Life and Times of Jesus
Section 3, Part 3

Jesus and Nicodemus
The disciples begin to baptize
The Samaritans
The woman at Jacob's well


Nicodemus was one of the Pharisees and a member of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. From the Gospel history we know him to have been cautious by nature and education, and timid of character; yet, as in other cases, it was the greatest offense to his Jewish thinking, the Cross, which at last brought him to the light of decision, and the vigour of bold confession. And this in itself would show the real character of his inquiry, and the effect of what Jesus had first taught him.

We can scarcely realize the difficulties Nicodemus had to overcome in order to meet Jesus. It must have been a mighty power of conviction, to break down prejudice so far as to lead this old Sanhedrist to acknowledge a Galilean, untrained in the Schools, as a Teacher come from God, and to seek Him for direction on, perhaps, the most delicate and important point in Jewish theology. But, even so, we cannot wonder that he should have wished to shroud his first visit under the cover of darkness.

It was a most compromising step for a Sanhedrist to take. Jesus' first purge of the Temple began a battle between him and the Jewish authorities that would last the rest of his life. The experience and wisdom of an aged Sanhedrist no doubt led Nicodemus to forecast the ultimate outcome of the conflict.

Nevertheless, Nicodemus came. If this is evidence of his intense earnestness, so is the bearing of Jesus of His Divine Character, and of the truth of the narrative. As he was not depressed by the resistance of the authorities, nor by the 'milk-faith' of the multitude, so He was not elated by the possibility of making such a convert as a member of the great Sanhedrin. There is no excitement, no undue deference, nor eager politeness; no compromise, nor attempted persuasiveness; not even accommodation. Nor, on the other hand, is there assumed superiority, irony, or dogmatism. There is not even a reference to the miracles, the evidential power of which had wrought in His visitor the initial conviction, that He was a Teacher come from God.
"Now there was a man of the Pharisees, Nicodemus by name, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher Who has come from God; because no one is able to do the miracles that You are doing unless God is with him."

"Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man who is old be born? Can he enter his mother's womb a second time and be born?" Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly I say to you, unless anyone has been born of water (human birth) and of Spirit (resurrection from the dead to eternal life), he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which has been born of the flesh is flesh; and that which has been born of the Spirit is spirit.'

"'Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'It is necessary for you to be born again.' The wind blows where it wills, and you hear its sound, but you do not know the place from which it comes and the place to which it goes; so also is everyone who has been born of the Spirit.'

"Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered and said to him, 'You are a teacher of Israel, and you do not know these things? Truly, truly I say to you, We speak that which We know, and We testify of that which We have seen; but you do not receive Our testimony. If I have told you earthly things, and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?' (And no one has ascended into heaven, except He Who came down from heaven, even the Son of man, Who is in heaven.)" (John 3:1-13, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV))

The report of what transpired between Nicodemus and Jesus reads, more than almost any other in the Gospels, like notes taken at the time by one who was present.

If from John 19:27 we might infer that John had 'a home' in Jerusalem itself - which, considering the simplicity of living at the time, and the cost of houses, would not necessarily imply that he was rich - the scene about to be described would have taken place under the roof of him who has given us its record. In any case, the circumstances of life at the time are so well known, that we have no difficulty in Realizing the surroundings. It was night - one of the nights in that Easter week so full of marvels. Perhaps we may be allowed to suppose that, as so often in analogous circumstances, the spring-wind, sweeping up the narrow streets of the City, had suggested the comparison, which was so full of deepest teaching of Nicodemus.

Up in the simply furnished Aliyah - the guest-chamber on the roof, the lamp was still burning, and the Heavenly Guest still busy with thought and words. There was no need for Nicodemus to pass through the house, for an outside stair led to the upper room. It was night, when Jewish superstition would keep men at home; a wild, gusty spring night, when loiterers would not be in the streets; and no one would see him as at that hour he ascended the outside steps that led up to the Aliyah. His errand was soon told: one sentence, that which admitted the Divine Teachership of Jesus, implied all the questions he could wish to ask. Nay, his very presence there spoke them. Or, if otherwise, the answer of Jesus spoke them. Throughout, Jesus never descended the standpoint of Nicodemus, but rather sought to lift him to His own. It was all about 'the Kingdom of God,' so connected with that Teacher come from God, that Nicodemus would inquire. Jesus took him straight to the fact that the Kingdom could not be seen, "unless anyone is born again." For more information about the TRUE definition of what it means to be 'born again' please see our article on the subject.

What Nicodemus had seen of Jesus had not only shaken the confidence which his former views on these subjects had engendered in him, but opened dim possibilities, the very suggestion of which filled him with uneasiness as to the past, and vague hopes as to the future. And so it ever is with us also, when, like Nicodemus, we first arrive at the conviction that Jesus is the Teacher come from God. What He teaches is so entirely different from what Nicodemus, or any of us could, from any other standpoint than that of Jesus, have learned or known concerning the Kingdom and entrance into it. The admission, however reached, of the Divine Mission of this Teacher, implies, unspoken, the grand question about the Kingdom. It is the opening of the door through which the Grand Presence will enter in.

