SESSION SIX: JESUS TALKS TO A SAMARITAN WOMAN (JOHN 4:1-42)
INTRO: When you were growing up, who were the people you were told to avoid? What part of the city or country would you be warned about? What would have happened if you had gone there?
- What is significant about this story taking place in Samaria?
- Since "nice girls" did not come to draw water at noontime ("sixth hour"), why do you think Jesus risked his reputation to ask a favor of this woman?
- In the woman's reply to Jesus, what is she really saying? How is she like Nicodemus (John 3:1-21)?
- Why does Jesus change the topic of conversation so abruptly to her personal life (vv. 16-18)? Why do you think the woman change the conversation to focus on a religious controversy?
- Is there anything significant in the fact that Jesus chose a Samaritan woman as the first person to reveal His true Messianic identity?
- Why were the disciples surprised to find Jesus with this woman?
- Given the social barriers between Jews and Samaritans, what do verses 4--42 teach you about Jesus?
- What social, ethnic or religious barriers have you overcome in Jesus' name?
- What aspects of Jesus' conversation could you use as a model for your own discussions with searching friends?
- Consider your interest in "spiritual things," are you more like the woman or the disciples? Why?
- What do you learn from the woman about telling others about Jesus? From the parable (vv. 35-38)?
TAKEAWAY: What is your greatest takeaway from this passage? What specific life changes do you need to make? How will you hold yourself accountable?
COMMENTARY: JESUS MEETS WITH SAMARITAN WOMAN (JOHN 4:1-42)
In John 4, Jesus and his disciples head north, back to Galilee. But instead of taking the traditional route around Samaria, they go into the heart of it. Jesus comes to a famous well outside of Sychar. He's tired, hungry...and thirsty. His disciples were on a food run. Jesus is alone when a Samaritan woman approaches to draw water. It's noon time. And Jesus breaks several social rules...
THE WOMAN WAS A SAMARITAN
In 720 BC Assyria invaded Samaria and enslaved the “best” to Media (2 Kings 17:6). They then repopulated Samaria with people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath and Sepharvaim (2 Kings 17:24). The Jews not removed to Media eventually intermarried and created a mongrel race (an unforgivable crime to loyal Jews). Samaritans were racially impure. Even to this day, in a strict Jewish house, if a Jew marries a Gentile they hold a funeral service. Samaritans lost their right to be called Jews. In 586 BC a similar invasion happened to the southern kingdom when the Babylonians invaded. But Southern Jews didn’t lose their identity. They didn’t remarry. When Nehemiah and Ezra rebuilt Jerusalem, Samaritans offered to help and were turned away. Ezra even excludes them from participating in temple rituals. Samaritans were despised for giving in and giving up.
About 400 years before Jesus, a renegade Jew named Manasseh married a daughter of a Samaritan, named Sanballat (Nehemiah 13:28). Manasseh and the Samaritans built their own rival temple on Mt. Gerizim (the location of Jacob’s well). It created a religious controversy about WHERE to worship. In 129 BC the Samaritan temple was destroyed by John Hyrcanus, a Jewish general. This deepened the hatred between the two cultures. The Jewish rabbis said: “Let no man eat of the bread of the Samaritans, for he who easts their bread is as he who eats swine flesh.” A Jew wouldn’t even use the utensils of a Samaritan. But, honestly, Samaritans hated the Jews too. Rabbi Jochanan once passed through Samaria, on his way to Jerusalem to pray, when a Samaritan stopped him and asked, “Where are you going?” “I’m going to Jerusalem to pray,” Jochanan replied. The Samaritan harshly retorted: “Wouldn’t it be better for you to pray in this holy mountain than in that accursed house?” Samaritans also harassed and hindered Jews passing through the area, perhaps one of the main reasons they went around the area.
Another point of contention is how this Samaritan woman spoke of “Father Jacob.” This term was despised by the Jews. Jacob was not their “father" but rather Abraham. Samaritans also claimed to be direct descendants of Joseph via Ephraim and Manasseh.
