From the House of The Nazarene. This will be a very in-depth deep dive study of the Book of John.
We’ve looked at John 3 and now we’re looking at John 4 and we’ll be looking at the woman of Samaria but it’s more than that because in this chapter, Jesus ministers to a number of people- the Samaritan woman, his disciples in a brief text, the Samaritans from the village of Sychar and at the end, He ministers to the nobleman and his household. Now what all these accounts have in common is that they all point to faith in Christ. All of them have that conclusion, which is to surrender to Christ and that is John’s real purpose in his gospel. He’s bringing his readership to a grasp of what that means- to be surrendered to Christ.
In the first 30 verses we see the story of the Samaritan woman and immediately we find a surprise here. We know that the Jews rejected the Samaritans. There was this whole situation of antipathy between the Jews and the Samaritans.
John 4:1-4, “Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. And He had to pass through Samaria, so He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.”
Now there were other ways in which one could go. You could take the coast or more often Jews would bypass Samaria by going into Perea or perhaps going all the way through Jericho and up along the Jordan River on the extreme west, just next to the river and then cutting across bypassing the whole province of Samaria. The most direct and quickest route would be to go through Samaria. Typically Jews would avoid it because of the hostility that was there.
In the year 722 B.C. the Assyrians captured the northern kingdom of Israel. That captivity led to an intermarriage policy where the Assyrian conquerors forced the Jewish people who were scattered there to be intermarried- some with the Persians and some with the other people who had been conquered. As a result, they couldn’t prove their genealogy. After awhile, they actually built their own temple and garrison. They created an alternative form of worship contrary to the Jews. That led to an increased hostility toward the Jews as time went by. They were a people who really owed their origin to the mingling of a remnant. As a result, their worship became contaminated by idolatry.
In II Kings 17:28-41, there is a story of this very concern, a concern of corruption as a result of their own contamination by idolatry. Verses 28-29, “So one of the priests whom they had carried away into exile from Samaria came and lived at Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord. But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the houses of the high places which the people of Samaria had made, every nation in their cities in which they lived.”
In II Kings 17:30, it tells of how the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal and the men of Hamath made Ashima. Let me jump down a little bit and you see they actually burned their children in the fire in pagan rituals even in the immolation of their own children to these kinds of demonically inspired gods.
II Kings 17:32-34, “They also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves priests of the high places, who acted for them in the houses of the high places. They feared the Lord and served their own gods according to the customs of the nations from among whom they had been carried away into exile. To this day they do according to the earlier customs: they do not fear the Lord, nor do the follow their statutes or their ordinances or the law, or the commandments which the Lord commanded the sons of Jacob, whom He named Israel.”
Basically he said that they didn’t listen and did according to the earlier customs so the conclusion in the last verse of II Kings 17:41, “So while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols: their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.”
What the writer is saying in effect is that they sought to intermingle a kind of Judaism but a very selective one in which they eliminated everything except for the Pentateuch. They only had their Pentateuch. It became known as the Samaritan Pentateuch because of some of the changes they had made. They rejected the other books, the prophets and the poetical books, thus their whole bible was just limited to their Pentateuch. They had their own alternative worship system in their own temple. This led to tremendous conflict. They did their best, in fact, to interfere with the rebuilding of Jerusalem when the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity.
In fact when the Jews wished to be offensive to Jesus, what did they call Him? They called Him a Samaritan. John 8:48, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” That was a two-fer; they got Him on both accounts!
The Jews when they had the opportunity in 128 B.C. actually destroyed the Samaritan temple. They burned it. Now you can see there that this was not a happy combination. There was a racial enmity. The Jews never accepted them. The Samaritans had an alternative form of worship that was a rather bizarre combination of paganism and Old Testament Judaism in regards to the Pentateuch.
Jesus does something that is very dramatic here. When Jesus is discussed in this chapter as having spoken to a Samaritan woman; it’s a shocking concept. In fact in the synoptic gospels, Jesus does something quite surprising. He made the Samaritan the hero of one of His parables- the Good Samaritan. You’ve got to understand how radical this is. It’s like making an Arab the hero to the Jew or the Jew the hero to the Arab in a parable. That would be the same kind of enmity they had.
Even speaking to the woman, He overcomes a number of barriers, as we’re about to see.
In John 4:2, where Jesus wasn’t baptizing but His disciples were, it corrects an inaccuracy in the information that had apparently reached the Pharisees. Here’s what is happening- tremendous hostility as a consequence of Jesus’ growing reputation. Surely when John the Baptist was brought into captivity and then finally executed and Jesus was really getting their attention, He knew then that He also had to keep Himself away. All four gospels express Jesus’ concern to avoid arrest at the hands of the Pharisees before the appointed time. So that’s why it says in John 4:3-4, “He left Judea and went away into Galilee, and He had to pass through Samaria.” I think He went there because it was the shortest route and also there are appointments that take place.
God has divine appointments. He didn’t necessarily leave Judea with any fixed intention of ministering in Samaria, He just planned to pass through but the Spirit will always blow wherever He wishes. True messengers of God are never subject to fixed programs and to prejudices. We need to keep that in mind for ourselves. You don’t know what you’re called to do. You don’t know what ministry you’re going to have and very often your greatest moment might be something that was not planned- something may appear to be an interruption or something that might not seem very productive.
