One New Woman at the Well
by Lonnie Lane
If there was ever a one new (wo)man story, it’s the one about the Samaritan lady at the well. What a picture of a non-Jew whose life was radically changed when she met the Messiah of the Jews. Most think of her as a Gentile. Actually, she was a Jew, just of mixed descent. She’s got Assyrian blood in her veins. That’s because when the northern tribes were captured by Assyria in 721 BC and deported to Babylon by Sargon (2 Kings 17:24) once there they intermarried with the Assyrians. Then in 677 BC, Esarhaddon, then king of Assyria, brought them from Babylon and elsewhere and settled them in Samaria with the hope of economic advantage to himself. Once in the land they appear to have abandoned any pagan ways and adopted the Hebrew ways that their past Hebrew generations lived before the deportation to Babylon. However, they were not accepted by the Judean’s because of their mixed blood and were not allowed to participate in the rebuilding of the temple. So they their own rival temple on Mt. Gerizim, a place once the location from which blessings were once declared for Israel upon entering the land (Joshua 8:30-35). Many other things took place in the area of Biblical significance, some good, some truly ungodly, which would provide enough reason “for Jews (to) have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9b).
There are actually about 160 Samaritans still in existence today living just outside of Shechem in Israel. They are known as the smallest and oldest religious group in the world. The Samaritans were, and still are, Torah followers. As they do not accept the prophets, they believe there is only one prophet Moses, one Torah, one Messiah, one judgment, and one heaven. They think of themselves as true Jews since they only follow Moses and nothing rabbinic.
When Yeshua sat Himself down by the well needing a drink, it wasn’t just a coincidence that He happened to be in Samaria just then. Since He never did anything except what His Father showed Him to do, this may be why Scripture says, “He had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4, emphasis added). He could have skirted around Samaria, as most Jews would have done, though it’s kind of a straight line more or less from Jerusalem to Galilee. He went there or purpose. And He seems to be waiting for her when she arrives, having sent the guys into town for food, to get them out of the way. At least that’s how I see it.
When she arrives, it’s about noon. It’s hot. No wonder He needs a drink, one which it doesn’t say He ever actually got, by the way. She’s coming when others don’t come too hot. Women came to draw water earlier in the day before the sun was high in the sky. How come she comes then? If you know the story, you know this poor lady has a reputation in the church for not being someone the other ladies in town want to be seen with. But here she is and now she’s somewhat amazed that this Jewish man is asking her, a Samaritan, for a drink, which means He has to drink out of her watering cup or vessel. That’s a social no-no, for sure. She questions Him: “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (4:9). It’s obvious He’s a Jew because He looks like a Jew, He dresses like a Jew, and He talks like a Jew, or at least a Galilean. (Ever think of Yeshua with a dialect before?)
His answer gets immediately to the point of why He’s there Doesn’t He always? “If you know 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” (:10). He takes the focus off of Himself and puts it on God, again as He always does. Though He is God, He’s talking to her as a man, not as God. He is the Gift of the Father! And He’s making her an offer: If you only knew, you would ask. Ask, He says. But He’s talking about heavenly things and she only sees earthly issues, at least so far. She doesn’t understand how He can be giving her any water when He doesn’t have anything to draw the water with. And the well is deep. So where, she now wants to know, will He get that living water?
Since He mentioned God she assumes it has to have something to do with the patriarchs. They were the ones after all who had direct contact with God, right? Now we see how she sees herself and her people as Jews because they get their water from the very well from which Jacob drank, and his sons, and even his livestock. Wells are of primary significance to these ancient people. This well and its water is a life-line to them. Without it there is no life. So she can relate in that sense to the need for continually flowing water. That she drinks from Jacob’s well identifies her with Jacob and makes her one with him and God’s promise to him. Her Jewishness, or what she sees as her connection to being a Jew, is not without identification with this well of Jacob’s. This well and its water of are physical and spiritual significance to her.
Yeshua ignores her boasting, or was it her questioning, about the well being Jacob’s and tells her “Every one who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (:13-14). She responds just like we do so often when God is trying to get something spiritual across to us. She wants what’s in it for her. “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty or come all the way here to draw” (:15). She doesn’t want to have to shlep the water in the heat of the day anymore. This man is proposing a way out and she wants it. She misses the “eternal life” part and only hears what she believes will benefit her.
