that is what He will do for you, if you ask Him to forgive you and to save you.

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