Summary: The Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at Jacob’s well changed her life. An encounter with Jesus can also change our life.
Encounter at Jacob’s Well
In John 4:42 we read that many Samaritans came to Jesus and recognized Him as “Savior of the world.” What led to this great response of the Samaritans? It all began with an encounter at Jacob’s well between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Jacob’s well is located near the Samaritan city of Sychar. Sychar is believed to be another name for Shechem. We read in Gen 33 that Jacob comes to the city of Shechem following his reunion with Esau and buys a plot of land east of the city from the sons of Hamor. Jacob’s well exists today. It is about 40 miles north of Jerusalem near the base of mount Gerizim. A Greek Orthodox church has been built over it.
Following Jesus’ nighttime meeting with Nicodemus, he went into Judea where many people came to him and were baptized. Jesus then left Judea and began a journey to Galilee. This led him to take the shortest route through Samaria. Around noon, Jesus and his disciples arrived at Jacob’s well. Jesus’ disciples went into the city to buy food and left Jesus at the well. A short while later, a woman from Sychar comes to the well to get water. There she met Jesus and her life was changed forever.
Before we get into the story we need to see where it fits into John’s plan to prove that Jesus is the Son of God.
Chapter 1 We have John’s declaration of Jesus as the Son of God and Jesus’ baptism by John.
Chapter 2 We see the miracle at Cana when Jesus turns the water into wine and his disciples believe.
Chapter 3 We read of the encounter with Nicodemus, the discussion about being born again and John’s final testimony concerning Jesus as the Messiah.
Chapter 4 We see the Samaritans receiving Jesus as Savior.
Each chapter is a progression of thought showing the deity of Jesus in an ever widening circle. This story also shows us a great contrast between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. Nicodemus was a man, a leader of the Jews, pious, and curious enough about Jesus to come to him at night to investigate. By contrast, the encounter at Jacob’s well is at high noon when Jesus meets a woman, a Samaritan, who is poor, living in immorality and caring for nothing but meeting her physical needs. Nicodemus was at the top of the social and political ladder while the Samaritan woman is at the bottom. John does not even give us her name. But like chapter 3, Jesus uses a common element to teach a spiritual truth. In Chapter three he used the wind and in chapter four he uses water.
In verse 7, Jesus is at the well at noon when this woman approaches the well. Even without supernatural knowledge, anyone would see that this woman has a problem. She came alone to the well at noon. Traditionally women came to the well in groups and early in the morning or late in the evening. This woman was obviously an outcast and no doubt her demeanor displayed that painful truth. I can see her shuffling along, thinking to herself, “How could it get any worse.” And then who should she see as she approaches the well, a man! A Jewish man! She looked at Jesus and did not see the Son of God or the Savior of the world, all she saw was a Jewish man.
Jesus begins the conversation with a simple request, “Give me a drink.” This request catches the Samaritan woman off guard and she says in verse 9, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) The history of the Samaritan race begins when the Assyrians under Shalmeneser put the capital of Samaria under siege, capturing it in 722 B.C. and destroying forever the 10 northern tribes of Israel. Many of the people were taken into exile in Assyria and foreigners were brought in to colonize the northern part of Palestine. These foreigners intermarried with the remaining Israelites who were not carried into captivity, forming a race of mixed blood, called the Samaritans.
Judea was deported to Babylon in 586 B.C. When Esra and Nehemiah returned to rebuild Jerusalem, the Samaritans made several attempts at preventing the rebuilding of Jerusalem. From that point on, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” Jews did not associate with Samaritans and so hated them that they would even go miles out of their way so as not to cross Samaria. Jews would not even use a dish that a Samaritan had used. The prejudices of the day prohibited public conversation between men and women, between Jews and Samaritans, and especially between strangers.