There was only one gate by which a man could pass into that Kingdom of God - for that which was of the flesh could ever be only fleshly. Here a man might strive, as did the Jews, by outward conformity to become, but he would never attain to being. But that 'Kingdom' was spiritual, and here a man must be made spirit in order to enter it. Nicodemus now understood in some measure what entrance into the Kingdom meant; but its how seemed only involved in greater mystery. That it was such a mystery, unthought and unimagined in Jewish theology, was a terribly sad manifestation of what the teaching in Israel was. And so the record of this interview abruptly closes. It tells all, but no more than the Church requires to know. Of Nicodemus we shall hear again later in the gospels.

Jesus' disciples begin to baptize

We have no means of determining how long Jesus may have in Jerusalem after his discussion with Nicodemus. The Gospel narrative only marks an indefinite period of time, which, as we judge from internal probability, cannot have been protracted. From the city He retired with His disciples to 'the country,' which formed the province of Judea. There He taught and His disciples baptized.

"After these things, Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea; and there He stayed with them and was baptizing." (verse 22)

From what had been so lately witnessed in Jerusalem, as well as from what must have been known as to the previous testimony of the Baptist concerning Him, the number of those who professed adhesion to the expected new Kingdom, and were consequently baptized, was as large, in that locality, as had submitted to the preaching and Baptism of John, perhaps even larger.

But what seems at first sight strange is the twofold circumstance, that Jesus should for a time have established Himself in such apparently close proximity to the Baptist, and that on this occasion, and on this only, He should have allowed His disciples to administer the rite of Baptism. That the latter must be not be confounded with Christian Baptism, which was only introduced after the Death of Christ, or, to speak more accurately, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, needs no special explanation. But our difficulties only increase, as we remember the essential difference between them, grounded on that between the Mission of John and the Teaching of Jesus. In the former, the Baptism of repentant preparation for the coming Kingdom had its deepest meaning; not so in presence of that Kingdom itself, and in the teaching of its King. But, even were it otherwise, the administration of the same rite by John and by the disciples of Jesus in apparently close proximity, seems not only unnecessary, but it might give rise to misconception on the part of enemies, and misunderstanding or jealousy on the part of weak disciples.

Such was actually the case when, on one occasion, a discussion arose between John's disciples and some Jews on the subject of purification. We know not the special point in dispute, nor does it seem of much importance, since such 'questions' would naturally suggest themselves to a caviller or opponent who encountered those who were administering Baptism. What really interests us is, that somehow this Jewish objector must have connected what he said with a reference to the Baptism of Jesus' disciples. For, immediately afterwards, the disciples of John, in their sore zeal for the honor of their master, brought him tidings, in the language of doubt, if not of complaint, of what to them seemed interference with the work of the Baptist, and almost presumption on the part of Jesus. While fully alive to their grievous error, perhaps in proportion as we are so, we cannot but honor and sympathize with this loving care for their master. The toilsome mission of the great Ascetic was drawing to its close, and that without any tangible success so far as he was concerned.

"And John was also baptizing in Aenon, near Salim because there was much water there; and the people were coming and were being baptized, For John had not yet been cast into prison. Then there arose a question between the disciples of John and some of the Jews about purification.

"And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He Who was with you beyond Jordan, to Whom you have borne witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him." John answered and said, "No one is able to receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear witness to me that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but that I am sent before Him."

"'It is ordained that He increase, and that I decrease.'" (verses 25-28, 30, HBFV)

In the high-day of his power, when all men had gathered around John and hung on his lips; when all wondered whether he would announce himself as the Christ, or, at least, as His Forerunner, or as one of the great Prophets; when a word from him would have kindled that multitude into a frenzy of enthusiasm - he had disclaimed everything for himself, and pointed to Another! But this 'Coming One,' to whom he had borne witness, had hitherto been quite other than their Master. And, as if this had not been enough, the multitudes, which had formerly come to John, now flocked around Jesus. It had been a life and work of suffering and self-denial; it was about to end in loneliness and sorrow. They said nothing expressly to complain of Him to Whom John had borne witness, but they told of what He did, and how all men came to Him.

The answer which the Baptist made may be said to mark the high point of his life and witness. Never before was he so tender, almost sad; never before more humble and self-denying, more earnest and faithful. The setting of his own life-sun was to be the rising of One infinitely more bright; the end of his Mission the beginning of another far higher. In the silence, which was now gathering around him, he heard but one Voice, that of the Bridegroom, and he rejoiced in it, though he must listen to it in stillness and loneliness. For it he had waited and worked. Not his own, but this had he sought. And now that it had come, he was content, his joy was now fulfilled in the knowledge that Jesus must increase and he decrease.

