The woman at the well is quite well-known despite her name never being given. However, many Believers are not aware of the historic and cultural aspects that provide the brief encounter between Yeshua and this woman with incredible and deep meaning.
Join us as we explore the historic and cultural elements that allow us greater insight into Jesus, the Samaritan woman at the well, and their encounter.
Things to Know about the Story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the portion of Scripture in John 4, that features the Samaritan woman at the well. Further, we gave a list of common historic and cultural aspects surrounding this encounter between the woman and Jesus that are often overlooked by Believers today.
- Jesus’ role as a rabbi (a famous one at that)
- How Jews and Samaritans did not interact; Jews generally ignoring and avoiding Samaritans
- Jesus’ being alone when He interacted with the Samaritan woman at the well
- The sixth hour being noon (a hot and uncommon time of day for someone to be at a well)
- How the woman was likely dealing with a level of heckling and/or rejection within her city
- A change not only in the Samaritan woman at the well’s view or understanding of Yeshua, but also in her focus and priorities (shifting from the common priorities of her day to uncommon spiritual ones)
- How this encounter did not appear as a positive thing to everyone at the time
So why are these important? What is it that we do not know about them? Or, at least, overlook?
To answer these questions, we need to dive into our bullet points a little deeper…
Jesus the Rabbi
Certainly, we understand that Jesus was and is a rabbi. However, while Believers today connect this more to His role as the Father’s Son or as an academic teacher… Yeshua’s being a rabbi at this time would have changed the way most people interacted with Him.
For Jews, rabbis were esteemed, and not everyone had the skill or ability to become one. It would have been something trained for since childhood and not accomplished until, historically, they were around 30 years of age. And once this long training period was concluded, rabbis had higher expectations placed upon them than merchants, craftsmen, and the like, particularly in terms of behavior. A rabbi, for instance, would have been expected to interact nearly exclusively with those who were of good character and considered clean—though challenging under Roman rule, this meant that they were essentially limited to interacting with Jews. Beyond this were hundreds of other expectations, including not speaking with women alone, not entering certain places, and so forth…
When Yeshua chose to dine with tax collectors and sinners, when He was willing to enter the Centurion’s house, and when He was willing to reveal His identity as Messiah to the Samaritan woman at the well—a Samaritan woman who was not “clean”—Jesus was defying what people thought was proper behavior for a rabbi. He was defying man’s expectations on various levels… even risking His position as a rabbi on earth, though not in Heaven.
Jews and Samaritans
Firstly, it is important to realize that Jews and Samaritans were not entirely two people groups, but instead related as a result of Assyria’s conquering the Jewish Kingdom of Israel which had been divided from the Kingdom of Judah years prior.
When Assyria conquered the Kingdom of Israel, they forced nearly all descendants of the Jewish tribes living in Israel into exile. Additionally, the Assyrians brought pagan Gentiles into an area of Israel from whence would come Samaria, and many marriages occurred between those pagan Gentiles and the Jews left in the land. Thus, those in the New Testament known as Samaritans were half-Jew and half-Gentile; but who saw themselves as being Jews despite Jews generally avoiding them and viewing them as separate from themselves.
Approximately two centuries after the mixing of Jew and Gentile into a Samaritan people, Jews from the Kingdom of Judah who had been exiled for 70 years returned to Judah to rebuild Jerusalem. However, the Samaritans opposed it, in part because Samaritans thought that the priests should come through their line and that Jerusalem should not be the place of worship, but a mountain in Israel instead. As a result, animosity built between Jews and Samaritans, and continued for around five centuries into the time of Jesus. This is also why the Samaritan woman introduces topics that we might consider odd, such as the issue of where to worship and if Jerusalem is holy or the mountain in Samaria.
Jesus is Alone
In John, chapter four, we are told that Jesus is alone at the well, resting while His disciples are in town buying food. Now, when the Samaritan woman at the well went to get water as she did regularly, Jesus, according to man’s expectations, as a good rabbi, should have either ignored her or, better yet, removed Himself from the area. After all, she was both a Samaritan AND a woman who had a questionable reputation. Yet, Yeshua chose to do what His Father directed Him to do… to speak to the woman and even reveal, for the first time, His true identity as Messiah!
Jesus did the right thing of course, but not everyone would have seen it that way. Even His disciples thought that it was odd, or even inappropriate, when they first discovered their Rabbi alone with the woman. They did not understand what God was doing. They did not understand the reconciliation nor the bringing together of Jew and Samaritan… and later, the bringing together of Jew and Gentile. However, God did.
The Sixth Hour, the Samaritan Woman at the Well, and a Change of Perspective
The sixth hour would have been what we know today as noon. At that point in the day, the sun would have been high enough for it to be hot much of the year, but more than this, it would not have been a usual time to draw water. For most people, this would have been done in the cool of the day; morning, evening, or even both.
Remember, Jesus was alone at the well. Only the Samaritan woman at the well was there gathering water… but why is that? One probable reason is that this woman wanted to be alone. That she was choosing the path of least resistance; avoiding the people of Samaria and whatever ridicule she would have faced from them. She was wanting to quietly get her water and go… but God had other plans. Jesus—Jew, Rabbi, and Messiah—sought to, among other things, change what she thought her situation had to be. And, as we witness at the end of this encounter, that is exactly what happened; Jesus changed everything!
Not Everyone Agreed with the Encounter
Right after Yeshua revealed Himself as the Messiah to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus’ disciples returned and saw that Jesus was talking to this Samaritan woman. John 4:27 says that “they marveled that He talked with a woman.” They may not have said anything to Him, yet the Scripture indicates that what they did not say was likely exactly what they wanted to…
“…at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, ‘What do You seek?’ or, ‘Why are You talking with her?’”—John 4:27
Being in Samaria, they surely knew that she was Samaritan, which at that point may have still been a mark against her according to Jesus’ disciples—though Jesus may already have changed their perspective for the better. However, the primary issue they would have had was that Yeshua was speaking to a woman. Alone. At a time of day that could have made it appear to their carnal mindset as clandestine, despite having spent time with Jesus and witnessing His sinless existence. Yet, no matter the reasons why they questioned Jesus—albeit silently—it is apparent that they did not agree with or understand Jesus’ encounter with the woman. They were not aware of the spiritual shifting that was taking place or how important it was. But thankfully Jesus was aware, and He continued to do what His Father said no matter what people said or thought.
These historic and cultural aspects give deeper meaning to an incident that fills only a portion of a chapter. Causing a story that is generally glanced over to offer incredible insights into why Jesus’ decision to reveal His identity as Messiah to one Samaritan woman was so groundbreaking!
Yet, the aspects we have explored only give us a small glimpse into a woman God chose to break the expectations of generations. Join us in Part 3 to discover more about this incredible woman and how one encounter with Yeshua changes everything!