HomeVisionStatement Of FaithArticlesPhoto GalleryEditor's NoteLinksContact

The Samaritan Woman

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria.

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." For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.

Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?" For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

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."

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? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?"

Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."

The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."

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."

The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (Who is called Christ). "When He comes, He will tell us all things."

Jesus said to her, "I Who speak to you am He."

And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or, "Why are You talking with her?"

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?"

Then they went out of the city and came to Him.

In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."

But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."

Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"

Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, "There are still four months and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."

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 ever 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 4:1-42)

As Jesus journeyed from Judea to Galilee, He went straight through Samaria instead of going round about the boundaries of Samaria. That was almost a forbidden act during those days. For the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. The Jews would never travel through Samaria. They would take the longer routes to avoid meeting any Samaritans. The obvious reason was that the Jews and the Samaritans were at odds against each other. The Jews did not like the Samaritans, and the Samaritans did not like the Jews. Why was this so? What was the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans? What was the origin of the Samaritans?

The formation of the Samaritan race was an important part of Jewish history. Under the rule of the first three kings of Israel, Saul, David and Solomon, the nation of Israel was united. But after the death of Solomon, the nation was divided into the 2 kingdoms:

  • Northern Kingdom of Israel - 10 tribes

  • Southern Kingdom of Judah - 2 tribes (Tribe of Judah and Tribe of Benjamin)

Under this division, the northern tribes gained a major portion of the fertile land and springs. The dividing boundary line of the two kingdoms ran directly across the central highland, through the valleys of Michmash to the east and Ajalon to the west. The land area occupied by the Northern Kingdom was about three times that of the Southern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom of Israel lasted just over 200 years whereas the Southern Kingdom of Judah lasted over 330 years. During this period, nineteen kings reigned over the Northern Kingdom of Israel. None of these kings were faithful to the Lord. Each of them promoted idolatry. Eight of them died as a result of being assassinated or having committed suicide.

Before the time of the Israelite kings, Samaria was occupied by the tribes of Ephraim and the western portion of the tribe of Manasseh. Many of the sites in Samaria held important places in Israelite history. Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal were the location where the covenant-renewal ceremony took place during the time of Joshua (Joshua 8:30-35). Shechem, located near Mount Gerizim, was an ancient Canaanite town that regained its earlier prosperity during the monarchy. It became the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel briefly under Jeroboam I (about 931-910 BC; 1 Kings 12:25). But it was replaced by Penuel, and then Tirzah.

Omri begun to construct the city of Samaria about 880 BC. It was completed by his son, Ahab, about 874-853 BC. Samaria then became the new capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Successive kings added to the construction, and rebuilt sections to make Samaria a well-fortified capital. However, the city fell to the Assyrians in 722-721 BC. Most of the leading citizens of the Northern Kingdom were then deported to Syria, Assyria and Babylonia.

In replacement of the deported Israelites, Sargon brought in foreign colonists into the city of Samaria (2 Kings 17:24). These foreigners took possession of the city, and began to intermarry among the Israelites who remained in Samaria. Their numbers increased even more when Osnapper (Ezra 4:10) sent more Assyrian colonists into the city of Samaria. These people took on the name "Samaritans," and attempted to settle in the land.

However, they did not fear the LORD. Therefore, the LORD sent lions among them, and killed some of them (2 Kings 17:25). In despair, they requested help from Assyria to send one of the priests whom they had taken from Samaria so that he would "teach them the rituals of the God of the land" (2 Kings 17:27). Thereafter, the Samaritans worshipped the God of Israel. But they also continued their idolatry, worshipping the pagan gods which they had imported from the foreign lands (2 Kings 17:29).

The Samaritans became a mixed race contaminated by foreign blood and false worship. The Jewish historian Josephus indicated that the Samaritans were also opportunists. When the Jews enjoyed great wealth and prosperity, the Samaritans were quick to acknowledge their blood relationships. But when the Jews suffered hard times, the Samaritans were also quick to disown their kinships, declaring that they were descendants of Assyrian immigrants.

When a group of Jews, led by Zerubbabel, returned from the Babylonian Captivity, the Samaritans offered to help Zerubbabel rebuild the Temple. When their offer was rejected, they tried to prevent the Jews from finishing their project (Ezra 4:1-10). On another account, when Nehemiah attempted to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, he was opposed by some Arabic and Samaritan groups (Nehemiah 2:10-6:14). The breach between the Samaritans and the Jews widened even further when Ezra, in his zeal for racial purity, pressured all Israelite men who married during the Captivity to divorce their pagan wives (Ezra 10:18-44).

