John 4:15 – 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.”
Welcome back readers! In our last post we began to look at the interaction of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. We took a closer look at the history of the Samaritans and why they were such bitter enemies of the Jews.
We saw that Jesus started out connecting with this woman on a very common level – the need of every person for water. He then drew a parallel between the need for earthly water and the need for the spiritual water of Holy Spirit, the source of all spiritual graces including eternal life.
The woman does not yet discern the spiritual implications of what Jesus is saying; she is still focused on the natural realm. She is probably thinking about how much time and labor she spends coming to draw water at this well every day. Perhaps she is thinking about how uncomfortable it is to draw water during the hottest part of the day and how wonderful it would be to have water which permanently quenched the thirst. She is interested in what Jesus has to say because she thinks it will ease her labor in this earthly life.
John 4:16 – Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
Strange as it may seem, this is actually a partial answer to her request. The living water of salvation comes when Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin upon an individual and they embrace repentance. The mention of her husband immediately leads her to consider her own sinful state; no one is more painfully aware of her sexual uncleanness than she is.
Thus, by one simple statement, Jesus makes her conscious of her own sin. He begins to open her spiritual eyes. No doubt, she begins to understand that Jesus speaks of spiritual water, not earthly water.
Jesus is answering her prayer, but not in the way she imagined. Has that ever happened to you? When? Have you ever been unhappy with the way God answered a prayer, only to realize later that he gave you the exact thing you needed?
John 4:17-18 – The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’, for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
The exact situation of the woman is unknown.
Was she actually widowed five times, but then found to be living in a sinful relationship with a sixth man? While possible, this is somewhat unlikely.
A more plausible explanation is that, given the easy divorce laws of the day, she had been divorced from some of these men (Matthew 19:3-9). While the most trifling reason could be given by the husband as grounds for divorce, the implication is that she had engaged in either adultery or some other lascivious behavior. So while her life had at least some outward show of respectability, she was clearly living in a sinful relationship.
Notice that Jesus does not publicly announce her sin, so that others can judge her. His goal is to bring her to repentance, not humiliate her. We should treat others the same way.
John 4:19 – The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”
Look at this startling encounter from the Samaritan’s point of view. Here is a stranger – a man she had never met before. He was a Jew, which means he was not hanging around Samaria where he could have picked up local knowledge about her situation. If a man such as this knew the secrets of her life, then he could only have received that information by divine inspiration. Conclusion: The man is a prophet.
Interestingly, the woman does not deny the truth of the charges Jesus brought against her. She does not become angry and defensive. She does not make excuses or attempt to justify her sin. She implicitly acknowledges/confesses the truth of what he said.
And despite the reproof Jesus has just given her, she respectfully addresses him as ‘sir’ and she shows a willingness to be taught further by him. (Notice the contrast between this woman and the Pharisees – when Jesus reveals their sins to them, they call him a Samaritan and claim he has a devil; they seek only to silence him.)
This is another step in the progression of this woman’s spiritual awakening. At first, she regarded Jesus as nothing more than a despised Jew. She wonders how he would have the nerve to ask her for a favor. As she engaged him in an unusual conversation, she begins to perceive that he is not just an ordinary man. Now, she begins to see him as a prophet and she seeks his advice on one of the most troubling religious disputes of that day.
John 4:20 – “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
Our fathers: Remember, the Samaritans were part Jewish, so they claimed all of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc) as their ancestors.
Worshiped on this mountain: Again, she is referring to Mount Gerizim. As we mentioned in our last post, Jacob did indeed build an altar to God in that place, so her statement is technically true.
However, there is more to the story than just that. As we also mentioned last time, during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews had returned from captivity and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. They rededicated the priests to God. Part of that rededication involved divorcing their foreign wives (Ezra 10:3).
One of the priests who had married a foreign wife was Manasses, son of Joiad, son of Eliashib. He had married the daughter of Sanballat, an enemy of the Jews. Because of this marriage, Nehemiah expelled him from the priesthood (Nehemiah 13:28).
According to the historian Josephus, Sanballat promised Manasses that he would build a temple on Mount Gerizim, identical to the one at Jerusalem. Further, he would make Manasses the high priest, provided Manasses did not divorce his daughter.
Also according to Josephus (Antiquities book 1 chapter 11), other priests fled to the temple at Gerizim so they too could stay in the priesthood and keep their foreign wives.
This was the beginning of the bitter dispute between the Jews and Samaritans over the true site of worship. But sadly, there really was no dispute – God had clearly ordained only one place of true worship during the era of the law (Deuteronomy 12:1-14, 26) and that was Jerusalem.
