Jesus’ Experiences at Jacob’s Well
Written by Pastor Jim Dorman
1. Thoughts of John:
John 4:5–42 (NIV84) “So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “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.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I 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 won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”
The Disciples Rejoin Jesus
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
2. Passage Outline
Jesus’ Experiences at Jacob’s Well
I. Jesus Arrives at the Well at the Sixth Hour, Weary & Thirsty (vs. 5-6)
II. Jesus, the Samaritan Woman, and Living Water (vs. 7-15)
a. Jesus Breaks Jewish Custom (vs. 7-9)
b. When Questioned by the Samaritan, Jesus tells of “living water” (vs. 10)
c. Jesus explains “living water” is eternal life, the woman asks for some (vs. 11-15)
III. The Woman, Her Husbands, and Jesus’ Revelations (vs. 16-26)
a. Jesus questions the woman re her husband (vs. 16-19)
b. Jesus reveals the true manner of worship (vs. 20-24)
c. Jesus reveals His true nature (vs. 25-26)
IV. The Disciple Arrives and the Woman Departs (vs. 27-30)
V. The Disciples Experience a Teachable Moment (vs. 31-38)
a. Jesus imparts the value of Spiritual Food (vs. 31-34)
b. Develop the eyes of a spiritual reaper & the ripe harvest fields (vs. 35-36)
c. Don’t worry who sows or reaps – just do one or the other (vs. 37-38)
VI. The Fruit of the Woman’s Testimony (vs. 39-42)
a. Many believed (vs. 39)
b. Many others came to believe (vs. 42-42)
3. Information to Consider
4:1–6 Jesus Travels Through Samaria
In John 4:1–42, Jesus crosses strict cultural boundaries separating races (in the general sense of culturally distinct peoples), genders and moral status, pointing to the new and ultimate unity in the Spirit.
4:1–2. On Jesus’ baptism see comment on 3:22–23. Although ceremonial washings were common in Judaism, those who practiced initiatory baptisms (those which initiated people into a particular Jewish group) were viewed by other Jews as sectarian.
4:3–4. One could travel around Samaria, but many pilgrims to and from the feasts in Jerusalem took the shorter route straight through Samaria. Samaritans and Jews worshiped the same God and both used the law of Moses (although the Samaritans made a few changes in it). But they despised one another’s places of worship and had remained hostile toward one another for centuries.
4:5–6. The site of Jacob’s well is still known; it is within view of Mount Gerizim, which was holy to the Samaritans. This site begins a narrative that emphasizes holy geography (especially 4:20). Although this concept is foreign to most modern Western readers, ancient people were widely attracted to special “holy sites”—which Jesus here supersedes.
The “sixth hour” normally means noon; thus Jesus and the disciples had been journeying for perhaps six hours. (According to another system of time reckoning, less likely here, “sixth hour” would mean 6 p.m.—cf. 19:14—in which case Jesus and his disciples would be ready to settle down for the night and lodge there—4:40.) The local women would not come to draw water in the midday heat, but this woman had to do so, because she had to come alone (for her reasons, see comment on 4:7).
4:7–26 A Gift for a Samaritan Sinner
In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus’ gift of the Spirit supersedes the ritual waters of John the Baptist (1:26, 33), ceremonial purification (2:6), proselyte baptism (3:5) and the Feast of Tabernacles (7:37–39; 9:7). It also apparently supersedes water having other religious symbolism associated with holy sites, such as healing sanctuaries (5:2–8) and Jacob’s well (4:7–26). For John’s readers, who have the Spirit but lack many of the rituals of their opponents, these contrasts would constitute an encouragement.
