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At Jacob's Well
ON the way to Galilee Jesus passed through Samaria. It was noon when He reached the
beautiful Vale of Shechem. At the opening of this valley was Jacob's well. Wearied with
His journey, He sat down here to rest while His disciples went to buy food.
The Jews and the Samaritans were bitter enemies, and as far as possible avoided all
dealing with each other. To trade with the Samaritans in case of necessity was indeed
counted lawful by the rabbis; but all social intercourse with them was condemned. A Jew
would not borrow from a Samaritan, nor receive a kindness, not even a morsel of bread or a
cup of water. The disciples, in buying food, were acting in harmony with the custom of
their nation. But beyond this they did not go. To ask a favor of the Samaritans, or in any
way seek to benefit them, did not enter into the thought of even Christ's disciples.
As Jesus sat by the well side, He was faint from hunger and thirst. The journey since
morning had been long, and now the sun of noontide beat upon Him. His thirst was increased
by the thought of the cool, refreshing water so near, yet inaccessible to Him; for He had
no rope nor water jar, and the well was deep. The lot of humanity was His, and He waited
for someone to come to draw.
A woman of Samaria approached, and seeming unconscious of His presence, filled her pitcher
with water. As she turned to go away, Jesus asked her for a drink. Such a favor no
Oriental would withhold. In the East, water was called "the gift of God." To
offer a drink to the thirsty traveler was held to be a duty so sacred that the Arabs of
the desert would go out of their way in order to perform it. The hatred between Jews and
Samaritans prevented the woman from offering a kindness to Jesus; but the Saviour was
seeking to find the key to this heart, and with the tact born of divine love, He asked,
not offered, a favor. The offer of a kindness might have been rejected; but trust awakens
trust. The King of heaven came to this outcast soul, asking a service at her hands. He who
made the ocean, who controls the waters of the great deep, who opened the springs and
channels of the earth, rested from His weariness at Jacob's well, and was dependent upon a
stranger's kindness for even the gift of a drink of water.
The woman saw that Jesus was a Jew. In her surprise she forgot to grant His request, but
tried to learn the reason for it. "How is it," she said, "that Thou, being
a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?"
Jesus answered, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee,
Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living
water." You wonder that I should ask of you even so small a favor as a draught of
water from the well at our feet. Had you asked of Me, I would have given you to drink of
the water of everlasting life.
The woman had not comprehended the words of Christ, but she felt their solemn import. Her
light, bantering manner began to change. Supposing that Jesus spoke of the well before
them, she said, "Sir, Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from
whence then hast Thou that living water? Art Thou greater than our father Jacob, which
gave us the well, and drank thereof himself?" She saw before her only a thirsty
traveler, wayworn and dusty. In her mind she compared Him with the honored patriarch
Jacob. She cherished the feeling, which is so natural, that no other well could be equal
to that provided by the fathers. She was looking backward to the fathers, forward to the
Messiah's coming, while the Hope of the fathers, the Messiah Himself, was beside her, and
she knew Him not. How many thirsting souls are today close by the living fountain, yet
looking far away for the wellsprings of life! "Say not in thine heart, Who shall
ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) or, Who shall descend into
the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) . . . The word is nigh thee,
even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: . . . if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord
Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt
be saved." Rom. 10:6-9.
Jesus did not immediately answer the question in regard to Himself, but with solemn
earnestness He said, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but
whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water
that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting
He who seeks to quench his thirst at the fountains of this world will drink only to thirst
again. Everywhere men are unsatisfied. They long for something to supply the need of the
soul. Only One can meet that want. The need of the world, "The Desire of all
nations," is Christ. The divine grace which He alone can impart, is as living water,
purifying, refreshing, and invigorating the soul.