That these were his last words, publicly spoken and recorded, may, however, explain to us why on this exceptional occasion Jesus sanctioned the administration by His disciples of the Baptism of John. It was not a retrogression from the position He had taken in Jerusalem, nor caused by the refusal of His Messianic claims in the Temple. There is no retrogression, only progression, in the Life of Jesus. And yet it was only on this occasion that the rite was administered under His sanction. But the circumstances were exceptional. It was John's last testimony to Jesus, and it was preceded by this testimony of Jesus to John. Far divergent, almost opposite, as from the first their paths had been, this practical sanction on the part of Jesus of John's Baptism, when the Baptist was about to be forsaken, betrayed, and murdered, was Christ's highest testimony to him. Jesus adopted his Baptism and thus He blessed and consecrated them. He took up the work of His Forerunner, and continued it. The baptismal rite of John administered with the sanction of Jesus, was the highest witness that could be borne to it.

There is no necessity for supposing that John and the disciples of Jesus baptized at, or quite close to, the same place. On the contrary, such immediate juxtaposition seems, for obvious reasons, unlikely. Jesus was within the boundaries of the province of Judea, while John baptized at Aenon (the springs), near to Salim.

As regards Christ, we have the express statement, that the machinations of the Pharisaic party in Jerusalem led Him to withdraw into Galilee.

"Therefore, when 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,) He left Judea and departed again into Galilee. Now it was necessary for Him to pass through Samaria." (John 4:1-4, HBFV)

And, as we gather from the notice of John, the Baptist was now involved in this hostility, as being so closely connected with Jesus. Indeed, we venture the suggestion that the imprisonment of the Baptist, although occasioned by his outspoken rebuke of Herod, was in great part due to the intrigues of the Pharisees. Of such a connection between them and Herod Antipas, we have direct evidence in a similar attempt to bring about the removal of Jesus from his territory. It would not have been difficult to rouse the suspicions of a nature so mean and jealous as that of Antipas, and this may explain the account of Josephus, who attributes the imprisonment and death of the Baptist simply to Herod's suspicious fear of John's unbounded influence with the people. Leaving for the present the Baptist, we follow the footsteps of the Master.

The Samaritans

The shorter road from Judea to Galilee led through Samaria; and this, if we may credit Josephus, was generally taken by the Galileans on their way to the capital. On the other hand, the Judeans seem chiefly to have made a detour through Perea, in order to avoid hostile and impure Samaria. It lay not within the scope of our Lord to extend His personal Ministry, especially at its commencement, beyond the boundaries of Israel, and the expression "Now it was necessary for Him to pass through Samaria" can only refer to the advisability in the circumstances of taking the most direct road, or else to the wish of avoiding Perea as the seat of Herod's government. Such prejudices in regard to Samaria, as those which affected the ordinary Judean devotee, would, of course, not influence the conduct of Jesus. But great as these undoubtedly were, they have been unduly exaggerated by modern writers, misled by one-sided quotations from Rabbinic works.

The Biblical history of that part of Palestine which bore the name of Samaria need not here be repeated. The deportation of the Northern ten tribes of Israel by Assyrian king Shalmaneser V in 723 B.C. must have considerably shrunk in dimensions, not only owing to previous conquests, but from the circumstance that the authority of the kings of Judah seems to have extended over a considerable portion of what once constituted the kingdom of Israel. Probably the Samaria of that time included little more than the city of that name, together with some adjoining towns and villages.

The first foreign colonists of Samaria brought their peculiar forms of idolatry with them. But the Providential judgments, by which they were visited, led to the introduction of a spurious Judaism, consisting of a mixture of their former superstitions with Jewish doctrines and rites. Although this state of matters resembled that which had obtained in the original kingdom of Israel, perhaps just because of this, Ezra and Nehemiah, when reconstructing the Jewish commonwealth, insisted on a strict separation between those who had returned from Babylon and the Samaritans, resisting equally their offers of co-operation and their attempts at hindrance. This embittered the national feeling of jealousy already existing, and led to that constant hostility between Jews and Samaritans which has continued to this day. The religious separation became final when the Samaritans built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, and Manasseh, the brother of Jaddua, the Jewish High-Priest, having refused to annul his marriage with the daughter of Sanballat, was forced to flee, and became the High-Priest of the new Sanctuary. Henceforth, by impudent assertion and falsification of the text of the Pentateuch, Gerizim was declared the rightful center of worship, and the doctrines and rites of the Samaritans exhibited a curious imitation and adaptation of those prevalent in Judea.

We cannot here follow in detail the history of the Samaritans, nor explain the dogmas and practices peculiar to them. The latter would be the more difficult, because so many of their views were simply corruptions of those of the Jews, and because, from the want of an authenticated ancient literature, the origin and meaning of many of them have been forgotten. Sufficient, however, must be said to explain the mutual relations at the time when the Lord, sitting on Jacob's well, first spake to the Samaritans of the better worship 'in spirit and truth,' and opened that well of living water which has never since ceased to flow.

