Lessons learned from the Life of Jesus – The Encounter with the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well

This is one of my favorite stories from the life of Jesus because of the verbal sparring that went back and forth between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. As a retired trial lawyer, I appreciate a strategic approach to a conversation and the creative way Jesus approached this woman and this conversation to reach His point. It is a remarkable conversation.

Jesus and His disciples are going north from Judea to Galilee. Jesus had heard that the Pharisees were upset because of the many people who were being baptized and were becoming His followers. John 4:1-3. It was not yet time for more confrontation with them, so Jesus headed north to his home area near the sea of Galilee. But He didn’t go to Galilee the way the Jewish people normally went there.

Directly between Jerusalem and most of Judea where they were, and Galilee where they were going, was Samaria. This area was populated by Samaritans, a people looked down on by the “pure” Jews. Samaritans were considered half-breeds. When Israel, the northern kingdom, was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC, the Assyrians did what they normally did with conquered people; they took many and relocated them to distant lands and brought in people from other conquered lands. In reality, they shuffled the subjugated people. It was a brilliant and effective strategy to make it hard for conquered peoples unable to revolt. It was so effective that the ten lost tribes could never be brought back together again; they remain the ten lost tribes of Israel even today.

Over time, the relocated people intermarried with the locals. Many Jews in Israel were relocated to foreign lands and many foreign peoples were brought into Israel with the result that intermarriage was common. Those foreign peoples brought in their gods. The religion of the people of Samaria became a hybrid of religious practices, an abomination in the eyes of the Jews of the southern kingdom of Judah. The “purity” of the Jews of Samaria was suspect. The Jews of Judah who were not conquered by Assyria considered them unfit for any association. Pharisees even considered themselves to be ceremonially unclean if they were touched by the shadow of a Samaritan. No Jew would speak or associate with a Samaritan.

But that is only the beginning of the enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans. In the 2nd century BC the Samaritans were allies with the Syrians in wars against the Jews. That was not going to go without a response. In 128 BC the Jews retaliated and burned the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerazim. The separation between the two peoples was great.

As a result, when Jews had to travel north, they usually went north and a bit east up the Jordan River valley, allowing them to avoid most Samaritan settlements. Rather than go that longer route, Jesus went the most direct and shortest route, right through the heart of Samaria. John wrote that Jesus “had to go through Samaria.” John 4:4. That was geographically untrue, but whenever the verb dei’ for “had to” or “must” is used by John as it was in verse 4, there is a necessity that involves God’s will or plan. See, for example, John 3:7, John 3:14, and John 20:9.

The disciples have gone into town while Jesus stayed behind at Jacob’s well. He is there when a Samaritan woman arrives to get water from the well. With that setting, let’s listen in to the conversation between Jesus and this woman.

John 4:7-26
7  When 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.)
9  The 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.)
10  Jesus 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?
12  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13  Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,
14  but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15  The 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.”
16  He 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.
18  The 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.
20  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21  “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
22  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
23  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
24  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25  The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26  Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

The back-and-forth between Jesus and the unnamed Samaritan woman is a fascinating example of a master of conversation and understanding who guides the conversation to the desired end. In that conversation and in these events lie many lessons for us, all far deeper than the already-mentioned issues of history, dates, geography, wars, and barbarism.

Lessons for the church and for believers

There are a multitude of lessons throughout this story. They start with the most important of all; God loves all people. Even if we don’t love each other, God is reaching out to all people.

God is love

The meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan women was no ordinary meeting. For it to happen the way it did, Jesus had to break at least three Jewish customs. First, she was a woman and yet he spoke with her. No Jewish male would speak with an unaccompanied woman. Second, she was a Samaritan, and the Jews avoided Samaritans. Finally, Jesus asked her to give Him a drink of water. That would mean He would drink from a cup of a Samaritan. That would make him ceremonially unclean.

But those restrictions were not from God, they were instead additions to the law by man. Jesus was not bound by man’s law when man’s law conflicted with God’s love.

In fact, God’s love reaches out even into the territory of mankind’s hate and rejection. Matthew 5:43-44 and Luke 6:35. He wants all people to come to Him. 2 Peter 3:9. The outcast, the unlovely, the unlovable, those most unlike you, those you struggle to accept, etc. are all potential brothers and sisters in Christ and God wants them to be drawn to Him. Mercy triumphs over judgment, James 2:13, especially the callous judgments of people because they are somehow different or not as good. That is what true grace is all about.

Jesus is the way

People of other faiths and people of no faith (actually people claiming no faith have a faith, one requiring enormous faith and trust – in themselves – and their god will always let them down), often argue with Jesus’ proclamation that He is the way, the truth and the life. John 14:6. They label that statement many different ways, often profane and obscene, and call believers bigoted and narrow-minded. I confess to the narrow-minded “insult,” because Jesus told us the way was narrow:

Matthew 7:13-14
13 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

A person may choose to disbelieve in the truth. For example, take a truth like gravity. A person may disbelieve in gravity, but they still fall when they step off a cliff. They can disbelieve all the way to the bottom.

The “living water” reference was used here and in Revelation. Revelation 7:17. It is an appropriate analogy because of the comparisons:

Only those who are spiritually thirsty seek out living water. Salvation generally comes to those who recognize that something is missing from their spiritual lives. God has told us that when we seek Him with all of our hearts, we will find Him. Jeremiah 29:13. Once the Samaritan woman saw who she was speaking with, she changed her tone and conversation.

Water washes, and people need to be cleansed of their sins. Coming to know Jesus calls for a choice for repentance, a turning away from sin. She did just that.

Water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, H2O, and there is no substitute. It can be flavored and colored but it is still H2O. There is no substitute for Jesus, He is the way, the truth and the life. John 14:6.

Our response to Him

I love the fact that she argued with Jesus. Of course, she didn’t realize that she was arguing with God, but she tried. I do that a lot. I argue and I barter and I gripe and complain. I have yet to win even once.

Then, once she saw the truth, she spoke to others about this amazing man, a Jewish rabbi who ignored Jewish convention, practice and law and spoke of things He could not know.

John 4:39-42
39  Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”
40  So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.
41  And because of his words many more became believers.
42  They 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.”

People who are invited come to church. Of course, not all hear and believe, but surveys indicate that most people who do attend church were invited by friends or family, and many – even most, 63%, were invited by a friend.

Because of her witness to them, they went and met Jesus themselves and were saved. John 4:42.

John 4:42
42  They 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.”

What we have, knowledge of and a relationship with our Savior, and what we know is too good to keep to ourselves. We also get an extra benefit from our relationship with Jesus; He was in Samaria with the villagers for two days, John 4:40, whereas He will be with us for a lifetime and more. Hebrews 13:5.

What is your response? One wonderful thing about the fact that our relationship with Jesus is personal is that each relationship is unique. I can’t tell you how to respond to the fact that the Creator of the universe loves you and desires to walk with you. I can only say this for myself,

Joshua 24:15
15  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, …. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

About the Author


John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus.  He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016.  He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.

This is the sixteenth in a series of articles on financial and other issues facing the American church in this no longer very new millennium. These articles represent the personal thoughts and reflections of the author and are not necessarily a statement of The Idlewild Foundation. These articles are based upon parables told by Jesus and stories from the gospels on events in His life, applying His life and teachings to the lives of believers and to the church as a whole and not to any one church in particular.