7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” – John 4:7-15 ESV
It is interesting that John makes special note that Jesus stopped in “a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph” (John 4:5 ESV). This reference to Joseph has special significance because of the role he played as Israel’s “savior” hundreds of years earlier. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, and he ended up in Egypt. But through a series of divinely orchestrated events, Joseph eventually became the second-highest-ranking official in all of Egypt. Years later, when a famine struck the land of Canaan, Jacob sent his remaining sons to Egypt to seek food. But what they discovered was their long-lost brother. And to their surprise, rather than use his position and power to punish them for their past treatment of him, Joseph showed them mercy and grace. He provided them with forgiveness for their sins against him as well as well-watered land for their flocks. So the Israelites, just 70 members strong at that time, settled in Egypt. And, in response to his brothers’ concern that he might seek to harm them, Joseph told them:
“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:20 ESV
Jacob and Joseph would both die in Egypt. But, years later, when the sons Jacob returned to the land of Canaan, they brought the bones of Joseph and buried them in Shechem (Sychar), near the spot where Jesus had chosen to take His midday rest stop.
John mentions, almost in passing, that Jesus was weary from His journey. This rather oblique reference is intended to remind the reader that Jesus, while fully God, was also fully human. And in His humanity, Jesus experienced the same physical attributes as any other man, including hunger, thirst, fatigue, and pain. In this little scenario, Jesus would have looked like any other travel-worn Jew making his way through the region of Samaria. So, when the Samaritan woman appeared on the scene, she would have taken very little interest in this unknown Jewish man – until He spoke to her.
John indicates that Jesus was the first to speak, saying to the woman, “Give me a drink” (John 4:7 ESV). While this scene may appear somewhat innocuous to us, for the original readers of John’s gospel, this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman would have been shocking. Here was Jesus, a Jewish male, daring to strike up a conversation with a Samaritan woman. This kind of thing wasn’t done in Israel. First of all, Jesus broke social protocol by speaking to a woman in public. And to make matters worse, the woman to whom He spoke was a lowly Samaritan. She would have been considered idolatrous and, therefore, unclean. Yet, shockingly, Jesus chose to speak to her.
Even the woman reveals her surprise that this Jewish man would dare to address her.
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” – John 4:9 ESV
Just so his audience understands the gravity of the moment, John adds an important aside: “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9 ESV). This entire encounter was out of bounds and unexpected. Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, was smack-dab in the middle of Samaria, in the middle of the day, and speaking to an unclean Samaritan woman. Not only that, but He was also asking her to serve Him water from the vessel she used to draw from the well. What Jesus was about to do would render Him ceremonially unclean and in need of purification.
But Jesus shows no concern for His own spiritual well-being. Instead, He seems focused on the plight of the woman and replies to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10 ESV).
In a sense, Jesus was informing the woman of His true identity. He was much more than an unidentified Jewish man asking for a drink of water. He was someone who had the power and authority to offer her “the gift of God,” a source of “living water.”
Confused by Jesus’ words, the woman responded, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” (John 4:11 ESV). At this point in the exchange, the reader should recall the earlier conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, the highly orthodox member of the Pharisees. He too had been perplexed by the words of Jesus concerning the new birth from above and had quizzically replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4 ESV).
Don’t miss the contrast: A well-educated Jewish Pharisee and an idolatrous Samaritan woman. Both found themselves in a conversation with Jesus, the Son of God. But their minds were stuck on a horizontal plane, and incapable of understanding the spiritual nature of Jesus’ words. The woman, well-acquainted with the task of drawing her daily water from the well, could not understand what Jesus meant by His reference to “living water.” In her mind, Jesus was offering her a source of free-flowing water, like that found in a mountain stream. It stood in stark contrast to the well water to which she was accustomed. Access to water from a stream would mean she would no longer have to go through the arduous task of drawing stagnant water from a well. But as far as she could see, Jesus had no means of providing the “the gift” of which He spoke.
The woman not only found Jesus’ words confusing, but also a bit off-putting. Who was He to denigrate the water from Jacob’s well? Was it not good enough for Him? It had served to meet the needs of Jacob, so it was good enough for her. But Jesus pointed out the limitations inherent in Jacob’s well and the water it provided.
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again…” – John 4:13 ESV
Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 ESV). Jesus was trying to get Nicodemus to understand that there was a physical and a spiritual dimension to life. Being born into the family of Israel was not going to be enough to earn Nicodemus entrance into the kingdom of God. And drinking water from the well of Jacob was not going to satisfy the Samaritan woman’s spiritual thirst. Both of these individuals had a need that could only be met through Jesus. He was the light of life and the source of living water.
And Jesus informed the woman that the gift He was offering her was far greater than any water she might draw from a well.
“…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14 ESV
At this point in the story, we know nothing about this woman, other than her status as a Samaritan. Her very presence at the well reveals her need for and dependence upon water in order to survive. But Jesus knew there was a much greater need in this woman’s life. Her thirst was far more than physical. Just as Nicodemus was going to need a different kind of birth if he wanted to enter God’s kingdom, the Samaritan woman was going to need a different kind of water if she ever wanted to have her deep spiritual thirst satisfied. But the woman’s response to Jesus reveals just how blind she was to her own neediness.
“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” – John 4:15 ESV
She was intrigued by the thought of a source of free-flowing water. And if this unknown Jewish man could tell her where to find it, she was all ears. The thought of never having to draw water from the well again was appealing to her. But like Nicodemus, she was missing the point. She was neglecting to see her real need. Nicodemus had seen himself as fully righteous and fully deserving of entrance into God’s kingdom. But he had been wrong. Just like everyone else, he required a birth from above. And this woman was never going to satisfy her real spiritual need with water from a well. Her sins, like those of Nicodemus, were great. Yes, they may have been of a different sort, but they were sins nonetheless. And she, like Nicodemus, stood before the Son of God, condemned by her sin and in need of a Savior.
Which brings us back to the story of Joseph and his brothers. The day came when they found themselves standing in front of the brother they had sold into slavery and left for dead. They were guilty and deserving of judgment. But Joseph showed them mercy. He extended grace. He used his power and authority to reward rather than punish them.
And like the brother’s of Joseph, this unidentified woman was going to discover the joy of having her sins forgiven. Jesus was about to let her know that God “brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT). And she would be graciously and unexpectedly included among the saved.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.