A Bible Lesson on John 4:4-30, 39-42

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is a lesson on the account of Jesus and the woman at the well.

John 4:4 And he had to pass through Samaria.

Jesus “had to” exactly in the sense that it was God’s plan/intention that He was to go through Samaria and bring light to the woman and this town.

5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

The Assyrians conquered Israel in 727 BC.  They did a partial deportation of the people of the northern kingdom, carrying in in their place some pagan peoples.  As a result, the people living in the north were a mongrel people, who had mixed pagan practices with the Jewish faith.  A very clouded version of the Judaism had developed.  The Samaritans had at one point (in the 2nd century BC) taken sides with the Syrians against Judah.  There were really bad feelings between the Jews and the Samaritans.  2 Kings 17:24-41 is worth reading in this regard.

2 Kings 17:41 So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day.

7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

Jesus speaks to not only a Samaritan, but a woman, and one of bad morals.  Jesus is concerned not only with moral Jewish male leaders like Nicodemus, but with immoral, Samaritan female peasants.  Tasker said that this story makes it clear that “… the people of God is to consist of all, whatever their race, their religious background or their moral standing may be, who acknowledge Jesus as the Savior of the world, who have received from Him the life-giving Spirit, and who worship God in Spirit and in truth.”

Jesus says, “Will you give me a drink?”  On one level, this is a really startling question.  It was probably the belief at this time that even touching something belonging to a Samaritan woman made one ceremonially unclean.  A written regulation to that effect can be traced to 65 AD.  On another level, this is a very carefully chosen opening of a conversation.  Instead of her giving Jesus a drink, Jesus is going to give her real water.

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.)

The woman is, in a word, shocked, for Jews do not use vessels in common 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.”

This is an absolutely key verse.  It puts clearly what 2 things Jesus is looking for in this woman (and in us).  He is concerned that 1) she recognize who He is, and 2) that she ask Him for what He has.

Jesus says “If you knew the ‘gift.'”  This word means “free/bountiful gift.”

What does Jesus mean by “living water”/spring water/running water in opposition to the water drawn from this cistern?  There are several inseparable and related meanings.  First is the Holy Spirit.  John 7:38-39 tells us this.  Second is eternal life, as indicated in verse 14.  Third is Jesus’s revelation/teaching/truth.  The Old Testament is full of the use of the metaphor that God’s wisdom that grants life is like water.  In Proverbs 13:14, 18:4 wisdom is likened to a bubbling brook, in Isaiah 55:1 listening to God brings life.  Fourth is blessing and refreshment.  Jeremiah 17:13 and Zechariah 14:8 both speak of living water flowing from God.  Jesus is purposely drawing on all these strains of meaning.  They are, in fact, inseparable.

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?

The woman thinks that Jesus is talking about physical water.  She thinks “You are offering me running water/spring water.  Where are you going to get it?”

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.”

This typical (for the Gospel of John) misunderstanding is an opportunity for Jesus to give clarification and light.  She asks this question and the construction implies the answer “no.”  But it is ironic that totally unaware here, the woman identifies Jesus.  Indeed, He is greater than Jacob.

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 forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus contrasts the well’s physical and temporary water with His permanent and satisfying water.  In verse 14, the water that Jesus gives is likened to a clear, clean spring–superior to a stagnant cistern in verse 12.

The phrase “welling up” is literally “leaping up.”  It is usually used in regard to quick movement by living beings.  What Jesus has to give will be and give God’s 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.”

The woman has come to the point (admittedly only in partial understanding) of asking Jesus for what He has.  The 2nd of Jesus purposes is fulfilled.

Jesus now begins to turn up the heat to help the woman see clearly who He is.  He uses moral probing to prod her to see.

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

Ryle said, “Let it be noted that the first draught of living water which our Lord gave to the Samaritan woman was conviction of sin.  That fact is a lesson for all who desire to benefit ignorant and careless sinners.  The first thing to be taught to such persons, when once we have got their attention, is their own sinfulness, and their consequent need of a Saviour.  No one values the physician until he feels his disease.”

17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;

The woman answers with a half-truth.  After all, how is this Jewish passer-by going to know any different?  Jesus uses the reply to uncover her immorality.

18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

At once, Jesus has demonstrated his deity, through his supernatural knowledge of her circumstances, and put His finger on the raw nerve of Her sin.

19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.

20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

This is a (probably the) crucial point in this dialogue.  The woman has been given some light.  Will she turn and run?  She now recognizes the spiritual nature of Jesus’s talking.

Her reaction here may be something like “Oh, yeah.  Let’s talk spiritual things in general.  Let’s not get too personal.”  Or it may that she’s already genuinely undone and is thinking “He’s right, I’m miles from God.  This must be remedied.  I need to offer sacrifice, but where?  Here where we worship?  Or in Jerusalem?”  The Samaritans worshiped near Mt. Gerazim, apparently pointing back to Deuteronomy 27:4.

