“When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. And He had to pass through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman therefore said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?'”
When reading the Bible is is extremely important to understand the author’s aspirations to his audience. Not only on the larger scale but also on the smaller scale. As we approach the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we want to understand John’s aspirations and the aspirations of Jesus to the Samaritan woman. What was Jesus’ point to the woman and why did John include the exchange early on in his thematic, historical narrative? This is especially important because we don’t see this exchange in any other gospel accounts. John has a specific purpose in placing and recording this exchange here.
As I have aged and observed the church, I have noticed that taught traditions trump the truth. What’s worse is that we manipulate the Bible to meet our own desires. We make the Bible conform to our consciences and conclusions, coercing the content by carrying it out of context, keeping the composition caged. To counter this I came up with the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics. I didn’t create the method, nor the principle but simply the acronym CAGED, so that the method and principles are easy to remember.
CAGED = Context: historical and compositional context, including; who, what, why and where? All the other principles follow the context.
Aspirations of author to his audience: Who is writing to whom and why? What is the desired outcome for the reader from the writer?
Genre: While much of the Bible is a historical narrative, much is also prophecy, poetry and proverbs. One needs to understand not only the genre but the sub-genres. This is perhaps the most difficult principle to digest but again, it goes back to the context. Even in the historical narrative, one looks for Jesus.
Examples: one should examine other examples of imagery and themes found throughout the Scripture. Most notably, when the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, the context of the Old Testament needs to be examined and kept in its context, while letting the New Testament expound upon the example.
Divide rightly; admittedly this sounds ironic because we want to put it al together and not divide. Nevertheless I have taken what Paul wrote to Timothy in his second letter to him, according to the King James translation and applied it to our studies as well. Yes, I am using a bit of Christianese. Nevertheless dividing rightly is exactly what we want to do. We let the Scripture interpret the Scriptures and separate that which needs to be separated and weave together the sublime string. Again, this all goes to considering the continuing context.
The true and historical story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is the epitome of understanding the author’s aspirations to his audience, first, Jesus to the woman and then John to his audience. But before we look at either, we have to understand the setting. John doesn’t necessarily proceed chronologically but thematically. In building his case, John sets the proverbial stage for the story by setting the table for his guests. John builds, to be sure, but he began his historical narrative with his conclusion in a preamble. As John builds on his foundation, his framework is systematic and not necessarily in order. John’s foundation is more all-encompassing than the finished product of all the other gospel accounts.
Let’s let John speak for himself. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not ccomprehend it…There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Even though we have a long way to go to see the “how?” John begins with both the beginning and the end. Therefore we must follow along with the themes of which John relays to the reader. Jesus was God made flesh, the life, full of glory and grace and he was light in the darkness. As we read on, we look for theses attributes of Jesus in Jesus.
As we approach the woman at the well, we must also consider the continuing context–the wedding and the wine, telling Nicodemus that one must be born again and the preparatory preaching and baptism.
“When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. And He had to pass through Samaria.”
There is a danger of dubious dogma on display in Jesus baptizing but there should not be. Plainly John clarified in the parenthetical phrase that it was the disciples who were doing the dipping. In considering the continuing context, clarification is made that it was the disciples of Jesus immersing people in the preparatory baptism. Whether or not Jesus baptized anyone is irrelevant. The author’s aspirations to his audience are apex. We ascertain the author’s aspirations to his audience by considering the continuing context. Like John the Baptist, the frontrunner, the followers of Jesus also prepared the people. The disciples did their jobs at the proper time. Did Jesus ever baptize anyone with a preparatory baptism? Probably but we are not told. Don’t let dubious dogma steer the ship that says, “Jesus never baptized anyone” or, “Jesus definitely baptized.” This type of unreasonable rhetoric reveals irresponsible reasoning. In other words; it doesn’t matter–let it go.
Rather we want to understand the author’s aspiration to his audience. Jesus now has more followers than John in Judea and for fear of the Pharisees jumping the proverbial gun and for other reasons, Jesus left Judea and went back to Galilee. Remember that John said that Jesus must increase while John decreased, we see this unfolding. John’s stated mission was to prepare the way for Jesus. He has done this, albeit not as the scribes and Pharisees would have expected. Nevertheless, according to John the apostle, Jesus was increasing and he had to make his way to Galilee, via Samaria.