I had a call this morning from a fellow, whom I hadn’t seen since 1984- a long time ago, maybe 19-20 yeas ago. He called to thank me for something that we did in his life that we don’t even remember saying or doing. Apparently it had some significant impact on his life. You never know when something will have an impact whether planned or unplanned and it’s often the unplanned things that will go on. I’ve said this many times before but you’re all in ministry. Whether you like it or not, you’re all called to ministry. Your experiences and background and your arena of influence will shape your ministry. You already have a sphere of influence and you’re called to become a manifestation of the life of Christ with those people. You use your unique spiritual gifts, background and experiences. You have a life message you’re supposed to be forging. The key to this is not simply what you plan but often the unplanned agenda takes place.
We see here in a way, the proclamation of the gospel by the early Christian evangelist to the people of Samaria. In Acts 8, it’s already foreshadowed in this interview and in Jesus’ subsequent stay in a Samaritan village. This is something that is very telling because in this text, this prefiguring of what is to come in the book of Acts several years later is the idea of what Jesus is already launching in His public ministry. Namely, that since the advent of Christ, the people of God consists of all who acknowledge Him as the Savior of the world and who have received from Him the life giving Spirit and who worship God in spirit and in truth. In this and the other gospels, Jesus ultimately overcomes all racial and all cultural barriers. It’s an anticipation of things that are to come.
John 4:5-6, “So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” The sixth hour is about high noon, which is very telling because this is when the woman comes out to draw water.
I also want you to notice that Jesus in this gospel, as we’ve seen, is being proclaimed as the Son of God but He also is seen very clearly as being a true man. It shows that He’s weary, hungry and thirsty. This kind of text shows that He’s fully capable of identifying with us in our needs because He’s experienced the human condition and knows what it is like to grow weary, to become exhausted, to become hungry and to become thirsty. This little touch here tells us being wearied, He sat thus by the well.
As you know, when they would dig these wells, very deeply, they would put a little stone wall around them to keep people from falling in and usually they would have a stone covering on top. It would be at such wells that, for example, Jacob would meet his future wife. At such wells, they would have some kind of a tripod that would often contain a bucket where they could lower it down. These were very common.
The two Greek words used in this chapter are both translated “well” in v. 6 and v.14 is the word pege, which means fountain also. This indicates that Jacob’s well was apparently supplied deeply with running water way underneath, reaching down then to some kind of underground source. The other word in v. 11-12, the ordinary Greek word for well, phrear, is used. The point here is that we are seeing again, the Johannine contrast between the spiritual and the physical and the misunderstanding that takes place between the two.
John 4:7-8, “There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.” So Jesus was left alone, sitting on the well and He sent His disciples off to get something to eat.
John 4:9, “Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’ (For the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” The woman is a timeless figure because like most men and women she’s almost exclusively concerned with the provision of what will satisfy physical needs, not spiritual needs- particularly the idea of Christ quenching water which can be obtained only by the expenditure of a good deal of time and energy in that particular culture. As a consequence then she is really more concerned for the welfare of her body more than the welfare of her soul. In that way she points beyond to ourselves because we’re often in that condition too.
Now let’s consider this, Jesus not only speaks to her but asks her for a drink. He asked her to do something. Now her knowledge during this interview will increase. There will be a progressive revelation of Jesus during this discourse. Jesus had a discourse in John 3 with Nicodemus, a ruler of the people and a moral religious leader, who came to Him by night. By contrast, here we have an immoral, non-Jewish woman who comes in the middle of the day. We do not see the outcome in John 3 of Nicodemus’ response but here we do see her response. There’s the idea of a bit of a contrast. In terms of responsiveness, this woman actually turns out to be more responsive than Nicodemus was. There is a rather immediate response that takes place.
I want you to note that there are in fact four barriers that Jesus has to overcome even to speak to her. First of all, there is the fact that it was improper in that day for a Rabbi to speak in public to a young woman. In fact, typically, even if you were married, you often wouldn’t even speak to your wife in public. You need to understand how radical the gospels are- how liberating they are with regard to women because they are so utterly contrary to the culture of that time. We often fail to see that. Often what we’ll do is take our own ideas and impose them on the gospels but actually the gospels were liberating and radical in their treatment of women. Jesus, as a Rabbi, furthermore, should be more cautious about speaking to a woman, let alone a woman in this condition who was a Samaritan. There was the barrier of sex because the public discourse between a man and a woman, especially an unmarried man, would be prohibited or looked down upon.
Secondly there was the barrier of nationality.
Thirdly there was the barrier of lifestyle. In fact, that’s why she was coming in the middle of the day. Typically women would come and it was a place of congregation. It’s a place where they would meet because you had to spend a lot of time collecting water. Usually they’d come early in the morning or at dusk when it was cool. There, women would discuss things with one another. It was a meeting point. Why was she coming in the heat of the day? It was because the women did not accept her so she finds herself virtually an outcast. We discover later she doesn’t have the best reputation in town. Her own people regarded her as an immoral person.
Finally there was the barrier of religion. There’s an expression of bewilderment because Jews and Samaritans don’t share things in common. The Jews did have some dealings with the Samaritans but the idea of sharing from the same bucket was totally contrary to that concept.