Bad Girls of the Bible: The Woman at the Well
*Much of this is taken from Lizz Curtis Higgs book Bad Girls of the Bible. Any references not cited is due to laziness, not thievery.
Bad Girls: Bad to the Bone- Not a single kind word was ever spoken about them in scripture; a pattern of sinning; no evidence of remorse, repentance, or a desire to change; they sinned with gusto. Made in the image of God, so not truly bad to the core—they just behaved that way.
Bad for a Moment- Women who made one huge, colossal, life changing blooper that was recorded in scripture to teach everyone else a lesson. Seem to be believers in the one true God at the start but when forced to make a decision, chose disastrously.
Bad for a Season, but not Forever- Sins in their past, but were willing to change and be changed.
Intro: Today we will be looking at our fourth Bad Girl of the Bible, and the third in a row that is nameless. This woman was not known by her husband’s name like Lot’s wife or Potiphar’s wife, but she was known by her location—more specifically her location and her ethnicity. The Bad Girl we’re going to be studying is known as the “woman at the well,” or the Samaritan woman at the well.
In the previous chapter we find Jesus having His discussion at night with the Pharisee Nicodemus, who seems to be seeking the truth. Following that we find a story of Jesus’s disciples baptizing people in the Jordan River just like JBAP was doing. JBAP’s disciples were upset that the disciples were baptizing and becoming more popular than JBAP. JBAP on the other hand was excited because he knew that his job was to prepare the way for Jesus and his work, in that regard, was almost done. He said his joy was fulfilled and Jesus must increase and I must decrease.
Scripture: John 4:1-4 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria.
At this point we need to look at the relationship between Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans. A Jew is a person born in the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A Gentile is anyone not a Jew. And a Samaritan was a mixture of Jew and Gentile. Jews hated Gentiles. Gentiles hated Jews. And both Jews and Gentiles hated the Samaritans. When Jews traveled outside of Israel they would do their best to avoid travelling through Samaria. If they must travel through it, as soon as they crossed the border back into Israel, they stopped and shook the sand and dirt off of their feet, sandals, and clothes so they wouldn’t pollute Israel. But when Jesus left from Judea to Galilee he pretty much had to travel through Samaria to get there.
John 4:5-6 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans alike, all get thirsty. The body is made up of about 50-60% water. If you go without water for a period of time you get dehydrated. If your brain isn’t hydrated enough, you’ll get headaches. You also will get bags under your eyes, and you lips start to dry out and chap. If you go to long without water your organs will dry up and shutdown. Water is an absolute necessity.
Jesus, fully God yet fully man was exhausted from the travel and needed some water to drink. He sent His disciples into town to buy lunch, but He stuck behind for his divine appointment with the Samaritan woman. Jesus’ Ironman wrist watch said it was high noon. Right on time, the woman shows up.
John 4:7-9 A woman from Samaria came 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 said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
Notice who initiates the conversation. I imagine the woman came to the well with her head down, minding her own business, not wanting to talk with anyone. I imagine Jesus reached out to her, maybe touched her shoulder to get her attention. In the same way Jesus is always reaching out to us.
Noon was not the time to go to the well to get water. Women and shepherds alike would have gathered at the well in the cool of the evening rather than in the blistering heat of the noon-day sun. She needed water but wanted to go to the well at a time where no one else would be there. She didn’t want to face the judgmental stares of the men and women who would have drawn from that well. She wasn’t expecting to see anyone, but Jesus was expecting to see her. Otherwise, He would have joined the disciples in town buying food.
Jesus makes the transition from physical to spiritual. He used a physical need to address a spiritual problem.
John 4:10-12 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
Either the spiritual message was lost on her, or she chose to shove it aside and continue down the physical side. Ever try to steer a conversation in a spiritual direction and the other person keeps pushing it back towards the physical side? I imagine that this was what this woman was doing. She was smart, intelligent, and does not seem to be shy. She comments that he doesn’t have a bucket, or anything else to drink with. She also points out that they were at Jacob’s well, a well that collected rain water, which is more suitable for sheep than for people. In other words, where and how would he get this living water?
John 4:13-15 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.[b] The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
How many of you have ever been thirsty before? And then you drank some water. Were you ever thirsty again? The woman at the well sees this as an opportunity to not only meet a physical need (being thirsty) but also a spiritual need (she doesn’t want to ever come back to that well again and face her peers). Jesus knew that she had a physical and spiritual need that needed to be taken care. One need could be filled by simply drawing up the water from the well. The other need would need to be exposed before it could be addressed.
John 4:16-18 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Jesus was not calling this woman out as being a sinner. Jesus knew everything about her already. He obviously knew that she wasn’t married. It was inappropriate for a woman to be speaking to a man in that culture without her husband being there. Jesus was honoring tradition, and honoring her by recognizing that she was not a prostitute. By telling her to go get her husband, He was letting her know that He was interested in her spiritually and not carnally.