John wrote that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” Did Jesus truly have to get to Galilee by going through Samaria? Geographically speaking, Samaria was sandwiched between Judea and Galilee. Nevertheless, Jesus could have gone around. Jumping ahead in the text, we read, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” Today we have seen the statement made by the Samaritan woman– “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” John makes it clear that Jesus had a divine date with destiny which involved Samaria and not going around. John continues to build on his foundation.
After explicitly stating that Jesus is God made flesh and the light, that John was his frontrunner, that Jesus’ kinfolk didn’t accept him and that man must be born again, John has Jesus leaving Judea and going to Galilee, stopping in Samaria. This is unheard of in those days, according to the reaction of the woman and John’s testimony.
In our western, cultural climate, all we seem to hear is “racism.” It’s part of the democratic party’s plan to divide and conquer. While racism is real and abhorrent, remember that one usually projects their beliefs on to another. Cultural Marxism projects their racism onto conservatives and moderates. Like kids on the playground shouting “I know you are but what am I,” The party of slavery, internment camps, filibustering civil rights and bread and circuses casts their own shadow of racism onto others who simply want to live peacefully. Racism usually rears its ugly head from accusations from the real racists. Was this what was going on in the days of Jesus?
I’ve been to Israel and have seen Jewish people playing soccer with Palestinian people. I saw an Arab selling Israeli flags. I watched Jewish men dancing with Palestinian women and quite frankly, I wouldn’t have known who was whom if it was not pointed out to me. While left-lunging people would call me racist, what is racist about not distinguishing between two people groups? It’s less about race and more religion.
The person who pointed these things out to me was heavily involved in the hope of rebuilding the temple and the people dancing were not. I saw those not concerned with religion having a good time but those who were religious, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox and even some evangelicals were not having a good time with others. They were isolated amongst themselves, performing their religious rites. It was the same in Samaria. Don’t get me wrong, the Jewish people thought of the Samaritans as impure people, descendants of Jacob but more descendants of invaders. Nevertheless we will see, by considering the context, that “race” (both were descended from Jacob) played second fiddle to religion.
Like in 21st century America, it wasn’t really about race but what, where and how one worshipped. I’ve been to most of the states and several foreign countries and I have observed that everyone worships something. Most people actually worship some form of a deity which resembles the Lord in some ways but ultimately is far from him. Jesus had to go to Samaria to see the same thing. Not because Jesus didn’t know but to demonstrate this to the woman first, then the disciples, then Samaria, the John’s readers throughout the ages. But I am getting way ahead of myself, for this is only the prelude to a divine date with destiny. We’re watching as John builds thematically on the foundation that Jesus is God made flesh. Nevertheless, Jesus is taking the preparatory baptism and preparation through preaching to Galilee from Judea, finding himself smack dab in the middle of Samaria, at Jacob’s well none the less.
“So He came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.”
Let’s look at a tiny bit of history from First Kings which speaks volumes. “In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri became king over Israel, and reigned twelve years; he reigned six years at Tirzah. And he bought the hill Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver; and he built on the hill, and named the city which he built Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill. And Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, and acted more wickedly than all who were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and in his sins which he made Israel sin, provoking the LORD God of Israel with their idols.”
Everyone worships something. The history of Samaria is much more of the same from Omri to the woman at the well with one significant exception, Elijah and the looming deportation. Here’s where it gets deep, probably too deep to dive into in one missive. Nevertheless we see the similarities. John the Baptist was the Elijah to come according to Jesus in Matthew 17: “‘Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.”
Therefore we look for parallels and similarities between Elijah and John the Baptist. However, should we not also look for parallels in the ministry of Jesus as he has now made more disciples than John the Baptist as they perform a preliminary, preparatory baptism? First, let’s look back at the establishment of Samaria in order to understand the author’s aspiration to his audience. As we look briefly at 1 Kings, don’t worry about names for now but focus on the literary language.
