Many have traveled along lonely paths carrying heavy burdens, hoping for relief. The woman at the well illustrates God’s love for his children in sending Jesus to teach and heal a beloved daughter.
The woman at the well is one of my favorite biblical stories. And, for many years I didn’t really know why, just that it was very touching. Often I heard suggestions that this Samaritan woman who had five husbands was quite promiscuous, unworthy by every measure. Yet intuition said otherwise. Why would the Savior travel so far out of his way to meet with the ‘one’, and how could she be so unworthy yet spiritually in tune enough to eventually recognize that she spoke with a prophet?
Much of her reputation may stem from comments that can be interpreted quite differently. The most often cited is a single line where the Savior declares that she has had five husbands and lives unmarried with another.
The assumption is that she has broken her marriage vows and deserted each eventually to live with a man to whom she was not married. Unfortunately, the latter especially conveys a promiscuous image.
The second hint at unworthiness came from her not going with the village women to the well in the morning but rather during the heat of the sun — a time when others would not be around. The well that she used was further away than those closer to the village, again allowing her to avoid contact with others.
So why did the Savior select the Samaritan woman to convey such a powerful message of God’s love? Was it to soften and prepare the way for the gospel to be carried throughout the world?
Or was it more personal in that she was the ‘1’ separated from the ‘99’ and needed encouragement? She clearly loved God for within her was a spirit that recognized and cherished the Messiah, rejoicing greatly in the knowledge.
Divorce in Judea
In her day divorce was simple, and could be done for almost any reason. She simply had to be given a writ of divorce and her clothes and belongings set outside. The Talmud allowed a man to divorce a woman “because she spoiled his dinner or simply because he finds another woman more attractive, and the woman’s consent to the divorce is not required”. The 19th chapter of Mathew reinforces the ease of divorce that then prevailed: “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (Matthew 19:3).
Jewish law suggests that it was the woman who was abused for only men could initiate divorce and not women. As for her living with another man, she may have been a live-in cook of sorts. Custom may not have accepted a woman living alone.
We can also conclude that was she was not wealthy — women of wealth did not draw their own water. Yet she was willing to share that which she had with a stranger. And in turn, she too desired deeply to drink of the water that he freely brought to all on earth that would receive it.
His conversation with her is among the longest recorded in the New Testament. Her spirituality was keen enough to recognize that she stood with a prophet while her detractors — those whom she may have avoided by drawing water at noon — did not.
The Savior’s deep respect for women is well illustrated in his reaction to the Samaritan woman. In that season men did not speak to women publically although Jesus often did so. He had great reason to shun this woman for she not only was a Samaritan but a virtual outcast from her own people.
In short she was an outcast among the outcast — a contest that I wouldn’t want to win. But his conversation with her became symbolic of his great love.
She came to draw water from Jacob’s well at noon seeking only to quietly fill her vessel from the well. Afterwards, she left filled with joy and declared that she had found the Messiah.
At the well, the Good Shepherd left the 99 (he sent his apostles & disciples on ahead into Jericho) that he could tend to the one. Ever wonder how he knew that the one was in need, and that she would be at the well? The answer lies in the same as how he knew the fish contained the coin that would pay his taxes.
He left the 99 to search her out, specifically, not by chance, that he might tend to her wounds that she as you and I might always know of his great love.
A lesson learned
Ahhh, but the story’s not over, not quite. The Samaritan woman displayed considerable knowledge in the questions and comments that she posed of the Savior. She was not ignorant by any means but was earnestly seeking the truth, her heart was prepared and ready.
As Paul Harvey often related on his radio broadcasts, ‘And now for the rest of the story…’ the ‘one’ on hearing his message then turned to help convert many of the ’99’. The Samaritans saw no mighty miracle by mortal standards but the miracle of the heart swayed by a Savior’s love:
39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.
40 So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days.
41 And many more believed because of his own word;
42 And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.
43 Now after two days he departed thence, and went into Galilee. …
Jesus Teaches a Samaritan Woman
What is the real lesson(s) behind the Samaritan woman at the well?
Many in Jesus day expected a temporal Messiah, a king after the mold of King David. Instead, the Messiah was born in a manger, openly walked / talked with women, and related some of his most profound teachings through their greatest (or most disdained): the Samaritans? Why?
© 2018 by James Spruell All rights reserved