His response is like an arrow thwack! It hits the mark in her heart with His next words: “Go, call your husband and come here” (:16). What else could she say? She tells Him she has no husband and He responds with a word of knowledge. “You have well said, I have no husband, for you have had five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly” (:17) Was she shocked? Did she consider trying to hide it, or justify herself? Did it bring pain to her heart? Was she ashamed, or confused by Him knowing the events that defined her life? When I try and peer into this scenario, I perceive that she had looked into His eyes and heard His tender tone of voice, deciding there was something about Him that told her she could trust this man. He isn’t condemning her for the five husbands, He’s commending her for telling Him the truth that she has no husband, even though it was only part of the story. Grace! Grace! Grace!
Single women in those days hardly ever lived alone, but with family, say a brother or an uncle (for instance, Esther living with Uncle Mordecai). She does have a man now, but clearly not her husband or family. But if Yeshua was compassionate toward her, shouldn’t we be? Perhaps she was a lovely and wonderful woman, but it seemed as if there was a curse upon her so she goes for water alone in the heat of the day. Perhaps it’s just easier that way. Maybe the man she now lives with has his own story and they found solace and comfort in each other. Perhaps even they are up in years and she’s no floozy, but a broken hearted woman, wondering where God is and how to get to Him.
Now with this Man before her, something of more importance than her life and her five husbands rises to the surface. She’s just heard truth from a man who knew nothing about her moments before. He doesn’t know her, yet He knows about her! How? She has to know. “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet” (:19). Now that may sound like a “duh!” statement to us, but remember that the Samaritans only believed in one prophet, Moses. Yet her spirit bears witness that this man is a prophet. And if she’s got a prophet there before her, she’s got some questions she’s been wanting answers to for a long time.
So she takes the risk and says to Yeshua, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain and you people (meaning the Jews) say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:20). What she’s been secretly wondering is if her people have it right. Are they really worshipping where their temple is supposed to be? Could she be worshipping wrong and that’s why all the troubles have come upon her? He replies, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (:21-24).
Wow, what a statement. He has exceeded her expectations of an answer. And He has relieved her fears that she is worshipping in the wrong place, even if He did tell her that salvation comes from the Jews of which she’s not a part. [Actually He could have been speaking about Himself: He is from the Jews and He is salvation; His very name means salvation. But that would have been abstract to her.] Worship, which is obviously on her mind, is not about a location, He tells her. Something is changing “and now is” that worship happens in a person’s innermost being, in his or her spirit, as they connect with God who IS spirit. It’s not about what takes place outwardly, but inwardly. Her experience has been that the closest she can come to God is drinking where Jacob and his camels drank, but this Man is saying God can be even Father to her. What the Father is looking for Could God be looking even for her? is worshippers in the spirit who come to Him in truth. Didn’t this Man just speak truth to her about her own life? As she owns up to this, could she too come to God to worship Him in spirit and in truth?
Something definitely unlike what she’s known before is happening here. Who could know such things, she wonders. How could He possibly know what the Father wants? How can He speak for the Father as if He knows Him? One thing is for sure: This Man is not like anyone she’s ever known before. She is stunned. Could it be? Could He possibly be….? He has just told her more about God than any other person she’s ever known. He seems to know everything! She must put the thoughts in her head before Him. She takes another risk. “I know that Messiah is coming; when that Onecomes, He will declare all things to us.” Whether He answered her immediately or took a moment, I can image her heart was beating as she held her breath, waiting for His response. “Jesus said to her, 'I who speak to you am He.” (:25, 26).
I think I just heard her gasp as she said to herself, “It’s Him! It’s really Him!!” But before she can respond, the disciples are back with lunch. Their expressions of surprise that He’s talking with her cause her to want to vamoose. She leaves her big water pot and leaves quickly. Immediately she goes into the city. Mind you, this isn’t a very big city. More like a village because she appears to know everyone in town. At least the men. OK, so maybe there’s a reason she only goes to the men. I’m not speculating. She tells them, "Come, see a man who told me all the things I have done; this is not the Messiah, is it?” (:29). Now, if perhaps she’s been naughty and it was with (some of) the men, and she’s met a man who seems to know everything she’s done, they better go check this out. On the other hand, she may need to have the men of the community verify what she’s suspecting here. The Samaritans have been known to be Torah-observant folks, keeping the rules, attempting to live righteously. I’m going with that about her. If this is really the Messiah, and He’s come to the Samaritans, they need to know Him. For all we know, she could have found all the men studying Torah and gone to them. I’m inclined to think that she actually had the respect of the town’s men and they believed her enough to go and check this out.