In verse 19 she calls Jesus a prophet.  She is impressed that Jesus knows her condition, but doesn’t yet see Jesus as anything beyond an Old Testament prophet.

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

Despite how it sounds in English, “woman” here is a courteous title.  The location of worship won’t be important, the nature will be.  You will worship “the Father.”  This is a distinctively Christian expression.  Neither Jews nor Samaritans talked of God in these terms.  But the prophets did foresee this.

Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.

22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

Jesus essentially says “For the time being, we Jews are right, and salvation is going to come through us.”

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.

“But while for the time being we Jews are right about where God is to be worshiped, that whole question is about to be made obsolete.”  The issue is not going to be “where” but rather “how” one should worship.  True worship will be “in spirit and truth.”  The “will” or “must” in this verse is imperative.  This is not optional.

21st century Christians need to think carefully about what is being said here.  To begin, there is a contrast of worship “in spirit and truth” to “in the temple at Jerusalem.”  What is intended?  One thing that it is not, is a contrast of the internal with the external.  The New Testament is full of hymn singing, bread breaking, communion sharing, water baptisms, obedience, good works, etc., etc., etc.   This is not some kind of mystical Gnostic or Platonic statement.  This is not a statement that true worship is somehow in the inner recesses of the inner man.  It is the same contrast that Jesus talked to Nicodemus about in Chapter 3.  It is the contrast of the earthly versus the heavenly.  Jesus talked to Nicodemus about temporal earthly birth versus the beginning of eternal life from God.  Here Jesus is talking about the replacement of the temporal temple with worship made alive by God’s spirit.  To worship God in spirit is to worship Him in a way made alive by God.  After all, the only ones who can call God “Father” are those made alive by Him.  To worship God in spirit and truth implies that the whole earth is full of His Glory and His worship is not limited to some centralized location and particular times and seasons.  It is real, continual, and ever-present.

Further, we must be careful how we hear the word “and” in “spirit and truth.”  There are not 2 different thoughts involved, there is no separating the two notions.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).  Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:14).  The Spirit is the “spirit of Truth” (John 14:17, 15:26).  Jesus reveals truth to men (John 18:37, 8:45) and Jesus sends the Spirit, the “spirit of Truth.”  SPIRIT AND TRUTH is one whole.  It is parallel to LIVING WATER used earlier in this passage.  They both carry the meaning of being made alive by God through his Spirit and under His divine revelation.  The point is that if we allow separation we get a wrong, mystical, notion that there is somehow spirituality outside of who God is or apart from our life in this physical world.

24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

God is greater than simply our physical existence.  He is not confined to things or to places.  They that worship Him must do so with humble, contrite, grateful and adoring spirits.  They must worship Him in complete reality.  They must worship Him at all times and in all places and in all circumstances.  True worship is intimacy with the one true and living God.

Verses 23 and 24 sum up to exactly what Jesus said to Nicodemus.  To be approved of God, our life must come from Him.  Only through the Spirit does God beget true worshipers.

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.”

The Samaritans expected a teaching, law-giving Messiah, rather than the military Messiah the Jews were looking for.  But basically, the woman’s head is spinning by this time.  She may at this point be saying that this is all too deep for anyone to explain but the coming Messiah.  Or it may be that she does, in a tentative way, see Jesus for who He is—Messiah.  Remember verse 10.  She has asked, and now she either has seen or is about to see.

26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

With uncharacteristic plainness (perhaps because he’s in Samaria rather than Judea) Jesus says that He’s Messiah.  And this declaration also probably carries an implicit claim to divinity.  Literally the sentence is “I that speak to you, I am.”  Jesus is the great I AM.

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?”

28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people,

She leaves her jar.  It’s useless for the kind of water she’s heard about.  She’s not interested in the water in Jacob’s well now that she’s tasted living water, and her first instinct is to share the wonderful grace that she has received.

29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

“Come (and) see.”  Here’s authentic Christian testimony.  She’s no apologist, no arguer.  She doesn’t even have all the answers.  But she’s seen and she invites others in honest, simple terms to come and see.

30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Jump now to verse 39 and the completion of this episode.

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”

The end of the woman’s encounter with Jesus is not only her salvation, but that of others as well.  John’s stated purpose in writing (John 20:31) is that we would believe (rely on, trust in, cleave to).

40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.

“asked” is in the continuous tense.  They kept on asking.

41 And many more believed because of his word.

There is here more complete revelation of truth and more belief.

42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

“We have heard for ourselves.”  This is 1st hand.  We must individually take God’s offer.  Second hand acquaintance or hearsay belief is not saving Faith.  Others lead us to friendship with Christ, but we must accept and enjoy that friendship ourselves.

These from the city call Jesus “the Savior of the world.”  This is a remarkably deep and accurate understanding of who Jesus is.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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