About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Jesus Talks With A Samaritan Woman (ch. 4:1-26)

 

In verse 1 we read that Jesus was becoming more popular than John the Baptist.  Remember, at this moment of time John and Jesus' ministry was overlapping.  Also remember that multitudes of people had been coming to John the Baptist to be water baptized, now, Jesus was getting bigger crowds than John the Baptist. 

 

The Pharisees were very concerned about this, and for good reason.  They were always afraid when big crowds would gather.  They were afraid of riots that Jewish zealots would start at these crowds.  In these days there were many zealots.  They were those who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah.  They would often lead revolts against the local Roman authorities in attempts to free Israelis from Roman domination.  So, for this reason, The Jewish leaders were forced to send representatives out to these crowds to see what was happening.  They feared another riot that would bring the wrath of Rome down on them.  At this moment in history, Jews had a certain measure of autonomy in Judea .  If things got out of hand with these crowds, they were in danger of losing this autonomy.

 

Note in verse 2 that Jesus did not baptize anyone.  It was His disciples that actually did the baptizing.  Now this is the only place in the gospel accounts that states that Jesus' disciples actually baptized people.  This leads me to ask just what kind of baptism they were baptizing.  Christian baptism, as we know it today, was not really established at this time. John the Baptist's baptism was a baptism unto repentance.  It was a baptism that was meant to introduce the soon coming Messiah.  Well now, Jesus the Messiah was already on the scene so a John the Baptist style baptism doesn't seem to fit here.  We just have no written record what kind of baptism is referred to here in verse 2.

 

Verse 3 tells us that when Jesus heard the Pharisees were now looking investing the crowds that had been forming around Him He left Judea and headed north, back to Galilee.  If you know the geography, as you will read here, one must go through Samaria to get to Galilee.

 

The Jews of Judea who hated the Samaritans because they considered Samaritans half-breeds, would not travel through Samaria.  They would cross the Jordan River, go north on the east side of the river, then cross back on the west side of the river in Galilee.  This way they would avoid Samaria.  Jews who lived in Galilee had no problem traveling through Samaria.  That might be why Jesus had no problem walking through Samaria, although that should not really matter to Jesus.  He did not discriminate between ethnic peoples.    

 

Some suggest that the Greek sentence
structure of verse 4 states that Jesus "must"
go through Samaria.  Some versions of the Bible actually insert the word "must" into the text.  The sentence structure suggests to some that it was God's will for Him to go through Samaria because He was supposed to meet the Samaritan woman we will read about.             

 

Before commenting I would like to give some historical perspective on certain things.   First of all, we need to understand who Samaritans are.  They are part Jew and part non-Jew, both in a biological sense and a religious sense.  In Old Testament times when Jerusalem became the capital of Israel there were some Jews who did not want Jerusalem to be the capital city.  They maintained that Shechem should be the capital city.  Shechem was located north of Jerusalem in a valley between Mount Garizim and Mount Ebal, two well recorded mountains in the Old Testament.

 

In 922 BC ten northern tribes split from the two southern tribes.  Israel became two separate and distinct nations.  Thus Shechem became the capitals city of the northern kingdom of Israel. 

 

In verse 5 you will read of the town called Sychar.  Sychar was Old Testament Shechem.  This was the capital of Samaria.  The Samaritans claimed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as their forefathers, thus, the reason for the importance of Sychar, or, Shechem.  Shechem had great historical significance.  As the text states here, Jacob's Well was here, and that is just one important significance.  The Samaritans didn't, however, follow Judaism.  There religion was a by product of Judaism.  It was a clear mixture between Judaism and the old Canaanite, pagan, religion that Israel was told in the Old Testament to stay clear of.   

 

In Deuteronomy 27 Moses told the people that when they finally entered the land of Canaan , they were to set up an altar.  On Mount Garizim they were to read the blessings of the Law of Moses, and on Mount Ebal they were to read the curses of the Law of Moses.  Here in John 4, the Samaritan woman will state that Samaritans worship in "this mountain", which was Mount Garizim, the mountain of blessings. 

