In the first six verses of Chapter 4 of John’s Gospel, he gives the background and the setting for the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well.
John 4:1-6. “Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John [although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples], he left Judea and departed again to Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.”
The Pharisees suggested there was a rivalry between Jesus and John the Baptist to see who could win and baptize the most converts. They didn’t understand that both sought the same end. Jesus left Judea to avoid any opportunity for further misunderstanding.
Samaria lies between Judea and Galilee and Jesus chose that route to reach Galilee. Samaria is the section of the Holy Land that we know today as the West Bank.
Many of the Jews of that day would not set foot in Samaria. They would travel almost twice the distance on a more difficult desert road through Jericho to reach Jerusalem because of their prejudice against the Samaritan people. Jesus went by way of Samaria because God ordained in eternity past that He was to meet a woman there.
Jesus stopped at a historic spot in the Bible. Joseph's tomb is located about one-half mile west of the village of Sychar and Jacob's well is there near the foot of Mount Gerizim.
When the Israelites first entered the Promised Land, God commanded them to read the Law of Moses every year from the tops of Mount Gerizim on the east and Mount Ebal on the west. Mount Genzim was where the blessings of the Law were read. Mount Ebal was where the curses of the Law were read. The valley between leads up to the city of Samaria.
At about noon, Jesus sat beside Jacob’s Well to rest while the disciples went into the city to buy something to eat. He was tired and thirsty. This is further proof of our Lord's humanity.
Verses 7-10. “There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “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.”
Jesus ignored the traditional barriers. According to rabbinical law, a rabbi was never to talk to a woman in public -- not even their own wives or sisters. In fact the rabbinical law said, “It is better to burn the law than to give it to a woman.”
In that culture women were regarded as unable to understand theology. If this were true, it makes one wonder where Elizabeth found her words when she recognized Mary as the mother of her Lord. When they met, Mary was able to answer with beautiful words containing at least fifteen quotes from the Old Testament scriptures. Their meeting is recorded in Luke 1.
The Samaritans were a mixed race of Jews and people who Assyria had brought in to populate the area in 720 B C. Assyria had removed the educated and prosperous Jews, leaving only the lower class in the land. These immigrants then inter-married with the remaining Jews, forming the Samaritan race.
The Samaritans accepted only the five books of Moses. They erected a temple on Mount Gerizim and their worship was a mixture of idolatry and the Law of Moses. The Jews looked down on them and hated them even more than they did Gentiles.
No wonder this Samaritan woman was surprised when Jesus spoke to her. But notice how Jesus approached her. He knew she was a sinner and He knew what was in her heart. When He said, in Luke 5:32; “I did not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners,” He didn’t mention any exceptions.
The “living water,” “the gift of God,” is actually the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that enables one to understand and accept salvation. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter told over three thousand Jews to “Repent and be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” Acts 2:38.
The Jews knew that God had promised this gift to Abraham. It would be a blessing to him and make him a blessing to others. So Jesus is saying to this woman, “If you knew about the Holy Spirit and who it is that is talking to you, you would have asked him for this living water and he would have given it to you.” She was no different than the Jews in the temple in Jerusalem in the first chapter of John, or Nicodemus in chapter three. She misunderstood what He was saying just as they did. He spoke figuratively, but she took him literally.
Her reply was, Verses 11-12. “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water. Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle'?”
The Samaritans considered Jacob their ancestral father, even though they were only part Jewish.
Verses 13-14. Jesus explained to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
You might paraphrase it like this to make it a more clear explanation. “I’m not talking about the water in the well. Drink that water and you will thirst again. But I will give you living water, (the Holy Spirit) and the one who drinks of the water I give will never thirst.”
Every soul has an inner thirst, or desire, for spiritual rest. This desire for more than they had could be met instantly. Jesus made clear that it comes from within. “The water I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
That is the way of salvation today. The Spirit which He will impart to the believer in Christ is the living water that wells up to eternal life.
The qualities of love, joy, and peace come from knowing that you have eternal life. I like the description used here. It brings to mind a beautiful picture of a well of pure water in a dry desert, springing up to eternal life.
The woman was still confused, so she said, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” It is obvious she still does not understand. She is still thinking in physical terms and wants to know how she might obtain this Living Water.
She is still in the darkness that is common to the unsaved. When you read the next words of Jesus, it appear at first that He is changing the subject. However, His answer made the woman realize that she was a sinner and it opened the way to her confession to that affect. Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”
He didn’t say this to condemn her, He said it to help her face the problem of sin in her life. No one can be saved until they admit they are a sinner and need forgiveness for their sins.
Jesus knew she was seeking help. When He told her: “Go call your husband,” He knew she would have to admit that she presently had no husband. When He told her she has had five husbands and was living with another man without benefit of marriage, she realized that He must know more about her than that. What He knew for sure now was that there was a thirst in this woman's heart for something more, and He knew what is was.
Verse 19. “The woman said to Him, Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” Her response is very revealing: I believe this is an admission on her part that Jesus is right. It’s as if she said, “Sir, You know all about me.” “You know everything I have been and done.”
