The story of the woman at the well is simple and a quick read yet it is impactful and serves as an important reminder for all of us to this day.
We know three things about the woman at the well: she was a female Samaritan and had five husbands. Yet as we delve deeper into her encounter with Jesus, we learn that she was part of the lowest class of society; she was an outcast. Her encounter with Jesus was short, yet it left a significant impact in her life that her testimony allowed other people in her town to know more about the Messiah. Let’s learn more about the woman at the well and why her story is worth looking into.
Who was the Woman at the Well?
The encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well is among the most frequently taught Bible stories. Though there was no mention of her name, we know from the story that she was a female and a Samaritan. We also know from Scripture that Samaritans and Jews do not mix well together. One last piece of information about the Samaritan woman is that she had five husbands, and the one she was currently with wasn’t her husband.
Why was the Woman at the Well?
Based on cultural and historical traditions and accounts of the past, women customarily fetch water in groups in the morning. However, the Samaritan woman was gathering water at noon. Most women avoided collecting water at this hour because it was the hottest hour of the day; instead, they would go to the well in the morning or at night. Since the Samaritan woman was drawing water from the well at noon, it tells us that she was a social outcast.
Later in the story, we find out why she was an outcast. The Samaritan woman had been married five times and was living with a man that wasn’t her husband. This was an unrepentant sin which explains why she chooses to avoid people due to her shame.
Summary of the Woman at the Well
The story began when Jesus and His disciples traveled from Jerusalem by taking the quickest route through Samaria. After traveling all day, with the sun at its peak, Jesus sat by Jacob’s well while His disciples went to buy food. It was surprising, however, when a Samaritan woman came to the well at this inconvenient time to draw water.
The woman at the well asks Jesus about the living water
Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink to which the woman responds with: how can you ask me for a drink? Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it, as did his sons and his livestock? All these questions sound hostile yet curious still, which was understandable when she didn’t know who Jesus was.
As the Samaritan woman drew water from the well, Jesus asked her for a drink. The woman answers by telling Jesus how He could ask her for such a thing when He was a Jew, and she was a Samaritan. Jesus then retaliates with John 4:10, but the Samaritan woman points out that Jesus had no cup to gather water with. She then proceeds to ask about the so-called living water that Jesus speaks of and if it was more significant than the water from the well Jacob drank from.
Jesus interacts with the woman at the well
However, Jesus remained earnest and continued to elaborate on what the living water could offer the Samaritan woman and encouraged her to inquire Him about it. During this time, Jesus slowly shifts the conversation into the next phase, where He tells the woman that He had what she needed and knew things about her.
Now that Jesus had her attention and curiosity, Jesus revealed Himself as a prophet. The Samaritan woman then begins recounting religious matters where Jews believe they must go to Jerusalem to worship. Jesus then tells her that a time will come when we will no longer need to go to the mountain or Jerusalem to worship the Father (John 4:21). Where true worshippers of the Father can come in Spirit and truth, regardless of whether they are Jew or Gentile (John 4:23).
What happened after their talk?
After their talk, the Samaritan woman became a way for others to know about Jesus. The other Samaritans became intrigued by who Jesus was that they approached Him and Jesus stayed in their town for two days just talking with them. Because of the Samaritan woman’s testimony, she helped others find salvation in Jesus Christ.
When the disciples returned, they were surprised to see Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman, yet they said nor asked Him anything. The woman then left the well and returned to her town, where she told the people about her encounter with Jesus the Messiah.
How is Jesus revealed in this story?
Jesus tried to reveal Himself three times in this story. The first time, He referred to Himself as the Living Water. When Jesus Christ asked the Samaritan woman for a drink, Jesus offered her something better in the form of Living Water – the wellspring of life.
The second time, Jesus reveals Himself as a prophet after He exposes the sin of the Samaritan woman. Though she is shocked, her eyes begin to see that the man before her is genuine. For the last time, Jesus reveals Himself as the Messiah. He explicitly tells the Samaritan woman that He is the one who has come to seek and save those who are lost.
Lessons from the Woman at the Well
The living water that Jesus was talking about was the salvation we received from Him (John 4:10-15). It also pertains to the actual knowledge of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are already aware that God provides and will continue to provide for everything we need; Jesus is the living water that will never run dry. The key to receiving the living water is to draw nearer to God’s presence. It isn’t enough that our spirits know the truth. We have to live in it and take up our crosses daily.
“Go, call your husband”
Jesus did not bring up such an uncomfortable topic to accuse or mock the Samaritan woman but to give her an idea of who He is. So what then if Jesus already knew everything about the Samaritan woman?
Jesus wants the woman and all of us to understand that though He is all-knowing and all-powerful, He still accepts us despite our shortcomings. That was the intention of Jesus when He mentioned her five husbands (John 4:16-20). He didn’t want to call her out and make her feel more shame but to let her know that her sins don’t define her nor make her any less human.
Worship in truth and spirit
Through Jesus Christ, we have the Holy Spirit, which allows us to worship God anytime, anywhere (John 4:21-26). We no longer have to be in a temple or tabernacle to worship, unlike in the Old Testament. Not only that, but we are also free to worship in truth and spirit.
To worship in truth and nature means to enter in worship without hiding anything from God. So all of the worry, shame, and guilt we feel, we have to surrender them for us to worship in truth and spirit.
“Can this be the Christ?”
Here we see the contrast between the disciples and the Samaritan woman. Compared to the disciples, it didn’t take long for the Samaritan woman to know and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. The simple interaction and exchange of questions and answers were enough for the Samaritan woman to know that Jesus is the one true God. (John 4:27-30)
Another takeaway from this encounter is that Jesus is for all people, not just the Jews. During that time, Jews weren’t very fond of the Samaritans and often regarded them as someone lower, yet Jesus didn’t treat the Samaritan woman that way. He talked to her and followed her as a human, not like how she usually sees herself. Through this interaction, the Samaritan woman felt no judgment from Jesus but only love and care towards her and her well-being.
The woman’s story at the well is an important reminder that Jesus’ salvation is for everyone, not just the Jews. His blood sacrifice on the cross is for all our sins so that we can all have a new life through His goodness and grace. The Samaritan woman’s interaction with Jesus also proves that our sins do not define us.
The Samaritan woman was an outcast for having five husbands and living with a man that wasn’t her spouse, yet Jesus gave her hope, not judgment. Like the woman at the well, we sometimes feel like we aren’t enough.
As if we are outcasts, we feel unworthy of the love and goodness of our Lord; however, that is far from the truth. God wants us to embrace His mercy and love and live as Jesus taught us. Take our crosses, be faithful to the work, and push through until the end. God is with us every step; we just have to trust Him and believe He will always provide.
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