The political history of the people can be told in a few sentences. Their Temple, to which reference has been made, was built, not in Samaria but at Shechem - probably on account of the position held by that city in the former history of Israel - and on Mount Gerizim, which in the Samaritan Pentateuch was substituted for Mount Ebal in Deuteronomy 27:4. It was Shechem also, with its sacred associations of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph, which became the real capital of the Samaritans. The fate of the city of Samaria under the reign of Alexander the Great is uncertain - one account speaking of the rebellion of the city, the murder of the Macedonian governor, the consequent destruction of Samaria, and the slaughter of part, and transportation of the rest, of its inhabitants to Shechem, while Josephus is silent on these events. When, after the death of Alexander, Palestine became the field of battle between the rulers of Egypt and Syria, Samaria suffered even more than other parts of the country.

The city was eventually beautified by Herod, who called it Sebaste in honor of Augustus, to whom he reared a magnificent temple. Under Roman rule the city enjoyed great privileges and even had a Senate of its own. By one of those striking coincidences which mark the Rule of God in history, it was the accusation brought against him by that Samaritan Senate which led to the deposition of Pilate.

By the side of Samaria, or Sebaste, we have already marked as perhaps more important, and as the religious capital, the ancient Shechem, which, in honor of the Imperial family of Rome, ultimately obtained the name of Flavia Neapolis, which has survived in the modern Nablus. It is interesting to notice that the Samaritans also had colonies, although not to the same extent as the Jews. Among them we may name those of Alexandria, Damascus, in Babylonia, and even some by the shores of the Red Sea.

Although not only in the New Testament, but in 1 Maccabees x. 30, and in the writings of Josephus, Western Palestine is divided into the provinces of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, the Rabbis, whose ideas were shaped by the observances of Judaism, ignore this division. For them Palestine consisted only of Judea, Perea, and Galilee. Samaria appears merely as a strip intervening between Judea and Galilee, being 'the land of the Cuthaeans.' Nevertheless, it was not regarded like heathen lands, but pronounced clean. Both the Mishnah and Josephus mark Anuath as the southern boundary of Samaria (towards Judea). Northward it extended to Ginaea (the ancient En-Gannim) on the south side of the plain of Jezreel; on the east it was bounded by the Jordan; and on the west by the plain of Sharon, which was reckoned as belonging to Judea. Thus it occupied the ancient territories of Manasseh and Ephraim, and extended about forty-eight miles (north and south) by forty (east and west). In aspect and climate it resembled Judea, only that the scenery was more beautiful and the soil more fertile.

The political enmity and religious separation between the Jews and Samaritans account for their mutual jealously. On all public occasions the Samaritans took the part hostile to the Jews, while they seized every opportunity of injuring and insulting them. Thus, in the time of Antiochus III. they sold many Jews into slavery. Afterwards they sought to mislead the Jews at a distance, to whom the beginning of every month (so important in the Jewish festive arrangements) was intimated by beacon fires, by kindling spurious signals. We also read that they tried to desecrate the Temple on the eve of the Passover; and that they waylaid and killed pilgrims on their road to Jerusalem. The Jews retaliated by treating the Samaritans with every mark of contempt; by accusing them of falsehood, folly, and irreligion; and, what they felt most keenly, by disowning them as of the same race or religion, and this in the most offensive terms of assumed superiority and self-righteous fanaticism.

In general it may be said that, while on certain points Jewish opinion remained always the same, the judgment passed on the Samaritans, and especially as to intercourse with them, varied, according as they showed more or less active hostility towards the Jews. Thus the Son of Sirach would correctly express the feeling of contempt and dislike, when he characterized the Samaritans as 'the foolish people' which his 'heart abhorred.' The same sentiment appears in early Christian Pseudepigraphic and in Rabbinic writings. In the so-called 'Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs' (which probably dates from the beginning of the second century), 'Sichem' is the City of Fools, derided by all men. It was only natural, that Jews should be forbidden to respond by an Amen to the benediction of Samaritans, at any rate till they were sure it had been correctly spoken, since they were neither in practice nor in theory regarded as co-religionists. Yet they were not treated as heathens, and their land, their springs, baths, houses, and roads were declared clean.

It is expressly stated in the Babylon Talmud that the Samaritans observed the letter of the Pentateuch, while one authority adds, that in that which they observed they were more strict than the Jews themselves. Of this, indeed, there is evidence as regards several ordinances. On the other hand, later authorities again reproach them with falsification of the Pentateuch, charge them with worshipping a dove, and even when, on further inquiry, they absolve them from this accusation, ascribe their excessive veneration for Mount Gerizim to the circumstance that they worshipped the idols which Jacob had buried under the oak at Shechem. To the same hatred, caused by national persecution, we must impute such expressions as that he, whose hospitality receives a foreigner, has himself to blame if his children have to go into captivity.

