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Jacob's Well

So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar,
near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.
Now Jacob's well was there.
Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey,
sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink."
(John 4:5-7)

A well is a pit or hole dug into the earth to obtain water. Various types of wells are being mentioned in the Bible. These include:

  • A cistern dug in the ground (Genesis 16:14; 2 Samuel 17:18);

  • A spring (Psalm 84:6);

  • A fountain, also called a living spring (Nehemiah 2:13); and

  • A pit or hole (John 4:11-12).

Wells in Israel were dug from solid limestone rock. Sometimes they were built with descending steps that allowed people to dip directly from the pool of water (Genesis 24:16). Some wells were built with low walls of stone surrounding it. Their surfaces would often bear the marks of the furrows worn over the years by ropes used in drawing water. Jesus sat on the curb of this type of well when He talked to the woman of Samaria (John 4:6).

During most parts of the year, there was relatively little rain in Israel. Thus, it was important and necessary to have wells, springs and cisterns for survival reasons, as water was scarce and very precious. Well diggers were relatively skilled workers because the process was very difficult as only very primitive tools were available for digging. Isaac (Genesis 26:18-22) and King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:10) were among the most active well diggers mentioned in the Bible.

As the wells were very valuable, they were often named (Genesis 26:20-22). Two of the most famous wells mentioned in the Bible were the well of Bethlehem whose waters David longed after (2 Samuel 23:15-16), and Jacob's Well in Samaria where Jesus spoke about His free gift of unfailing living water.

Sometimes rivals fought over the ownerships of wells (Genesis 21:25-30), especially when they had great sources and springs of drinking waters. In the case of Isaac in Genesis 26:15-22, the Philistines had stopped up all the wells by filling them with earth.

Many ancient wells were dug deep into the ground. Deep wells were necessary because shallow wells faced the problems of running dry in the summer. Sometimes, old dry wells were used as prisons (Genesis 37:24; Jeremiah 38:6). Hereby we have a spiritual lesson to learn. We need to grow deep in Christ so that we would never run dry or become imprisoned in our sins again.

Even in cooler locations, the water supplies in Israel almost vanished during the summertime. Besides the blazing heat from the sun, wells near the desert areas faced an additional danger of being filled up by sand storms when the winds blew. Therefore, desert wells were always covered. These wells were normally tapered so that their openings could be easily opened and closed. In Genesis 29:1-3, there was the account of Jacob's first meeting Rachel at a well with a stone covering:

So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. And he looked, and saw a well in the field; and behold, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks. A large stone was on the well's mouth. Now all the flocks would be gathered there; and they would roll the stone from the well's mouth, water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the well's mouth.

Another good example of this type of covered wells was found in Song of Songs 4:12:

A garden enclosed
Is my sister, my spouse,
A spring shut up,
A fountain sealed.

We too need the covering of our Bridegroom and King, Jesus Christ! Without His protection and preservation, we will be easily invaded by shifting sands of wandering thoughts and temptations that seek to dry up our souls.

Wells were often situated outside towns. They became local landmarks and meeting places. Jacob's Well was the very place where Jesus met the Samaritan woman of Sychar. Many scholars identified Sychar with Shechem, an ancient fortified city in central Israel, and the first capital of the northern kingdom of Israel.

This well is of great importance and interest to the people of Israel. It was widely known and acknowledged that this well had been dug by the patriarch Jacob in the middle of a parcel of grazing land that he purchased from Hamor. It was also the same plot of land that Jacob gave to his son, Joseph (John 4:5).

Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel. (Genesis 33:18-20)

This landmark was also mentioned in Joshua 24:32, when the Israelites buried the bones of Joseph there:

The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph.

Jacob's Well is about 105 feet deep, the only one of its kind in the whole area. Its water is very good and fresh. The property now belongs to a Greek Orthodox Church, which has built over the well.

The name of Shechem means "shoulder," probably because the city was built mainly on the slope, or shoulder, of Mount Ebal. Situated strategically where the main highways and ancient trade routes converged, Shechem was an important city long before the Israelites occupied Canaan. The city had been destroyed, and rebuilt several times through the centuries.

Shechem was first mentioned in the Bible as Abraham journeyed into the land of Canaan. When Abraham was at Shechem, the LORD appeared to him, and announced that this was the land He would give to Abraham's descendants (Genesis 12:6). This fulfilled God's promise to Abraham at the time of his call (Genesis 12:1-3). In response, Abraham built his first altar to the LORD in Canaan at Shechem (Genesis 12:7). Because of this important event, Shechem is an important place in the religious history of the Hebrew people.

Upon his return from Padan Aram, Jacob, a grandson of Abraham, built an altar to the LORD at Shechem (Genesis 33:18-20). This marked Jacob's safe return to the Promised Land from the land of self-imposed exile. According to Jewish traditions, Jacob dug a deep well here. It was therefore named Jacob's Well.