 

John 4:6 tells us that Jesus passed through Samaria on His way north to Galilee.  He sat down by a well at the sixth hour of the day.  That would be 12 noon if John was thinking in terms of Jewish time.  If it's Roman time it's 6 PM in the evening.  Hot and tired from the journey Jesus needed a rest and wanted a drink of water from the well.  This was Jacob's well as the text states.  This was a very special well.  It was a historical landmark.  It is said that this well was 100 feet deep.  You can actually see the well today.  

 

The fact that Jesus was tired and thirsty makes it clear that He was just as much human as He was divine.  That being said, even in His tiredness He still had time to speak to the lady we'll soon meet.     

 

Verse 7 tells us that there was a Samaritan woman there drawing water from the well.  Some commentators suggest that there is something wrong with this woman. She had just traveled a fairly long distance to get water and she travelled alone.  That was uncommon in those days.  This suggests that she had no husband.

 

Jesus asked this woman for a drink of water.  At this point the disciples were not with Jesus for they had gone into the nearest town to buy some food as stated in verse 6.

 

The woman was amazed that Jesus talked with her on two counts.  One count was that she was a Samaritan, and Jews never talked to Samaritans.  Count two is that she was a woman.  Women in one sense of the word were second class citizens in that culture. Men did not normally talk to women in public places.  It's clear that Jesus does not discriminate.  It did not matter to Him that she was a woman or a Samaritan.  She was a person, and that was good enough for Jesus.

 

Here's a bit more history.  In 922 BC Israel split into two, north and south.  In 722 BC the Assyrians conquered the northern 10 tribes of Israel and carried most of the residence off to what we'd call northern Iraq today.  Those few Jews who remained lived in what would eventually become Samaritans.  They adopted all of the practices of their pagan conquerors.  They retained some Jewishness.  They kept the books of Moses but rejected the prophetic books of the Old Testament.  Jewish men married pagan women.  This produced a biological mixture that biological Jews hated.  Samaritans were thus half Jew and half pagan both in a biological sense and a religious sense. 

 

In verse 9 the woman asks; "you are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman, how can you ask me for a drink?"  According to the Law of Moses, which both Jews and Samaritans accepted, Jews could not drink out of the same cup as a pagan.  For this reason this woman was surprised that Jesus, a Jew, would ask her for a drink of water. 

 

Jesus replies in verse 10 by saying, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and He would have given you living water." 

 

At this stage the woman was most likely confused, not understanding what Jesus was talking about. 

 

We see here how a simple question, a simple conversation over a cup of water, is turned into a spiritual conversation.  Jesus has the ability to convert the ordinary conversation into a serious one, and He does it very naturally.  This is a good quality for us all to have.  It opens many more doors for opportunity for the gospel message to be spoken.    

 

Jesus said that if this woman realized who she was speaking to she could have received the gift of God.  Jesus also refers to this gift as living water.  The gift of God is the Holy Spirit.  This living water is the Holy Spirit as seen in John 7:38 and 39.

 

We note that in verse 11 the womanís confusion can be seen in her response to Jesus.  First of all, she addresses Jesus as "sir."  That's "kurios" in Greek, the same Greek word that is also translated into our English Bibles as "Lord" or "lord."  All three translations are correct and the context tells the translator how to translate the Greek word "kurios."  

 

The woman tells Jesus that He has nothing to draw the water with, so how could He give her any kind of water, let along what He calls living water.  Remember, this well was about 100 feet deep according to the majority of Bible teachers.  The next question is thus a natural question to ask.  She asks Jesus where He would get this living water from.  Obviously He couldn't get it from the well.    

 

The woman then asks Jesus if He was greater than Jacob whose well this once was.  She did not think that Jesus could have been greater than Jacob.  Jesusí words made no sense to her.  She had great respect for Jacob as did the Jews.  In her mind, no one could be greater than the patriarchs.

 

In verse 13 Jesus says that anyone who drinks this water, that is, the water in the well, will be thirsty again.  This is a given.  Natural water quenches thirst for a while, but we get thirsty again. 

 

In verse 14 Jesus begins to explain that the water that He can give would be like a spring of water, springing up into everlasting life.  This water is the Holy Spirit.  He is like a spring when we receive Him into our lives and bodies.  As I mentioned earlier, this spring of water that bubbles up within a person will become a river that flows out of him as seen in John 7:38.  In other words, this spring of water will become a river as we see in the book of Acts, beginning at chapter 2.

