Studies in the Gospel of John
Lesson 10: The Woman at the Well
One of the “Hallmarks” of Christianity is the testimony of lives that are completely turned around by coming to know Christ personally as Savior and Lord. And one of the classic stories of that kind of conversion is found here in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel. But the thing that perhaps sets this story apart from so many others is that it includes some details of about how God works in bringing people to Himself.
In giving testimonies about their conversion, most people speak of “finding the Lord.” But that isn’t correct. The teaching of the Bible is that in every case it is the Lord who “finds” us. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way, because God lets us make the decision to open the door to Him, but it is always He who draws us to Himself. And, as I say, this story illustrates that in great detail.
As we look at the chapter we are going to see that it falls into 3 parts. First we have the wayward woman in verses 1 through 26. Then in verses 27 through 42 we see the wondering disciples. And finally in verses 43 through 54 we see the worried nobleman. So let’s begin our study by thinking about the wayward woman who is described in verses 1 through 26. And the first thing that John brings out in these verses is the circumstances leading to the woman in verses 1 through 5. You know, we usually look at something the Lord has done and we think of it in terms of the finished product. But if we were to analyze it we would find that He used various kinds of “circumstances” to put it all together. And that is the case here. The first “circumstance” that God used in getting this woman in touch with Jesus was that of conflict which we find in verses 1 through 3
Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more than John, (though Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples) He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.
Here we see some of the confusion, or even jealousy, that was developing between John the Baptist’s followers and Jesus’ disciples. And not only that, the Pharisees were getting wind of it, and they could really capitalize on it. So Jesus avoids all of that by just leaving the area. Isn’t it interesting how God uses even seemingly unrelated things to “work together” for ultimate good? Then as Jesus heads toward Galilee, we see a second circumstance in meeting this woman, and one that is always present, compassion.
But He needed to go through Samaria (5) which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.
There is one word that is a key to this whole point. And that word is “needed” in verse 4. The reason that is so significant is that the Jews went out of the way to avoid going through Samaria – they had established well traveled roads around it. Nobody “needed” to go through Samaria. This was the area where the King of Assyria had moved in people to populate the area that was decimated when the Israelites went into captivity to the Babylonians (in Daniel’s day) described in II Kings 17:24 through 34. When the Jews returned to their land 70 years later under the leadership of Ezra, and later Nehemiah they couldn’t reclaim that area. And so the two groups became mortal enemies. A complication of all of this was the fact that Samaria lay exactly in the middle of Palestine. And so by the time Jesus came on the scene, the Jews were going around Samaria, twice as far as necessary, to get from Galilee in the north from Judea in the south. So why did Jesus “need” to go through Samaria? Two reasons: First, because He knew that what the Jews were doing was wrong. It was discrimination and pride. But along with that, more importantly, he had compassion on the Samaritans. He knew that they needed a savior as much as anybody did. Love of Christ and ministry for Christ always give a different perspective on the word “need.”
Out of those “circumstances,” then in verses 6 through 26 we see the conversation with the woman. First we see the prelude to the conversation in verse 6 and the first part of verse 7.
(6) Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. (7) A woman of Samaria came to draw water . . . Jesus said to her, give me a drink.”
Notice Jesus’ humanity – tired enough to sit down. He used the natural circumstances around Him to open a conversation. It was noon (“the sixth hour”) and a woman came to get water from the well. Women usually waited until it was cooler, so Jesus’ humanity knew something was wrong. So that is the prelude to the conversation. But in in the last part of verse 7 and going on through verse 26 we find the actual points of the conversation. The first thing they talked about was the nature of water in verse 7. First notice that it was Jesus who opened the conversation by making a request.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water; Jesus said to her, “give me a drink.” Here is a beautiful demonstration of God reaching out to man. (which is always the case, even though we can’t see it) But this was unheard of for a Rabbi. They didn’t speak to women in public places at all (even their own wife and daughters.) But Jesus wasn’t worried about His “image.” – he knew that was just legalism, so He just did what needed be done.
Notice the reaction of the woman in verses 9 through 14. She expresses her reaction to Jesus in the form of 3 questions. And as He answers the questions He teaches her about her deepest need. And incidentally, in doing it this way Jesus teaches us a great “technique” to use in witnessing: find a starting point in their interests or the surroundings or the current topic of conversation (look for openings, ask God for direction.) Her first question is in verse 9”
Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, how is it that you, being a Jew ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
The over-all tone of the question is not one of objection, but of curiosity. Jesus probably was thirsty, but His goal was far bigger than just the meeting of His own needs. From the fact that she doesn’t turn away we know that Jesus has begun to win her confidence. So He further develops the opening with His answer in verse 10:
Jesus answered and said to her, “if you knew the gift of God and who it who is who says to you, “give me a drink,” you would have asked and He would have given you living water.”
