The desire for ordinary water had driven a woman of Samaria to Jacob’s well, while she was unaware of a far more serious thirst. But the Fountain of Living Water sat by the well, ready to meet that thirst.
After the woman asked Jesus for the other ‘water’ He offered, He continued to direct the conversation to where she would be able to know what she just asked for.
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
The woman answered him, “I have no husband.”
Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
– John 4:16-18 (ESV)
One thing’s for sure: this woman was looking in all the wrong places to satisfy that inner craving.
At first she thought her thirst could be met by a man who would love her, but for some reason, it didn’t work out.
Then she found another, hoping he would be different. But her thirst remained. Disappointed, she dumped him (or he her) and started looking again.
The cycle repeated itself again and again, and while she probably lost hope of ever finding the one to meet her need, the thirst that was in her refused to let her stop trying. Even now, she was with a man, and even now, she was in despair of ever finding that elusive something that would fill the gaping hole in her soul.
Knowing all this, Jesus summarized what her thirst had driven her to do.
Simply put, the woman was a slave of sin – but Jesus didn’t forcibly try to bring conviction on her. That wasn’t what He was aiming for at this time. He just stated the facts calmly and simply, and it caught her off guard.
This Stranger was getting too personal and it was scary. Who knows what other darker things He might dig up! Better divert the conversation to something safer and less personal…
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
– John 4:19-20 (ESV)
It appeared to work. Jesus apparently let the issue of her sin drop and went along with the new conversational direction. But He was still in control of the discussion. His words would accomplish the goal He set for them – they would not return void.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
– John 4:21-24 (ESV)
The Samaritans and the Jews both made a big deal about location. The Samaritans worshiped on Mount Gerizim and the Jews on Mount Zion. Neither thought the other mountain holy enough to worship on.
But while Jesus spoke of the advantage of knowledge the Jews had (and yes, they did worship at the God-given coordinates), the proper location for worship was becoming irrelevant. Soon both locations would be destroyed and it wouldn’t matter anymore.
The real issue of worship was never about a particular place or ritual, but about the Father. God has always desired real worshippers. There were plenty of hypocrites who went to Zion or Gerizim. Soon they would be unmasked so that the true from-the-heart worshipers would be known.
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.”
Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
– John 4:25-26 (ESV)
This seemly erratic conversation, moving from a drink of water to a spring of living water to multiple husbands to worship locales, finally settled on its intended destination: Jesus the Christ.
The Messiah would reveal the whole mind and will of God to all: Jews, Samaritans, and gentiles. And He would do a whole lot more.
But right now, He revealed Himself to a thirsty woman.
Six hundred years earlier, Yahweh had spoken to Jeremiah, recalling the good ol’ days of His past relationship with Israel…
I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest. …
– Jeremiah 2:2-3 (ESV)
But even in Jeremiah’s time, that was ancient history. Israel and Judah had both abandoned their God. Like the woman at the well, they had committed spiritual fornication and adultery. They worshiped other gods, and trusted in other nations to deliver them from their enemies.
Yahweh put it this way:
Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
– Jeremiah 2:13 (ESV)
Now, Jesus was having a conversation with one such thirsty person who was tired of going to empty cisterns. Yes, she was of mixed Israeli and gentile blood, but Jesus came to die even for her. He came to satisfy her thirst. He came to bring her back to God.
The identify of this Man began to dawn on her. She left her pot at the well (ordinary water was now the last thing on her mind) and ran into town to tell her people.
“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.
– John 4:29-30 (ESV)