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
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.
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 life."
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 long disputed.
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
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
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 the water
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 labor.
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
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
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
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.