THE SAMARITAN WAS A WOMAN
The racial difference was the first problem, but Jesus faced a second issue. He was openly engaging a woman. The strict rabbis forbade another rabbi to talk to any woman in public, including his own wife, daughter or sister. There were Pharisees known as the “bruised and bleeding” Pharisees because they closed their eyes when they saw a woman in public, often bumping into walls and tripping. Technically, Jesus talking to a woman in public was enough to lose his rabbinical credentials! The fact Jesus is alone with a woman at a public well is a huge risk. It likely was a point of conversation later with the disciples, especially those who held to more conservative views about their rabbi Jesus.
THE SAMARITAN WAS A SOCIAL OUTCAST
She's a Samaritan. Strike one. She's a woman. Strike two. And now we learn she's also a social outcast. This Samaritan woman arrives at the well during the sixth hour (noon). It's the heat of the day and very hot. The fact she's coming alone is unusual and indicative of her social standing. Most women traveled in packs to the well. It was a daily social moment to draw water, share news and get to know one another. Most women did their water draws in the early morning or late evening, just prior to sundown. This Samaritan woman isn't even drawing from the closest well (which would've been in the town of Sychar). She's clearly a social outcast...and Jesus soon points out why.
This particular woman has had five husbands...and is currently living with number six. There's no sign that any of these former relationships are divorces (although many assume that fact). These former husbands could have died too. The average lifespan of a man in the first century was between 35 and 40 years of age. There's also no indication she's married to the man she's currently seeing(which would've been a major social faux paux for both him and her). This suggests it's a secret relationship that perhaps even the town people are unaware of. Maybe that's why she avoids the pack of women at the well in town. She doesn't want to deal with their questions, let alone their scorn.
Why would the other town women be scornful. Well, consider the math! Sychar is a town of about 200 people. Let's assume that half of the population is men (although its likely more 60-40 women, who had longer life spans). Its safe to assume of the 100 men that most (70%?) were either too young to marry or already married. This leaves around 30 eligible bachelors for the girls...and this Samaritan woman had already devoured FIVE of them...and working on number SIX. Perhaps the single women and widows were jealous. Perhaps they were fearful she might engage their husband. Perhaps they felt she had married enough for one lifetime. Perhaps they joked about her being a "black widow" (killing off her husbands). Or, if these were divorces, it's not hard to see how that would create a terrible reputation for her. The fact Jesus engages her, knowing her past and present situation, is very risky. Strike three!
Which produces an interesting contrast to consider. In John 3, we meet Nicodemus. He's a man, a Jew, and a ruler. He's learned, powerful, and respected. He's orthodox and theologically-trained. And he comes to Jesus at night. Then in John 4, we meet this anonymous person. She's a woman, a Samaritan and an outcast. She's unskilled, lacking influence and despised. She's a moral outcast. But she's not theologically ignorant. She knows her stuff (like Nicodemus). And Jesus comes to her at day.
THE LIVING WATER
And yet, both Nicodemus and this Samaritan woman, both thirst for the same thing: LIVING WATER. Living water to a Jew was running water. Ironically, Jacob’s well was not a conventional well with a spring, but a “percolating” well where water continually fed it from the subsoil. Running or “stream” water was always better than well water.
When Jesus mentions "living water," she's likely thinking Jesus knows where there’s a better source of “running” (LIVING) water in her neck of the woods. She knows that Jacob dug this well with his own hand so, in a sense, she sees Jesus as saying he’s wiser and more powerful than Jacob.
Most people on a journey (like Jesus and his disciples) carried a bucket made of the skin of some beast in order to draw water from wells they encountered along the way. Perhaps the disciples took their skins to town? She notes that Jesus has no traveler’s bucket to draw water.
It's also important to note that both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman misunderstood the metaphors of "birth" and "living water." On this latter image, there are a few conclusions that we can draw:
- LIVING WATER IS FOR EVERYONE. This new "wine" that Jesus has brewed isn't just for disciples' weddings. It's also for the religious elite (like Nicodemus) as well as the mongrel woman outcast (like this Samaritan woman). It will be for both Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman (Galatians 3:28)." In Christ, there is a new KINGDOM brewing--with Living Water that tastes better than the finest wedding wine--and no one is barred from table.
- LIVING WATER SATISFIES COMPLETELY: Jesus told the woman, "…if you drink of this water you’ll never thirst (4:14).” The Jews had another way of using “water” and often spoke of the soul as being thirsty for God and how God would quench that thirst with “living water.” Revelation 21:6: “to the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life.” Sometimes rabbis identified this living water with the wisdom of the law and sometimes with the Holy Spirit.