 

Jesus speaks of this living water in terms that it will lead one into eternal life.  When thinking in terms that the Holy Spirit is this living water, this verse tells us that without the Holy Spirit in one's life, he will not enter eternity and live with Jesus.  Simply mentally accepting the fact of the reality of Jesus will not get you to Heaven.

 

Jesus says that the water that He gives will cause people to never thirst again.  The Greek verb construction here is similar to a double negative, meaning, "shall never ever" thirst again.  It's also a future indicative verb, meaning, it's a certain fact that the one who drinks the water that Jesus offers will certainly never ever thirst again.  This begs the question, why do we see so many spiritually thirsty Christians these days?  They obviously are not drinking the living water of the Holy Spirit.     

 

That fact of the matter here is that the woman and Jesus are on two different wave lengths as is often the case.  Jesus is speaking spiritually and the woman is speaking and thinking in natural terms.  It's the same problem that Jesus faced with Nicodemus.  It's the same problem we have when we share Jesus with others.  The simple fact is that the natural cannot understand the spiritual unless the Holy Spirit brings the understanding.  That means the Holy Spirit must accompany our words if we are to be successful in sharing Jesus with others.  

 

In verse 15 you can tell that the woman doesnít understand what Jesus is talking about.  She says that sheíd like this water so she wouldnít have to keep coming back to this well.  Once again, we note that the carnal mind does not understand spiritual truth. 

 

In verse 16 Jesus abruptly changes the course of the conversation.  He told the woman to go and call her husband and come back to see Him.  Why did Jesus ask this question?  Jesus knew this womanís marital status.  I think this was a leading question by Jesus that generated a certain response.  Jesus is about to explain things to this woman but in a way that was very personal to her.  Sooner or later in our conversation with others concerning their salvation, the conversation must by nature of what salvation is, get personal.     

 

Jesus got the answer He was looking for. In verse 17 the woman said that she had no husband, but Jesus knew better.

 

In verse 17 Jesus responds by telling her that what she says was in one sense of the word correct.  The woman had no legal husband.  I use the word legal not in our modern since of the word but in the Old Testament sense of the word, and that is according to the Law of Moses. 

 

In verse 18 Jesus told this woman that in fact she has had five husbands and the man she was presently with was not her husband.  This is clearly a supernatural word of knowledge that really blew this conversation wide open.  It changed the direction of the conversation from the natural to the spiritual, even though this woman still didn't get what Jesus was saying.  What Jesus did here was point out the situation of her life that needed attention.

 

Concerning the five husbands this woman had, we don't know anything beyond the fact that she has had five husbands.  We don't know if they died or if they divorced her.  If her husbands followed Deuteronomy 24:1 to 4 in a conservative way, they could have divorced her because she was sexually immoral.  If they applied this law liberally they could have divorced her for no legitimate reason and she'd simply be on her own.  We just don't know what her situation was that led her to having five husbands.  Some might suggest some sinful activity on her part but that is pure speculation.        

 

Why wasnít the man she was living with at present not her real husband?  We donít know the whole story here either.  The common consensus is that she was not legally married according to the Law of Moses

 

I wish that Jesus had commented more on this situation, or, if He did, I wish John would have recorded it.  This would probably help clarify things when it comes to how the Bible views marriage, divorce, and remarriage, a subject that is quite difficult to draw many concrete conclusions from.   

 

I think we're fast coming to a place in western society where Christians may have to take a serious look at legal marriage and how to respond to the changes in meaning to that term.   In Canada, and in other western countries, legal marriage includes gay marriages.  So, when a couple is now legally married they are becoming part of an institution defined by law that is not Biblical.  I know of some ministers that are thinking about not performing legal marriages any more.  They would perform a church marriage as defined in Biblical terms before, God, family, and the church.  If the couple wanted the legalities, they could simply go to city hall and do the legal paper-work.        

 

Whatever the case, Jesus told this lady that she had five different husbands; therefore Jesus must have believed that there were certain grounds for remarriage, what these grounds are canít be seen in this passage.

 

Now, the man this woman was presently living with was not her husband, meaning, she was not married to him as the Law of Moses would have taught.  It appears that she was simply living with the man.  Again, Jesus doesnít explain exactly what He means so it is hard to draw concrete conclusions.