The expression, 'the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans,' finds its exact counterpart in this: 'May I never set eyes on a Samaritan;' or else, 'May I never be thrown into company with him!' A Rabbi in Caesarea explains, as the cause of these changes of opinion, that formerly the Samaritans had been observant of the Law, which they no longer were; a statement repeated in another form to the effect, that their observance of it lasted as long as they were in their own cities. Matters proceeded so far, that they were entirely excluded from fellowship. The extreme limit of this direction, if, indeed, the statement applies to the Samaritans, is marked by the declaration, that to partake of their bread was like eating swine's flesh. This is further improved upon in a later Rabbinic work, which gives a detailed story of how the Samaritans had conspired against Ezra and Nehemiah, and the ban been laid upon them, so that now not only was all intercourse with them forbidden, but their bread declared like swine's flesh; proselytes were not to be received from them; nor would they have part in the Resurrection of the dead. But there is a great difference between all this extravagance and the opinions prevailing at the time of Jesus.

Even in the Rabbinic tractate on the Samaritans it is admitted, that in most of their usages they resembled Israelites, and many rights and privileges are conceded to them, from which a heathen would have been excluded. They are to be 'credited' on many points; their meat is declared clean, if an Israelite had witnessed its killing, or a Samaritan ate of it; their bread and, under certain conditions, even their wine, are allowed; and the final prospect is held out of their reception into the Synagogue, when they shall have given up their faith in Mount Gerizim, and acknowledged Jerusalem and the Resurrection of the dead. But Jewish toleration went even further. At the time of Christ all their food was declared lawful. There could, therefore, be no difficulty as regarded the purchase of victuals on the part of the disciples of Jesus.

Most of the peculiar doctrines of the Samaritans were derived from Jewish sources. As might be expected, their tendency was Sadducean rather than Pharisaic. Nevertheless, Samaritan 'sages' are referred to. But it is difficult to form any decided opinion about the doctrinal views of the sect, partly from the comparative lateness of their literature, and partly because the Rabbinist charges against them cannot be absolutely trusted. It seems at least doubtful, whether they really denied the Resurrection, as asserted by the Rabbis, from whom the Fathers have copied the charge. Certainly, they hold that doctrine at present. They strongly believed in the Unity of God; they held the doctrine of Angels and devils; they received the Pentateuch as of sole Divine authority; they regarded Mount Gerizim as the place chosen of God, maintaining that it alone had not been covered by the flood, as the Jews asserted of Mount Moriah; they were most strict and zealous in what of Biblical or traditional Law they received; and lastly, and most important of all, they looked for the coming of a Messiah, in Whom the promise would be fulfilled, that the Lord God would raise up a Prophet from the midst of them, like unto Moses, in Whom his words were to be, and unto Whom they should hearken. Thus, while, in some respects, access to them would be more difficult than to His own countrymen, yet in others Jesus would find there a soil better prepared for the Divine Seed, or, at least, less encumbered by the thistles and tares of traditionalism and Pharisaic bigotry.

Jesus and the woman of Samaria at Jacob's well

At 'the Well of Jacob' which, for our present purpose, may be regarded as the center of the scene, several ancient Roman roads meet and part. That southward, to which reference has already been made, leads close by Shiloh to Jerusalem; that westward traverses the vale of Shechem; that northward brings us to the ancient Sychar, only about half a mile from 'the Well.' Eastward there are two ancient Roman roads: one winds south-east, till it merges in the main road; the other strikes first due east, and then descends in a south-easterly direction. We can trace it as it crosses the waters of that Wady, and we infer, that its immediate neighborhood must have been the scene where Jesus had taught, and His disciples baptized. It is still in Judea, and yet sufficiently removed from Jerusalem; and the Wady is so full of springs that one spot near it actually bears the Hebrew word for springs. But, from the spot which we have indicated, it is about twenty miles, across a somewhat difficult country to Jacob's Well. It would be a long and toilsome day's journey thither on a summer day, and we can understand how, at its end, Jesus would rest weary on the low parapet which enclosed the Well, while His disciples went to buy the necessary provisions in the neighboring Sychar.

And it was, as we judge, the evening of a day in early summer, when Jesus, accompanied by the small band which formed His disciples, emerged into the rich Plain of Samaria. They had reached 'the Well of Jacob.' There Jesus waited, while the others went to Sychar on their work of ministry. Probably John remained with the Master. They would scarcely have left Him alone, especially in that place; and the whole narrative reads like that of one who had been present at what passed.

Jesus is sitting by Jacob's Well - the very well which the ancestor of Israel had digged, and left as a memorial of his first and symbolic possession of the land. Yet this was also the scene of Israel's first rebellion against God's order, against the Davidic line and the Temple. And now Christ is here, among those who are not of Israel, and who persecute it. Surely this, of all others, would be the place where the Son of David, cast out of Jerusalem and the Temple, would think of the breach, and of what alone could heal it. He is hungry, yet far more hungering for that spiritual harvest which is the food of His soul. Over against Him, sheer up 800 feet, rises Mount Gerizim, with the ruins of the Samaritan rival Temple on it.

Once more it is when the true Humanity of Jesus is set before us, in the weakness of His hunger and weariness, that the glory of His Divine Personality suddenly shines through it. This time it was a poor, ignorant Samaritan woman, who came, not for any religious purpose - indeed, to whom religious thought, except within her own very narrow circle, was almost unintelligible - who became the occasion of it. She had come in the business of everyday life - on humble, ordinary duty and work.