What an understatement: “if you knew . . .” this woman probably gets embarrassed in heaven every time someone on earth reads the story. And yet she is no different, really, than any other sinner – having a great need, but not knowing that Jesus Christ is the answer to it. This part of the story should inspire us to seek ways to make that story known – there are many people who simply don’t know who Jesus really is and what He can do for them.
Not really understanding His answer, the woman comes up with a second question (and actually, a third, although the third is an extension of the second) in verses 11 and 12.
The woman said to “Him, Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep, Where then do you get that living water? (12) Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?
Going along with His analogy, the woman draws the logical conclusion: He must be planning to get the “living water” from some other well. He doesn’t have a dipper and the well is deep, according to verse 10 But if He is going to get it he must be greater than Jacob, who dug that well – so there is confusion there too. And that is typical of all unbelievers – they would like to believe the promises of Christ, but how can it be possible? And in drawing that conclusion she is beginning to get a glimmer of His point. So Jesus builds and carries it a step further in verses 13 and 14:
Jesus answered and said to her, “whoever drinks of that water will thirst again (14) “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Here Jesus makes it clear that He is not talking about liquid water; He makes a clear distinction between liquid water and spiritual water. And this is a third point to which every unbeliever must be brought: salvation is a supernatural process. It is separate and apart from any human effort or device. Human efforts at “reform” are like liquid water: they work for awhile, but before long you are thirsty again. But salvation is “living” water because God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, lives within us.
In these verses we have been looking at “the reaction” of the woman to Jesus. But in verse 15 we have the response that she gives.
The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water that I may not thirst nor come here to draw.”
She may not have fully understood what Jesus was talking about, but she was on her way – she makes a positive step toward God. And therefore God, in His grace, gives her the next step of knowledge (just as He does with every seeker). And that is the next point. Jesus has begun the conversation by talking about “the nature of water.” But He knows that the woman will not be saved until she understands her true need. So in verses 16 through 18 He demonstrates the nature of the woman.
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (17) The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “you have well said, ‘I have no husband” (18) “for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
We can just imagine the tension in the air; perhaps she stiffened a little as she suddenly saw herself in a new light. Her honest answer in verse 17 that she does not call the man with whom she is now living her husband shows her basic sincerity. She is not far from dealing with her sin, but she is still “covering up the fact that she is living with a man. So in verse 18 Jesus brings the situation into the full light of conviction – she has had five husbands and is now living with a sixth man. At this point the woman is almost there. Jesus has shown her need for something other than human effort by talking about “living water.” In verses 7 through 15. Now He has brought her face to faith with her own sin. She knows that He knows all about her, and yet, instead of despising her like everyone else around her, He struck up a conversation with her. In fact He even made His offer of “living water” to her knowing what she was really like. And this is still God’s method with every sinner. What a marvelous truth that God knows everything there is to know about us – and yet He loves us anyway! (there are probably not too many humans of whom we can say that.)
But apparently Jesus knows that she has one other question that many unbelievers have, and that has to do with the nature of worship. And so He deals with that in verses 19 through 26. Many times an unbeliever who is presented with the claims of Christ will say, “well, that’s all well and good, but why can’t I just go on in this religion that I’m in? Why do I have to become a Christian specifically? And apparently that is what this woman is thinking. Look at verses 19 and 20.
The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. (20) “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
So Jesus explains that issue to her in verses 21 through 24: first He explains the differences in religion in verses 21 and 22
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. (22) “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
The differences in worship in her day included the fact that the Samaritans worshipped on a mountain and the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem. The Samaritan religion was an unorganized hodge-podge of Judaism and the Assyrian mystery religions. None of it is actually written down. Jesus was speaking literally when He said “you worship what you do not know” in verse 22. Jews, on the other hand, “knew”(or could have known) what their worship entailed – it was written in the Old Testament and the Rabbis had added thousands of legalistic rules to it.
Then He explains “the displacement of religion” in verses 23 through 26.
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. (24) “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.”
“Places of worship” are not important to God, neither are individual “religions” or “denominations” within individual religions” or “denominations” within those religions. True worship is done in the power of the Holy Spirit wherever it is done. And the only way to have the Holy Spirit is through faith in Christ. In verse 25 the woman indicates that she understands something of the gateway into this salvation that Jesus is talking about. – it is beginning to come together for her.
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming, (who is called Christ). “When He comes He will tell us all things.”
So Jesus meets her faith with a full revelation in verse 26.
Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
To the sincere, seeking sinner Jesus reveals Himself in a way that is clearer than He gave to the religious “professional,” Nicodemus
And that is always the way God responds to simple, trusting faith – before and after salvation. Perhaps the best illustration of what our attitude as believers ought to be is the statement of the father of a demon possessed boy in Mark 9:24, when Jesus asked him if he believed, \Lord I believe, help my unbelief.
This is a beautiful story of the process that God lovingly uses to bring sinners to Himself. But for believers it is also a reassuring illustration of the way we continue to approach Him after salvation.