Jesus did not convey the idea that merely one draft of the water of life would suffice the
receiver. He who tastes of the love of Christ will continually long for more; but he seeks
for nothing else. The riches, honors, and pleasures of the world do not attract him. The
constant cry of his heart is, More of Thee. And He who reveals to the soul its necessity
is waiting to satisfy its hunger and thirst. Every human resource and dependence will
fail. The cisterns will be emptied, the pools become dry; but our Redeemer is an
inexhaustible fountain. We may drink, and drink again, and ever find a fresh supply. He in
whom Christ dwells has within himself the fountain of blessing,--"a well of water
springing up into everlasting life." From this source he may draw strength and grace
sufficient for all his needs.
As Jesus spoke of the living water, the woman looked upon Him with wondering attention. He
had aroused her interest, and awakened a desire for the gift of which He spoke. She
perceived that it was not the water of Jacob's well to which He referred; for of this she
used continually, drinking, and thirsting again. "Sir," she said, "give me
this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw."
Jesus now abruptly turned the conversation. Before this soul could receive the gift He
longed to bestow, she must be brought to recognize her sin and her Saviour. He "saith
unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither." She answered, "I have no
husband." Thus she hoped to prevent all questioning in that direction. But the
Saviour continued, "Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five
husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly."
The listener trembled. A mysterious hand was turning the pages of her life history,
bringing to view that which she had hoped to keep forever
hidden. Who was He that could read the secrets of her life? There came to her thoughts of
eternity, of the future Judgment, when all that is now hidden shall be revealed. In its
light, conscience was awakened.
She could deny nothing; but she tried to evade all mention of a subject so unwelcome. With
deep reverence, she said, "Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet." Then,
hoping to silence conviction, she turned to points of religious controversy. If this was a
prophet, surely He could give her instruction concerning these matters that had been so
Patiently Jesus permitted her to lead the conversation whither she would. Meanwhile He
watched for the opportunity of again bringing the truth home to her heart. "Our
fathers worshiped in this mountain," she said, "and ye say, that in Jerusalem is
the place where men ought to worship." Just in sight was Mount Gerizim. Its temple
was demolished, and only the altar remained. The place of worship had been a subject of
contention between the Jews and the Samaritans. Some of the ancestors of the latter people
had once belonged to Israel; but because of their sins, the Lord suffered them to be
overcome by an idolatrous nation. For many generations they were intermingled with
idolaters, whose religion gradually contaminated their own. It is true they held that
their idols were only to remind them of the living God, the Ruler of the universe;
nevertheless the people were led to reverence their graven images.
When the temple at Jerusalem was rebuilt in the days of Ezra, the Samaritans wished to
join the Jews in its erection. This privilege was refused them, and a bitter animosity
sprang up between the two peoples. The Samaritans built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim.
Here they worshiped in accordance with the Mosaic ritual, though they did not wholly
renounce idolatry. But disasters attended them, their temple was destroyed by their
enemies, and they seemed to be under a curse; yet they still clung to their traditions and
their forms of worship. They would not acknowledge the temple at Jerusalem as the house of
God, nor admit that the religion of the Jews was superior to their own.
In answer to the woman, Jesus said, "Believe Me, the hour cometh, when ye shall
neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not
what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews." Jesus had shown that He
was free from Jewish prejudice against the Samaritans. Now He sought to break down
the prejudice of this Samaritan against the Jews. While referring to the fact that the
faith of the Samaritans was corrupted with idolatry, He declared that the great truths of
redemption had been committed to the Jews, and that from among them the Messiah was to
appear. In the Sacred Writings they had a clear presentation of the character of God and
the principles of His government. Jesus classed Himself with the Jews as those to whom God
had given a knowledge of Himself.
He desired to lift the thoughts of His hearer above matters of form and ceremony, and
questions of controversy. "The hour cometh," He said, "and now is, when the
true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh
such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit
and in truth."