Now the word of the LORD came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying, ‘Inasmuch as I exalted you from the dust and made you leader over My people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made My people Israel sin, provoking Me to anger with their sins, behold, I will consume Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Anyone of Baasha who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone of his who dies in the field the birds of the heavens will eat.‘ And Baasha slept with his fathers and was buried in Tirzah, Elah the son of Baasha became king over Israel at Tirzah, and reigned two years. And his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him. Now he was at Tirzah drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was over the household at Tirzah. Then Zimri went in and struck him and put him to death, in the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and became king in his place. And it came about, when he became king, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he killed all the household of Baasha; he did not leave a single male, neither of his relatives nor of his friends. Thus Zimri destroyed all the household of Baasha, according to the word of the LORD, which He spoke against Baasha through Jehu the prophet.”
But didn’t God say that they would be eaten by dogs and birds? Don’t develop dubious dogma over Divine discourse but see the literary language in the apocalyptic address.
Moving on for time’s sake– enter Omri after the short stint of a few kings, the burning of a palace and Israel being divided into two. He bought Samaria, sinned and died, as we have read. Moving on we read; “Now Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him. And it came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him. So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria.”
Everyone worships something. Enter Elijah; “Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’ And the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.'”
The story continues; “Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.’ So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, ‘Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink.'”
Is it a coincidence that Elijah asked the woman for a drink? Jesus asked the woman at the well for a drink. Elijah also raised the woman’s son from the dead as Jesus promised the woman at the well living water. But I am getting way ahead of myself again. Today we are focusing on the preparations of Jesus, John the Baptist and Elijah and the aspirations of John the apostle to his audience. Remember that we believe John the apostle had the presupposition that his readers were familiar with the gospel story, based upon the context. John wrote with more in mind than that of a historical narrative and wrote thematically while staying true to the historicity. John is clearly pointing the reader to Samaria and Elijah via Jesus making more disciples than John in a preparatory baptism. And while it is extremely important to see Jesus in the Old Testament, it is as important to see Jesus in the New Testament.
But modern day prophecy pundits point to Israel more than they point to Jesus. Rather than rely on a just juxtaposition of Jesus and the prophets, the prophecy pundits hold to wooden literal translations and speculative sophistry.
Put aside your preconceived notions and presuppositions while you read the following: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood, and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the [land] will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen.”
It’s not the Revelation of Israel but of Jesus Christ and the things written were to take place soon, in the days of those seven churches. Those things were John’s aspirations to his audience, namely the things written by John, spoken by Jesus, to the seven churches. This same John wrote the gospel account of which we are reading. Should we not expect similar imagery? Therefore while the prophecy pundits point to Israel we look for Jesus.
It’s not about race and it’s not about religion but about where one places their faith. Allah, Ba’al, government, money, idols or in the finished work of one who loved the world enough to die a horrible death to save it? The story of Israel is the story of us. We put our faith in our religious behavior rather than in Jesus. It’s the same thing with the women at the well. Lord willing, we will see this next time.
For now we want to see how John has set the stage by the life and times of Jesus. Again, a quick review: Jesus was one with God and created the world; John the Baptist came as his frontrunner, Jesus came to earth in flesh, made worthless water for purification into wonderful wine at a wedding, told the fearful Pharisee that he must be born again and made more disciples than John. Now he leaves Judea to go to Galilee through Samaria. How does this fit the theme? Let’s look at the context once again.
“He had to pass through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there.” Jesus is sitting right next to Jacob’s well. What does the Old Testament tutor tell us about Jacob’s well? Nothing. It seems to be one of the few, true, oral traditions confirmed by the New Testament. Nevertheless the parcel of land was promised to Jacob (Israel). Though Jacob’s time in Samaria is a twisted, tumultuous, terrifying and treacherous tale, it all corresponded to Samaria in the time of Jesus. The prophecy pundits proclaim a future time of Jacob’s trouble but Jacob had plenty of trouble in Samaria– his daughter was raped and two of his sons slaughtered the city as Jacob attempted to be diplomatic. Nevertheless the underlying issue was not mixing of “races” but religious rites. You can read the story for yourself in Genesis 33 and 34.
The Bible is a raw masterpiece of literature that spans thousands of years and multiple genres including three different languages. Nevertheless it tells one story about Jesus Christ. John’s gospel account is emblematic of the sublime string and imagery that is woven throughout the Scripture. Read it in this way.