But you: The Jews.
Say that Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship: As sincere as the Samaritans were, they were still wrong. There can be no doubt about Jerusalem being the place of true worship, as ordained by God all throughout the Old Testament (I Kings 9:3, II Chronicles 6:3-6, Isaiah 2:3, Isaiah 44:28, etc, etc).
Jeremiah 3:17 – At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil hearts.
Why does the Samaritan woman bring up this controversial topic?
- Some believe she asked this question because she really thought that as a prophet Jesus could settle the dispute.
- Some hold the opinion that she just wanted to divert the conversation away from the topic of her personal life; many sinners are willing to talk about religious topics, as long as the conversation doesn’t get too close to their own heart.
- But most feel her question is genuine – she is a true spiritual seeker who wishes to be instructed on the pure worship of God.
Regardless of her motivation, Jesus has the situation well in hand. He is going to turn her focus away from rituals and places. He is going to prepare her to become a true worshiper of God.
John 4:21-22 – Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”
The Samaritan had already acknowledged Jesus as a prophet – one who was there to reveal the will of God to man. Since this was the case, she should pay careful attention to what Jesus is about to reveal to her. He is about to make known a profound truth as yet unknown to mankind. It is something entirely unexpected and so startling, many Jews will stumble because of it. Nevertheless, it must be true because Jesus emphatically tells her to believe it.
Jesus declares that the Jews had regularly worshiped God in Jerusalem, which was right and proper. At the same time, the Samaritans had superstitiously worshiped God on Mount Gerizim. Yet a time was soon coming when the location of worship no longer mattered; it would no longer be confined to one place. Since that was the case, the dispute over Gerizim versus Jerusalem was a moot point.
When would this occur? In slightly less than three years. God had designated Jerusalem as the only center of true worship under the Law/old covenant. But with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the ceremonial law (temple worship) would soon be set aside.
Through the Jewish Messiah, the new covenant of grace would be instituted (salvation is from the Jews). The wall between Jews and Gentiles would be torn down (Ephesians 2:14). Under the new covenant, Holy Spirit indwells each individual believer (including those of Samaria) making them a temple of God (I Corinthians 6:19). Thus, a true believer can worship the Father at any time, in any place.
This is good news for us. We can worship God in our car, while mowing the lawn, folding laundry, shopping or walking through the woods. There is no place that we cannot enter into the very throne room of God and make our petitions known to him (Hebrews 4:16).
John 4:23 – “But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”
Jesus now drops another bombshell. Not only will the place/location of worship change, but once he was resurrected from the dead, the worship itself will also be different.
Under the law, worship consisted of prescribed rites and ceremonies. There were holy days to observe, rules to follow, and bloody offerings to make. God was served and worshiped in a very external manner.
But with the coming of the gospel dispensation, worship is transformed. It is no longer an external act but an internal event where the heart, soul and mind and offered to God. People who worship in this way can be said to worship in the spirit. In this case, ‘spirit’ stands in opposition to the rites and ceremonies of the law. This type of worship manifests itself in faith, love, prayer, thanksgiving/praise, purity of heart and willing obedience to God’s laws. This kind of relationship is what God desires/seeks from mankind.
However, this is not to say that under the law/old covenant God did not know or was not concerned with the motivations of his people. Scripture shows us that the exact opposite was true.
If the Jews tried to simply keep the rituals of the law without a pure heart, God always knew it (Psalms 139:2-2). It disgusted and angered him (Isaiah 1:10-15). Time and time again he sent his prophets to call out his people for vain worship. A good example of this can be found in Isaiah 58:1-14.
In this instance, the Jews could not understand why God did not honor their fasting before him. But God reveals that their fasting was full of hypocrisy. While they fasted, they also broke his laws, oppressed the poor and cheated each other. This kind of worship was not acceptable to God. Jesus made this plain when he quoted the words of Isaiah:
Mark 7:6-7 – And he [Jesus] said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “’This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
God never changes (Malachi 3:6), so while he appointed the old mode of worship found under the law, he still required it to take place with a pure heart. Worship under the law was still spiritual in its substance, but because the law was a type and shadow of what was to come, the expression of that worship was wrapped in external earthly ceremonies and rituals.
So we see that true worship, whether under the law or under grace, flows from a heart that is righteous before God.
Now… let’s examine ourselves. Is our worship always true and pure? I know mine isn’t. I can remember times in the past when I was singing a worship song in church, but thinking about all the tasks I had to complete that day. I know there have been times when God called me to show love and acceptance to people, but I was unwilling; I did it, but only grudgingly and with complaining.