4:7. That this Samaritan woman comes to the well alone rather than in the company of other women probably indicates that the rest of the women of Sychar did not like her, in this case because of her sexual activities (cf. comment on 4:18). Although Jewish teachers warned against talking much with women in general, they would have especially avoided Samaritan women, who, they declared, were unclean from birth. Other ancient accounts show that even asking water of a woman could be interpreted as flirting with her—especially if she had come alone due to a reputation for looseness. Jesus breaks all the rules of Jewish piety here. In addition, both Isaac (Gen 24:17) and Jacob (Gen 29:10) met their wives at wells; such precedent created the sort of potential ambiguity at this well that religious people wished to avoid altogether.
4:8. Pharisees considered many of the foods of the Samaritans unclean.
4:9. The woman first confronts this encounter in racial terms: under Jewish law, even her water vessel (same term as in 2:6) was considered unclean for Jewish drinking. Ironically, in John’s Gospel only non-Jews recognize Jesus’ Jewishness (here and 18:33–35).
4:10. “Living water” simply meant “fresh” or “flowing” as opposed to stagnant or well water, but given John’s propensity for double meanings (see 3:5), here the term may also mean “water of life.”
Some scholars have pointed out that the rabbis spoke of Torah, the law, as God’s gift and as living water. But John uses the symbolism differently to refer to the Spirit (7:37–39). The background here is God as provider of the source of genuine life (Is 12:3; Jer 2:13).
4:11. Jesus has no jar to lower into the well; moreover, even with a jar he could not get “living” (i.e., fresh or flowing) water from a well (see comment on 4:10).
4:12. Her saying “our father Jacob” is an affront to the Jewish teaching that the Jewish people were children of Jacob, and the Samaritans were at best half-breeds. The one who is greater than Jacob does not argue the point with her; it is peripheral to the issue he wishes to drive home.
4:13–15. The images of water and wells were often used symbolically in antiquity; like many other characters in John, however, she takes Jesus literally when he is speaking figuratively.
4:16–17. In view of the ambiguity of the situation (see comment on 4:7), her statement, “I have no husband,” could mean “I am available.” Jesus removes the ambiguity, which stems from his refusal to observe customs that reflected ethnic and gender prejudice, not from any actual flirtation on his part.
4:18. Jesus clarifies her ambiguous statement: she had been married five times and is not married to the man with whom she now lives. Samaritans were no less pious and strict than Jews, and her behavior would have resulted in ostracism from the Samaritan religious community—which would have been nearly coextensive with the whole Samaritan community.
4:19. Prophets were considered capable of knowing others’ thoughts (see comment on 1:42). Although this frequent designation for Jesus is inadequate (4:44; 6:14; 7:40; 9:17), it at least moves the conversation beyond 4:17. The Samaritans awaited not just any prophet, however, but the greatest prophet, one like Moses (Deut 18:15–18); see John 4:25.
4:20. Mount Gerizim, the Samaritans’ holy site equivalent to Judaism’s Jerusalem, was in full view of Jacob’s well. She uses the past tense for “worship” precisely because of her continuing consciousness of Jews’ and Samaritans’ racial separation: roughly two centuries before, the Jewish king had obliterated the Samaritan temple on that mountain, and it had remained in ruins ever since. Samaritans mocked the Jewish holy site and once, under cover of night, even sought to defile the Jerusalem temple. Jews similarly ridiculed Mount Gerizim and even built many of their synagogues so worshipers could face Jerusalem.
4:21. “A time is coming” was common prophetic language (1 Sam 2:31; 2 Kings 20:17; Jer 31:31); because she accepts him as a prophet (4:19), she has to listen to his message.
4:22. Jesus is not neutral; he accepts the correctness of the Jewish position, although he does not allow that to remain as an ultimate barrier to racial reconciliation (4:23). In a Gospel addressing Jewish Christians rejected by their synagogues (see the introduction), this point is significant.
4:23–24. When he speaks of “worship in Spirit and truth,” Jesus may have in view the common identification of the Spirit with prophecy in ancient Judaism, as well as Old Testament passages about charismatic, prophetic worship (especially 1 Sam 10:5; 1 Chron 25:1–6). Given the general belief that the prophetic Spirit was no longer active, Jesus’ words would strike ancient ears forcefully. The future hour (4:21) is present as well as future; Jesus makes the character of the future world available to his disciples in their present lives (see comment on 3:16). For oppressed Jews and Samaritans longing for the future promise, this was also a striking statement.
