We all have a story to tell. And each story is as unique and mystifying as the storyteller. You undoubtedly recall the day, down to the minute, when you came face-to-face with Yeshua. It was a day that forever changed the trajectory of your life. The same can be said of the mysterious, unnamed woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel.
Believers in Messiah share a common experience. At certain times in our lives, we sense the need to tell the story of how we became a believer in Yeshua by faith. The narrative is based on a specific point in place and time when we supernaturally encountered our Savior. Each story is unique. And, for each individual, it is the greatest story ever told.
This was the case for the woman at the well — the Samaritan woman who had an appointment with Yeshua but didn’t know it yet.
Yeshua had an Appointment to Keep
On his way to Galilee, our Messiah made it a point to stop in Samaria because he needed to meet with a certain woman.
Traveling to Galilee from Judea could have been accomplished in two ways: by heading west to the King’s Highway along the Mediterranean Sea or by heading east from Jerusalem to the Jordan, then traveling north. The seventy-mile journey would take approximately two-and-a-half days.
So, why the detour, and why this particular woman?
We are given a few hints, based on what transpired previously. John the Immerser (Baptist) had been given an earful from some of the disciples about the number of people who were being immersed by Yeshua (for purification) in the waters of Aenon. However, John had to clarify something:
John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.”John 3:27 KJV
He must increase, but I must decrease. “He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.John 3:30,31 KJV
John is setting the stage to help us grasp the nuance of the conversation that Yeshua is about to have with the Samarian woman. He is trying to convey to the disciples that this was not a “baptism” contest. There were deeper, spiritual things going on that would have eternal consequences for those who refused to accept that Yeshua was the Son of the Highest, and had come in His Father’s authority.
“The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”John 3:35,36 KJV
The Encounter Takes Place At A Well
So now the stage is set for Messiah’s meeting at the well in Sychar1, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to Joseph. (Some speculate that Yeshua would have been around 29 years old at this time.) The disciples who were traveling with him had gone into town to get food, so Yeshua and the woman were alone.
Two things stand out here: the encounter was “unexpected” by the woman but “planned” by Yeshua. This is so often the case with us. Usually, our Messiah meets us in the privacy of our hearts (thoughts) at a time when we did not expect him.
First, Yeshua asks something of her — he asks for a drink of water.
Yeshua didn’t hand out tracks or pull out a bullhorn or appear in a flame of fire. He was merely thirsty after a long trip and needed water. She had the means to draw up water from the well and was already preparing to do so. (Keep in mind that the time when women usually drew water was in the evening, but there were special reasons why this woman came by herself.) This approach gave him a natural opening that would lead to a conversation about sin, repentance, worship, the Ruach, and the way to everlasting life.
It is interesting that a simple request for a drink of water would cause the woman to steer the conversation into a discussion about ethnic/religious protocol and practice. But Yeshua ignored the statement and got to the meat of the matter. She needed to know who was asking and that he was capable of doing so much more for her. She just needed to slough off faulty “religious” doctrine and expand way her thinking. He asks the same of us.
Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”John 4:10 KJV
Theologian F.B. Meyer:
The living water is not a stagnant pond or well, but leaps up from a hidden spring. The woman keeps referring to the well, Jesus to the spring in the well. That alone can satisfy. Not the word, but the spirit in the word. Not the rite, but the grace it symbolized. You first drink for your own need, then you help meet the need of others.
Before many of us could truly understand the gift Yeshua was offering us, we had to want something more. Our spiritual thirst needed to be quenched. But first, our paradigm had to shift.
The woman said to Him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do you get that living water?John 4:11 KJB
Again, this woman was applying logic to a situation that defied logic. (John 4:11-12) She was mired in carnal reasoning when something more was needed. She needed to understand what John the Immerser had alluded to in the previous chapter. The woman at the well needed to listen to Yeshua’s claims about himself and understand that because he was sent by the Father, then nothing was impossible for him. Remember, the living water is also symbolic of the resurrection that only our High Priest Yeshua can make happen.