God greatly desires us to worship him in spirit and in truth. Will we answer that call?
John 4:24 – “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Jesus reveals to us the true nature of God – he is a Spirit or we might say a pure spiritual substance; he does not have a body.
So in order for worship to be acceptable to God (who is a Spirit), it must be spiritual in nature – it must spring from the heart, through the influence of Holy Spirit. It must be sincere and also performed according to the truth/divine revelation he has given to mankind.
Since God is Spirit, he is absolutely free from all limitations of space and time. Therefore worship of him cannot be limited to any particular time (like the Sabbath) or place such as the temple at Jerusalem (Acts 7:48-49).
Since God is Spirit, by default he is not some kind of abstract force, as science might assert, but a true Being that has invited us to have a relationship with Him. The very basis of this relationship is true spiritual worship.
John 4:25 – The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”
Remember, at this point, the woman believes Jesus is a prophet sent from God. As the conversation progressed, she became aware that an extraordinary change was about to take place in religion. This, no doubt, brought thoughts of the long anticipated Messiah to her mind.
She actually reveals several things in this brief verse.
- First, she says the Messiah is coming. In the original Greek, her statement is present tense, meaning that the time is now or near at hand. At the time of Christ there was a general expectation among people that the coming of Messiah was imminent. Even the Samaritans looked for his arrival, though they followed a corrupted version of the law and anticipated a much different Messiah than the Jews.
- Second, she says the Messiah will ‘tell us all things’. The implication is that she realizes the law (and her/their understanding of it), was imperfect. There was more that God planned to reveal to mankind. And when the Messiah finally did reveal the will of God to the world, it would end or settle religious controversies (such as where and how to worship).
- Third, she implies a contrast between the prophets and the Messiah. The prophets of old had given God’s people basic revelations of God and his ways. They revealed parts or certain aspects of his nature, but their revelation was limited. On the other hand, Messiah was expected to reveal everything about the Father. Therefore, the Messiah will be the ultimate teacher/instructor of the godly.
John 4:26 – Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
What an incredible revelation! And this is the first time Jesus openly professes it.
The religious leaders of the day asked Jesus point blank, ‘If you are the Christ, tell us plainly’ (John 10:24), but Jesus refused to give a direct answer because the truth would have produced envy and opposition to his work.
On the other hand, the Samaritan was an honest seeker of the truth. God always delights to reveal himself to those with a true and humble desire to know him.
John 4:27 – Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
As the disciples return from buying groceries, they find Jesus in conversation with the Samaritan woman. This shocked them, because it was unconventional in their day.
In that culture, men did not speak to women out in public as we do today. In fact, Rabbinic law even forbid men to speak to their own wives in public. So it was very unusual for Jesus to be speaking to this woman. Furthermore, she wasn’t just a woman, but a Samaritan; it was considered beneath the dignity of a Jews to interact with one of them.
But despite the amazement of the disciples, they never even considered questioning the actions of the Jesus. Their acceptance of him as Messiah and their reverence/respect for him caused them to keep their opinions to themselves.
John 4:28-29 – So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
Based on her conversation with Jesus, the woman is convinced that she has found the long awaited Messiah and she immediately goes into the town and publishes her findings to anyone who would listen. Her desire is that others would also come to hear him and judge for themselves whether he was the Messiah or not.
It seems that the living water of salvation was already springing up within her soul; she hardly noticed that she left without the earthly water she so desired! What a contrast she presents with the Jewish religious leaders, who did their best to hinder people from turning to Christ.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
God desires worship that is spiritual and true. This means it is not just an external action, but an internal event of the heart which then manifests itself in an outward action such as prayer, praise or obedience.
Even as Christians it is possible for us to go through the motions of worship, while our hearts are far from God. This is not acceptable worship. Perhaps this is a good time to take a fresh look at ourselves. Is worship something we do on automatic pilot, or are our hearts and minds actively engaged in what we are doing?
Let me offer you some relief:
You don’t have to have a doctorate in theology to share the gospel with people. You just have to find some common ground with them. Jesus connected with the Samaritan woman over their mutual need for water. You and I connect with people over common things every day. We need to train ourselves to use these opportunities to share the gospel.
Let me offer you some strength:
When the Samaritan asked Jesus to give her living water, the first step in the process was for her to acknowledge her own sin. I am sure this was not what she expected. It must have been somewhat painful, because she tries to avoid the issue of her numerous husbands.
We too have sin that should be dealt with. But that can be a painful process; one that we would rather avoid or pretend does not exist! But if we have the courage and strength to face those issues, Jesus will cleanse us and set us free from the bondages that limit us.