11

John 4:5-8

New Living Translation (NLT)

5: Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.

6: Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.

7: Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”

8: He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

So according to my water drawing knowledge, people used to draw water once in the day and once in the night.

Genesis 24:11

New Living Translation (NLT)

11: He made the camels kneel beside a well just outside the town. It was evening, and the women were coming out to draw water.

My knowledge is further reinforced by that fact that no one else in the village was with the Samaritan woman to draw water. It seems a bit too convenient for Jesus. Why was the woman drawing water at the middle of the day?

  • 3
    This is a great question, and one that is also noted by some of the most esteemed Bible commentators that I have consulted. – Jas 3.1 Apr 10 '13 at 22:14
  • How does "she and her household were thirsty" not answer your question? – KorvinStarmast May 23 at 17:02
14

It wasn't just convenient: according to John (verse 4) Jesus "had to" (dei') pass through Samaria. It was not geographically necessary, as He could have (like most Jews did unless they were in a hurry) gone around Samaria. When John uses dei' he is referring to God's will. Jesus passed through Samaria with the intention of speaking with this woman.

Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." 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." (John 4:16-18)

She lived in a culture that followed strict laws concerning sexual purity, so it seems she would have been an outcast. Considering the Samaritans were rejected by Jews (John 4:9), she is an outcast among outcasts.

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    It is also possible that she ran out of water and was thirsty. +1 – 3961 Apr 10 '13 at 22:17
  • I find it hard to believe that the rest of the town would have listened to her so easily if she was an outcast. It is however the opinion of my priest. – Belinda Mar 20 '17 at 15:13
  • I think you need to go one step further in your analysis. The woman was there in the heat of the day likely because she WAS an outcast and wanted to avoid being with "normal," upstanding women who drew water early in the morning or toward evening when the heat was not as oppressive as at noon.She may have been reluctant to socialize with women who may have treated her unkindly and/or had gossiped about her in the past.. If I were to suggest an emotion she may have experienced frequently and intensely, it would be shame. – rhetorician May 21 at 15:37
  • @Belinda - "I find it hard to believe that the rest of the town would have listened to her so easily if she was an outcast. It is however the opinion of my priest." - I have given another possibility below, which you might prefer? – Andrew Shanks Oct 6 at 23:40
6

This is a quite fascinating question, where we can speculate to our hearts' content!

First, it must be pointed out that the New Living Translation you have quoted is dogmatic in its assertion that it was "about noontime". The text merely states it was "at about the sixth hour". Commentators point out it is very difficult to know if John's Gospel means the Roman sixth hour or the Jewish sixth hour. One of these is noontime, the other is six in the evening.

Having said that, either way she went alone, and furthermore it seems it was not a busy time at the well: she and Jesus were alone together. These considerations suggest the time she went was an unusual time for going to the well. Personally, I think these factors point to midday rather than the evening.

"Jesus sat thus on the well" (John 4:6). Some Sunday School pictures have a hole in the ground with a low brick wall around the opening and a rope dangling down over the side. This seems quite impossible in my opinion. A long rope would be very unpleasant to lift up and down, the weight would be quite uncomfortable, even for a fit healthy man, and even without a container full of water. Much more likely the well was constructed like "traditional" wells, having a construction above the hole, with a spindle to hold the rope, and a handle to turn the spindle. In Jacob's time, when he needed lots of water to water all his animals he would probably have had a cogged vertical wheel on the same axel as the spindle and another cogged wheel horizontal which turned the vertical, allowing a harnessed animal to raise and lower the water containers. Over the top of the spindle and over all would have been a roof. When Jesus sat on the well he would probably have sat on the north or east side of the well, probably on built-in seating, enjoying the shade provided by the roof from the hot sun.

He sat on the well "being wearied from his journey" (verse 6). John, who loves to emphasise Jesus' Deity, here emphasises his manhood... he was fully 100% man. I hope you do not think me impertinent to say he was fully man above the belt, and he was fully man below the belt. The reason for stressing this will appear later. He had the feelings, affections, natural desires of a man. But not any of the sinful distortion of those feelings. Scripture says he was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). When Adam on seeing Eve poetically cried "This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23) all his affection, love and desire was sinlessly pure. Generous, outward, giving, not just taking, not selfish nor self-centred. Jesus had the same sinless purity. In short, this man has gone out of his way, possibly into some personal danger, but certainly to the point of wearying himself, in order to find this woman. And now here comes this woman, alone, towards this man, alone: the Writer has a reason for drawing this picture.

