John 4: The Woman at the Well

The story of John 4 is an exciting one. A Samaritan woman comes to draw water from a well and interacts with Jesus. Because of the interaction, she receives something far greater than what she hoped she could have obtained by a journey to the well: living water.

This woman was not what we might call ripe for hearing the word of God. There were many barriers which could have prevented Jesus from talking to this woman and from her coming to believe in him.

1. Her race (Jn. 4:9)

She was a Samaritan and she is shocked that Jesus, a Jew, would be willing to talk with her, much less ask her for a drink of water. John tells us bluntly, “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”

2. Her background (Jn. 4:16-18)

For some reason this woman has been married five times and is about to be on the sixth man. This does not mean, as some propose, that she was a prostitute, but at the very least several men had divorced her. She was not following God’s pattern for marriage which He established from creation (Gen. 2:23-24).

3. Participation in incorrect worship (Jn. 4:19-21)

This woman, along with other Samaritans, thought that you should not worship God at the Jerusalem temple but at a temple the Samaritan people had built on Mount Gerizim. She questions Jesus about the place where God wanted people to worship: Jerusalem (aka Mount Zion) or Mount Gerizim? Jesus implies she and the Samaritan are wrong, but in a short time the location of worship will cease to be the focus but rather the heart of the worshiper.

4. Gender (Jn. 4:27)

When the disciples return from buying food in the city they are shocked to see Jesus is speaking to a woman! Many rabbis taught you did not try to prolong a conversation with a woman –not even your own wife. Why was Jesus engaged in this conversation with this random Samaritan woman?

Yet, despite all of these barriers Jesus is the one who starts the conversation and offers to this woman eternal life (Jn. 4:13-14). She can change and make a fresh start with Jesus! This woman is so excited by his offer she requests Jesus give her this living water (Jn. 4:15). In her joy over this news she rushes back to the city without her water pot (Jn. 4:28; perhaps a sign she received the living water from Jesus) to tell others about Jesus.

This unlikely listener gets others to come listen to Jesus (Jn. 4:29-30). At first those people of the village believed simply because of the testimony of this woman (Jn. 4:42), but they did not stop there. They went out to hear Jesus (Jn. 4:39-42) and believed in him because of His word (Jn. 4:41).

Jesus’ signs point to his identity, but also his words. While among the Samaritans he performed no signs (at least none that are recorded) yet they still take and believe his words. This is in strong contrast to the Jews thus far in the book of John. At Passover, many saw the signs of Jesus and were impressed (2:23-25). In the two accounts that follow the woman at the well (Jn. 4:1-42) there is much focus on signs. The Galileans receive because they saw his signs (4:45). Jesus bemoans many will not believe without a sign (Jn. 4:48). Jesus performs an amazing sign in John 5:1-9 and yet is rejected by the Jews! His words are believed by Samaritans (Jn. 4:39-42) and by a gentile official (Jn. 4:49-50), but sadly the Jews reject both signs (Jn. 5:18, 36) and God’s word (Jn. 5:38: “You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him who He sent.”)

Are we reaching out to even unlikely people? Are we believing in the words of Jesus?