 

In verse 19 this woman suddenly gets spiritual with Jesus.  She calls Him "sir" again out of respect because she now believes Jesus is a prophet of God because He had seen into her life in a supernatural way.  How many times do people change their tune with us Christians when they suddenly hear that we are Christians?

 

The woman sounds very modern to me.  She speaks of a place to worship.  In verse 20 she says that her people say it is right to worship God on a near by mountain, but the real Jews say you should worship at the temple in Jerusalem.  Maybe this lady is being honest and genuine in what she says.  I canít see the motives of her heart, but people of the world often refer to secondary issues when presented with spiritual truth.  People today often speak of church buildings, different denominations, and different forms of worship, when the real issue is their sin, unbelief, and their need to give their lives to Jesus. 

 

The reason why this lady said that her people worship in this nearby mountain is because after Israel split in half in 922 BC, into the northern kingdom and into the southern kingdom, the northern tribes changed parts of the Law of Moses.  One thing they changed was the tenth commandment.  It was re-written to say that they had to worship their God in this mountain.  This is why this particular Samaritan woman said what she said.  This shows you the importance of history when attempting to understand the Bible.

 

The words "this mountain" refer to Mount Gerizim. 
The northern tribes of Israel that became known as Samaritans actually built a temple on Mount Gerizim where they had worshipped, but, this temple had been destroyed a number of decades prior to this time in John 4.   

 

At the moment I believe that Jesus had just presented this woman with her sin of living with a man who was not her husband.  Her response was not with her sin but with a religious difference in view point. To me, that says a lot concerning her response.  I think the woman was genuine in her response to Jesus.  This can be seen in the verses to come.  She goes home and tells her friends that she has found the Christ, yet, at the same time what she tells Jesus clearly shows she doesnít understand what He is saying to her. 

 

In verse 21 Jesus responds with a real 
truth.  He says that there will come a time when people will worship the Father neither on this

mountain nor in Jerusalem.  Note that
Jesus said the time will come, meaning,
it had not yet come.  That time came in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, or so I believe.  This would have been a revolutionary statement for Jesus to make.  It would have been blasphemy in the thinking of the Jewish leadership, and really, the Samaritan leadership as well.

 

Jesus' words clearly show us that a building, even the temple in Jerusalem, is no longer the house of God.  The New Testament house of God, or temple, are believers, both individually and collectively, who have handed their lives over to Jesus.  In other words, the New Testament church is God's temple today. 

 

In verse 22 Jesus speaks bluntly to this woman.  Some might interpret it as prejudice.  He told her that Samaritans did not really know who or what they worshipped.  This is true. Samaritans were a mixture of Jews and Gentiles as a result of mixed marriages, and therefore, their religion would reflect this mixture.  Mixture is always a problem.  Over the centuries Christians have tried to mix true Biblical Christianity with all sorts of other religious philosophies.  This is wrong.  It waters down the gospel and the church and makes us lose our effectiveness.

 

One form of mixture today is called Chrislam.  It's an attempt to mix or combine Islam with Christianity.  Anyone who knows anything about either religion would know there is no logic in attempting this mixture.  Muslims and Christians simply don't serve the same God. 

 

Jesus told her that the Jews knew who and how to worship.  Remember, these days when Jesus was on earth were still Old Testament times, even though those days were a transitionary period, and Jerusalem and the temple were real places of worship.

 

The reason Jesus gives for all of this is because "salvation is from the Jews," and so it is. Godís salvation stems from the Jews, as in Paulís analogy of the Jewish tree in Romans 11.  Still, salvation did not stay with the Jews.  Gentiles would be welcomed and could be grafted into the Jewish tree as Paul also states in Romans 11.

 

Over the centuries, due to anti-Semitic tendencies in the church Christians have lost the Jewish flavour of their faith.  We've gone too far in this respect.  If not for the Jews, the Old Testament, and all that goes along with it, there'd be no Jesus.  There'd be no Christianity.  Christian heritage is found in Judaism.   

 

In verse 23 Jesus predicts a change in worship that would soon take place.  He says that the "time is coming and now has come," meaning that the time is pretty well here.  What time was He speaking of?  It was the time when true worshipers would worship the Father in Spirit and Truth.  Once again, this time came on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first given to any true believer. 