The final break between the Jews and the Samaritans occurred when the Samaritans built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim. They claimed that Shechem was the true Beth-el, the house of God. They rejected Zion (Jerusalem) as the site chosen and blessed by the Lord.

The Samaritans traced their religious beginnings to the time of Eli, who established the sanctuary for the worship of God in Shiloh. They also believed their religion was distinctive because they based their beliefs and practices on the Torah (the Law) - the first five books of the Old Testament. They recognized no other Hebraic Scriptures as being authoritative.

Somewhere in time, the pagan elements of Mesopotamian religion were removed from the Samaritan religious beliefs. It was probably about the time of Nehemiah (about 450 BC) that the Samaritans claimed themselves to be orthodox. The Samaritans also claimed that Ezra changed the Hebrew text to favor Jerusalem over Mount Gerizim as the site for the second temple. But the Samaritans themselves were guilty of changing the wording of the Law to reflect favorably to side their traditions. They went through the Mosaic Law, and deleted any possible reference to Jerusalem and replaced it with Mount Gerizim.

During the Roman period, the Samaritans appeared to prosper. Their religion was made legal in the Empire, and was being practised in synagogues in Italy and Africa. But later they too faced fierce persecutions under the Roman Catholics. They finally revolted in the fifth and sixth centuries. The Roman emperor, Justinian (A.D. 527-565), suppressed the Samaritans. He almost brought them to extinction, a condition from which they never recovered. Only two small groups of Samaritans exist today:

  • One group in Nablus (ancient Shechem) and

  • One group near Tel Aviv.

The pride of the modern Samaritan community at Nablus is a large scroll of the books of the Law. It was inscribed in an angular script, the way that the Hebrew words was written long before the time of Christ. The Samaritans retained their beliefs in God as the unique Creator and Sustainer of all things. They also worshipped Him in the three feasts as prescribed in the books of the Law:

  • Passover

  • Pentecost, and

  • Tabernacles

But their faith was influenced in later periods by Islamic and other beliefs, unlike the orthodox Jewish community. Today, a small group of Samaritans still maintain a temple on Mount Gerizim. They still sacrifice one or more lambs on their holy mountain during the Feast of Passover.

These two religious groups, the Jews and Samaritans lived side by side, each one accusing the other as being debased and corrupted. During the time of Jesus, it was well understood that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans (John 4:9). However, Jesus broke the prejudices between the two by telling the parable about the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), and the gospel account of the thankful Samaritan leper (Luke 17:12-19). Through these two passages, Jesus highlighted the better side of the Samaritans showing that they too were merciful towards others, and thankful towards God.

The story of the Samaritan woman was the story that salvation had finally come to them. Their Messiah and Savior came personally to visit them. Many Samaritans in the city of Sychar acknowledged Him, and received Him into their hearts.

Some people said that the Samaritan woman was a sinful woman. They drew their conclusions from the fact that she went to the well in the heat of the day at noon while the other women went in the cooler hours of the morning. This in itself seemed to indicate that she was a sinful woman. Perhaps there were other reasons. Maybe she was the object of considerable ridicule and scorn from the other women in town. Maybe she preferred the peace and quietness so that she could be all alone at the well during that time, having her quiet time with God.

The sun was blazing brightly as the Son of God came to the well. The Samaritan woman made her way to the well as usual. She noticed Jesus sitting there as she approached Jacob's Well. As Jesus was a man, she observed her manners and customs, maintaining a distance. She went over to the opposite side of the well, and prepared to draw water. Then unexpectedly Jesus spoke to her. "Give Me a drink." With these few simple words, her life was changed forever.

She obviously knew that Jesus was a Jew by the accent of His voice, and by the clothes He wore. (She was in fact better than many Christians today who did not know that Jesus was a Jew!) How could a Jew ask a drink from a Samaritan? How could a man ask a drink from a woman? And how could a Jewish man ask a drink from a Samaritan woman? This was almost unbecoming and very impropriate. The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. That's why the disciples of Jesus refused to spread the gospel beyond Jerusalem and Judea. They refused to go to Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. They finally went after the Holy Spirit separated them, and launched them out!

By asking her for a physical drink of water, Jesus created a spiritual thirst in her. He told her about a living water that would spring up into everlasting life. That's the kind of water she was longing for. When she drank that water, she would never thirst again. Jesus revealed to her that she had a spiritual need - the need for eternal life.

Then Jesus did the most amazing thing. He asked her to go and call for her husband. By doing this, Jesus healed her brokenness and shame. Salvation is not just having eternal life when we die, it is having eternal life while we are alive! He was showing her that she could have the new abundant life that was found in Christ alone!

