Searching the Scriptures
“Search the Scriptures…They are they which testify of me.” John 5:39
Author: Bob Moses
The Woman at the Well of Sychar
Part 1 of 2 Parts
The comparison between Nicodemus and the Woman at the Well, was warranted by our Lesson on “Contrast and Comparison”. By extension, we first focused upon Nicodemus in our last “Study” of Nicodemus and the “Five Must’s”; and we shall now take up the Samaritan woman who came to draw water at the Well of Sychar/Jacob. This lesson for the most part is taken up in the Gospel of John chapter 4, nevertheless I shall take note of several other passages in order to clarify and enlighten the reader as to the “spiritual” undertones as they relate to what we shall see come before us. It is not only what is exposed to the surface which nurtures the planted seed; but also what comes as a result of the condition of the soil, that has been plowed. I refer, of course, to the Parable of the Sower Matthew 13: 3—23.
The first four chapters of John set the stage for our exegesis. Observe the deplorable spiritual state of Israel during the visit of our Lord on earth. The Scriptural account is most complete, as it reveals each separate scene. The number 7 being most informative (God’s number of completion). First, a blinded Priesthood (John 1: 15—34; emphasis on vs. 19 – Who art thou?). Second, a joyless Nation (2: 3; they have no wine). Third, a desecrated Temple (2: 13—16; Jesus chased out the money changers and sellers of sacrifices). Fourth, a spiritually dead Sanhedrin (3: 1—14; Nicodemus did not fully recognizing the Christ). Fifth, the person of Christ despised (3: 25—28; they preferred John the Baptist). Sixth, His testimony rejected (3: 31—38; John the Baptist declares that no man receiveth His (Jesus) testimony). Seventh, (4: 9; “For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans”: Gentiles).
Not only are we viewing the miserable condition of the Jews, but we also see a prophetic picture of the future. In the closing verses of Chapter 3, we are shown the person of Christ despised, and His testimony rejected. Thus we see Christ turning to the Gentiles. The order here is perfect. No sooner did the old dispensation end, with the rejection of Christ, than God in mercy, turned to the Gentiles (Rom. 11). This is anticipated first by the statement made in vs.3: the Lord Jesus “left Judea, and departed again into Galilee”. (Matt. 4:15; “Galilee of the Gentiles”). Second, in the fact that here the Lord Jesus is seen occupied not with the Jews but with the Samaritans. And third, by what we read of in vs. 40; “and He abode there two days.” How exceedingly striking is this! “He abode there two days.” Remember that word in 2nd Peter 3:8, which declares “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Two “days” then or 2000 years, is the length of time that Christ was to be away from the Jews in Judea. How perfect and accurate is this picture! He turned from the Jews to the Gentiles. Therefore, it is now the Church which is favored, while the Jews lay in wait and want for the expectation of their Messiah.
We have a Biblical principle before us which has been sadly neglected by Bible Students and Bible Seminaries as well as pastors of our day. Passages as a whole should be studied in its relation to the complete passage which both precedes and follows it. Not only verse by verse but passage by passage. Often the Holy Spirit has placed in juxtaposition two incidents, two miracles, parables, conversations, as the case may be; in order to point a contrast, or a series of contrast between them. This is made manifest as we review the striking example between the first half of John 3 and the first half of John 4.
As we look upon them closely we will discover a series of striking contrast. First in John 3 we have “a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus”: In John 4 it is an unnamed woman that is before us. Second, the former was a man of rank, a “Master of Israel”; the latter was a woman of the lower ranks, for she came “to draw water.” Third, the one was a favored Jew: the other was a despised Samaritan. Fourth, Nicodemus was a man of high reputation, a member of the Sanhedrin; the one with whom Christ dealt in John 4 was a woman of ill repute and dissolute habits. Fifth, Nicodemus sought out Christ; here Christ seeks out the woman. Sixth, Nicodemus came to Christ, “by night”; Christ speaks to the woman at mid-day (noon). Seventh, to the self-righteous Pharisee Christ said, “Ye must be born again”, to this sinner of the Gentiles He tells her of the “gift of God.” How much we miss by failing to compare and contrast what the Holy Spirit has placed side by side in this revelation from God! Is it not also obvious prophetically; that Christ came to the Jews who received Him not, and then turned to the woman, a Gentile, who prefigures the Church of Christ. May the Lord stir up all of us to more diligently study His Word.