 

Note the dichotomy in verse 23.  Jesus says that the time is coming and now has come.  How can something b e coming but arrive at the same time.  Jesus speaks in this manner a number of times in the gospel accounts.  I suggest that He might well do the same in the book of Revelation, especially when He says the time is short.  Remember, Jesus is used to existing in a place where there is no time.  Time is not even relative in Heaven.  It's only relevant in Heaven as one thinks about earth. To Jesus, even though Acts 2 had not yet come, He knew it would come.  It was almost there.  It would come for sure.  So, it's as good as being here already, according to Jesus.   

 

One can only truly worship God in Spirit, with the aid of the Holy Spirit.  Worship without the Holy Spirit is not worship.  Worship in its simplicity means "to kiss God," because that's what the most common Greek word translated as worship means.  Being intimate with God is what worship is all about.   You can compare this intimacy with intimacy between a husband and wife.  I believe that marital intimacy is a picture, a shadow or type, of the intimacy we can have with God.  This kissing of God which we call worship is something from the heart and involves the union of our spirits with His Spirit. 

 

Jesus speaks of another aspect to this worship, this kiss of God, and that is truth.  The Greek word for truth is "aletheis."  "Aletheis" in its simplest meaning means "reality."  So when Jesus speaks of worshipping in truth, He is speaking of "real" worship, not a fake, or put on worship.  It's not a hypocritical worship as was taking place at the temple in Jerusalem .  You might say it's a worship based on truthful reality.        

 

We therefore come to God in spirit and in a right understanding of who He is.  When we enter this realm of the Spirit, with revealed truthful reality, we find a place of pure intimacy before God.  In this place we cannot hide from Him.  As He is revealed to us, we are seen clearly by Him.  Just as a husband and wife are naked in sexual intimacy, so we are naked before the Lord in true worship.  He sees us as we really are, yet, in another sense, He sees us through the lens of the blood of Jesus.     

 

Many Evangelical churches call Sunday morning meetings at time of worship, but if the Holy Spirit is not there, and if people aren't living in truth, I don't think you can call it worship with the understanding that Jesus presents here.   

 

When it comes right down to it, worship should be a way of life, but, I think the context of this verse suggests corporate worship when the people of God come together.  I say this because Jesus speaks of worship here in terms of a place, like the temple in Jerusalem .  It just doesn't matter any more what place people come together to worship God.

 

Jesus says that this is the kind of worship that His Father really wants, and has wanted all along.  Why?  Because Jesus said God is a spirit.  If God is a spirit, how else could we worship Him?  We must worship Him in spirit, with the help of His Spirit.  This only makes sense. 

 

This text tells us for sure that God is a spirit.  He is not human.  Jesus, prior to His incarnation, was spirit as well.  Remember, John 1:1 tells us that Jesus is the logos of God, meaning, He is, was, and will ever be, the mind of God, even in His new existence, in what we call His glorified human body. 

 

God being spirit is important for us to understand.  This is where the word "anthropomorphic" comes into play.  This word expresses the point that God is spirit, but since humans can't see spirits, God appears to humanity from time to time in human-like form, as we see recorded in the Old Testament.  He is also described in human form.  For example, we see the term "right hand of God" in the Bible.  Does God actually have a right hand?  Do spirits have a right hand?  Well, maybe in some kind of spiritual sense of the word God and spirits do have a right hand, but, we just don't know.  Most Bible teachers understand the term "right hand of God" to be anthropomorphic in nature.  That is to say, God describes Himself to us in human terms so we can begin to understand Him a bit better.         

 

In verse 25 we see that this woman doesnít catch on to what Jesus is saying.  She is getting close but she isn't there yet.  She says that she knows that Messiah will come and explain all these things.  She didnít know that the Messiah had come and was the one telling her these things. 

 

As happens so often in peopleís communication with each other, we donít respond specifically to what the other person says.  We just aren't very good at times with our skills of communication.  We respond to what we are thinking about, or what the person said two or three sentences back.  There was an intellectual disconnect between this woman and Jesus. 

 

In verse 26 Jesus told the woman with no uncertainty, "I am He," that is, "I am the Messiah."  I can't begin to imagine how the Holy Spirit would have spoken those words to the heart of this Samaritan woman.  They must have been devastating to her intellect but life giving to her spirit.  Here, Jesus plainly and clearly says that He is the long awaited for Jewish Messiah, something that He did not say very often, especially in the early days of His ministry.   

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