The Woman Had To Confess Her Sin
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9
The compassion Yeshua shows this woman is remarkable. The one who first came to seek and save those who are lost is put on display here. He didn’t wag his finger in her face to expose what he already knew about her. Yeshua orchestrated the conversation in a way that the woman felt safe enough to say out loud what had probably been a source of shame for many years, with many husbands.
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband.’ “for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband: in that you spoke truly.”John 4:16-18
A key aspect of our conversion experience rightly involves our confession of sin. Not being sorry for getting caught. But a soul-wrenching realization that we are not worthy of the mercy and grace given us. After confession, we commit to following our High Priest’s example of righteous living, knowing that he walks alongside us to guide us and bear our burdens.
Yeshua Went From Prophet to Savior
In the final phase of her awakening, this woman’s eyes are completely opened. The leap in her understanding of who she was speaking to at the well went from Prophet to Savior. It came in stages, which led to her fully grasping the concept of true worship. (John 4:19-26)
The woman evaded the sword thrust, but she realized that she was dealing with a master hand in the spiritual realm. Hence her question about worship. This led to one of the greatest sayings ever uttered on earth: that God is Spirit; that He is ever searching for true worshipers; and that He is indifferent to places and nationalities and method, that we cannot worship until we live in the spirit realm and are willing to conform ourselves absolutely to truth. These thoughts have revolutionized the religious thinking of mankind. They have not yet fulfilled their mission, but they bear witness to the unique supremacy of the Christ.
The Woman Shared Her Good News
Imagine the look on her face when she finally realized who she had been speaking with — the prophesied Messiah. More than that, this sinful woman was deemed worthy enough for Yeshua to interrupt his travel plans to meet with her and explain the way to Salvation. After all, by the (religious) world’s standards, she was not worth the time of day because she was female, a Samaritan, and an adulterer.
But we can all testify to the fact that Yeshua did the same for us.
But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him! For if, when we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.Romans 5:8-11 KJV
This woman’s life was completely resurrected because she was willing to set aside her preconceptions and beliefs about religion and herself. Once she fully grasped the magnitude of Yeshua’s identity, she dropped everything and ran to tell the men. There would be a ripple effect.
The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”John 4:29 KJV
Because it was the men who were responsible for their family’s spiritual guidance, the whole town would be impacted for good. The living water flowed from Messiah to the woman at the well, to the townspeople!
Then they went out of the city and came to him.John 4:30 KJV
And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I did.” So when the Samaritans had come to him, they urged him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his own word. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, “the Savior of the world.”John 4:39-42 KJV
To their credit, the men went to the source. They responded to the woman’s testimony but they took the next step. They searched the living Word to test whether what she said was indeed true.
We all know that this walk involves a lifetime of confession, worship, and obedience. “Once saved always saved” sounds nice, but it leads to complacency and puts us in spiritual jeopardy. Only those who endure to the end, and, by faith walk in obedience to Torah, will enter the Kingdom.
But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.Matthew 24:13 KJV
Remember, we first drink for our own needs, then we help meet the need of others.
1 Based on John 4:15, some scholars believe that Sychar is actually the biblical city of Shechem (aka Tel Balata and Nablus, today). Sychar was located in the region of Samaria in the territory of Ephraim during Bible times. Sychar/Shechem/Nablus lies between the two famous mountains of Gerizim and Ebal.
Photo credit: “The Samaritan Woman at the Well”, by Vasily Polenov, circa 1900s
Brenda Ross is a co-author of the book, “The Gospel Worth Dying For.” She is a former major market radio and television broadcaster who has served as Single’s Ministry Director at one of Houston’s Memorial Drive-area churches, a Jews for Jesus staff volunteer, and participated in mission outreach activities in Costa Rica, Mexico, and China. Urban mission experience includes volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity and catering to the homeless in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.