An interesting sequence appears in John 4: 1—4: “When, therefore, the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus himself baptized not; but his disciples), He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. And he must needs go through Samaria”. Keep in mind that this occurred after the confirmation of John the Baptist that Jesus was indeed “the Son of God” (Ch.3: 22—36). Let me break it down into sections. “When, therefore, the Lord knew”. How did He know? He was not advised, there is no hint that anyone informed Him. How did He know, because He was the Lord! “The Lord knew”, at once displays His omniscience. Nothing could be, and nothing can be, hidden from Him. The next phrase “the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John”. Please note the juxtaposition of the verbs’. Jesus made, and baptized. The fact that the “baptizing” comes after and not before the verb “made” is most significant. It proves that it is only one of many passages which teaches us that only one who is already a believer in Christ is qualified for baptism. Vs. 2: (“Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples)”. This is of considerable importance. The late Bishop Ryle states: “This verse intimates that baptism is neither the first nor the chief thing about Christianity. We frequently read of Christ preaching and praying, once of His administering the Lord’s Supper, but “baptize” He did not—as though to show us that baptism has nothing to do with salvation.” To be more specific, baptism does not secure salvation. Baptism is merely obedience to the Scriptures. If one only relies upon baptism for his or her salvation that one is eternally lost. First, must come the belief upon Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Take note dear reader that Jesus baptized not! Jesus “made”. What does this mean? Jesus came to “save that which was lost” both Jew and Gentile. His mission was not to baptize, that ministry was set before John the Baptist as the fore-runner of the Christ / Messiah. The ultimate mission of Jesus was to become the redeemer, the holy sacrifice, to “make” a way to man for salvation. Thus He “made” the way for the disciples and all who follow them. Who is a disciple? Webster‘s Dictionary states; “a learner, to comprehend, a pupil or follower of any teacher or school of religion, learning art. An earlier follower of Jesus”. Unger’s Dictionary states; “rendered, learned. The meaning is one who professes to have learned certain principles from another and maintains them on that other’s authority. It is applied principally to the followers of Jesus”. So Jesus “made” disciples; it was the disciples who baptized, following the ministry of John the Baptist.
Our narrative says that when the Lord knew that the Pharisees were against Him, “He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. And He must needs go through Samaria”. John 4: 1—4. This is most solemn. When the Saviour sent forth the twelve on their mission to the cities of Israel, He bade them “And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them” (Luke 9: 5). And again, when sending forth the seventy, He said to them, “But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you” (Luke 10: 10). Further, He left them an example. If “no man” would receive His testimony in Judea (John 3: 3), then He would leave for other parts. He would not stay to cast pearls before swine. There is an important lesson for us here. Some will not receive our testimony. Are we to try and try yet again and again? NO! We are to walk away, shake off the dust from our walk with that person, group, congregation, church or whatever, as a testimony against them. Perhaps another may better communicate with that person. Remember, some plant, some water, and some reap the harvest. Just because you cannot persuade this one or that one does not mean that someone else may. You merely plant the seed, allow another to water and yet another to reap the harvest. And if they continue to “receive not” then it serves as a testimony against them.
“And He must needs go through Samaria” (4: 4). This takes us back to our last “Study” where we spoke of the “Five Must” recorded by Christ. This must, was not spoken by Christ but by the inspired writer of this Gospel. The needs-be was a moral and not a geographical one. There were two routes from Judea to Galilee, but the reason why the Lord “must” go through Samaria, was because of a Divine needs-be. From all eternity it had been ordained that He should go through Samaria. Some of God’s elect were there, and these must be sought and found. The Lord’s own words reveal this truth in John 10: 16, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold (Israel): them also I must bring”. We shall never appreciate the Gospel until we go back to the basic truth of predestination, which puts God first, which makes the choice His, before it becomes ours, and which, in due time, brings His grace to bear upon us with invincible power.
Election is of persons—predestination is of things. All the great movements of the universe are regulated by God’s will. But if the great movements are to prevail, then the small movement for the great, depends upon the small. It was predestinated that our Saviour should go through Samaria, because there was a chosen sinner there. And she was a chosen sinner, for if not she never would have chosen God, or known Jesus Christ. The whole machinery of grace was therefore set in motion in the direction of one poor lost sinner, that she might be restored to her Saviour and to her God. It is not difficult to understand why the Lord must needs go through Samaria. There were those in Samaria whom the Father had given Him from all eternity, and these He “must” save.
And, dear reader, if you are one of God’s elect there is a needs-be put on the Lord Jesus Christ to save you. If you are yet in your sins, you will not always be. For years you may have been fleeing from Christ; but when His time comes He will find you. However you may kick against the pricks and contend against Him; however deeply you may sin, as the woman in our passage, He will most surely bring you into His ever loving care.