About 1800 years after it was built, Jesus visited this well. It was found flowing with water. Jesus tasted the fresh water given by the Samaritan woman. It was very well preserved. Today, about 2,000 years after Jesus visited this well, it is still functioning, and flowing freely with fresh spring water.

Why is Jacob's Well so lasting? How does it survive and endure through 3,800 years without becoming dry and contaminated?

I believe that there are a few obvious reasons:


Spiritual Truths

It has a good source of water.

It does not depend on the seasonal spring and autumn rains that come only a few days in a year.

It has an underground spring of fresh water running continuously throughout all the days of the year.

Jesus is our Living Word. He has given us a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.

He is our Source. We must come to Him for:

  • Our Daily Bread - Reading His Word

  • Our Daily Drink - Worshipping Him

  • Our Daily Walk - Serving Him

Our 24/7 relationship with Christ is 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week, in everywhere we go and in everything we do. Not limited only in church services on Sundays.

It is very deep.

As such, it cannot be easily dry up as it is connected to a vast supply and reservoir of spring waters beneath.

According to the riches of His glory (Ephesians 3:14-19), we are:

  • To be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man

  • To have Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith

  • Being rooted and grounded in love

  • Able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height

  • To know the love of Christ which passes knowledge

  • To be filled with all the fullness of God.

It is properly looked after.

Against wear and tear, the well is being regularly maintained through check ups and repairs throughout the centuries.

  • Above all else, guard our hearts, for it is the wellspring of life.

  • Put away perversity from our mouths.

  • Keep corrupt talk far from our lips.

  • Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.

  • Put on the whole armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

(Proverbs 4:23-24; Ephesians 6:10-20)

It is not a dumping ground.

No dead animals or toxic substances are thrown into the well. It has no contamination of any sort, organic or inorganic.

It is also not filled up by nature due to sand storms or by the wicked schemes of men.

Set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth.

Put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature:

  • Sexual immorality

  • Impurity

  • Lust

  • Evil desires

  • Greed, which is idolatry.

Put off things such as:

  • Anger

  • Rage

  • Malice

  • Slander

  • Filthy language

  • Lies

Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of our Creator (Colossians 3:1-10).

Jacob's Well was strategically located in Shechem, a significant landmark for making covenant with God. The Abrahamic Covenant was instituted there. The children of Israel also made a covenant with God in this same place. After the Israelites had conquered Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, they built an altar at Shechem. Its building was accompanied by a covenant ceremony in which offerings were given, and the blessings and curses of the Law were recited (Joshua 8:30-35):

Now Joshua built an altar to the LORD God of Israel in Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: "an altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool."

And they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the children of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written.

Then all Israel, with their elders and officers and judges, stood on either side of the ark before the priests, the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, the stranger as well as he who was born among them.

Half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law.

There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.

This ceremony was done in obedience to the command of Moses, given earlier in Deuteronomy 27:11-13:

And Moses commanded the people on the same day, saying, "These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, when you have crossed over the Jordan: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin; and these shall stand on Mount Ebal to curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali."

Because Shechem was situated between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, this covenant ceremony took on a more significant and symbolic meaning. To this day, Mount Gerizim is forested while Mount Ebal is barren. It is because the blessings of faithfully keeping the covenant were proclaimed from Mount Gerizim, while the curses of breaking the covenant were proclaimed from Mount Ebal.

At the close of his life, Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel at Shechem (Joshua 24:1). There he reviewed God's gracious dealings with Israel, and performed a covenant-renewing ceremony on behalf of the nation. He gave his famous speech (Joshua 24:14-15):

"Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt.

Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."

This valley of decision between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim divides the blessings and the curses of God. It also separates the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. The significance of Shechem in Israel's history continued into the period of the Divided Kingdom.

Rehoboam, the successor to King Solomon, went to Shechem to be crowned king over all Israel (1 Kings 12:1). Later as the nation was divided into two kingdoms, Shechem became the first capital of the northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12:25). Samaria eventually became the permanent political capital of the Northern Kingdom, but Shechem retained its religious importance. It apparently had a sanctuary for the worship of God in Hosea's time in the eighth century BC (Hosea 6:9).

Two millenniums ago, Jesus visited Jacob's Well where He offered His Living Water to the Samaritan woman. The Samaritans had built their temple on Mount Gerizim, where they worshipped God using their own ways and forms of religion. But Jesus encouraged her to do it right - worshipping God in spirit and in truth. There salvation was poured out, not only to the Jews but also to all the peoples of all the earth! A spring of water welling up to eternal life!

This eternal salvation is free for all. But the decision is ours to make. To believe or not to believe. To choose eternal life or eternal death. To continue or discontinue being a fountain of life. To remain fresh in the Lord or be dried up in our souls. Free in Him or imprisoned in ourselves!

To have eternal life, we must keep our eyes on our eternal God, setting our minds on things that are above.

Please also read: The Samaritan Woman

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Written On:
3 March 2005