Notes for: The Woman at the Well
A reflection at St James and All Saints, Lent 3
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb.
Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may
From the Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown,
The cloud rested on a particular rock, just as the star
rested on the house where the infant Saviour was lodged (Mt 2:9)."
Politics of water – who has, who is deprived, overuse, pollution and also our wish for plastic bottles and perfect lawns.
Jewish feminist scholar Ilona Pardes has suggestively construed the story of the Exodus to the entry into the land of Canaan, including the years in the wilderness, as a “national biography” in which Israel is born, nursed, fed and reared in preparation for maturity in the new reality of the Promised Land. She reads the scene in 17:1-7 as a tale of Israel beating on God’s rock-hard breast before drinking therefrom.
The woman left her water jar
we have heard for ourselves
Thirst – temptation in the desert – need for water is greater than the need for bread
Meda Stamper, Leicestershire, England
- The reference to living water is a play on words in Greek, in that the phrase refers to water that is flowing rather than still "fresh rather than stagnant" while also actually meaning "living,"
- The language of the well scene "water, water jar, and drawing" -- is reminiscent of the miracle at Cana when Jesus first revealed his glory to his disciples, with the latter two terms used only in these two passages in all the New Testament. The word used initially for well (in 4:6; a different word is used in verse 12) and then for the spring gushing up to eternal life appears several times in Revelation. The Lamb will guide them to "springs of the water of life" (7:17), and the Alpha and Omega, echoing the words of the Johannine Jesus, says, "To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life." (21:6)
- She suggests in her roundabout way that he is the coming Messiah, and for the first and only time in John, Jesus says that he is.
- Verse 6: “It was about noon”: That a person would visit the well to draw water in the middle of the day is surprising; Water was usually drawn during the less hot times of the day: morning and evening. That the woman draws water about noon suggests that she was an outcast from her village.
- Verse 10: Comments: A legend about Jacob: for him water rose to the top of the well and overflowed: For the legend, see Targum Yerusalmi I Numbers 21:17--18 and Targum Neofit I Genesis 28:10
- Verse 11: “the well is deep”: Today it is 23 to 32 metres (75 to 105 feet) deep.
- Verses 13-15: Not only is Jesus greater than Jacob (for whom the well was an entirely adequate source of water for him, his family and his flocks) but Jesus supplants the reality described in the Old Testament. He is also “the bread of life” which supplants the bread from heaven. See also 6:49-51. In Exodus 16:4, Yahweh tells Moses “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you”. [ NJBC]
- Verse 26: “I am he”: Perhaps Jesus points to his divinity, in an echo of God’s self--identification in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you’’”. This is the first of a series of self--revelatory sayings, all echoing an Old Testament formula This is particularly striking in those sayings ( 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5-8) in which Jesus uses the words I am without any predicate. This verse is in striking contrast to the synoptic gospels, where Jesus tells his disciples not to disclose to anyone who he is. Perhaps he felt he could say openly in Samaria what would have seriously impeded his mission in Jewish territory.
- Verses 37-39: See also 12:23-24. The woman is the first missionary.
Osvaldo Vena, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill.
- As a Jewish male Jesus is in a position of advantage over the woman. But as a thirsty and tired sojourner he is obviously in disadvantage, for he is a foreigner and does not have a bucket to draw water.
- After the woman’s initial surprise, Jesus invites the dialogue by becoming vulnerable (“Give me a drink”) and by allowing the woman to exercise some power over him (she is the one with the bucket!) The scene is paradoxical. Here is the giver of living water, thirsty himself. A thirsty Messiah and a resourceful woman will find out that they need each other, a wonderful metaphor for how God and humanity are intimately interconnected.
- breaking the distinction between “chosen people” and “rejected people.”
- She is the spokesperson for the Samaritans (notice the use of plural personal pronouns in verses 12, 20-22). She makes progressive affirmations of faith that prepare the way to her being sent as a witness (verse 39).
- She could have been trapped in the custom of levirate marriage (see Tamar in Genesis 38) and the last male in the family line had refused to marry her.1 The text portrays her as an example of growing faith. The five husbands can also be a reference to people from five foreign nations who were brought as colonists by the Assyrians when they conquered the region in 721 B.C.E. (see 2 Kings 17:24). This created a situation of intermarriage that was aggravated by Herod the Great who continued with this pattern of colonization by settling thousands of foreigners in Samaria.2 If that is the case, then Jesus is commenting on the Samaritans’ mixed race and culture due to imperialism, not on her private life.
- Jacob Neusner, in his book A Rabbi talks with Jesus, explains that for a rabbi to argue and dialogue with others was a sign of respect: “It is my form of respect, the only compliment I crave from others, the only serious tribute I pay to the people I take seriously -- and therefore I respect and even love.”
Karoline Lewis, Associate Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minn.
- Yet, frequently overlooked is that this interaction is a conversation. Jesus suggests that conversation matters for theology. That conversation is essential for faith. Lest we assume such claims, observe how religious dialogue happens today -- “I’m right. You’re wrong. So there.” We are living in a time when conversation needs to be cultivated and valued. Practiced and pursued. Longed for and lived. Without real conversation, we lack intimacy and understanding; connection and empathy. Without real conversation, we risk detachment and distance.
Sermons from Seattle
- In Jewish eyes, Samaritans were half-breeds, ethnic traitors, and "the bad guys.”
- To privately speak with a man who was not your husband was against the religious laws of both the Samaritans and Jews.
- Jacob’s well is 125 feet deep and drops down, not to a spring, but to an underground stream. Centuries ago, the underground waters of that stream were called “living waters.” Today, these waters are still flowing underneath the ground, like an underground river. The “old well” is still working after all these centuries, and tourists to the Holy Land regularly visit it. Down at the bottom of that well is “living water” which is an underground river.
- You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. That statement would have upset the woman: that salvation was from the Jews. That is, Jesus was born of the Jews. He was a real human being of Jewish ancestors.
at the entrance to a mountain pass between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, Jacob’s well, at the base of Mt. Gerizim, is at the junction of the main road leading from Jerusalem in the south. Here, the road splits with the eastern branch going toward the Jordan Valley and the western branch leading to Nablus, and in NT times, Samaria and the Galilee.
About 30 mi (49 km) north of Jerusalem is a low, 15-acre mound, known as Tell Balata. This nondescript ruin covers what was ancient Shechem. The tell rests in a long, narrow, east-west valley with the two highest mountains in central Palestine towering over it, Mt. Ebal on the north and Mt. Gerizim on the south. The Hebrew word shekem means “back” or “shoulder,” which probably refers to Shechem’s placement between the two mountains. Coming from the south, the major road from Beersheba, Hebron and Jerusalem splits here. One branch goes east, around Mt. Ebal, and provides access to the Jordan Valley and cities like Beth Shan. The western arm leads to the coastal plain and cities to the north such as Samaria and Dothan. Thus, ancient Shechem and its modern counterpart, Nablus, are in a very strategic location along the watershed road between Judah, the Jordan Valley, Transjordan, and the Galilee.2
Shechem: Its Archaeological and Contextual Significance, Jun 25, 2010 - by Col. (Ret.) David G. Hansen PhD
Shechem was where God reminded the people that He is faithful. Having given Abram the promise of the land, the Israelites were to remember that promise by going to Shechem,
Shechem was near the place where Joseph’s brothers sold him into
slavery and then concocted a lie to explain Joseph’s absence to their
The body of Joseph was placed in a tomb in Shechem.
God’s eternal unbroken promises, man’s corrupted state, the need for a Rescuer and how a Rescuer had been promised throughout history.