Typically, some pastors and preachers would paint a picture of this woman as being immoral, loose and promiscuous! She had had five husbands. And the man she was living with was not her husband. This sixth man was outside the marital bliss. Let's look beyond the surface before we too jump into the conclusion as our minds are filled with the images of many Hollywood movie stars who changed spouses at the slightest whim, having no desire of a genuine commitment.

We have to understand the culture and society in which this woman lived. In Deuteronomy 24, the conditions for divorce under the Law were outlined. It was clearly stated that the husband was the person in the marriage who had the authority to initiate a divorce. Women were allowed to initiate divorce only in some isolated cases, and these were very rare. Women in those days had little rights. They could not file for divorce, unlike what we are accustomed to today. It was uniquely the husband's prerogative. Therefore, this woman had been apparently divorced five times by her five husbands. The truth was that her five husbands had rejected her, and sent her away. Why? And if she was immoral and loose, who would want to marry her in the first place? She must have something good and godly that attracted five men to marry her.

Some had suggested that she was an adulteress. Again, this was not possible as the penalty for adultery under the Law was to be stoned to death. Like the Jews, the Samaritans also observed the Law strictly! If this woman had lived an immoral lifestyle, she would have been dead long ago.

So why would her five husbands consecutively choose to send her away? There was a possibility that one or more of her five husbands had died. Jesus did not say that she was divorced five times, but that she had five previous husbands. Was she impossible to live with? An impossible and nagging woman? A pain in the neck?

During the ancient times, the main reason for men divorcing their wives was barrenness. To be fruitful and multiply was the first command that God gave to mankind! The Jewish people placed a great emphasis on having an heir, particularly a son who could carry on the family name, heritage and business. The ability to bear children was considered the evidence that God had blessed the family. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, suffered ridicules from Peninnah because she was barren (1 Samuel 1). Sarah too was scorned and despised by her own maidservant, Hagar when Hagar conceived a baby by Abraham while Sarah was still barren (Genesis 16:4-6).

Historical records showed that in the first century, the major cause for divorce among Jewish couples was this very issue: barrenness. The same would hold true for Samaritans, who also valued and followed the Law of Moses. Though a husband might love his wife, if after a reasonable time she was unable to present him with an heir, the husband had the legal rights to issue her a certificate of divorce, and put her away. Many Jewish and Samaritan men did exercise their rights.

What about the sixth man? This sixth man was not her husband. She had no husband when she met Jesus. Jesus plainly said that the one whom she had was not her husband, and that she had spoken truly. This sixth man might be her father, brother or a close relative whom she was staying with after five failed marriages. Jesus did not said that she was committing adultery with this man. In fact she had a great reputation that others listened to her when she told them about Jesus - a Man Who told her all things that she ever did. Could He be the Messiah?

This Samaritan woman was a very religious woman. She was able to perceive that Jesus was a prophet. She had spiritual insights! She immediately brought to Jesus' attention that her forefathers worshipped on this mountain, Mount Gerizim, whereas Jesus and the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem. She wanted to know His answer. Mount Gerizim or Mount Zion?

Jesus did not answer her question. Instead, He gave her a revelation of what constituted true worship. True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. The more important issue is not the place but the Person Whom we worship. We must worship Him in spirit and in truth!

If she was an adulterer, Jesus would have said to her, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11). If she was being possessed by demons, Jesus would have said, "Be set free!" If she was diseased, Jesus would have said, "Be healed." But, to this broken-hearted woman, Jesus said, "The Father is seeking such to worship Him." Why?

I believe that Jesus saw in her a true heart of worship. She was a godly woman with a heart that followed after God! She was a woman after God's own heart! She was genuinely seeking God. Jesus looked past the surface, and ministered to her hurting soul. His unconditional love and acceptance demolished the strongholds of rejection and shame. His perfect love cast out all her fears. She found her Savior and Lord! She was on the highway to wholeness and well-being as she worshipped God in spirit and in truth. God inhabited her praises.

Jesus finally revealed to her that He was the One she was looking for - Christ the Messiah. She was seeking, and she was found! She must believe in Him so that she could have the abundant life. And she believed in Jesus! She could not contain her joy! She ran into the city, and publicly declaring that she had met the Messiah. That day, many Samaritans met their Creator and God! They urged Jesus to stay with them. And He stayed there for 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." God had not forgotten about the Samaritans. He had them in mind from eternity. That's why Jesus spoke this to His disciples just before He ascended to heaven:

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Jesus has also not forgotten us. He too meets us on our way to the well of our salvation!

Spring up, O well, within my soul
Spring up, O well, and make me whole
Spring up, O well, and give to me
New life abundantly

Please also read: Jacob's Well

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Written On:
9 March 2005