Verse 20. “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” She has confessed that she was a sinner and that finding God was the answer, and she wanted to clarify where the true God was found that could forgive her sins. Her answer was an honest plea for help. “Where do I go to get spiritual life? You Jews say that the only place for a person to offer the sacrifice that can cleanse my sin is in the temple in Jerusalem. Our people say it is here on this mountain. Where DO I find God?”
Verses 21-24. “Jesus said to her, Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The answer Jesus gives says, in effect, “You have been misled. The Jews know the proper place to worship and sacrifice because they are part of God's present plan. Where you worship is soon going to be entirely irrelevant. The hour is soon coming when geographic location will no longer be an issue. Temples or buildings will not be necessary to worship God. You can worship God anywhere in the world. God is going to, and now has, provided that your body is the temple of God and that is where He wants His worship to come from.”
Jesus knew that He was going to overthrow all the symbols of worship on earth by His death and resurrection. Animal sacrifices, temples, and geographical locations would no longer be significant. God wants our worship of Him to take place in our heart and our spirit wherever we are in this world.
Jesus was declaring that the time had come when God would put aside all earthly sanctuaries. God’s new plan of salvation would only come through the Jews. God is seeking the sinner, and the sinner can meet Him anywhere in the world if his heart is honest before Him and ready to confess his sin and guilt. Then the heart can be lifted up in worship of Him as Heavenly Father. Even today, the moment you confess your sins He forgives you, and you can worship Him, “for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” and “They that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
Verses 25-26 “The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When He comes, He will tell us all things. 26. Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He.”
While He was speaking she had been wondering if this strange man that she had never seen before could really be the promised Messiah. She had never heard a man speak like this. I’m sure she was seriously considering that this could be the Messiah.
Some day He is coming to earth again, and when He does He will make all the dark things light and the crooked things straight. “When He comes He will tell us all things.”
When Jesus said, in verse 26, “I that speak unto you am He,” she knew in her heart that she had found the Messiah.
What a wonderful time it is when a lost, guilty soul recognizes Jesus as the Christ of God that has sought their lost soul so diligently!
The effect of this conversation is told in the verses that follow.
Verses 27-30. “Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ? They went out of the city and were coming to him.”
The woman returned immediately to the city with her testimony and she actually became an evangelist and the people responded in great numbers.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit, working through this believing woman. Her words had unusual power on the crowd and they responded by coming to Jesus. I doubt if she was high on the list of friends to many of them, but they listened to her now because the Holy Spirit was working in her. Like any normal woman, she just had to tell what happened to her.
The disciples also learned some new and valuable lessons from this episode.
John 4:31-34. “In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." 32. But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know." 33. Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?" 34. Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”
Jesus was teaching them that there is deep satisfaction in obedience to God and it is just like eating food. It can fill you up; make you feel satisfied and ministered to.
Then Jesus used an example of the grain harvest to teach the disciples about spiritual harvest.
John 4:35-38. “ Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36. And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37. For in this the saying is true: 'One sows and another reaps.' 38. I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”
Jesus drew a contrast to nature where four months elapse between sowing and harvesting, but with the things of God you can have a harvest almost instantly.
In this encounter, Jesus and the woman labored together to harvest many souls for God. He taught the woman the way of salvation and she went out and spread the good news to the city. But the disciples, as was their custom, (verse 2) did the baptizing so they, too, were a part of this harvest.
As true Christians, all of us are involved in this. Some sow, others reap, but we all labor together with God and we can all rejoice together when a soul gets saved.
Is there anything more thrilling to the believer than to hear of a loved one who has accepted Christ as their Savior?
There is a wonderful lesson on the processes of spiritual growth for the believer here.
Many come to Christ by hearing and seeing the testimony of someone they know. John pictures this in his account of the Samaritans as they believe the woman’s testimony and then that of Jesus.
John 4:39-42. “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40. So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41. And many more believed because of His own word. 42. Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”
When people see what God has done in another man or woman's life, they are affected by it and many times get saved. But that is not the end of Christian growth. There is a new level of personal experience when you come to Christ. It commissions you, in fact it obligates you, to tell, and I might add, to show by your life, the way of salvation.
Salvation is contagious. When you get saved, others see the change in you and want to be saved, too. I know. I got saved over sixty one years ago during two weeks of nightly gospel messages preached in a small church. There were also ten or twelve others who got saved through those same services.
Jesus’ preaching did better than that. After two days, a whole city of outcast Samaritans were believing and responding. Jesus had not experienced this among the Jews. At first, the Samaritans believed that He was the Messiah come to do His political work. But they soon realized and believed that He was their “Savior of the world.”
These people in Sychar were discovering the fountain of water springing up in their own hearts -- the forgiveness of God, the peace and joy of God’s love within. They said “We don't need her testimony now that it has happened to us.”
Lord, we thank you that you have revealed to us, just as you did to that woman of old, that you are the Savior of sinners who trust in You.
We ask that You will teach us to drink frequently of the living water from the well that never will run dry. Keep us from the empty cisterns of the world around us. Help us to live faithfully for the One who gives us that living water daily, the Savior of the world. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.