You may say how is this possible? Let us take a glimpse of this “how” issue. Man is full of how’s. He always questions, rather than believing. When Jesus told Nicodemus, ye must be born again, what was the first reaction? Nicodemus said; “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he, can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Jn. 3: 4. When Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Give me to drink.” (4: 7), her response was: “How is it that thou, being a Jew, asketh drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” (4: 9). When all the truth of God, in all majesty and authority, is put before us, man meets it with a “how”, or a “why” or even a “show me”. Man wants proof, man wants a sign, yet the Scriptures say “no sign shall be given”.
So the woman at the well says; “How is it that thou, being a Jew, asketh drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” Two quick points to be considered in her statement “a woman of Samaria”. Women were considered second class citizens in those days, further to be a Samarian was even lower than that according to the Jews. The very fact that a Jew (Jesus) would even talk to her was a cultural no-no. This is part of the reason Jesus had sent His disciples into the city to buy meat (vs. 8). He needed time with this woman alone, away from the prejudice of even His disciples (vs. 27). She was one of the loss sheep of the new fold (a Gentile) and Christ required time to talk to her on a one on one basis.
Therefore we can see why “Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water” (4: 10). Our Lord was not to be put off with her “how”. Jesus had answered the “how” of Nicodemus by telling him the “Son of Man” must be lifted up. That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. (Jn. 3: 14—16). And now Jesus answered the woman “If thou knewest the “gift of God” (Grace), and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink.” This is where the root of the problem lies. Man neither knows his need, nor the One who can minister to it. The woman at the well was ignorant of the “gift of God”. The language of grace was an unknown concept to her. Like every other sinner in his natural state, the Samaritan thought she was the one who must do the giving. But salvation does not come to us in return for our giving. God is the giver; all we have to do is receive. “If thou knewest the “gift of God.” What is this gift? It is salvation: it is eternal life: it is the “living water” spoken of by Christ at the end of the verse; it is Grace in its purest form. It is not something we earn, it is something which we are given, a gift from God even though we do not deserve it. Those who try to “work” their way to heaven are doomed from the start. Our “works” do not count, until after we have been saved, they are a result of our efforts to glorify our Lord. How can we glorify our Lord if we do not know Him? We come to heaven by grace, faith, believing: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians: 2:9).
“Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well” (4: 6). Observe that He was at the well first! “I am found of them that sought me not” (Isa. 65: 1). How interesting. It is the language of the Messiah centuries before He made His appearance among men, and this oracle has been frequently verified. His salvation is not only altogether unmerited by those to whom it comes, but at first, it is always unsought (Rom. 3: 11) Among all His people, including the apostles, Christ says: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you”. (John 15: 16). It was so with Abraham (Josh. 24) in the land of Chaldea where he was worshipping idols along with his father while still in Mesopotamia (Acts 7: 2). With Jacob, as he fled to escape from his brother’s anger (Gen. 28: 10, 13). It was so with Moses (Ex. 3: 1, 2). In each case the Lord was found by those who sought Him not. The same holds true of the disciples. They were about their daily work performing their daily task when Christ appeared and called them to “follow Me”. Saul of Tarsus was on the road to Damascus with the Roman soldiers to persecute the followers of Christ when he was struck blind by Jesus saying to him: “Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou me? And he (Saul) said; Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutes: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” (Acts. 9: 4, 5) Isn’t it interesting here to note that Paul said: Who art thou, Lord?” Paul knew immediately who it was that was speaking to him. When “grace” overtakes you, you know it immediately. There are a multitude of other examples, the reader is challenged to seek them out for himself.
“And it was about the sixth hour (from 6: am to noon). There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water” (4: 6, 7). This was no accident, or random incident, it was the hour God had decreed that she was to meet the Saviour. Even our least movements are directed and over-ruled by Divine providence. It was no accident that the Midianites were journeying to Egypt and passed by the deep hole where Joseph’s brothers placed him after they had killed the lamb and took the blood upon Joseph’s coat to make it appear that he had been killed by an animal. (A picture of Christ). (Gen. 37: 28). It was no accident that Pharaoh’s daughter just happened to go down to the river to bathe when she discovered the basket which held the baby Moses. (Ex. 2: 5). It was no accident that king Ahasuerus could not sleep and occupied himself with the reading of the court records, which told of how Mordecai had befriended the king; just when Haman (the very man the king had put in charge of his kingdom) was about to slay all the Jews in the kingdom. (Read all about it in the Book of Esther. It is only ten pages and ten chapters, and well worth the read and your Spiritual enlightenment).
