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People Just Like Us - a Study of Biblical Characters; The Woman at the Well

Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.


As the Apostle John records his gospel account he describes the interaction between Jesus and the woman at the well in the first 42 verses of chapter 4. Referred to as the Woman at the Well, or simply as the Samaritan Woman, her name is not recorded, but at the same time she becomes a well known person because of the interaction with Jesus.

Jesus and his followers were travelling from Judea to Galilee and as they passed the town of Sychar (near the larger town of Shechem), they came to a famous historical landmark which was Jacob’s well. We read about this important source of water in Genesis 33:18, 19. Now in the time of Jesus it was a place where weary travellers could stop to quench their thirst and fill their water bottles. The followers of Jesus had left him at the well and they had gone into the town to buy food.

It must be understood at this stage that the Samaritans and the Jews were enemies. There was no love lost between these neighbouring nations and so even travelling through this area could be problematic for people from Judea. Another fact that comes into the account is that men and women were separated by strict religious and cultural barriers. A man or woman would not speak to someone of the opposite sex while in public. But Jesus broke these taboos to the surprise of the woman, as John recorded in chap.4:9; “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (NIV translation – used with permission).

Jesus answered her with a statement saying that if she knew what the gift of God was she would ask him for “living water”. This was way beyond her understanding. After all she had the power at that moment. He was thirsty and she had the container that could bring water out of the well. As the conversation continued a couple of interesting facts appear; not only about this woman, but also about the coming religion that Jesus had come to deliver.

Jesus challenged her to go and find her husband and bring him to the well. This put her into a really difficult position and to her amazement Jesus already knew exactly that. He told her that man she was with at that time was not her husband and that she had already had 5 husbands. Jesus with his prophetic powers informed her of those facts (4:16-18). But it is the statement that Jesus made to her that is vitally important. This also then becomes vitally important to everyone in every age: “Everyone who drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become to him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:13, 14).

At this stage the woman was totally confused and amazed and so she told Jesus that when the coming Messiah arrived he would clarify much. Jesus kindly told her that the Messiah had arrived and that it was indeed him! As the account continued she rushed into Sychar to tell everyone the exciting news! Jesus also explained that in the future religion would not be confined to a particular place (Jerusalem or Samaria) but that those who worship God would worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (4:23).

From this interaction between Jesus and this ordinary woman at the well in Samaria several important facts emerge.

  1. Jesus came to break down the human imposed barriers that exist between nations, cultures and groups. When he saw this woman he saw her as the lost soul. So he reached out to her as he does today through the Gospel (Good news). Matthew 28:18, 19)).
  2. Jesus came to deliver second chances. This ordinary woman, with the many challenges that she must have suffered in her life, was accepted by Jesus and offered the “Living Water” of spiritual life. It is interesting to know that in the time of Jesus the Rabbi’s debated what behaviour on a woman’s side gave her husband the right to divorce her. Some argued that burning the food or developing wrinkles was enough. One can only speculate what she went through in her 5 marriages.
  3. She believed that God was to be found in the mountains of Samaria. Jesus reveals that a time is coming when worship cannot be confined to a particular place but will be available to those who honestly search for the truth. “God is spirit and his worshipper must worship in spirit and in truth”. John 4:24
  4. The Holy Spirit provides new life – what Jesus referred to as “living water”. The river of life giving water is flowing from the throne of God and Jesus, through the City of God to provide in the leaves of the trees that grow there the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-3).
  5. The Samaritan Woman shared her faith with those she knew, and so the message spread through- out the village (John 4:39).


NIV Translation of the Bible

The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary

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