Here is declared the same truth that Jesus had revealed to Nicodemus when He said,
"Except a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3,
margin. Not by seeking a holy mountain or a sacred temple are men brought into communion
with heaven. Religion is not to be confined to external forms and ceremonies. The religion
that comes from God is the only religion that will lead to God. In order to serve Him
aright, we must be born of the divine Spirit. This will purify the heart and renew the
mind, giving us a new capacity for knowing and loving God. It will give us a willing
obedience to all His requirements. This is true worship. It is the fruit of the working of
the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit every sincere prayer is indited, and such prayer is
acceptable to God. Wherever a soul reaches out after God, there the Spirit's working is
manifest, and God will reveal Himself to that soul. For such worshipers He is seeking. He
waits to receive them, and to make them His sons and daughters.
As the woman talked with Jesus, she was impressed with His words. Never had she heard such
sentiments from the priests of her own people or from the Jews. As the past of her life
had been spread out before her, she had been made sensible of her great want. She realized
her soul thirst, which the waters of the well of Sychar could never satisfy. Nothing that
had hitherto come in contact with her had so awakened her to a higher need. Jesus had
convinced her that He read the secrets of her life; yet she felt that He was her friend,
pitying and loving her. While the very purity of His presence condemned her sin, He had
spoken no word of denunciation, but had told her of His grace, that could renew
the soul. She began to have some conviction of His character. The question arose in her
mind, Might not this be the long-looked-for Messiah? She said to Him, "I know that
Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things."
Jesus answered, "I that speak unto thee am He."
As the woman heard these words, faith sprang up in her heart. She accepted the wonderful
announcement from the lips of the divine Teacher.
This woman was in an appreciative state of mind. She was ready to receive the noblest
revelation; for she was interested in the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit had been
preparing her mind to receive more light. She had studied the Old Testament promise,
"The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy
brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken." Deut. 18:15. She longed to
understand this prophecy. Light was already flashing into her mind. The water of life, the
spiritual life which Christ gives to every thirsty soul, had begun to spring up in her
heart. The Spirit of the Lord was working with her.
The plain statement made by Christ to this woman could not have been made to the
self-righteous Jews. Christ was far more reserved when He spoke to them. That which had
been withheld from the Jews, and which the disciples were afterward enjoined to keep
secret, was revealed to her. Jesus saw that she would make use of her knowledge in
bringing others to share His grace.
When the disciples returned from their errand, they were surprised to find their Master
speaking with the woman. He had not taken the refreshing draught that He desired, and He
did not stop to eat the food His disciples had brought. When the woman had gone, the
disciples entreated Him to eat. They saw Him silent, absorbed, as in rapt meditation. His
face was beaming with light, and they feared to interrupt His communion with heaven. But
they knew that He was faint and weary, and thought it their duty to remind Him of His
physical necessities. Jesus recognized their loving interest, and He said, "I have
meat to eat that ye know not of."
The disciples wondered who could have brought Him food; but He explained, "My meat is
to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to accomplish His work." John 4:34, R. V. As
His words to the woman had aroused her conscience, Jesus rejoiced. He saw her drinking of
of life, and His own hunger and thirst were satisfied. The accomplishment of the mission
which He had left heaven to perform strengthened the Saviour for His labor, and lifted Him
above the necessities of humanity. To minister to a soul hungering and thirsting for the
truth was more grateful to Him than eating or drinking. It was a comfort, a refreshment,
to Him. Benevolence was the life of His soul.
Our Redeemer thirsts for recognition. He hungers for the sympathy and love of those whom
He has purchased with His own blood. He longs with inexpressible desire that they should
come to Him and have life. As the mother watches for the smile of recognition from her
little child, which tells of the dawning of intelligence, so does Christ watch for the
expression of grateful love, which shows that spiritual life is begun in the soul.
