It is helpful to know some historical background regarding Sychar (the location of this conversation)…
There is some debate about the location of the Samaritan city of Sychar which Jesus and the disciples were traveling near when they stopped at the well. Early Christian tradition assumed Sychar to be the large Samaritan city of Shechem which is two miles northwest of the well. But, recent explorations have led scholars to believe that Sychar was more likely at the present day location of Askar which is a smaller village about one mile north of the well.
There is little debate, however, about the location of Jacob’s Well. Easton’s Bible Dictionary refers to it as, “one of the few Biblical sites which can be identified quite positively today.” The well can still be found to this day near the entrance to the ravine which separates Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. All traditions (Samaritan, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim) hold this as the historical site. The details in John 4 fit very well with this location. The Samaritans had erected a rival temple atop Mt. Gerizim, which is referred to by the woman in verse 20. On his way north to Galilee, Jesus and the disciples would likely have been traveling on the road which is known to have passed near the well.
Although the Old Testament does not explicitly mention Sychar or Jacob’s Well, it does provide many historical details about the area — especially Mt. Gerizim. Abraham had camped near Mt. Gerizim (Genesis 12:6) and had met Melchizedek in nearby Salem (Genesis 14:17). “The parcel of ground which Jacob gave to his son Joseph” refered to in verse 5 refers to the passage in Genesis 33:18-20:
Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city. And he bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected there an altar, and called it El-Elohe-Israel. (God the God of Israel)
All of Israel had sat on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal during a great ceremonial reading of the law during the time of Joshua (Joshua 8:33-34). And, in Joshua 24:32 we can see that the bones of Joseph were later buried at the same location. The traditional tomb of Joseph can still be found just north of the well.
So, what does all of this tell us? It is clear that the area around Jacob’s Well had powerful historical and spiritual significance for both Samaritans and Jews. It is obviously not “coincidental” that Jesus had this very significant conversation at this location.
A few things to note in this passage:
- For important historical context on this passage, I recommend that you first read: Jewish and Samaritan Relations During the Time of Christ
- Jesus’ counter-cultural approach to Samaritans (see all also Luke 10 and Luke 17) is one of the most obvious ways that we can see his commitment to breaking down social and ethnic barriers.
- verse 4-5: It is interesting to note that Jesus even chose to go through Samaria in the first place — many Jews at that time chose to take a much longer route to avoid even stepping foot in “Samaritan country”.
- verse 40-41: I think this is two of the most significant verses in this passage. It tells us many things… Jesus’ counter-cultural love toward the Samaritans resulted in them inviting him into their community. He accepted their invitation and stayed with them for two days — something that would probably be unthinkable for most Jews. As a result, many of the Samaritans became believers. What would happen in our communities if we followed Jesus’ example of breaking down social and ethnic barriers to love our neighbors? Let’s find out!
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(Some sections which are especially significant when discussing biblical, multi-ethnic community have been highlighted in blue.)
Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman
1The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4Now he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])
10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
13Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
25The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”
The Disciples Rejoin Jesus
27Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ[b]?” 30They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Many Samaritans Believe
39Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41And because of his words many more became believers.
42They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
Jesus Heals the Official’s Son
43After the two days he left for Galilee. 44(Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.
46Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
48“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
49The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
50Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”
53Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.
54This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.
- John 4:9 Or do not use dishes Samaritans have used
- John 4:29 Or Messiah
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