Although most of us have heard the term “good Samaritan,” we may not be aware of who the Samaritans were and the enmity that existed between the Jewish people and the Samaritans. This enmity was rooted in history.
In the year 720 BC, the king of the Assyrian Empire had invaded Israel and carried the ten northern tribes away as captives to the land of Assyria. He then brought in foreign people to inhabit the cities of northern Israel where the Jews had once lived, which then became known as Samaria. (See 2 Kings 17:22–34.)
Many inhabitants of this region were descendants of the northern kingdom of Israel, but had intermarried and assimilated into the non-Jewish culture of the people who came to settle there. These people came to worship the God of the Jews, but they did not consider Jerusalem to be a holy city, nor did they worship in the Jewish temple there. For them, Mount Gerizim in Samaria was the holiest spot where God was to be worshipped, and they built a temple atop it. Because the customs and religious worship of the Samaritans were different from theirs, the Jews avoided associating with them.
On one occasion, while traveling in Judea, Jesus decided to return to His home province of Galilee. The shortest, most direct route between Judea and Galilee was through Samaria, but since the Jews would have no dealings with the Samaritans, they would make a long detour around Samaria to avoid crossing through their land. But to His disciples’ surprise, Jesus ignored such conventions and led them straight through Samaria.
After Jesus and His disciples had walked through Samaria for many miles over rough and rugged terrain, they arrived at Jacob’s well, which the patriarch Jacob and his sons had dug nearly 2,000 years earlier.
The thirsty, travel-weary band gathered round the well to slake their thirst, but they had no jug to draw water with and the well was over 100 feet deep. They were also out of food. Half a mile ahead lay the Samaritan city of Sychar, so it was decided that the disciples would go there to buy food. But Jesus was weary from the journey, so He stayed behind and sat by the well to rest (John 4:5–6).
Shortly thereafter, a woman came down the road carrying an empty water jug. As she approached the well, she was surprised to see a stranger sitting there. She looked at him suspiciously and thought, “Obviously a Jew.” Hoping he wouldn’t bother her, she prepared to lower her bucket into the well.
“Will you give me a drink?” Jesus asked.
Surprised, the woman looked at Him. “How is it that You, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” she asked (John 4:7–9).
Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water!”
The woman replied, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where can you get this ‘living water’ from?” Perhaps seeking to put this Jewish stranger in His place, she added, “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and his herds?” (John 4:10–12).
Jesus responded by saying, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life!”
Now here was an extraordinary statement! Not quite sure if she understood Him, she answered, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming all the way here to draw water” (John 4:13–15).
Jesus unexpectedly replied, “First go call your husband, and come back,” to which she replied, “I have no husband.” Jesus then said, “You are right when you say you have no husband. You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (John 4:16–18).
The woman was shocked! How could this total stranger know such details of her private life unless He was a prophet? She decided this would be a good person to ask the most disputed religious question of the day.
“Sir,” she said, “I can see that you are a prophet.” She then pointed to the temple atop Mount Gerizim and said, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”
Jesus replied, “Believe Me, the time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem. But the time is coming—and has now come—when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:19–24).
The woman was astonished at His answer. “How wonderful,” she thought, “if we could just worship God in our hearts wherever we are!” She then proceeded to ask a greater question about the long-awaited coming of the Messiah.
“I know that the Messiah is coming, he who is called the Christ. When he is come, he will tell us all things.”
Jesus looked into her eyes and said, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:25–26).
The woman looked at Jesus in amazement. Could He really be the Messiah, the Christ?
Just at that moment, Jesus’ disciples returned from town, and they marveled that He was speaking with a woman. As they approached, the woman left her water pot and ran back to the town.
When she arrived at the marketplace, she called out excitedly, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Can He be the Christ?!” (John 4:28–29). Seeing her conviction and enthusiasm, many people believed her account that she had spoken with the long-awaited Messiah.
Before long, Jesus’ disciples saw a large crowd of people rushing toward them, the woman in their midst. The people urged Jesus to stay with them and teach them. Jesus agreed to do so, and the Samaritans, rejoicing, led them back to Sychar.
For two days, Jesus taught in their city, and hearing the beautiful words of truth He taught, many people came to believe in Him, and remarked to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; for now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world!” (John 4:39–42).
On the last day, as Jesus and His disciples were preparing to continue their journey to Galilee, a multitude from the city gathered to bid them farewell. The Samaritan woman bid Jesus farewell with a smile of joy, for now she fully understood the meaning of His words that day at the well, and a spring of living water welled up in her soul.
From this beautiful story in the Gospel of John, we learn that Jesus broke with the traditions of His day to reach lost and lonely souls with God’s love and truth. Not only did He look past the cultural, ethnic, and religious differences of the Samaritans so He could offer them the truth, He also looked past the sins of the woman at the well and saw a soul that earnestly longed for God’s love. This story teaches us that God’s love and salvation in Jesus are for all people. “For God so loved the world [and every person in it] that He gave His Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
This story highlights one of the most beautiful promises in the Bible—God’s gift of eternal salvation, available to every person through belief in Jesus and His death on the cross for our forgiveness.