"And He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. And Jacob's fountain was there; Jesus, therefore, being wearied from the journey, sat there by the fountain. It was about the sixth hour. A woman came out of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me some water to drink." For His disciples had gone away into the city, so that they might buy provisions. Therefore, the Samaritan woman said to Him, 'How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, to give You water to drink? For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.'" (John 4:5-9, HBFV)

Both to Jesus and to the woman, the meeting was unsought, Providential in the truest sense - God-brought. Reverently, so far as the Christ is concerned, we add, that both acted truly - according to what was in them. The request: 'Give Me to drink,' was natural on the part of the thirsty traveller, when the woman had come to draw water, and they who usually ministered to Him were away. Even if He had not spoken, the Samaritaness would have recognized the Jew by His appearance and dress. Any kindly address, conveying a request not absolutely necessary, would naturally surprise the woman; for, as the Evangelist explanatively adds: 'Jews have no dealings with Samaritans,' or rather, as the expression implies, no needless, friendly, nor familiar intercourse with them - a statement true at all times. Besides, we must remember that this was an ignorant Samaritaness of the lower order.

In the mind of such an one, two points would mainly stand out: that the Jews in their wicked pride would have no intercourse with them; and that Gerizim, not Jerusalem, as the Jews falsely asserted, was the place of rightful worship. It was, therefore, genuine surprise which expressed itself in the question:

"How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, to give You water to drink?"

It was the first lesson she learned, even before He taught her. Here was a Jew, not like ordinary Jews, not like what she had hitherto thought of them. Her question soon found an answer.

"Jesus answered and said to her, "If you had known the gift of God, and Who it is that said to you, 'Give Me some water to drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." The woman said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing with which to draw water, and the well is deep; how then do You have the living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it, and his sons, and his cattle?"

"Jesus answered and said to her, '"Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; rather, the water that I will give him shall become a fountain of water within him, springing up into everlasting life.'" (verses 10-14)

But to this woman Jesus' answer must be much simpler and plainer than to the Rabbis. And so the Divine Teacher explained, not only the difference between ordinary water and that of which He had spoken, but in a manner to bring her to the threshold of still higher truth. It was not water like that of Jacob's Well which He would give, but 'living water.' In the Old Testament a perennial spring had, in figurative language, been thus designated, in significant contrast to water accumulated in a cistern. But there was more than this: it was water which for ever quenched the thirst, by meeting all the inward wants of the soul; water also, which, in him who had drunk of it, became a well, not merely quenching the thirst on this side time, but 'springing up into everlasting life.' It was not only the meeting of wants felt, but a new life, and that not essentially different, but the same as that of the future, and merging in it.

If the humble, ignorant Samaritaness had formerly not seen, though she had imperfectly guessed, that there was a higher meaning in the words of Him Who spake to her, a like mixture of ill-apprehension and rising faith seems to underlie her request for this water, that she might thirst no more, neither again come thither to draw. She now believes in the incredible; believes it, because of Him and in Him; believes, also, in a satisfaction through Him of outward wants, reaching up beyond this to the everlasting life. But all these elements are yet in strange confusion.

"The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not thirst or need to come here to draw water."

"Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband and come back here." The woman answered and said, "I do not have a husband." Jesus said to her, "You have spoken well in saying, 'I do not have a husband'; For you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband. This you have spoken truly."

"The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, but you say that the place where it is obligatory to worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you shall neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the Father. You do not know what you worship. We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is indeed seeking those who worship Him in this manner. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth." (verses 15-24)

Surely, it is a strange mistake to find in her words 'a touch of irony,' while, on the other hand, it seems an exaggeration to regard them simply as the cry of realized spiritual need. Though reluctantly, a somewhat similar conclusion is forced upon us with reference to the question of Jesus about the woman's husband, her reply, and the Savior's rejoinder. It is difficult to suppose, that Christ asked the woman to call her husband with the primary object of awakening in her a sense of sin. This might follow, but the text gives no hint of it. Nor does anything in the bearing of the woman indicate any such effect; indeed, her reply and her after-reference to it rather imply the contrary. We do not even know for certain, whether the five previous husbands had died or divorced her, and, if the latter, with whom the blame lay, although not only the peculiar mode in which our Lord refers to it, but the present condition of the woman, seem to point to a sinful life in the past. In Judea a course like hers would have been almost impossible; but we know too little of the social and moral condition of Samaria to judge of what might there be tolerated. On the other hand, we have abundant evidence that, when the Savior so unexpectedly laid open to her a past, which He could only supernaturally have known, the conviction at once arose in her that He was a Prophet.

But to be a Prophet meant to a Samaritan that He was the Messiah, since they acknowledged none other after Moses. It was an immense, almost immeasurable, advance, when this Samaritan recognized in the stranger Jew, Who had first awakened within her higher thoughts, and pointed her to spiritual and eternal realities, the Messiah, and this on the strength of evidence the most powerfully convincing to a mind like hers: that of telling her, suddenly and startlingly, what He could not have known, except through higher than human means of information.