There is background information which should be considered. This background information leads to the wider question:

Why did she go to this particular source or water, alone, at this time?

  1. Jacob's well is still there. It was emptied of rubbish in modern times and is now inside a church building and thus given the protection it deserves. When it was emptied they found it to be over a hundred feet deep, or three (British) telegraph poles in depth. That's deep: the air does not circulate down readily and the oxygen thus gets easily depleted down there, it was an engineering achievement to dig it. I've read somewhere else it is even deeper, forty meters.

  2. Where had she walked from? From Sychar. And where was this? There are two favourites: Shechem or modern day Aschar. The modern town of Nablus is no longer thought to have been Shechem, but rather modern Tell Balata. Tell Balata is very close to Jacob's Well while Aschar is just over half a mile. In fact Tell Balata is so close to Jacob's Well that the woman saying she did not want to keep continuing to "come here to draw" (John 4:15) makes better sense if Aschar is Sychar.

  3. There are areas of the Levant which do not have much rainfall, such as in the Jordan Valley. This area is not one of them. It is in the hills of Ephraim and Mount Gerizim and Ebal are both about 3000 feet high, attracting rain. There is today about 30 to 35 inches of rainfall on Mount Gerizim and on Mount Ebal each year. There are many springs of water in the area, so why would she have needed to walk to this one?

  4. The rain in Israel/Palestine falls almost entirely in the winter months, with some in Autumn and Spring. The meeting between Jesus and the woman happened four months before the harvest (John 4:35) or about March/early April, so there has been a lot of rain over the past few months - there ought to be no shortage of water pouring from any of the several springs in the region ( https://www.weather-atlas.com/en/west-bank/nablus-park-climate ).

  5. Jacob's Well did not belong to any town or village. It was an ancient well with access to anyone who wanted it. It was on the main highway from Bethel up to Shechem (Judges 21:19). From Bethel it continues south to Hebron. Later it became the main route for the northern tribes to Bethel and then on to Jerusalem. At Shechem it continues north up to Tirzah, and then north north east to Bethshan, and then up the western side of the Sea of Galilee. Also at Jacob's Well is a "T junction" and it is joined by the highway from the City of Samaria/Sebaste, running west north west through the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.

The north-south highway was well travelled: it was on this route, coming from the north, that Abraham came down when he first entered the land. It was on this route that the spies of Joshua went north, then south, as they spied out the land. It was on this route that the tribe of Dan journeyed north to settle in Laish/Dan. After the conquest Shechem became a City of Refuge and all of these nearby roads were required to be well maintained (Deuteronomy 19:3). According to the Talmud such roads were to be 48 feet wide with signposts at junctions pointing the way to the City of Refuge. https://biblehub.com/library/edersheim/sketches_of_jewish_social_life/chapter_4_travelling_in_palestineroads.htm

It follows from all this that the road boasting Jacob's Well was well defined, well known, and well used. The well is on the main north south route of the hill country of Samaria leading down into central Judaea.

A village well might have had restrictions on who could use it: this well was beside the highway and could be used by travellers and all. It would have been maintained along with the highway in order to keep the requirements relating to routes leading to the Cities of Refuge.

The main point here is that there would have been men travelling on this route, and using this well, strangers from far or near.

Then again, it was often the task of women, even teenage women to get the water for the household. I guess women would go together not just for companionship but also for reasons of safety. This might not have been so important for the local village well, but it would have been much more important for a main highway well such as Jacob's Well: what sort of people, especially travelling men, might you come across at such a well? A woman would need to be careful.

And yet good things, romantic things, life changing events could happen at wells, and the Bible has several such events: Abraham's servant, sent to bring back a wife for Isaac, met Rebeccah at a well (Genesis 24); Moses first met Zipporah, his future wife, at a well (Exodus 2:17-21); not forgetting the builder of this well and his emotional meeting with his future wife, Rachel, at a well (Genesis 29:9, etc). The Samaritans recognised the first five books of the Bible, Genesis to Deuteronomy, as Scripture: all these events are in their Scriptures in the books of Genesis and Exodus.

