Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 3 (KJV)
Jesus Talks with a Samaritan
Devotional Reading: Isaiah 44:1–8
Background Scripture: John 4:1–42
John 4:7–15, 28–30, 39–41
7 There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.
8 (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.)
9 Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
11 The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?
12 Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?
13 Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
15 The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.
28 The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men,
29 Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?
30 Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.
39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.
40 So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days.
41 And many more believed because of his own word.
Many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.—John 4:39
Jesus Calls Us
Unit 1: Called From the Margins of Society
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Identify the barriers that Jesus ignored when talking with the Samaritan woman.
2. Explain the significance of Jesus’ discussion with the woman in light of the prevailing cultural, political, and religious taboos He ignored.
3. Identify elements of Jesus’ approach to evangelism that he or she will use.
How to Say It
Gerizim Gair-ih-zeem or Guh-rye-zim.
A. The “Wrong” Neighborhood
As a small child, I lived in a mobile home park characterized by ethnic diversity and lower-income families. When I learned that my friends who lived across the street from the mobile home park were not allowed to come over and play with me, I was hurt and embarrassed. Apparently I lived in the “wrong” neighborhood.
Yet I remember ministers, Sunday school teachers, and youth ministers. They would take me to church services, out to eat, to baseball games, and even to a rodeo! I do not know where I would be today if they hadn’t disregarded social barriers in order to invest time in a kid like me.
Today I’m humbled at the opportunity to spread the gospel to other communities and individuals who might otherwise be barred from meeting Jesus. In today’s text Jesus himself modeled breaking barriers in ministry. What would be the impact of reaching into the “wrong” neighborhood?
B. Lesson Context
The Gospel of John was written later than those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, probably in the AD 80s or 90s. The Apostle John likely wrote his Gospel from Ephesus, according to long-held church tradition. John’s authorship is established primarily by his identification as the beloved disciple (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20, 24; see lessons 7 and 8).
As our text in John 4 begins, Jesus and His disciples had left Judaea and were heading to Galilee (John 4:3), where He made the headquarters of His ministry (Matthew 4:13–16). For this journey, Jesus chose not to take one of two longer routes in order to avoid Samaria (John 4:4), as some Jews would do (compare and contrast Luke 9:51–53; 17:11). Samaria was the central region of what had been the kingdom of Israel, with Judaea to the south and Galilee to the north. Travel between Jerusalem and the region of Galilee would take about three days on the reliable Roman roads that ran through Samaria.
I. The Stranger
A. Physical Need (vv. 7–9)
7. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.
At the sixth hour (midday), Jesus came to this well that was known to have belonged to Jacob (John 4:5–6, not in our printed text; see commentary on 4:12, below). It was uncommon for anyone to be at the well at that hour, as the day was at its hottest. From ancient times, women journeyed to draw water as a group in the morning or the evening (example: Genesis 24:11; contrast 29:7). A woman of Samaria came alone, likely indicating she was outcast from her community, especially from other women (consider John 4:16–18, not in our printed text). Give me to drink does not seem an unusual request at a well. But John 4:9 (below) reveals several levels on which this was a very surprising request.
8. (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.)
Jesus and his disciples sometimes carried funds to buy what they needed along the way (example: John 13:29), though other times they depended on other means for their sustenance (examples: Matthew 10:9; Mark 6:8; Luke 10:4). This journey took them through Samaria, specifically the city Sychar (John 4:5, not in our printed text; see commentary on 4:28, below). Ancient Jewish tradition suggests that the disciples would have been careful about ritual purity and social boundaries when procuring meat (the word indicates any kind of food) from Samaritans. Ordinarily they would not accept food as a gift from Samaritans, but allowed for the need to buy from Samaritans.
9a. Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?
The reasons Jesus’ request was surprising are given here (see commentary on John 4:7, above). One was a gender issue. Women were often viewed as “less than” by men in the ancient Roman world. For a Jewish man, this would be especially true for any non-Jewish woman. Samaritan women were doubly stigmatized because of the animosity between Judah and Samaria. (On the barriers between Jews and Samaritans, see commentary on 4:9b, below.)