It is another, and much more difficult question, why Jesus should have asked for the presence of her husband. The objection, that to do so, knowing the while that she had no husband, seems unworthy of our Lord, may, indeed, be answered by the consideration, that such 'proving' of those who were in His training was in accordance with His mode of teaching, leading upwards by a series of moral questions. But perhaps a more simple explanation may offer even a better reply. It seems, as if the answer of verse 15 ("Sir, give me this water . . . ") marked the utmost limit of the woman's comprehension. We can scarcely form an adequate notion of the narrowness of such a mental horizon as hers. This also explains, at least from one aspect, the reason of His speaking to her about His own Messiahship, and the worship of the future, in words far more plain than He used to His own disciples. None but the plainest statements could she grasp; and it is not unnatural to suppose that, having reached the utmost limits of which she was capable, the Savior now asked for her husband, in order that, through the introduction of another so near to her, the horizon might be enlarged. This is also substantially the view of some of the Fathers.

But, if Christ was in earnest in asking for the presence of her husband, it surely cannot be irreverent to add, that at that moment the peculiar relationship between the man and the woman did not stand out before His mind. Nor is there anything strange in this. The man was, and was not, her husband. Nor can we be sure that, although unmarried, the relationship involved anything absolutely contrary to the law; and to all intents the man might be known as her husband. The woman's answer at once drew the attention of the Christ to this aspect of her history, which immediately stood out fully before His Divine knowledge. At the same time her words seemed like a confession - perhaps we should say, a concession to the demands of her own conscience, rather than a confession. Here, then, was the required opportunity, both for carrying further truth to her mind, by proving to her that He Who spake to her was a Prophet, and at the same time for reaching her heart.

The conviction, sudden but firm, that He Who had laid open the past to her was really a Prophet, was already faith in Him; and so the goal had been attained - not, perhaps, faith in His Messiahship, about which she might have only very vague notions, but in Him. And faith in the Christ, not in anything about Him, but in Himself, has eternal life. Such faith also leads to further inquiry and knowledge. As it has been the traditional practice to detect irony in this or that saying of the woman, or else to impute to her spiritual feelings far in advance of her possible experience, so, on the other hand, has her inquiry about the place of proper worship, Jerusalem or Gerizim, been unduly depreciated. It is indeed too true that those, whose consciences are touched by a presentation of their sin, often seek to turn the conversation into another and quasi-religious channel. But of neither the one nor the other is there evidence in the present case. Similarly, it is also only too true, that their one point of difference is, to narrow-minded sectarians, their all-in-all of religion. But in this instance we feel that the woman has no after-thought, no covert purpose in what she asks.

All her life she had heard that Gerizim was the mount of worship, the holy hill which the waters of the Flood had never covered, and that the Jews were in deadly error. But here was an undoubted Prophet, and He a Jew. Were they then in error about the right place of worship, and what was she to think, and to do? To apply with such a question to Jesus was already to find the right solution, even although the question itself might indicate a lower mental and religious standpoint.

Once more the Lord answers her question by leading her far beyond it - beyond all controversy: even on to the goal of all His teaching. So marvellously does He speak to the simple in heart. It is best here to sit at the feet of Jesus, and, realizing the scene, to follow as His Finger points onwards and upwards.

"the hour is coming when you shall neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the Father."

Words of sad warning, these; words of prophecy also, that already pointed to the higher solution in the worship of a common Father, which would be the worship neither of Jews nor of Samaritans, but of children. And yet there was truth in their present differences.

"You do not know what you worship. We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews."

The Samaritan was aimless worship, because it wanted the goal of all the Old Testament institutions, that Messiah 'Who was to be of the seed of David' - for, of the Jews, 'as concerning the flesh,' was Christ to come. But only of present interest could such distinctions be; for an hour would come, nay, already was, when the true worshippers would 'worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father also seeketh such for His worshippers. Spirit is God' - and only worship in spirit and in truth could be acceptable to such a God.

"The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming, Who is called Christ; when He comes, He will tell us all things." Jesus said to her, 'I Who speak to you am He.'" (verses 25-26)

Higher or more Christlike teaching than this could not be uttered. And she who heard, thus far understood it, that in the glorious picture, which was set before her, she saw the coming of the Kingdom of the Messiah. It was then that, according to the need of that untutored woman, He told her plainly what in Judea, and even by His disciples, would have been carnally misinterpreted and misapplied: that He was the Messiah. So true is it, that 'babes' can receive what often must remain long hidden 'from the wise and prudent.'

It was the crowning lesson of that day. Nothing more could be said; nothing more need be said. The disciples had returned from Sychar. That Jesus should converse with a woman, was so contrary to all Judean notions of a Rabbi, that they wondered. Yet, in their reverence for Him, they dared not ask any questions. Meanwhile the woman, forgetful of her errand, and only conscious of that new well-spring of life which had risen within her, had left the unfilled waterpot by the Well, and hurried into the City.

