lib­erty or law samar­i­tan or jew

Neither religion nor irreligion (licentiousness) will fulfill or bring freedom.So far, we’ve seen Genesis 16:1-8 from the view of Sarai and Hagar. We’ve seen how each related to God and what this can teach us about ourselves. They pursued waters that would not quench their thirst and each tried to create their own solutions to problems that only God could solve. Now let us look at how this plays out on a grander scale within two differing nations.

A Natural Request

From reading John 4, it would seem that the Holy Spirit is not content with teaching us through Hagar and Sarai’s experiences alone. So He introduces us in John 4, to a highly intelligent and highly religious woman who is not explicitly named. We know her simply as the woman by the well.

We know she is highly intelligent because of the duration of her conversation with Jesus and the depth of that conversation. We know she is highly religious because of the content of her conversation with Jesus Christ and her response to what He says. Jesus tried to have a similar conversation with Nicodemus, an educated Pharisee, but Nicodemus couldn’t keep up so that Jesus had to marvel at his lack of knowledge John 3:10. I’m not in the league of Nicodemus and certainly not that of the woman by the well but I will do my best here so bear with me.

As we are in the New Testament, let us observe that unlike the Old Testament this passage is more likely to build in layers. Jesus was traveling to Galilee and he had to pass through Samaria. It was a long journey so he stopped by a well and His disciples went away to buy food. This is where our supporting character, the woman by the well, enters the scene. As soon as Jesus sees her coming to the well, He asks her for a drink John 4:6-7. By this we know that Jesus is a human being because He asked for water which is something we all do when we’re tired and thirsty.

It was a very natural question but we will discover that it was also a very spiritual one. From an natural standpoint, this woman is equipped to provide Jesus with a drink. They are sitting by a well and so the water is deep. The only way to get at it is with a jar which this woman has. She also had the intention to get water anyway so that a drink from her jar is not a big deal. Seems like the perfect question from Jesus asked to the perfect person.

Sarai felt the same way when she told Abram in Gen 16:2 to have the child God promised by Hagar. Hagar was after all, in her household, young and likely fertile. She had all the things it appeared that Sarai lacked and so it was very natural for Sarai think of putting Hagar in the position of having a child for her. It was equally natural for Hagar to expect the spring in the wilderness where the angel found her to provide her with drink as well Gen 16:7.

False Religion

This woman’s response in John 4:9 is interesting. Basically, she said to Jesus “There is nothing between me and you. We are different people in different worlds and I cannot reach across to give you anything.” What was it then that created this great separation between the Jews and Samaritans? The long and short of it is this. Samaritans are Jews that had accepted idolatry in addition to the law of Moses. There is a lot of biblical history and background here but that’s the gist of it.

Jews and Samaritans are separated by religion. In fact, Jews would often look down on Samaritans because Samaritan religion was a polluted form of Jewish religion and the Jews considered their religion to be pure. This is why they could not have anything to do with one another. To a Jew, a Samaritan was unholy and unclean. Hence the scandal of the parable of the good Samaritan when told a Jewish expert of the law Luke 10:30-34. I’m about to make a leap in the next sentence so just stay with me.

Reread the passage in John 4:1-24 and everywhere you see the word “water” or the word “well” replace it with the word “religion”. We can only do this because within the context of this passage, water and religion are used as analogies for one another. This a technique we discuss in the lessons. Our conclusion then is this: the Samaritan woman would not expect Jesus, a Jew, to ask her for water because the essence of Jewish identity was that only the Jews had the real water, the true religion. True religion for a Jew consisted in adherence to the laws of Moses and the teaching of the prophets. Samaritans on the other hand had many wells, many waters and many religions which they called their own. This is the case for all of us. Our relationship to religion often lies somewhere between strict Jewish adherence to laws and Samaritan idolatry with a touch of faithfulness. Religion, church, faith might be for us just another spring we will stop to drink from on the road of life.

