Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at Jacob's Well : My Purposeful Journey


Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at Jacob's Well

by Kerry Ahrend on 11/28/10

In the book of John, chapter 4, the story is told of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan women at Jacob's well.  The Samaritan women comes to the well to draw water and Jesus asks her for a drink.  She was amazed to begin with that a Jew would speak to her, a "despised Samaritan,"  much less drink from her vessel.  Jesus' response: "If you only knew what a wonderful gift God has for you, and who I am, you would ask me for some living water." (John 4:10)

Although the Samaritan women is never named nor is it known what became of her, this story has great significance.  John MacArthur includes her story in his book entitled Twelve Extraordinary Women.  John, of the Book of John, devotes 42 versus to the story of the Samaritan woman.  In MacArthur's book he highlights the significance of Jesus' encounter with this Samaritan women and why this is such an important part of scripture.

  • Jesus' travel through Samaria was highly uncommon as most Jews avoided this area because the Samaritans were seen as unclean, a mixed-race descended from pagans. Although the most direct route, it was generally avoided.  For Jesus to be in Samaria could have been seen as scandelous.
  • Jacob's well was on the field that Jacob had purchased so he could pitch his tent in the land of Canaan.  Jacob also built an alter on this site calling it "El Elohe Israel" meaning "the God of Isreal."  This was also the same parcel of ground that Jacob deeded to his favorite son Joseph (John 4:5) and the place where Joseph's bones were finally laid to rest. (Joshua 24:32)  When Moses left Egypt he took Joseph's coffin with him and carried Joseph's remains with them for forty years in the wilderness.  As MacArthur points out, "the tale of Joseph's bones was a significant reminder of God's faithfulness." (Acts 7:15-16) This location had a long and meaningful history in Jewish traditions.
  • Jesus would normally not have been alone at the well, he was almost always accompanied by his disciples.  But on this day Jesus intentionally sought out this Samaritan women at Jacob's well because He had a purpose and mission to fulfill.  (In speaking to the woman Jesus broke two cultural taboos:  Jews did not speak with Samaritans and a man would not normally speak with a female stranger.)
  • This is the first time that Jesus formally and explicitly  unveiled his true identity as the Messiah.  Jesus chose this time, this place, and with this woman to identify himself as the Son of God. 
  • The woman perceived that Jesus was a prophet and asked him if he was greater than Jacob because how else could he draw from a well so deep and without a bucket.  Jesus was greater than Jacob and he responded by saying: "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:13-14)  
  • The woman says to Jesus, "I know the Messiah is coming (who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things." (John 4:25) Although she was raised in a culture where their religion was incomplete and flawed she knew the Messiah was coming. (The Samaritans based their religion only on the first five books of the Bible known as the Pentateuch, Genesis through Deuteronomy.)  When she hinted that she suspected Jesus was the Messiah Jesus responded, "I who speak to you am He." (John 4:26)  Never before had Jesus so directly or explicitly proclaimed that He was the Messiah.  And never again until the night of His betrayal. 

Why would Jesus chose to reveal Himself as the Messiah to a Samaritan woman, a mixed-breed, with a past full of sin and a bad reputation? 

  • After Jesus reveals himself to the woman she runs into town to share Jesus' revelation with the men of the city.  She was filled with authentic faith and excitement and wanted to share her new found knowledge and faith with others.  And because of her testimony many other Samaritans believed.  The burden of sin and guilt had been lifted and she wanted to share the good news with others.  She began her new life by bringing others to Christ. 
  • Unlike the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem, she had no preconceived notion of the Messiah. The religious leaders would have been offended and disgusted that Jesus would have talked to a Samaritan women or that He would have drunk from the same vessel as this unclean person.  They often complained that He received sinners and others they referred to as rogues and scondrels.  Jesus did not meet any of the preconceived notions that a Messiah ought to be and so He was rejected by the Jewish leaders.  The Samaritan woman believed and because of her faith others also believed and came to follow Christ.
  • The Samaritans, having been degraded for years for their immorality, had a definite sense that they were sinners.  And although Jesus knew everything about the Samaritan woman's sins He received her and she knew she was forgiven.  Instead of avoiding or hiding her sinful past, she could now rejoice in the forgiveness she had been shown.  Her heart and her life was changed forever.  "If anyone is in Christ, [she] is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (2 Corintians 5:17)

Can you see why Jesus chose to reveal himself for the first time as the Messiah, Son of God, to the Samaritan woman?  Can you understand His purpose and mission and how this story relates to each and everyone of us?  Can you see the relationship between this story, the Samaritan woman, and yourself? 

Like the Samaritan woman we are all sinners, unclean and thirsting for something greater.  As humans we have needs and desires: we thirst for food, water, love, sex, security, approval.  Attempts to satisfy these needs and desires can often lead to disappointment or despair.  Our human desires are almost never satisfied.  What Jesus offered the Samaritan woman and each of us is a perpetual spring, the "living water" leading to abundance and accessibility of the divine life for believers. 

Jesus shifts the conversation with the woman from the living water to her style of living.  He reveals His knowledge or her adultry and sin in her personal life.  He confronts her sinful life without accusing or excusing her life choices.  Jesus also wants us to look at the choices we make in our lives.  There is nothing we can hide from Him, but like the woman, our burden of sin and guilt can be lifted by following Christ and His ways.  He does not accuse or excuse us but he will and does forgive us.

Another subject that is addressed during this encounter is the topic of the correct way and place to worship.  The Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerizim; the Jews centered their worship in Jerusalem.  Jesus revealed to the woman that it is not the geographic location or the rituals of worship that were important; what is important is our spiritual relationship with God.  We are to worship "in spirit" and "in truth." (John 4:24)  "In spirit" refers to the human spirit and the inner awareness of the "spring of living water" that God has planted.  God is "in spirit."  He is not a physical being and so we are not limited by time or space as to where or when we can worship.  We can worship anytime, anywhere.  Worship occurs when we turn our attention and praise toward God.  "In truth" implies that we worship with genuineness, recognizing God's true character and nature and our need and dependance on Him. 

Jesus lead the Samaritans to the truth about salvation.  He offered them the gift of life represented by the "living water."  We can drink of the living water and become new or "born again" through our acceptance of Jesus Christ.  Like the Samaritan woman we are forgiven and are called upon to share the good news with others.  The Samaritan woman was chosen by Christ to share His identity as the Messiah; we are also chosen to know His identity as the Messiah, Son of God!  Jesus wants us to know the wonderful gift God has for each and every one of us...He wants us to ask for the "living water" that our thirst would be quenched for eternity.

(References:  Twelve Extraordinary Women, John MacArthur.  Life Application New Testament Commentary, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.)

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