“Jesus said unto her, Give me to drink” (4: 7). The first thing we notice here is that the Lord took the initiative. He asked for a drink, perhaps the cheapest gift anyone could offer. Here was the starting point for the Divine work of grace. The very first word the Saviour uttered was “give”. And then “give me”. How could she as a sinner give to Him? She could not. She must first “ask” of Him. She had to first recognize herself and realize in her natural self that she was destitute, poverty-stricken, and bankrupt spiritually. She first had to learn to help herself before she could possibly help someone else. This was what the Lord had to press upon her in order to lead her to “ask” of Him. When, then, the Saviour said, “Give me to drink”, He was making a demand upon her that she was unable to fulfill. He was bringing her face to face to her own helplessness. We are frequently told that God never commands us to do what we have no ability to perform. This is untrue. He does demand it and for two very good reasons: first to awaken us to a sense of our impotency; and second, that we might seek from Him the grace and strength we need to do what is pleasing unto Him. “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke; 18: 27). The order here is also striking. “Jesus said unto her; If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink: thou wouldest have asked of Him. It was this moral impossibility which aroused her curiosity and interest.
Her next question to Christ was; “How is it that thou, being a Jew, asketh drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” I discussed in a previous writing the many questions of the “how’s” of man. To quote the words from one of the Puritans, “Ah, little did she think of the glories of Him who sat there before her. He who sat on the well owned a Throne that was placed high above the head of the cherubim; in His arms, who then rested Himself, was the sanctuary of peace, where weary souls could lay their heads and dispose their cares, and then turn them to joys, and to guild their thorns with glory; and from that holy tongue, which was parched with heat, should stream forth rivulets of heavenly doctrine, which were to water all the world, and turn deserts into a paradise. (Jeremy Taylor).
“Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him. How is it that thou, being a Jew, asketh drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” How completely this illustrates the blindness of the natural heart; “thou being a Jew”. She was the one carrying the prejudice. Thou a Jew, me a woman of Samaria. Is this not manifested also today in our modern world? Black verses white, Christian verses other religions, gay verses straight, the left liberals verses the right conservatives and on and on ad-nauseam? At the very least one has to admire this woman at the well, she spoke honestly what was upon her heart and to the very Lord Himself. She was not politically correct she spoke what she felt.
Is this not what all of us feel at any given time, but we hide it by dancing around the truth of our feelings. Then comes the day when we come to a saving knowledge of our Lord, this is when all changes, we lose any thoughts of any prejudice. We recognize that what we have before us is mankind throughout the world remains unchanged. We nod in disbelief that Satan has made such in-roads to our society. We overlook and forgive those who still walk in darkness. We mourn inwardly and pray often that our Lord will once again favor our nation. Alas! I fear that it will not be so. I am convinced that the return of our Lord is imminent and that our beloved country will become even more ensconced in the world of evil. I pray that I am wrong, but there is enough evidence to persuade me to think otherwise.
“If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink.” But this woman did not know Who it was that spoke to her. He goes on to say “Thou wouldest have asked of Him.” But again, how could she ask when she knew not what to ask for. The answer is simple. We often hear the phrase, God helps them who help themselves. This is a deviation of the truth by Satan himself. If we can help ourselves, we do not need God. God comes to us after we have divested ourselves of all we have, and can do no more. The sinner has to be brought to the end of himself. To the realization of his awful condition, and terrible danger: he must see himself as lost, undone, and bound for hell itself. He must be made to see his desperate need of a Saviour. God has to show him the utter vanity and worthlessness of everything this world has to offer, so that he experiences an acute “thirst” for the Water of Life. He has to be driven to despair, until he is made to wonder whether God can possibly save such a wretch as he. Like of old, he has to be striped of the filthy rags of his own self-righteousness and be made willing to come to God just as he is, as an empty-handed beggar ready to receive Divine charity. He has to really come into the presence of Christ and have personal dealings with Him. He has to make definite request for himself. This, in part, is what is involved before the sinner will “ask of Him”. Before we ask, God has to deal with the conscience, enlighten the understanding, subdue the rebellious will, and open the heart, the door of which is fast closed against Himself. All of this is what Christ did with this woman of our lesson. We are not saved because of our seeking, or because of our works; we have to be sought-out and then, must we have been molded and ready to “ask”. Just as Christ has now molded this woman at the well to the point where she would eventually ask.
I did not intend to expand this “Study” into an expository thesis. Nevertheless, while we are upon this narrow road, I wish to continue, as we may never return to the path we have trodden thus far. And there is much more to discern with this encounter of our Lord with the Woman at the well; as she represents us both, on our travel into the salvation offered by our Lord, and also as an example of the Church, His very bride, and how she is to proclaim the Gospel to the other Samaritans (Gentiles).
Therefore let us stop here and conclude Part One of the Woman at the Well of Sychar. In our next lesson in these “Searching the Scriptures” Studies; we will take up Part 2 and conclude this expository teaching.