The question then is simple: does your religion quench your thirst? Does your religion fill all the empty spaces and make all the barren places bloom? Does your religion bring you light in all the dark places in your soul? Or is your religion just another unreliable well that will run dry? Do you come to church on Sunday to celebrate and worship or are you coming every Sunday because you’ve run dry by the end of week and you need to quench your thirst? To be honest, the Samaritan religious promiscuity might actually be a smart strategy if we were speaking in purely human terms. After all, a Samaritan doesn’t have only one well. He has many. So that when one runs dry, he just runs to another one.

This is what Hagar and Sarai did and this is what we often do. We run from well to well, looking for the thing that will fulfill us, looking for the water that will bring us life. Therefore, this Samaritan woman with her many husbands exemplified the religious identity of her entire people John 4:16-18 and often our religious identity as well. She had no husband because each husband she had had could not fulfill her and even the one she was living with, she couldn’t trust and so could not commit to.

How many times have I found myself where she is? Trying one thing after another, looking for the thing that will fulfill, wanting to trust and commit but not being able to trust because I’ve been disappointed so many times before. Maybe among your many wells are your job, your friends, your family, your wife, your husband, your drugs and so on and so on. Maybe these are the waters you drink from and look to hoping that they will quench your deepest thirst, the one that God created. And yet they do not. And yet, every Sunday, like clockwork, I show up at Jacob’s well, I show up at church, tired, alone and thirsty, hoping to get some water. Maybe this next week will be different.

Just Do It! Right?

You could now perhaps say to me that maybe its not so much that my religion doesn’t fulfill me. Maybe it’s that I’m not doing it right. Maybe I’m not doing the right thing. Maybe I’m in the wrong church. Maybe I need to bring some excitement back to my marriage. Maybe I just gotta spend more time with my children. Maybe if I just did things the right way then my life would be fulfilled. In one regard, you might be right. We do often add sorrow or joy to our lives by our bad or good deeds Matthew 25:1-4.

But your response creates another separation between me and you, another reason why like this Samaritan woman, you could never offer me water. Perhaps you’re just better at getting the water than I am. Jesus sat by the well without a jar, without any rope. Yet, He had the “audacity” to ask a woman who had the good sense to bring these things for water from the well. In our modern perspective, many of us would scoff at Jesus and call Him lazy. He should go get a jar and some rope and then come back and then maybe His thirst could be quenched too. Maybe He just needed to work harder. And maybe that’s the case for me too? Maybe I just need to work harder at my religion. Maybe I just need to work harder at getting water from all the wells around me.

The Samaritan woman rightly responded to Jesus in John 4:11. Jacob’s well is deep. Judaism is deep. Anyone who wants to drink from that well had so many laws to obey and adhere to. Furthermore, Judaism has been around for a long time. That is the nature of a good well. It is deep and generally the deeper it goes, the longer it lasts. Judaism has “worked” for so many people. If you’re failing at being a Jew or if the Jewish religion was not satisfying you then perhaps you’re not working hard enough. If you’re failing at being a Christian, then maybe you’re not just working hard enough. If this whole husband thing ain’t working for you then something is wrong with you right? Since so many husbands and fathers seem to have it right.

I often wonder in my mind about those really saved people. Those people who, from my narrow perspective, seem so holy and have it all together. I often wonder whether the reason I’m not more like them is because I’m not working hard enough or don’t have the right tools or the right position. Does this mean then that only those who work hard can get a drink? Does it mean the harder you can work, the smarter you can work, the luckier you get then the more you can drink?

No. It would be biblically irrational to think that any work I do is the source of my fulfillment. Such a logic makes it appear that my fulfillment is dependent on my work and some luck. Essentially, I am the provider of the water for my own thirst. This is the same mistake Sarai and Hagar made. And as we saw previously, when they tried to provide for themselves, they only ended up deeper and deeper in the desert. As we will see in the next section, only Jesus offers the real thing.

“But his delight is in the Law of the LORD, and on His law he med­i­tates day and night.”
- Psalms 1:2

Wanna reach out and ask me some ques­tions? Or do you want clar­i­fi­ca­tion on some­thing writ­ten here? If so, write me a let­ter. I’d love to hear from you and I’ll respond. I bet your hon­est ques­tion will pro­duce insights that will ben­e­fit other read­ers.