Summary: How one woman's encounter with Jesus changed her whole community
THE WOMAN AT THE WELL
1. THE OCCASION (John 4:1-4)
Jesus had been preaching in Judea, and His ministry was proving to be even more successful than John the Baptist’s. The religious authorities were somewhat disturbed at the number of converts that the disciples of Jesus were baptising. It was in these circumstances that our Lord decided it was time to return to Galilee, where He had been brought up. To get there “He must needs pass through Samaria” (John 4:4).
The jealousy of the Pharisees may at first sight appear to have been the motive for the move, but Jesus was no coward, and there was a much deeper reason. God, who knows all things, had already planned what would appear to be a “chance” encounter with a certain woman in Samaria: Jesus needed to be there at that time, and so what may have been a negative situation was turned to advantage, as ‘God works all things together for good’ for His people whom He has known from all eternity (Romans 8:28).
2. THE PLACE (John 4:5-6)
Passing near a city called Sychar, Jesus grew tired and thirsty. He stopped by a well for rest and refreshment. The One Who is truly God is thus seen to have taken upon Himself all the limitations of a true humanity. He was capable of hunger and tiredness, pain and death, for it was to bear our infirmities that he had come into the world.
This place where our Lord rested was in a field which had belonged to their common ancestor, Jacob. Here Jacob, after he had returned from a self-imposed exile of about twenty years, built an altar to the true and living God, calling it ‘God, the God of Israel’ (Genesis 33:20). Here too Joshua had buried the bones of Jacob’s son Joseph after the nation of Israel returned from captivity in Egypt (Joshua 24:32). And now a Samaritan woman was to meet with God here in the Person of Jesus Christ, and before long would be celebrating the much greater deliverance of the forgiveness of sins!
3. THE ENCOUNTER (John 4:7-26)
This woman came to the well alone, “at about the sixth hour” (John 4:6). Perhaps her style of life met with the disapproval of her neighbours, and she felt compelled to collect her water at a time separate from the other women. Whatever the reason, she was to have a one-to-one encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ which would change her life, and that of her community, for ever.
His disciples had gone to the city to buy food, and Jesus was resting by the well, perhaps redeeming the time by praying for the people who lived there and for this lone woman who now came into His sight. It is always good to keep our minds occupied with prayer and praise and pious thought when our hands otherwise have no work to do.
By His appearance, the woman could tell that this stranger was not one of her race, the Samaritans, so imagine her surprise when suddenly He spoke to her! After all, the Jews had no dealings with their neighbours in Samaria, nor men with women. Thankfully all these dividing walls of race and gender are broken down in the Church of our Lord: ‘for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).
(i) Jesus to the woman: “Give me a drink” (John 4:7).
Considering who Jesus is, it is incredible that He should ask us for anything. Yet here He asks the woman for a drink.
It is necessary for us to realise our inability to present anything to God, and to open our hands to receive His liberality. In the Old Testament God had instituted a sacrificial system, but it fell short of His requirement: it served only to prefigure the one and only sacrifice of His dear Son until He should come. Also, God had given the Law, and said, ‘This do, and you shall live’ - but who can? I cannot. You cannot. There has to be another way.
But the woman was not yet ready to recognise her inability, but rather entered into theological debate with Jesus. How easily we are distracted from the business of being right with God, confusing religious debate with what God is saying to us.
(ii) The woman to Jesus: “How is it you ask me?” (John 4:9).
(iii) Jesus: “If you only knew who I am!” (John 4:10).
In the Person of Christ we have the ultimate “gift of God.” He it is who is able to ‘save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him’ (Hebrews 7:25). Also, He it is who offers the gift of eternal life, what He here calls the “living water.”
(iv) The woman: “How can you? Are you greater than Jacob?” (John 4:11-12).