Within this conversation, the woman of Samaria would be amazed that Jesus knew about her several marriages and the man she was living with at the time (John 4:16–19, not in our printed text). Both Jews and other Samaritans would consider this pattern suspicious, if not downright sinful. We do not know why she’d been married so many times. But the implication of living with a man she had not married suggests there were less than pure reasons for the ending of the other relationships.
9b. For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
The antagonism between the Jews and the Samaritans dated back over 700 years, to the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel. The 10 tribes of Israel living there were taken captive in 722 BC, including the people living in the region called Samaria (2 Kings 17:1–6). The Assyrians habitually moved conquered people around the empire, so some Israelites remained while many foreign people settled in the land. When Israelites mingled with foreign peoples, the result was a syncretistic religion in which the Lord was worshipped in addition to other gods (17:24–33, 41).
All this religious turmoil resulted in a Samaritan religion that revered only the books of Moses (the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch). Samaritans excluded any history, poetry, or prophecy that was written later. The Samaritans believed that God should be worshipped on Mount Gerizim (see Deuteronomy 11:29; 27:12), not in Jerusalem. They also expected a Messiah like Moses, not David (see John 4:29, below).
The Samaritans opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s temple and the city walls following the exiled Jews’ three waves of return that began in 538 BC (Ezra 4:8–24; Nehemiah 4:1–2). Later, the Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37–100) recorded that the Samaritans were not forced to devote their place of worship to Jupiter (as the Samaritans claimed), but instead willingly did so between 175 and 164 BC. Josephus’s account likely reflects more about his bias than any voluntary Samaritan complicity. John Hyrcanus (174–104 BC) was the high priest and ruler in Judea who briefly achieved Jewish independence by throwing off Syria and creating an alliance with Rome. In his leadership of the Jewish people, Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan place of worship on Mount Gerizim (112/111 BC). Josephus also notes that between AD 6 and 9, Samaritans attempted to defile the temple in Jerusalem during Passover by sneaking in and scattering dead men’s bones on the temple grounds (compare Leviticus 21:1, 11; Numbers 5:2; 9:6–7; 19:13).
Even with all this historic hostility (examples: Hosea 7:1; 8:5–6) continuing in Jesus’ lifetime (example: Luke 9:51–54), He typically did not avoid Samaritans and even spoke well of them (10:30–37; 17:11–19; contrast Matthew 10:5). This tendency is in keeping with Jesus’ habit of associating himself with outcasts and sinners (Mark 2:15–17; Luke 7:36–39). And even more, Jesus never treated people as their stereotypes—in this case, a Samaritan and a woman. He saw the person before Him and valued that person, no matter their circumstances.
What Do You Think?
What hurdles does your congregation face when reaching out to a community that might be mistrustful of your motives?
How can your congregation prepare to overcome these obstacles?
B. Spiritual Bounty (vv. 10–15)
10. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
The gift of God refers to the Holy Spirit (compare John 7:38–39), consistent with other New Testament usage and nuance. Looking at Old Testament uses of “springing water” (the nearest Hebrew equivalent to living water) offers useful insight. This is fresh, flowing water as opposed to bitter or salty water (Numbers 5:18–27; Jeremiah 23:15; James 3:11)—or no water at all. Spiritually and physically, God provides good water for His people to live (compare Numbers 24:7; Psalm 36:9; Isaiah 49:10; Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13; Ezekiel 47:12).
This Samaritan woman, however, had no knowledge of this gift in a spiritual sense or of Jesus’ true identity. Already in John’s Gospel, Jesus has been identified as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), “the Son of God” (1:34), and “the Messias, … the Christ” (1:41). But this knowledge was not widely accepted (1:9–11).
What Do You Think?
Are any of your prayers “small” compared to what Jesus offers you?
How do you balance “small” requests for “daily bread” with the “big” petition for God’s “kingdom [to] come” (Matthew 6:10–11)?
11a. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with. The woman had not yet caught on that Jesus was speaking about spiritual truths rather than about physical realities. Jesus should need something to draw with, or else water would not come out of the well. One would take a bucket or jar and lower it down the well with a rope to access the water. She likely assumed Jesus had no way of drawing the water for himself, or else this Jewish man would not have spoken with the Samaritan woman.