The woman had been filled with joy as she listened to Christ's words. The wonderful
revelation was almost overpowering. Leaving her waterpot, she returned to the city, to
carry the message to others. Jesus knew why she had gone. Leaving her waterpot spoke
unmistakably as to the effect of His words. It was the earnest desire of her soul to
obtain the living water; and she forgot her errand to the well, she forgot the Saviour's
thirst, which she had purposed to supply. With heart overflowing with gladness, she
hastened on her way, to impart to others the precious light she had received.
"Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did," she said to the men
of the city. "Is not this the Christ?" Her words touched their hearts. There was
a new expression on her face, a change in her whole appearance. They were interested to
see Jesus. "Then they went out of the city, and came unto Him."
As Jesus still sat at the well side, He looked over the fields of grain that were spread
out before Him, their tender green touched by the golden sunlight. Pointing His disciples
to the scene, He employed it as a symbol: "Say not ye, There are yet four months, and
then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields;
for they are white already to harvest." And as He spoke, He looked on the groups that
were coming to the well. It was four months to the time for harvesting the grain, but here
was a harvest ready for the reaper.
"He that reapeth," He said, "receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life
eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice
together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth." Here
Christ points out the sacred service owed to God by those who receive the gospel. They are
to be His living agencies. He requires their individual service. And whether we sow or
reap, we are working for God. One scatters the seed; another gathers in the harvest; and
both the sower and the reaper receive wages. They rejoice together in the reward of their
Jesus said to the disciples, "I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor:
other men labored, and ye are entered into their labors." The Saviour was here
looking forward to the great ingathering on the day of Pentecost. The disciples were not
to regard this as the result of their own efforts. They were entering into other men's
labors. Ever since the fall of Adam Christ had been committing the seed of the word to His
chosen servants, to be sown in human hearts. And an unseen agency, even an omnipotent
power, had worked silently but effectually to produce the harvest. The dew and rain and
sunshine of God's grace had been given, to refresh and nourish the seed of truth. Christ
was about to water the seed with His own blood. His disciples were privileged to be
laborers together with God. They were coworkers with Christ and with the holy men of old.
By the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, thousands were to be converted in a
day. This was the result of Christ's sowing, the harvest of His work.
In the words spoken to the woman at the well, good seed had been sown, and how quickly the
harvest was received. The Samaritans came and heard Jesus, and believed on Him. Crowding
about Him at the well, they plied Him with questions, and eagerly received His
explanations of many things that had been obscure to them. As they listened, their
perplexity began to clear away. They were like a people in great darkness tracing up a
sudden ray of light till they had found the day. But they were not satisfied with this
short conference. They were anxious to hear more, and to have their friends also listen to
this wonderful teacher. They invited Him to their city, and begged Him to remain with
them. For two days He tarried in Samaria, and many more believed on Him.
The Pharisees despised the simplicity of Jesus. They ignored His miracles, and demanded a
sign that He was the Son of God. But the Samaritans asked no sign, and Jesus performed no
miracles among them, save in revealing the secrets of her life to the woman at the well.
Yet many received Him. In their new joy they said to the woman,
"Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know
that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."
The Samaritans believed that the Messiah was to come as the Redeemer, not only of the
Jews, but of the world. The Holy Spirit through Moses had foretold Him as a prophet sent
from God. Through Jacob it had been declared that unto Him should the gathering of the
people be; and through Abraham, that in Him all the nations of the earth should be
blessed. On these scriptures the people of Samaria based their faith in the Messiah. The
fact that the Jews had misinterpreted the later prophets, attributing to the first advent
the glory of Christ's second coming, had led the Samaritans to discard all the sacred
writings except those given through Moses. But as the Saviour swept away these false
interpretations, many accepted the later prophecies and the words of Christ Himself in
regard to the kingdom of God.
Jesus had begun to break down the partition wall between Jew and Gentile, and to preach
salvation to the world. Though He was a Jew, He mingled freely with the Samaritans,
setting at nought the Pharisaic customs of His nation. In face of their prejudices He
accepted the hospitality of this despised people. He slept under their roofs, ate with
them at their tables,--partaking of the food prepared and served by their hands,--taught
in their streets, and treated them with the utmost kindness and courtesy.