So much for the background.

So what might have been the reason for the Samaritan woman drawing water at an unusual time?

The usual answer to the question is:-

  1. The women did not want to go with her. She was a social outcast because she had had too many husbands and now lived with one who was not her husband.

But there are other possibilities:-

  1. She was a stranger to the village. She had at some point needed to "move on" to have any hope of marrying again. In this scenario, the villagers knew very little about her except the dishonest half-truths she had made up about her past. And she went to the well alone, not because the women of the village did not want to talk to her, but because she did not want to talk to them... she did not want to be having to answer their prying questions about her past life, knowing they would ostracise her if they knew. This scenario fits quite well because, when Jesus told her she had had five husbands and another man, she immediately realised, that humanly speaking, he could not possibly have known. In her mind, no one knew except herself and God. He hadn't been told it by any one in the village, because no one in the village had any idea. And, oh, the joy of discovering that someone knew all about her and yet still respected her and showed compassion and love and was offering her something, some mysterious, "living water"!

    Furthermore, if she had always lived in the neighbourhood/village then all the men would have known how many times she had been married before. Marriage in a comparatively poor society was/is an economic transaction at least as much as for romance. So why would husband number four or five have bothered to marry her at all? Surely she must have been a stranger in the village, and previous husbands were somewhere else in the land of Samaria. Nobody knew all of her past life, and she had always intended to keep it that way, to wear a mask.

    When she went into the village and told the men "He told me all that I ever did", she may have given a full confession of her dishonesty, she may have told them at last about her five husbands. Perhaps, the fact that the man at the well knew all about her past while they themselves did not know explains better why the men of the village wanted to see Jesus for themselves. But what really aroused their interest was probably that this sad, depressed woman was now so full of joyful excitement.

  2. She went at an unusual time because she wanted to go alone, and she wanted to go alone because she wanted to find another man. If that was her motivation then this well was far and away the best place to go, because it was the well for travellers, and it was a long way from her home village, at least further away than other water sources, and the villagers would not know what she had been up to.

    Her current partner either did not know she went to this well alone, or wasn't too bothered if she did. Nor did she much care about the danger she was exposing herself to. She was sick of the relationship she was now in, she was dying a thousand deaths of boredom and loneliness in that horrible village anyway. Maybe her current partner was contemptuous or even violent towards her: so if a strange man killed her..... did she care any more? She was willing to take a risk in the hope of bumping into a new decent man to escape from her current misery... her life had hit an all-time low, she was very poor and very depressed. With what feeling would she have been able to sing

    I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,

    But, ah, the waters failed!

    Even as I stooped to drink they fled,

    And mocked me as I wailed.

SO much for her possible reasons. The event is only half-considered if we restrict ourselves to her reasons. Let us briefly look at Jesus's reason for being at the well at this unusual time.

Whatever her reason, there is a romantic element in this story, it is in the providence of God that she had had exactly five husbands, not more nor less: it is deliberate. She had had five husbands who divorced her, and one man who would not commit himself to her, and finally along comes Jesus.

Seven is the perfect number in the Bible. A sevenfold promise is a perfect promise. In fact, in Hebrew "to seven oneself" is to make a promise or an oath. Hence Beersheba is both the "Well of Covenant" and the Well of Seven (the seven ewe lambs that are given to be witnesses to Abraham's ownership of the well) (Gen 21:29-31).

Perhaps it originated like this "I promise I will keep this promise to you on Mondays, I promise I will keep this promise to you on Tuesdays...Wednesdays..." etc. A sevenfold promise thus became a perfect promise, a promise which will be kept on every day of the week. Subsequently to this, seven became the perfect number.

Here are the wells of sevenfold promise in Scripture:

Beersheba - the Well of Seven, or the Well of Promise (Gen 21:29-31);

the well where Abraham's servant met Rebekah, is the "Well of the Servant Under a Seven" (i.e. under an oath) (Gen 24:8);

the well where Jacob met Rachel is the "Well of the Bride who Cost Seven Years of Indentured Service" (Gen 29:18);

the well where Moses met Zipporah is the "Well of the Seven Daughters" (Ex 2:16);

In each case a well is present; in each case a permanently binding promise is made (mostly of marriage); in each case the number seven, the number of promise, appears; in each case the two people making this promise to each other are of different nations and cultural backgrounds; and they are all leading up to the final well, which is the culmination of all that has gone before.

