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We come now to the story of the Samaritan woman that Jesus met at the well of Sychar. This is the final story supporting Jesus’ first sign at the wedding feast of Cana. This time, instead of turning water to wine, Jesus teaches the woman and her friends about the well of living water. It is still another view of the transformation that occurs when we drink of the Spirit.
John 4:1-3 says,
1 Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and departed again into Galilee.
Apparently, the large number of people that John had been baptizing was cause for concern, sending the earlier delegation to investigate (John 1:19, 24). But when word got out that Jesus was baptizing even more disciples than John, this was cause for alarm. After all, John never claimed to be the Messiah, but he had borne witness of Jesus, so the temple priests knew that He was the real threat.
Hence, Jesus traveled north from Judea to the relatively safer region of Galilee. As we will see later, the time came when it was dangerous for Jesus to minister in Judea. John 7:1 says,
1 After these things, Jesus was walking in Galilee; for He was unwilling to walk in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill Him.
The Well of Jacob
Jesus could have crossed the Jordan and traveled north through Decapolis (10 Greek cities on the east side of the river), but the Spirit led Him through Samaria for a very important mission along the way. John 4:4, 5, 6 says,
4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave his son Joseph; 6 and Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
Sychar, or Sychem, was the ancient town of Shechem. It was located on the slope of Mount Ebal a few miles southeast of the city of Samaria, Israel’s ancient capital that had been destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. It was also fairly close to Mount Gerazim, where the Samaritan temple stood as a rival to the temple in Jerusalem.
Sychar was just north of Jacob’s well, which was on the parcel of land that Jacob had purchased after his return from Laban’s house (Joshua 24:32). The well was located between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim, the two mountains where the tribes of Israel had stood, representing the blessings of obedience (Gerazim) and the curses for disobedience (Ebal) in Deuteronomy 27:12, 13.
Genesis 33:18, 19 says,
18 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. 19 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.
Jacob’s move to Shechem was the setup to the story of his daughter Dinah in Genesis 34. Shechem, the son of Hamor, wanted to marry Dinah, but Jacob’s sons destroyed the whole town. In doing so, they incurred the wrath of their father, Jacob (Genesis 34:30).
Hence, Shechem was historically a place of conflict between the sons of Jacob and others whom they considered to be unclean and unredeemable. Jacob himself had already come through his own spiritual crisis when he had wrestled with the angel. His name had already been changed to Israel to reflect this new revelation. The problem was that his sons were yet carnal and religious, which can be a dangerous combination.
Hamor means “an ass,” which is an unclean creature. Jacob’s sons looked upon him as being unclean, not understanding that in the law, the firstborn of an ass was supposed to be redeemed by a lamb (Exodus 13:13). In other words, asses were to be redeemed, not killed. When redeemed, they were lambs in the eyes of the law.
Shechem means “shoulder” and represents government (Isaiah 9:6). Hence, by viewing Hamor and Shechem together, we see that the sons of Jacob represented those who would destroy the ungodly (or unclean) governments of the world. But there are two ways to accomplish this. The first is by violence; the other is by converting them to the Kingdom of God. The religious spirit opted for violence as its first choice; Jesus chose the second.
Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman of Sychar, or Shechem, should be seen as the way in which Jacob’s sons ought to have treated Hamor and the town itself. Where the sons of Jacob did wrong, Jesus did what was right. By comparing the two stories, we see the contrast between the carnality of a religious spirit and the lawful manner in which the Holy Spirit works.
In the overall context of Jesus’ first sign, we see that when He transformed water to wine, He established the principle of the law of redemption wherein asses were transformed into lambs. So also the Samaritans were to be transformed by the Holy Spirit from carnal asses to spiritual lambs. Hatred between Jews and Samaritans was not pleasing to God. Jesus showed the love of God to Samaritans, and this changed their hearts and transformed them to new wine.
Sychar means “drunken.” It is actually a Hebrew word derived from shekar, translated “strong drink” in Numbers 28:7. Some believe that Sychar was not the actual name of the town but was a Jewish nickname showing contempt for the Samaritans living there. If so, they may have linked the name with two words: shikkor, “drunken” and sheqer, “falsehood.”
Whatever the origin of the name, it played into the prophetic significance of the story. Jacob’s well produced water, and Jesus told the woman about “living water” that would be a never-ending source of life bubbling up from within. The woman had come to the well to fill her vessel with water, intending to bring it to Sychar, “drunken,” thus suggesting a carnal attempt to transform from water to wine.
Jesus told her that this would work only if she drew from the wellspring of living water—the Messiah Himself.
It was noon, and the sun was hot. Jesus was weary from his journey. John 4:7, 8, 9 says,
7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 The Samaritan woman therefore said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
Jewish protocol had forbidden Jews to have any interaction with Samaritans, lest they be contaminated. His disciples had gone into the city to buy food, which was probably something that made them quite nervous. It was likely that they would be met with some hostility and that they would pay dearly for their food.
Furthermore, a Jewish man was not to speak to any woman in public. To ask a Samaritan woman for a drink was perhaps the ultimate breach of protocol, for asking a favor not only recognized her existence but it showed His humility.
John 4:10 continues,
10 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 Hebrew term chay mayim, “running water” literally means living water. This phrase is used in Leviticus 14:5 and 6 in relation to the law of cleansing lepers. The first bird was to be killed in an earthen vessel “over running water.” In biblical types and shadows, in order for water to be “living,” it must flow, rather than being a pool of water. This law of baptism shows how this ritual focuses more on life than on death. Baptism is about passing from death to life.
The water from the well of Sychar flowed as an underground spring, but insofar as the people were concerned, it was drawn up as regular water in a container. Hence, Jesus offered her living water as a contrast to the dead water that she was about to draw from the well of Jacob. The dead water needed to be drawn day after day, whereas the living water was to come from within one’s innermost being and never run dry.
In other words, John meant for us to see that turning water to wine was the equivalent of turning dead water into living water. This was just another way of expressing the same principle.
John 4:11, 12 gives the woman’s response,
11 She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are you, who gave us the well and drank of it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”
The simple answer is Yes, Jesus was indeed greater than Jacob and his sons, for they all drank dead water. Jacob’s sons murdered the whole town, for they had not drunk any living water. But Jesus did not immediately answer her question. Instead, He corrected her misunderstanding of the term “living water.”
John 4:13, 14 says,
13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal [aionian] life.”
We see here that the contrast between dead water and living water has to do with the contrast between the Old and New Covenants. The Old Covenant, based upon man’s vows and good intentions, could never succeed, because no man was capable of fulfilling the vow of obedience required to obtain aionian life. Only the New Covenant, based upon God’s vow (or promise) could ensure success, because it is based on God’s ability to turn the hearts of the people.
So also, we see that Jesus was the One who turned the water to wine. And Jesus was the One who could offer the Samaritan woman living water that would never run dry.
This caught her interest, and John 4:15 gives her response,
15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw.”
She still did not fully understand what He meant, for she still thought that He might offer her some magic water. Nonetheless, He had induced her to ask Him for this water, which was a big step from verse 10.
But before giving her this water, she needed to do something else.