"Now at this time His disciples came, and they were amazed that He was speaking with a woman; however, no one said, "What are You seeking?" or, "Why are You talking with her?" Then the woman left her waterpot and went away into the city, and said to the men, "Come and see a man who told me everything that I have done. Can it be that He is the Christ?" Then they went out of the city and came to Him." (verses 27-30)

They were strange tidings which she brought; the very mode for her announcement affording evidence of their truth. We are led to infer, that these strange tidings soon gathered many around her; that they questioned, and, as they ascertained from her the indisputable fact of His superhuman knowledge, believed on Him, so far as the woman could set Him before them as object of faith. Under this impression they went out of the City to meet Jesus. Meantime the disciples had urged the Master to eat of the food which they had brought. But His Soul was otherwise engaged.

"But in the meantime, the disciples were urging Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." And He said to them, "I have meat to eat that you are not aware of." Then the disciples said to one another, "Did anyone bring Him something to eat?" Jesus said to them, 'My meat is to do the will of Him Who sent Me, and to finish His work.'" (verses 31-34)

To the disciples that work appeared still in the far future. To them it seemed as yet little more than seed-time; the green blade was only sprouting; the harvest of such a Messianic Kingdom as they expected was still months distant. To correct their mistake, the Divine Teacher, as so often, and as best adapted to His hearers, chose His illustration from what was visible around.

"'Do not say that there are yet four months, and then the harvest comes. I say to you, look around. Lift up your eyes and see the fields, for they are already white to harvest. And the one who reaps receives a reward, and gathers fruit unto eternal life; so that the one who is sowing and the one who is reaping may both rejoice together. For in this the saying is true, that one sows and another reaps. I sent you to reap that in which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.'" (verses 35-38)

We notice how the Lord further unfolded His own lesson of present harvesting, and their inversion of what was sowing, and what reaping time. 'Already' he that reaped received wages, and gathered fruit unto eternal life, so that in this instance the sower rejoiced equally as the reaper. It was indeed so, that the servants of Christ were sent to reap what others had sown, and to enter into their labor. One had sowed, another would reap. And yet, as in this instance of the Samaritans, the sower would rejoice as well as the reaper - both would rejoice together, in the gathered fruit unto eternal life. And so the sowing in tears is on the spiritual field often mingled with the harvest of gladness, and to the spiritual view both are really one.

"Now many of the Samaritans from that city believed on Him because of the word of the woman, who testified, "He told me everything that I have done." Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to remain with them; and He remained there two days. And many more believed because of His word; And they said to the woman, 'We no longer believe because of your word, for we have heard Him ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Christ, the Savior of the world.'" (verses 39-42)

We know not what passed these two days. Apparently no miracles were wrought, but those of His Word only. It was the deepest and purest truth they learned, these simple men of simple faith, who had not learned of man, but listened to His Word only. The sower as well as the reaper rejoiced, and rejoiced together. Seed-time and harvest mingled, when for themselves they knew and confessed, that this was truly the Savior of the world.

Adapted from
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
by A. Edersheim
Jewish World in First Century A.D.
Hellenism prepares
people for gospel
Jesus cleanses
the temple
John the Baptist killed
Five Thousand fed
Walking on Water
Parable of Great
Supper, Lost Sheep,
The Prodigal Son
Judas arranges betrayal
The Last Passover
Jews and the
Roman Empire
Jesus and Nicodemus
The Samaritans
The Bread of Life
Vain religious traditions
Lazarus resurrected
Jewish Burial Rites
The True Vine
Garden of Gethsemane
Arrested and betrayed
Coming of
John the Baptist
Jesus' First
Public Message
Four Thousand Fed
Demands for a sign
Is divorce allowed?
Blessing of Children
Peter denies Jesus
Judas commits suicide
Beaten and crucified
What Messiah did
the Jews Expect?
The Sermon
on the Mount
Jesus rebukes Peter
The Transfiguration
The Triumphal Entry
Barren Fig Tree cursed
Forsaken and stabbed
Death and Burial
Birth of Jesus
Visit of the Magi
Jesus heals man
and forgives sins
The Good Shepherd
Jesus pays temple tax
Parable of Vineyard
and Wedding Feast.
Spies try to entrap Jesus
Jewish views on Angels,
Demons, Fall of Angels,
Magic and Magicians
A Voice in
the Wilderness
Jesus selects apostles
Widow's Son resurrected
Seventy sent to preach
The Good Samaritan
Marriage - Resurrection
Is Christ son of David?
The Widow's Mites
Old Testament verses applied to Messiah
in Jewish Writings
Jesus' First Disciples
and First Public Miracle
Jesus attends Feast
Parables of Sower, Tares,
Mustard Seed, Pearl
The foolish Rich Man
Jesus almost stoned
End Time prophecies
Parable of the Ten
Virgins and Talents
The Theology
of Ancient Rabbis
Temptation of
Jesus by Satan
A Legion of demons Ruler's daughter raised

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