4:25–26. Later Samaritan documents explain the Samaritan concept of a messiah: the Taheb, or restorer, was a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15–18).
4. Questions to Ponder
- What time of day is the “sixth” hour? (vs. 6)
- What is it to worship in “spirit and in truth” (vs. 24)
- What revolutionary teaching is found in vs. 21, 23?
- Why did the Disciples marvel that Jesus was speaking with a woman? (vs. 27)
- What took Jesus’ appetite? (vs. 31-32)
- In what month of the year did this occur? (vs. 35)
5. Author’s Comments
In the 23rd and 24th verse, John records two verses which have challenged and shaped my ministry and my personal for many years. Within Jesus’ discourse with the Samaritan woman, we find these words, “Yet, a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24
The words, “his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” have sent me on a life-long search to discover exactly what Jesus meant.
When I was an undergraduate student at Manhattan Christian College, I put down these thoughts: To worship in Spirit is to worship with a proper nature, with no need to be in a certain place, with no need to be of a certain race, to express ourselves with a proper attitude from our hearts, and to communicate our love of God in the form of our God. In addition, we are to worship God in Truth – to comprehend His truths and live our lives according to the authoritative revelation given to us in Scripture and how God desired His adopted children to live.
I have found if people seek to worship God only in Spirit, they begin to wander from the path of God’s Truth. They begin to worship a god of their own creation – a god reflecting their own perceptions, hopes and dreams for a god they desire to create in order to guide them to pursue their own desires and wishes for their lives. While their desire to worship the one true God is sincere, they find themselves at the altar of a god which is only a shadow of the God who created the universe and all who dwell in its vast expanse.
In addition to worshiping God in Spirit, Jesus calls us to worship God in truth. Yet, for those who only worship God in truth begin to find themselves moving toward the realm of legalism. Those who seek to relate to God only through the acquisition of truth, fail to discover and deepen their relationship with God and others as they seek to grow in their worship of God.
Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we have the ability to experience a personal and corporate worship with God and His adopted children. An ever deepening worship built on the foundations of both Spirit and Truth. A pursuit which brings us into the wonderful presence of God and allows us to deepen the most important relationship we will ever have in our personal lives. I hope it is a pursuit each of us chooses to faithfully pursue.
6. Closing Prayer
What a privilege we have having a relationship with You. Human beings giving the opportunity to establish, maintain, and build an eternal connection with the Creator and God of the Universe in which we live.
Father, may we always find occasions to deepen our spiritual connection with You. And, may we build our relationships with You on the foundation of truth. As we do, may our relationship with You reflect the type of relations Jesus had in mind during His discourse with the Samaritan woman.
Guide is in our spiritual pursuits and may our connections with You continue to deepen and remain the most meaningful relationship in our lives.
7. Answers to “Questions to Ponder”
- If John was using the criteria of the Roman time system, it would be six in the evening. If he was using the Jewish time system, it would be noon.
- Spirit: Worship with a proper nature, with no need of a certain place, no certain race, with a proper attitude from the heart, and in the form of our God. Truth: according to authoritative revelation and how God has taught us to.
- The time of worshiping in sprit and truth was now at hand. The old system was being abolished – a process which was occurring even before the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. While the ultimate price had yet to be paid, God’s prophecy was being fulfilled.
- The writings of the Rabbis said, “Let no one talk with a woman in the street, no, not even with his wife.” Here Jesus was not only speaking with a woman who was not his wife, but with a woman he did not even know.
- His zeal for fulfilling the work of the Kingdom. All other appetites were removed from Jesus as His satiation from His Father’s work sustained Him.
- By the statement, “There are yet four months”. In Palestine, harvest occurs in May so we can be fairly certain this event occurred in January.