September 6, 2020

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria

A Samaritan woman living in adultery approaches Jacob’s well to draw her daily supply of water. She comes at noon in the heat of the day, unlike other women who typically come in the cool morning and evening hours. As she approaches, she sees a man sitting at the well. He’s a Jew, those who despise Samaritans. She will soon learn this is no ordinary Jew. He is the Messiah, and what he has to offer will change her life forever.

Gathering water was primarily a woman’s responsibility. Most women chose to come to the well at the same time to socialize and share the latest news. Weighing at least 40 pounds, a family’s daily supply of water required great strength to carry. Such an arduous task would be avoided at noon when the sun is high. As someone who had previously had five husbands and was now living with a man unmarried, she chooses this unpopular time most likely because she has been ostracized by others and the subject of their gossip. At the hottest time of the day, she can gather her daily supply of water alone and unnoticed.

As this woman is making her way to the well, Jesus and his disciples have left the well-travelled path to take a shortcut through Samaria. Jews typically would use a longer route between Galilee and Jerusalem. They did this to avoid Samaritans whom they considered to be unclean and of mixed blood. According to the Pharisees, touching a Samaritan, someone living with another unmarried to them, or even just a woman, could render a Jew unclean. The woman who finds Jesus alone at the well is all three.

As the woman quietly prepares to fill her waterpot with her daily supply of water, Jesus makes a simple request. “Give me to drink” (John 4:7). This must have surprised her for she responds, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” (John 4:9)

Jesus and the Woman at the Well by Anton Robert Leinweber
If Jesus were to touch even the cup the adulteress Samaritan woman used to get him a drink, he would then be considered by some to be ritually unclean. This would require a need to become ritually clean once more.

In Biblical times, water was not just considered essential for one’s physical sustenance but for spiritual survival as well. In order to become ritually clean, one would wash in what is known as a mikvah filled with living water. Living water came from a natural source of moving water such as a spring, rainwater, or a stream. If even just a small amount of living water was added to water that was stagnant or not moving, all of it would then be considered living water and thus able to be used for purification.

Mikvah from the time of Christ next to the Temple Mount
When Jesus mentions living water to the Samaritan woman, she seems to understand the spiritual significance of Christ’s words. Samaritans still had many of the truths of the law of Moses and practiced them during the time of Christ. As a woman living in sin, she would want to experience the purification that living water could provide. However, she is confused by his offering. The well is deep and Christ does not have a way to access this living water. He then offers a profound promise: “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst;” (John 4:13-14)

After being taught from the Savior, she is then offered a rare gift, one that few have received up to this point, including Christ’s own disciples. She receives a clear witness that Jesus is in fact the Messiah she seeks. He simply states, “I Am the Messiah!” (John 4:26 NLT). As we read the story in John, we see that the Samaritan woman has progressed towards a deeper understanding of the man she initially met at Jacob’s well. First, she calls him a Jew (v. 9), then Sir (v. 11), then prophet (v. 19) and finally Christ (v. 29).

Samaritan Woman at the Well by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller
 The purification received from grace now begins to work within her. She realizes she has met her Savior. She leaves behind the waterpot she had brought to collect her daily water and runs to testify to the very ones she had hoped to avoid by coming to the well at noon. She proclaims to them, “Come, see… is not this the Christ?” (John 4:29) Because many people believed her testimony, Jesus was welcomed into her village. There he stayed for two days as people came to see the man she has witnessed is the Christ.

While this story stands alone as a witness to the divinity of the Savior, it has an even more powerful message when one considers that John has placed it next to the story of Nicodemus (see John 3). John frequently used this technique to allow readers to gain poignant insights with a side-by-side comparison of opposite characters.

Nicodemus was a Jew and a ruler in the Sanhedrin, she was a Samaritan and an adulterer. Nicodemus would have studied the law, as a woman she would not have been formally taught the law. Nicodemus comes to Christ when it is fully dark, the woman comes to the well in full light. He does not ask to be spiritually born, she asks for the living water. Nicodemus does not appear to tell others immediately what he has learned, this woman runs to tell others what she now knows.

Even today Nicodemus would seem like the one Christ would select as a witness. His wealth, education, and powerful influence should make him the obvious choice. Yet Jesus chooses the one who is none of these. He chooses the adulteress Samaritan woman. God knows best who will be his most effective servants. We should not doubt God’s ability to give us through grace the power we need, even when we feel weak.

As we contemplate the events that occurred with Jesus and the woman at the well, both men and women alike can see themselves in this powerful story. In the modern world, we do not socialize at wells, but we do find places to gather to connect with others. At times we may not feel worthy or accepted by others, and thus withdraw or exclude ourselves from the group. Fortunately, Christ is willing to leave the well-worn path and come to where we are.

Just as the woman was surprised that Christ would ask her for something to drink, we too may feel that what we have to offer is not acceptable. Christ is willing to receive whatever we freely give no matter how meager it might be.

Each of us comes to our own Jacob’s well. We seek to quench our thirst only to have to return later. We try to be fulfilled by what the world has to offer, and yet it always leaves us wanting for more. When we come to Christ, he offers us the refreshing, purifying living water. It washes over us leaving us clean and whole. It nourishes and strengthens us so that we can leave behind our earthly cares and rush to testify of Jesus the Christ.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack


  1. warrenrenshaw@sbcglobal.netSeptember 12, 2020

    I've never heard about the ritual cleansing called living water. May I know your sources? Ty

    1. Warren,

      Here is a link to a Jewish website that discusses the significance of the mikvah. They don't directly mention "living water" but they do talk about water needing to be moving or in essence "living" water that is not stagnant.

      This link is likewise a Jewish source and mentions "living water" as being used in the ritual for cleansing.

      Much of this is later Jewish teachings, but the concept of ritual washing and using living water comes from the Old Testament law. I don't recall the passage, but I have read it before (which I know, is not helpful). Hopefully, that at least puts you in the right direction.


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