11b–12. And the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?
The well itself had long been associated with father Jacob, who lived about 2,000 years prior to the encounter of today’s text. Jacob had bought the land of Shechem, eventually deeding it to his son Joseph (Genesis 33:18–19; 48:22; Joshua 24:32), although no well was mentioned.
The Samaritans traced their lineage through Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. But because of the divergence of Israel’s ten tribes from the southern two, collectively known as Judah, the Jews thought of Samaritans as foreigners (Luke 17:16–18). This well can still be visited today. It is over 100 feet deep and was possibly even deeper in Jesus’ time. Even if Jesus had something with which to draw water, how could He possibly reach the living water at the bottom, which supplied the well?
Like the Jews, the Samaritans had great respect for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the woman thought that Jesus could not be greater (see commentary on John 4:29, below; compare 8:52–58). This question presupposes a negative answer and might even be considered mocking. But based on her faith, the woman rightly questioned whether Jesus could be greater than the patriarchs.
13–14. Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
Thirst is an apt metaphor for spiritual need. Just as any person or creature dies without the water they need, so too we die without the spiritual care we need. Psalm 42:1–2 pictures the soul panting for God as a hart pants for water. Isaiah depicts one who would “draw water out of the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3; compare 55:1; 58:11). And Jesus states that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are blessed and will be filled (Matthew 5:6; compare John 6:35). Springing up suggests especially vital properties in the living, spiritual water Jesus referred to. We could give a formula here: everlasting life comes only as a gift of the Father through accepting the invitation of Jesus and the daily work of the Spirit.
My friend drove for a ride-share company, and many of his customers requested rides to the nearest major airport, 70 miles away. His car was satisfactory, but he was looking for something more. A big part of his desired upgrade was a car that would lower his fuel costs. Still, his car was serviceable, so he waited for the opportune moment to make a purchase, knowing he’d also be taking on monthly car payments again.
Sitting at a red light, my friend was rear-ended, his car totaled. The “something more” suddenly became more necessity than mere desire. And my friend was delighted at how much more his new car gave him due to technological advances, especially in fuel efficiency. The downside—those pesky car payments.
What the world offers always has a downside. But with Jesus there are no downsides. The living water Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman was much more than she could have anticipated. What has been your experience of Jesus’ much more? —C. R. B.
15. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.
The woman’s request demonstrated her confusion about Jesus’ words. She was in search of literal, physical water to meet her immediate needs. But even with her misunderstanding, she admirably continued her inquiry and search for understanding.
The dialogue in John 4:16–27 (not in our printed text) continued between Jesus and the woman. She rapidly progressed from considering Jesus to be a prophet to wondering if He might be someone even greater than that (see commentary on 4:29, below).
II. The Promised One
(John 4:28–30, 39–41)
A. Question of Identity (vv. 28–30)
28a. The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city.
Leaving her waterpot behind indicated that the woman left in a rush (see commentary on John 4:30, below). The city, Sychar, sat in proximity to both Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (see commentary on 4:9b, above). Its only mention by name occurs in John 4:5 (not in our printed text). Though its location is unclear, there is reason to associate it with the modern village Askar. The village’s proximity to Jacob’s well—about one-half mile—as well as to both mountains lends credence to this supposition (see commentary on 4:11b–12, above). The name Sychar might also indicate a close relationship with Shechem, a better-known settlement in the same area. First mentioned as Abram entered Canaan (Genesis 12:6–7), the land became part of Ephraimite territory in northern Palestine (Joshua 17:8–10).
28b–29a. And saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did.
The woman’s invitation to Come, see is reminiscent of Jesus’ invitation when He called His first followers in John 1:39. Describing Jesus’ knowing about her marriages and current living situation as having told her all things that she did reveals something about the culture this woman was living in. Her life’s summary (at least in her mind, and likely in the mind of her community as well) could be told in terms of the men she had associated with (see John 4:16–18, not in our printed text). Instead of using this information to shame her, Jesus used it to further her understanding regarding His identity. He was at least a prophet (4:19), and even more (see commentary on 4:29b, below).