The woman at the well probably spends every day hoping to avoid the sentence that Jesus uttered, “Go call your husband and come here.” In much the same way parents of prodigal kids hate it when people ask them how their kids are doing. Cake has a song with a line in it, “All the dishes rattle in the cupboard when the elephant arrives.” The saying “elephant in the kitchen” means that there is obviously something going on, but the home owner pretends there is nothing out of the ordinary going on, and tries to avoid talking about it at all costs.
The elephant in this woman’s kitchen is that she has had 5 husbands and the one she has now is not even her husband. Yes it’s true that this woman was currently living in sin, she was living with a man as if they were married without being married, but let’s not look too deep into the other five marriages. We don’t know what happened to the other five. We do know that the woman feels shame and is probably ridiculed by the people in her community. Is that because of her past, or because of her present living situation? The Bible doesn’t tell us how the other relationships ended. Maybe she was an adulteress. If she was, she would have had a difficult time securing husbands 2-6 based on her reputation. Perhaps the previous five died. Then maybe the town’s people looked at her as bad luck. We don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say, and we should not just assume that she was an adulteress.
The woman, probably embarrassed and ashamed, hung her head and said very quietly, “I have no husband.” She recognized that whoever this was she was talking to was someone special. Jesus acknowledged the accuracy of her statement. This must have been a little bit of relief to the woman, until he says, “You have had five husbands and the one you are with is not your husband.” Then she knew that He knew. Five times she went to the altar with hope and expectancy of the marriage only to have it dashed and broken into pieces as each of those five came to an end for whatever reason. A married woman was protected and provided for. It’s not hard for us to see why she may not have wanted to get her hopes up by marrying for the sixth time. It’s not right, but we can understand, can’t we?
It was good that the disciples weren’t there for this conversation. The disciples not known for their compassion on Samaritans (See Luke 9, Matt 15), would have yelled out, “BOOM! Someone’s dropping dimes all over this place!”
After meeting Jesus face to face and having her sin exposed to Him, did she bow down and beg for forgiveness? Rend her garments? Reach for the sack cloth and ashes? Nope.
John 4:19-24 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
No, she’s too feisty to give in just like that, so she tries again to steer the conversation away from her sin. She recognized Jesus was a prophet, but then started a theological discussion over where the proper place to worship God is. Jesus had struck a nerve with her so she used words that pushed Him away. She used words like “you Jews,” and “our fathers,” and spoke of concepts that were corporate like “worship,” rather than personal like “sin.” She also spoke of places, “Jerusalem” that were far away rather than frighteningly close like her soul.
Jesus may have been physically tired but He was spiritually awake. He started off with “Woman, believe me” which set the tone for His response. Never mind Jerusalem or Samaria, God has another throne in mind, the woman’s very own heart.
Perhaps she was staggered from this man’s debating skills, or maybe she was weary of arguing with Him, so she said…
John 4:25-26 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things. 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
Perhaps in her mind, her opinion sounded good, but His did too. She may have been confused, but nevertheless, the Messiah is coming and He will answer all of our questions. Rather than letting her dismiss the entire conversation Jesus revealed His calling, ministry, and identity to her. A Samaritan, a woman, and a sinner. Three strikes against her. Jesus looked past her hard exterior and saw that she was seeking truth and He gave her Living Water. When He identified Himself He used the same words God used in the burning bush to Moses leaving zero doubt that He was claiming to be God.
John 4:27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”
It was at this point the disciples returned from Publix with their reusable canvas grocery bags. They all wondered at the scene of Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman, but fortunately none of them said anything because they probably would have said something stupid.
John 4:28-30 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
Immediately she forsook her current need, getting the water, and started evangelizing to the community. Two things happen when meet our Savior: 1) We confess our sins openly; 2) We tell others about Him.
John 4:31-34 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
The disciples still didn’t get it. They have been with Jesus every day for a while now, but I bet they didn’t mention Jesus at the grocery store while they were there. But here is a Samaritan woman rushing all over town, that can’t stop telling people about Jesus, while they’re thinking of their bellies.
John 4:39-42 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Application: This woman, who was bad for a season but not forever, came face to face with her savior, her sin was exposed, she believed in Him who could set her free, and she ran and told everyone about Him sharing her testimony along the way. The Bible says that everything done in secret will eventually be made known in the light. That means that all of our sin will one day be exposed. But the good news is that we can still meet our savior, it may not be face to face, but it’s even more effective, and He can still set us free.
The good news is so good because the bad news is so bad. The bad news is that we are dead in our transgressions. Sin doesn’t make us bad, it makes us dead. And dead people can’t do anything. Dead people don’t need a self-help program or a pep rally. Dead people need to be made alive again. The good news is that Jesus died for our sins and 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” Our old sinful selves are dead and the new creation is here to stay.