This final well is the well where the Samaritan woman met our Lord Jesus and may be called the "Well of the Seventh Man" (John 4:18), or the "Well of the Perfectly Faithful Husband" (Isaiah 54:5-8).

In this final case Seven Personified, the perfect man, the perfect promise keeper appears.

And her seventh man is the man who is perfect in himself and perfect for her... the type of man she had wanted all along...who will accept her for who she is.... who will never leave her nor forsake her, come what may... to whom she can be honest and true... from whom she needed not pretend to be something she is not, because he knows all about her anyway... and yet is still willing to woo her, to draw her to himself, to love her, to belong to her, to promise "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5), and to shower such love upon her and give such assurances of his love that she would be able to lovingly and confidently declare

"My beloved is mine, and I am his!" (Solomon's Song of Songs, 2:16).

This passage, like the whole of John's Gospel, needs to be understood in the context of John 1:1-14:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.... and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us."

And it needs to be understood in the context of what the Writer recorded John the Baptist saying towards the end of chapter 3:-

You yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that has the bride, is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. (John 3:28,29)

It might not at first have been clear why Jesus allowed himself into a situation, alone with a woman, putting his reputation at risk (verse 27): but when we note all the other passages of Scripture it becomes more clear that in meeting this woman, alone at a well, Jesus is representing himself as the faithful covenant keeping Husband of His people.

Spiritually speaking, he is willing to be her loving, self-sacrificing, Divine Husband (Ephesians 5:31,32; Hosea 2:7; Jeremiah 31:32). She is representative of all who will come to him, of his Bride the Church, and every individual member of it, and 'God made flesh' is come to fulfil the Old Testament text:-

Fear not, for you shall not be ashamed, neither shall you be disgraced, for you shall not be put to shame: for you shall forget the shame of your youth, and shall not remember the reproach of your widowhood any more.

For your Maker is your husband: the LORD of hosts is his name; and your redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall he be called. For the LORD has called you as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when you were rejected, says your God.

For a small moment have I forsaken you, but with great mercies will I gather you. In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting lovingkindness will I have mercy on you, says the LORD your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:4-8)

A well is a very welcome, vital, source of water in a dry and thirsty land. Jesus himself is "the gift of God"... the "living water" (John 4:10).

It is the living water of salvation. It is the living water of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, that comes to indwell the one who asks Jesus, the one who commits themselves to Jesus, is that "well of water springing up into everlasting life". (John 4:14)

But it is something else too: once again Jesus is referring back to the Old Testament, this time to the Song of Songs:

A garden locked is my sister, my bride,

a garden locked, a fountain sealed...

a garden fountain, a well of living water,

and flowing streams from Lebanon.

(Song of Songs 4:12,15)

So, once again, he is wooing this Samaritan woman, offering to her the living waters, to become her bridegroom. She only needs to ask. In so doing he is tearing down the barriers between Jew and Samaritan, Jew and Gentile, offering to be a faithful, reliable, covenant-keeping Bridegroom and Saviour to all who ask him. Jesus, in essence, is saying

"I am the bridegroom of the Song of Solomon...and I am inviting you to be my bride, the bride of the Song of Songs.

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land; the fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a sweet aroma. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away" (Song 2:10-13).

No longer am I merely the bridegroom of Israel only, now I am the bridegroom of all, from any and every nation, who will receive me, "the God of the whole earth" (Isaiah 54:5).

  • Your answer helps me to look at this story in fresh ways. Excellent background material. – Paul Chernoch May 21 at 13:12
  • @Paul Chernoch - Thank you Paul! – Andrew Shanks May 21 at 14:25
  • 1
    Andrew editing posts to improve them is a great thing but please "batch" your edits a bit more. The noise generated by too frequent edits is a bad thing. Use the preview pane to see how things will look and take your time to consider whether you're done editing for the time being before you save rather than editing, saving, then re-reading and editing more in the same session. Coming back another day is one thing, but a bunch of little edits in a row suggests you are proofreading only after saving instead of before. Please change that around. Thanks. – Caleb May 22 at 10:46
  • @Caleb - Thanks, point taken. – Andrew Shanks May 22 at 13:41

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