Gospel of John-Chapter 4: The Samaritan Woman

The Samaritan WomanChapter 4 of the Gospel of John we see the appearance of a new character. It begins with a conversation between Jesus and a woman of questionable character. The Samaritan Woman.

Let’s begin in verse 1…

John 4:1-4 (NKJV)

 a Samaritan Meets Her Messiah

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria.

The chapter picks up at the end of the events in chapter 3, with Jesus still in Judea, preparing to leave for the Galilee. Jesus is leaving we’re told because the Pharisees had heard Jesus was baptizing even more than John the Baptist. As we mentioned earlier, it was Jesus’ disciples who were doing the baptizing, not Jesus. But regardless, the Pharisees were increasingly worried about Jesus’ growing popularity and they think He is going to become a danger to their power.  Samaritan Woman

So, Jesus knowing this decides to pick up the tent stakes and move the tents north, He sets out for the Galilee. At the time He leaves here, He was near John the Baptist in Aenon, probably near Jericho. Jesus must travel N-NW to reach Capernaum which is His home place in the Galilee. This route takes Him through a region called Samaria. No doubt most of us have heard the term Samaritan in times past. Most of us had heard the name with the prefix “good.” Specifically, from the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10. The real power of that parable – and this story in chapter 4 of John’s Gospel – comes from an understanding of the historical relationship between Jews and Samaritans. CLICK HERE to read the historical relationship between the Jews and Samaritans to understand the significance it has as Jesus encounters the Samaritans.

As we learned from the historical relationship between the Jews and Samaritans, the Samaritans were a group who went to great lengths to counterfeit the Jewish faith. They had descended historically from the northern tribes of Israel but they had polluted their bloodlines over that history by intermarrying with Gentiles that were in that same region and thereby forfeited their Jewishness. But they still saw themselves as Jew. As a result, they were rejected centuries earlier by the Jewish remnant returning to the land after the Babylonian captivity. As a result, they became enemies of Israel and they contended with Israel for the title of true Jew. They counterfeited Judaism with an elaborate system of religious laws, a temple of their own making, and created their own priesthood. All of this in competition with Israel. But none of this stuff was true. They created it but it merely mimicked true faith. The Samaritan faith was largely based on worship revolving around holy places and relics and rituals. This is not a pattern unique to Samaritans. It’s the definitive pattern of false religion. Any attempt to reach God absent His Spirit. Manmade religion is always a manmade attempt to reach up to Heaven. But true revelation is delivered from Heaven by the word of God.

So in this story, a Samaritan woman meets Jesus at a well. She’s trapped in this false religious system. But she doesn’t know it’s false. However, in this day she knows there must be something more to worshipping God than the things she’s been taught. More importantly, she knows her life doesn’t reflect God’s presence, at least on an unconscious or subconscious level as we are going to see in the story. Whatever her religion is doing for her it is not producing reconciliation with God. So on this day, a woman trapped in a false religion meets the Truth. That is the Way, the Life and the Truth.  Samaritan Woman

John 4:5-9(NKJV)

So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.

Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

This is taking place in a location called Sychar, that’s a city located just outside the ancient city of Shechem. It’s on this land Jacob gave his son Joseph a well according to Genesis 48. This particular spot was within sight of Mt Gerizim, the place where the Samaritans put their false temple. Jesus picks this place, at this particular well to stop and rest from His journey. His disciples are away getting food. So He is alone there. The Samaritans call this Jacobs well. It is more likely folklore than any actual reference to history. Jacob had a well and it was somewhere on this land but there is no reason to know that was the particular well. Though it might have been. Whatever it was in historic terms though, it has become a religious relic to those in Samaria. They used their claim to possessing Jacob’s well as a proof they were the true Jews. It was as if having this well was one piece of validation for their faith. In that way, they were guilty of worshipping the creation rather than the Creator.

In verse seven Jesus opens the conversation. He asks this woman who comes to draw water, “Would you give Me a drink?”  And as you can tell she is surprised by that request. She says to Him, how is it, you a Jew, would ask a Samaritan woman for a drink of water? Notice she asks “how” and not “why” because what she is alluding to is the fact under Jewish law, the Jewish tradition and the teachings of the Pharisees, Jews were forbidden to ever become indebted to a Samaritan, among many other rules they had concerning Samaritans. So the fact you ask a Samaritan for anything including a service or favor of this regard was effectively putting yourself in a form of debt. You would in debt yourself to them in that regard. Even if it was something very minor like this. If you didn’t pay them, you shouldn’t ask them.