- LIVING WATER IS A GIFT: Jesus told the woman, "if you knew the gift of God (4:10)." The Samaritans only accepted the Torah. Their idea of the Messiah is that he will be the “gift of God.” Jesus talked to her in terms she knew. He was at Jacob’s well. Jesus said if you knew WHO...and she barks back (loosely translated): "Are you greater than the guy who dug this ancient well?"
- LIVING WATER IS THE MESSIAH: Jesus tells the woman, "I am better than Jacob (John 4:13-14)!" Jesus made a clear Messianic claim! According to Isaiah 49:10, in the age of the Messiah, “they shall not hunger or thirst.” When Jesus says HE is the water for which she quenches he’s basically stating he’s the Messiah.
Jesus offered her eternal life and she’s thinking indoor plumbing. Jesus needed to persuade her so he revealed his ability to know WHO she is. She’s embarrassed and tried to change the subject. She tried to argue and quickly learned it’s not about which mountain or which church you go to. The point isn't about winning arguments, but introducing people to Jesus. It’s not about a place of worship but the point of worship. God wants us to worship in spirit and truth. It’s about WHO we worship.
The woman was involved in a “false worship” and there are three faults to false worship (Barclay):
1. A false worship is a selective worship. It chooses what it wants to believe.
2. A false worship is an ignorant worship. It doesn't know WHY a person believes, only just that he/she does.
3. A false worship is a superstitious worship. We do it to avoid bigger problems.
The woman senses Jesus is a prophet. Duh. Jesus fulfilled several Messianic predictions about “living water”:
• “For with you is the fountain of life” (Ps. 36:9)
• “For my people…have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters” (Jer 2:13)
• “On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem” (Zech 14:8)
• “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa 12:3)
• “For I will pour water on the thirsty land…I will put my Spirit on your offspring” (Isa 44:3)
• “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (Is 55:1)
Samaritans wouldn’t have known these passages (because they're outside the Torah), but John’s readers would have understood them! But Jesus knows this woman is looking for spiritual insight. He used his own code words with her. After all, there is a Samaritan messianic prophesy about the “Teacher” that stated when the “teacher comes that water would flow from his buckets.”
- LIVING WATER IS FOUND IN JESUS (John 4:25-26) This Samaritan woman informed Jesus of her idea of the Messiah. That's when Jesus, for the first time, revealed that he was the Messiah. But he used a unique phrase: “ego eimi” (I Am the I Am). The most off-used for God is I AM (7265 times)! Moses learned that Name at the burning bush. A good Jew wouldn’t mention the Name of God so they inserted the word “Yahweh” or Lord instead of the unpronounceable name for God (I AM). In the Septuagint it's translated into Greek as “ego eimi”: I AM THE I AM. Jesus is quoting the Septuagint to this woman! And this "I AM THE I AM" phrase is popular in John's gospel:
• I AM the bread of life (6:35)
• I AM the light of the world (8:12)
• I AM the door of the sheep (10:7)
• I AM the good shepherd (10:14)
• I AM the resurrection and the life (11:25)
• I AM the way, the truth and the life (14:6)
• Before Abraham was, “I AM” (8:58)
There are over 30 “I AM” statements in John. It’s no wonder the Jews who didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah tried to kill him! He wasn’t just saying he was like God but that he was GOD. I AM THE I AM. But John is making that case throughout his gospel. John 1:1 launches this theological concept: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word WAS God."
There's one final insight to share about this story. John records the woman left her water pot and headed back to Sychar (v. 28). Suddenly she's no longer fearful of what the town thinks about her. All she wants to do is talk about HIM. She's got news...and it's not about another engagement, but rather her meeting with the Messiah. Her message is simply, "Come and see." And John records that many Samaritans did "come and see" Jesus...and many believed in him too (John 4:39-41).
It's an amazing story...about an outcast Samaritan woman looking for water. In the end, she drinks deep of the Messiah's wine and becomes his first missionary evangelist. Jesus will move on, but his message will continue to percolate--like Jacob's well--in the tiny town of Sychar.
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Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.