John 4:1-30-When Jesus became aware that word had gotten to the Pharisees that He was baptizing more disciples than John the Baptist, He took His disciples and left Judea, heading north for Galilee (further from Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish religion)…in order to avoid unnecessary conflict with the Pharisees at this early stage of His ministry. Typically, a Jew would not take the direct route that passed through Samaria. Instead, he would cross over the Jordan River and travel along its eastern bank in order to keep from having any contact or interaction with the Samaritans.
Why was there such animosity between Jews and Samaritans?
In 722 B.C. Assyria conquered Israel and took most of its people into captivity. The invaders then brought in Gentile colonists “from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim” (2 Kin. 17:24) to resettle the land. The foreigners brought with them their pagan idols, which the remaining Jews began to worship alongside the God of Israel (2 Kin. 17:29-41). Intermarriages also took place (Ezra 9:1-10:44;Neh. 13:23-28 ).
Meanwhile, the southern kingdom of Judah fell to Babylon in 600 B.C. Its people, too, were carried off into captivity. But 70 years later, a remnant of 43,000 was permitted to return and rebuild Jerusalem. The people who now inhabited the former northern kingdom—the Samaritans—vigorously opposed the repatriation and tried to undermine the attempt to reestablish the nation. For their part, the full-blooded, monotheistic Jews detested the mixed marriages and worship of their northern cousins. So walls of bitterness were erected on both sides and did nothing but harden for the next 550 years.
The relation between Jew and Samaritan was one of hostility. The expulsion of Manasseh by Nehemiah for an unlawful marriage, and his building of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim by permission of Darius Nothus, took place about 409 BC. The inhospitality (Luke 9:52, 53) and hostility of the Samaritans induced many pilgrims from the north to Jerusalem to go on the east of the Jordan . . . The Jews repaid hate with hate. They cast suspicion on the Samaritan copy of the law, and disallowed the steadfast claim of the Samaritans to Jewish birth (John 4:12). Social and commercial relations, though they could not be broken off (4:8), were reduced to the lowest possible figure (959).
However, Jesus chooses to take the shortest route straight through Samaria. Around noon-time, they arrive at Sychar, the Samaritan village where Jacob’s well is located. It had been a long, hot walk. Jesus was tired, so he sat down next to the well. He sent the disciples into the village to get food. A short time later, a Samaritan woman approaches the well to draw water. It would be unusual for her to come to the well in the heat of the day…but on this day she is in line for a divine encounter. Jesus asks her for a drink. She is surprised that a Jewish man would dare to ask a Samaritan woman for a drink…and her response is gruff. Jesus is aware of this woman’s situation in life…of her disappointments and dissatisfaction. Instead of being offended by her abrupt rebuke…He tells her that if she knew Who she was talking with she would have been as quick to speak with Him about spiritual matters as He had been willing to speak with her about physical matters. She is still somewhat wary of this Jew…but the reality of the thirst in her life causes her to be intrigued. Initially, she doesn’t make the connection that Jesus is speaking of…she is still thinking only of the physical water in Jacob’s well. But there is something stirring in her heart. Jesus is patient. The woman refers to her religious heritage…and the greatness of their forefathers to provide them with answers to spiritual matters. Basically, Jesus’ response is, “How’s that working out for you? Has it satisfied the thirsting of your soul? Or, do you find yourself doing the same thing over and over, but not finding the peace and satisfaction that you long for?” He then tells her that while the water drawn from her religion doesn’t satisfy…the water that He offers (the spiritual life He offers) will last forever, she will never thirst again because it is a well that springs from the inner spirit (something that is produced in her), and not from external works (something that she has to produce). At her well (the religion of the Samaritans) she had to constantly return and draw the water with her own bucket. At the well that Jesus is speaking of…it was a spring that produced the water, itself. This thought captivates the imagination of the woman and she asks Jesus to give her this kind of water. Now Jesus directs her attention directly to the situation of her life. This would be no mere metaphorical discussion about water and wells. Jesus was going to show this woman that the living water that He speaks of will have a profound impact on her life. He is fully aware of her marital status and tells her to go get her husband. There are two matters of consideration here. First, Jesus is accommodating Himself to the customs of His day. He is acknowledging the responsibility of the husband to be the spiritual leader in the home. So, He tells the woman that she should bring her husband to Him so that He will be aware and involved in this spiritual encounter. But second, Jesus knows the history of her marriages and failures. This was not just going to be an application of a topical spiritual ointment…this was going to be a radical surgery of the soul that would affect everything about her. It was here…at this pivotal place in her life, her relentless, futile pursuit of happiness through relationships with men…that Jesus would begin to operate. She must understand that He is not just offering her positive advice…like some first-century motivational speaker. But, His words were the very words of God, Himself. So, He arranges their discussion to lead to a clear revelation of His authority. She is deceptive in her response. Instead of disclosing that she has been married and divorced multiple times…she simply says that she is not married, at all. While accurate, it was not truthful. Jesus then tells her what she had not been willing to reveal to Him. “You’ve been married five times and you are currently living in an adulterous relationship. So, at least hypothetically, you were correct in what you told me” (:18). She was caught. She must have thought, “How does He know? What else does He know?” This was an eye-opening moment for her and she was beginning to become aware that Jesus was no ordinary man, but a prophet. However, this talk about her was too sensitive, too close to home. It was much safer and less threatening when they were talking about wells and water. Now, they were talking about the most intimate, private (and “not for public knowledge”) corners of her life. She tries to divert the discussion by returning to talk about religion…instead of relationships. Jesus doesn’t take the bait. She has tried to get Him sidetracked in a discussion about where to worship…”this mountain” (Mt. Garizim, where the Samaritans had built their own temple), or in Jerusalem (where the Jewish Temple was located). But Jesus returns to their original discussion about how to worship. He tells her that it is not a matter of where you worship, but how you worship that matters. Worship, wherever it takes place, must be done “in spirit and truth” (:23). To worship in “spirit” identifies that it is not just a matter of external acts…going through the motions, performing certain rites, repeating prescribed prayers, etc. Worship is an internal communion of man’s spirit with God’s Spirit. The external behaviors are physical expressions of the spiritual relationship. To worship in “truth” tells us that worship is not to be devised by us, but by God. God has made Himself known, He has revealed Himself, and He will not accept worship under any other guise, or name. Jesus has already made it clear that the one true God is the God who has revealed Himself through the Jews (:22). The woman says that when the Messiah comes He will clear everything up (concerning God and how to worship Him). Jesus tells her that He is the Messiah. About that time the disciples return. They are surprised that He is talking to a woman, a Samaritan woman, on top of that! The woman goes into the city and tells the people that she may have found the Messiah. The people come out to meet Him.
Prayer: Lord, help me to worship You in spirit and in truth. In spirit…not in a place, since You, being Spirit, are not relegated to any one place. And in truth…in the one way that You will be worshipped…not in the way that we may devise or choose…but in the way that You have revealed.