Furthermore, men would rarely go to the point of showing this kind of regard for women, in any case, particularly a strange woman, even if she had been a Jew. So I think when
she asks Him “how” she is referring to these two rules or customs. She’s saying how are you able to get around this rule? How is it you are able to take something from me since I am a Samaritan, much less also a woman. The answer, of course, is those are limits set by man, not by God. God is not a respecter of persons, according to Acts 10:34  Samaritan Woman

Acts 10:34 (NKJV)

Preaching to Cornelius’ Household

34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth, I perceive that God shows no partiality.

These restrictions were the result of human prejudice, instituted by the rulers of Israel as a means of shunning Samaritans. But Jesus, as Luke tells us, came to seek and save the lost not to judge them. So Jesus engages this woman for the sake of asking for water. There is no problem in that for Him. We can all learn something from Jesus’ technique. First, He engages the lost. He doesn’t wait for her to speak first. He doesn’t avoid the conversation altogether. We are on earth to engage for the sake of the Gospel. We are Jesus’ ambassadors.

So it makes sense we should follow His pattern. The first thing we learn is He engages the lost. When she otherwise expected silence. Secondly, Jesus doesn’t start the conversation with a religious conversation. How many of us would say, “Do you know my Jesus? Do you know the Lord?” He begins with a simple request for water. A reminder to all of us we need to be real and natural as we try to seek these connections. We don’t start our conversations with the lost by saying, “Do you have Jesus in your heart?” It’s not wrong to say those things. That’s not the point. The point is, it is abrupt and unnatural. It doesn’t build the relationship that is eventually going to lead to something where you might have the chance to talk about such things. We don’t convert to disciple, we disciple to conversion. We should be working with somebody up to the point where they are finally open to the gospel. And then we can present them with the Gospel. We don’t throw the Gospel at them in the first 30 seconds and if they accept it, then we have a conversation about who we are, who they are and where we go next. It doesn’t fit. It’s not natural. We ought to be thinking about ways to establish a relationship. Jesus works the relationship. Right from the start.

Then thirdly, He’s purposeful. Do you think His interest was primarily in water? He could have waited for the disciples if He was just going to get water. The point of this is bigger than the need for water. He knew His request would take the woman by surprise. He uses this surprise to begin a conversation that will lead to something purposeful. He knows as she works with him in this conversation, He can direct it into something more meaningful. If she takes the bait, so to speak, then there is an opportunity. At a simple level, it is having an attitude of engagement with the world around you, is number one. Number two, start conversations that are natural and lead to relationships without so much concerning yourself with how do I fit Jesus into it right away. But be purposeful in the end so that you never forget that is the reason for the conversation. So that it eventually does land on spiritual things, if there is an opportunity. These are the methods we should use as we seek the lost in keeping with our mission.

As we see this scene play out, we are going to watch how Jesus’ method works. There is this sense of two ships passing in the night as the conversation ensues. You have Jesus talking on one level and the woman talking on a different level. And it takes a while before the woman catches up, so to speak, to where Christ is. And there is a lesson in that as well. Just like with Nicodemus, Jesus was talking about spiritual birth, Nicodemus thought it was about physical birth.  Samaritan Woman

Now that the woman has taken the bait, Jesus moves into the conversation.

John 4:10 (NKJV)

10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

After the woman’s rather disrespectful comment, I should add, Jesus responds by raising an entirely different topic, but one that uses the subject of water as a metaphor. Much like He did with Nicodemus and birth earlier. He says if this woman knew the gift of God and if she knew who she was speaking to, then she would have asked Jesus for living water. Living water is a Jewish euphemism that literally means flowing water. Flowing water is living in the sense that it is clean and it is generally safe to drink. As opposed to stagnant water. That’s the concept here. But the Bible uses that term on a spiritual level as well. Living water in the Bible is a metaphor for the life-giving power of the Spirit of God. One quick verse to give you that example.

Jeremiah 2:13 (NKJV)

13 “For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.

That entire passage is made in the context of spiritual things. So they have substituted the source of living water, the fountain of living water for false pagan religion in which He says are broken cisterns that hold no water. Physical water becoming a metaphor, a picture of what it means to get true eternal life from God. Just as fresh water is essential to sustaining our physical bodies, so is the Spirit essential to maintaining a spiritual life, eternally. So the Bible uses this idea of a never-ending supply of fresh water as a picture of the never-ending spiritual supply of life that comes from the Spirit of God dwelling in us.





“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”


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