Meanwhile, back at the well, if the guys are wondering what Yeshua was doing talking to the Samaritan lady, they’re not saying so. Instead they say to Him what always seems to me to be the most Jewish sentence in the Bible: “Rabbi, eat” (:31). But then I can just picture Him jubilantly spinning around, arms reaching out at His sides (like they would much later, but in joy now), his cloak floating up and twirling in the air around Him as He almost sings, “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (:32) What food? the disciples wonder. “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” (:33). Yeshua tells them something that gives us great insight into His motives, heart, thoughts, desires, intentions, priorities….. “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (:34)
Just then, coming across the fields to them, are the approaching town’s folk. While they’re on their way, Yeshua tells the disciples, “…Look, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest…” There is about to be a harvest of souls and their heading toward them through the field. What He says next is basically, You didn’t sow for what is about to happen, but you get to “reap that for which you have not labored” (:38). They are about to experience a mass salvation harvest but the disciples don’t know that yet. The people arrive and they begin to talk. Unlike the reception in His own home town where people were unable to see Him other than how they knew Him growing up, as Joseph’s son, they ask Him to stay with them, which He does, for two whole days. That’s a long time, with a lot of teaching going on. What happened? “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me al the things I have done.’” And many more (than she originally told) believed because of His words and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (:39-43).
The Savior of the world!! Not just Israel, but the world. They got it. This is fairly early on in His ministry. It must have been very encouraging to Him that there was a whole town of folks who welcomed Him and got it! They understood that He came to save the world. How does He save the world? One person at a time. One sinner at a time. One needy person at a time. She came for well water and got her living water. She set down her water pot and turned into an evangelist the moment she realized who He actually was. She brought them to Him so they could hear Him for themselves. We can lead people to Him, but each one must come to the place of saying to us, “It isn’t because of what you told me, because of your testimony or experience with Him, but because I’ve had my own encounter with Him. I’ve heard Him for myself and my heart has responded to His Words so that I now know for myself that He is the savior of the world.” We lead them to Him, but He must make Himself real to them. The wonderful thing is, HE DOES!!
So what’s the moral of this wonderful story? We can identify with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we can look to see how we can identify with the patriarchs and drink from the well of “Jewish roots,” but without coming to intimately know Yeshua personally, without sitting and listening to Him speak to us, without interaction with Him, we will have no living water bubbling up from our inner most being into wells of eternal life. Without Yeshua being central and supreme in our lives, without His Words being our central focus and our lives being “hidden with Messiah in God” (Col 3:3), we will thirst again. Only He can give us the living water so that we will never thirst again.
This does makes me wonder, though. Don’t we think it’s a good thing to be more thirsty for God? To want more of Him than we have? Don’t we even sing about being thirsty: “As a deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God” (Psalm 41:1) My Bible has a subtitle for that Psalm, which was written by the sons of Korah. It says, “Thirsting for God in Trouble and Exile.” So it was written when the writer was in crisis. I wonder if David would have written that, at least when he was close to God. Yes, of course, it’s right and godly to want more of God than we have. There is so much more of Him to be had always. But could we have misunderstood that this is not what Yeshua intends for us, to be always thirsting? Would He rather have us so filled up with Him and His Spirit that we are overflowing all over others we come in contact with daily?
Could thirsty be the state of a backslidden church that isn’t sufficiently filled with His Spirit? Didn’t He intend for it to be impossible to hold it in so that we would leak Jesus all over everyone we come in contact with? Do you think the folks in the early church were thirsty? Seems to me, if “the Lord was adding daily to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47; 5:14) they were being attracted by those for whom it could be said as Yeshua prophesied, “out of their innermost being flowed rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38). The lady at the well left her water pot, no longer concerned with getting water from the well, because she was now overflowing with eternal living water.
Lord, make us like the lady at the well!
Reprints of this article is permitted but must include: Reprinted by permission of Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2008
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.