In the temple at Jerusalem a low wall separated the outer court from all other portions of
the sacred building. Upon this wall were inscriptions in different languages, stating that
none but Jews were allowed to pass this boundary. Had a Gentile presumed to enter the
inner enclosure, he would have desecrated the temple, and would have paid the penalty with
his life. But Jesus, the originator of the temple and its service, drew the Gentiles to
Him by the tie of human sympathy, while His divine grace brought to them the salvation
which the Jews rejected.
The stay of Jesus in Samaria was designed to be a blessing to His disciples, who were
still under the influence of Jewish bigotry. They felt that loyalty to their own nation
required them to cherish enmity toward the Samaritans. They wondered at the conduct of
Jesus. They could not refuse to follow His example, and during the two days in Samaria,
fidelity to Him kept their prejudices under control; yet in heart they were unreconciled.
They were slow to learn that their contempt and
hatred must give place to pity and sympathy. But after the Lord's ascension, His lessons
came back to them with a new meaning. After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they
recalled the Saviour's look, His words, the respect and tenderness of His bearing toward
these despised strangers. When Peter went to preach in Samaria, he brought the same spirit
into his own work. When John was called to Ephesus and Smyrna, he remembered the
experience at Shechem, and was filled with gratitude to the divine Teacher, who,
foreseeing the difficulties they must meet, had given them help in His own example.
The Saviour is still carrying forward the same work as when He proffered the water of life
to the woman of Samaria. Those who call themselves His followers may despise and shun the
outcast ones; but no circumstance of birth or nationality, no condition of life, can turn
away His love from the children of men. To every soul, however sinful, Jesus says, If thou
hadst asked of Me, I would have given thee living water.
The gospel invitation is not to be narrowed down, and presented only to a select few, who,
we suppose, will do us honor if they accept it. The message is to be given to all.
Wherever hearts are open to receive the truth, Christ is ready to instruct them. He
reveals to them the Father, and the worship acceptable to Him who reads the heart. For
such He uses no parables. To them, as to the woman at the well, He says, "I that
speak unto thee am He."
When Jesus sat down to rest at Jacob's well, He had come from Judea, where His ministry
had produced little fruit. He had been rejected by the priests and rabbis, and even the
people who professed to be His disciples had failed of perceiving His divine character. He
was faint and weary; yet He did not neglect the opportunity of speaking to one woman,
though she was a stranger, an alien from Israel, and living in open sin.
The Saviour did not wait for congregations to assemble. Often He began His lessons with
only a few gathered about Him, but one by one the passers-by paused to listen, until a
multitude heard with wonder and awe the words of God through the heaven-sent Teacher. The
worker for Christ should not feel that he cannot speak with the same earnestness to a few
hearers as to a larger company. There may be only one to hear the message; but who can
tell how far-reaching will be its influence? It seemed a small matter, even to His
disciples, for the Saviour to spend
His time upon a woman of Samaria. But He reasoned more earnestly and eloquently with her
than with kings, councilors, or high priests. The lessons He gave to that woman have been
repeated to the earth's remotest bounds.
As soon as she had found the Saviour the Samaritan woman brought others to Him. She proved
herself a more effective missionary than His own disciples. The disciples saw nothing in
Samaria to indicate that it was an encouraging field. Their thoughts were fixed upon a
great work to be done in the future. They did not see that right around them was a harvest
to be gathered. But through the woman whom they despised, a whole cityful were brought to
hear the Saviour. She carried the light at once to her countrymen.
This woman represents the working of a practical faith in Christ. Every true disciple is
born into the kingdom of God as a missionary. He who drinks of the living water becomes a
fountain of life. The receiver becomes a giver. The grace of Christ in the soul is like a
spring in the desert, welling up to refresh all, and making those who are ready to perish
eager to drink of the water of life.
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