In confirming Jesus’ accurate and supernatural knowledge of her life story, the woman’s testimony reveals that she was fully impressed by Him. Given the culture, one would not expect a woman to go into town and address the public the way she did. Her reputation would seem to make her a bad witness—not someone who would be taken seriously (compare Luke 7:36–50; see commentary on John 4:30, below).
What Do You Think?
How willing are you to be interrupted by the opportunity to talk about Jesus?
How can you become more open to Spirit-led opportunities to share Christ?
“Come and See”
When my grandson Jesse was about 3 years old, we were walking from his house to the park nearby. Jesse ran ahead, then turned and ran back to me, shouting, “Grampa, come and see what I see! It’s a hot dog stand! I think we ought to get a hot dog!” With a level of enthusiasm I didn’t feel, I responded, “That’s a great idea, Jesse!” With hot dogs in his near future, Jesse said, “Grampa, you’ve got a good know-er brain, but I’ve got a good think-er brain.” He was aware that my many years of life had given me more knowledge than he had, but he was proud of his ability to think of new ideas. The Samaritan woman recognized that the man she had met was also a “know-er.” Her “think-er” brain led her to introduce Jesus to her community. How often do you let it be known to your acquaintances that you think they need to meet Jesus? What holds you back? —C. R. B.
29b. Is not this the Christ?
The woman anticipated a positive response (contrast John 4:12, above), partly based on Jesus’ own assertion that He is the Christ (4:25–26, not in our printed text). The Samaritan expectations of the Christ differed from Jewish expectations because of their adherence only to the first five books of the Old Testament (see Lesson Context; commentary on 4:9b, above). Jesus fulfilled prophetic and kingly expectations, though not in the way either Samaritans or Jews had imagined (examples: 6:15, 41–42; 7:25–27, 52; Acts 1:6).
30. Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.
One cannot help but notice the contrast between the disciples who went into the town to bring back food and this woman who brought out the people of the city to meet the Christ.
B. Revelation of Identity (vv. 39–41)
39. And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.
In Jesus’ ministry, people living on the margins sometimes made the biggest influence on their communities (examples: Matthew 9:9–13; Luke 19:1–10). This ostracized woman turned evangelist reached out to her community, which resulted in many of the Samaritans of that city believing that Jesus was the Christ (see commentary on John 4:29, above). Significantly, her testimony was that Jesus told me all that ever I did—a significant claim when looking for a prophetic Christ.
40–41. So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. And many more believed because of his own word.
Staying with the Samaritans was a significant break in Jewish custom (see commentary on John 4:9b, above). As a result of Jesus’ time and preaching the gospel in Sychar (see commentary on 4:28a, above), many more believed. As the Samaritans encountered Jesus for themselves, they confessed that Jesus really is “the Saviour of the world” (4:42, not in our printed text).
One cannot help but ponder on how large the community of faith grew in Sychar. In Acts 8:4–25, the gospel spread in the land of Samaria through the work of Philip the evangelist, the groundwork for that success undoubtedly prepared by events in today’s text.
What Do You Think?
How did others’ testimony influence your early love for Jesus?
How do you continue to seek intimacy with Jesus?
A. Every Neighborhood
Jesus’ earthly ministry did not include limits based on typical human barriers. His encounter with the Samaritan woman is a prime example. In Jesus’ presence, many of the boundaries that we have put up or that others have put up around us disappear (Romans 3:22; 10:12; Galatians 3:28–29; Ephesians 2:11–22; contrast 5:11; 1 Timothy 4:7; 2 Timothy 3:1–5; Titus 3:10). As we find our identity in Jesus, we can become the conduit of mercy and grace to those we encounter. The living water Jesus gives us is available now and will continue to well up in us until we reach the age to come. The gift we find in Jesus is not a stagnant thing; it moves us from old to new, death to life, lost to found, enslaved to free; it means we are saved!
What Do You Think?
What encouragement can you find in today’s passage?
What challenge do you find in the passage?
Father, forgive us for the times when we have allowed barriers to prevent us from inviting others to see You. Help us to see those around us the way that You see them; help us demonstrate Your love and holiness to them. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Take every opportunity to offer Jesus’ living water.
Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2022-2023 (pp. 633-715). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.