Samaritan Woman at the Well Bible Story and Lessons

by Jack Wellman on December 17, 2011 · Print Print · Email Email

Why was the woman at the well a turning point for women, not only in Christianity but also in the world?  The “woman at the well” or the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well is a well known story where Jesus reveals Who He is to the woman, but there is a much deeper meaning than you might imagine to this encounter.  The story can be read in John chapter 4 and finds Jesus speaking to a woman.  Men of the first century rarely spoke to women at all.  In fact, women at the time and in that culture were considered property and were not given any social status.  They could not vote, they could not go into the inner sanctuary, they had no voice in the home, and they were divorced at the drop of a hat.  The very fact that the women got the water for the family, including the men, shows that they were treated like slaves.  They were regarded as a servant more than a member of the family.

Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” to the Jews.  They were a mix of Jewish and Pagan races that were utterly despised.  They were treated like the children of Native Americans who had married whites.  There was such hate and animosity toward the Samaritans that when the Jews traveled in Judea, they went around Samaria just to avoid entering that land;  even if it took them well out of the way.

Samritan Woman At The Well

It is the world that needs help in catching up to the unconditional love and equal treatment of women that God gives them.

Another shocking thing was that Jesus, a holy man to be sure, was speaking with a woman of ill repute.  The reason that she was fetching water at high noon – the heat of the day – was because she wanted to avoid the other women who would have shamed her to scorn for being a prostitute and the fact that she had been married many times.  What was even worse was that this unmarried woman was presently living with a man.  Even for the Samaritans, this was an abomination.  The Samaritan Woman had to get her water at the hottest time of the day, whereas the majority of the women got their water in the early morning, before the heat set in.  The social stigma that this woman must have endured in the community must have been demeaning.   She must have been ostracized by all who lived there, so imagine her surprise when Jesus came up and spoke directly to her.  He even called her “woman” which was a sign of respect and dignity not found anywhere at that time.

The Good Samaritan

To show you how the Jews felt about Samaritans Jesus told a parable called The Good Samaritan.  This parable is a parallel about how the Jews would have avoided helping any Samaritan, regardless of their desperate situation.  Luke 10:30-37 gives the account:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This parable must have not only shocked the Jewish leadership but it must have convicted their conscience. The fact that a Samaritan helped the injured man and took care of his wounds and even paid to provide him shelter was unthinkable to the Jews.  A priest (presumably a Jewish High Priest) who surely would have showed compassion to a stranger (even taught in the Old Testament) went out of his way to avoid the man.  A Levite, descended from the Levitical Priesthood family, also took the long way around to avoid even coming near, not to mention, helping the man.  Who helped the man?  A Samaritan of all people!  This Samaritan paid the innkeeper a denarii, which at that time, was an entire days’ wage, and he also promised to cover any additional expenses that the injured man might have incurred while staying at the inn.  So the Samaritan was fulfilling one of the two greatest commandments given by Jesus:  To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.  The Jewish religious leaders would have never considered a Samaritan as either good or as a neighbor – rather they considered them an arch enemy that was utterly despised.

Christianity and Women

For centuries, women in nearly every single culture have been regarded as property and could be killed or divorced for even a minor infraction.  If a woman spoke in public, she could be beaten. If she ruined an evening meal, she could be divorced.  If the husband decided that he didn’t love his wife anymore, he could simply write her an easy bill of divorce – and the courts (male dominated) would always side with the husband in granting it.  Thus, women had no social status and no economic standing.   Men considered livestock as more important than the women.  But Christianity was different.  It raised the status of women to that of being co-heirs in salvation and of equal status before God.  The New Testament speaks of loving women sacrificially – as Christ loved the church.  This was certainly not the case in the cultures and nations of that time and for countless eons of time before.

For the first time in nearly every world religion and in all of human history, women were elevated to their rightful place and status; of being co-heirs in society and co-heirs in status.  God considers women of equal importance to men.  God plays no favorites.  He is no respecter of persons or gender.  Even if there are still places in the world where women are considered inferior and unequal, with God they are on level ground with men.  Christianity is the first religion in the world to esteem women worthy of value and rightfully holding a place of honor.  Jesus died for women just as he did for men.  There is no partiality with God so there should be no partiality in the way men treat women.

We must see women as men’s equals and as being so precious to God that He provided the supreme sacrifice for them too.  The fact that women were the first to witness the resurrected Christ is not trivial.  God is saying that women are worthy of being respected and as viable witnesses.  In the Jewish culture and still in many parts of the world, women can not drive a car, they can not speak in public, and they can not even testify or bring a charge against someone in a court of law.  God has changed all that.  It is sad that men are slow to change in much of the world.  God had it right all along.  God took one of Adam’s ribs in creating woman.  To me, this signifies that they are to be side by side with men.  It is the world that needs help in catching up to the unconditional love and equal treatment of women that God gives them.  That is why Jesus spoke to the Samaritan Woman at the Well.  That is why men must also be equally respectful to women.  It is what God would have us do.

Resources

New International Bible (NIV)

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

abbie February 23, 2012 at 7:17 am

Hello my Friend,

After reading this, I’m curious to know what references I can read to learn the culture of women in the Biblical days. You say, They could not vote, they could not go into the inner sanctuary, they had no voice in the home, and they were divorced at the drop of a hat. The very fact that the women got the water for the family, including the men, shows that they were treated like slaves. They were regarded as a servant more than a member of the family.

Just interested in learning more about this, what can I read?? Thank you and God Bless!

Reply

Jack February 23, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Hi Abbie. I know that the practice of treating women like slaves or animals is found in more that in the ancient cultures but even in the last 2,000 years. In first century Israel, women were considered second-class citizens, akin to slaves. The fact that they are mentioned as avid followers of Jesus is unusual – both that they would be allowed to follow him with his disciples, and unusual that the authors of Jesus’ biographies would mention their presence at all.

Young Jewish boys started formal education at the age of 5, learning to read and write. At age 10, boys would start to learn the Jewish law. Formal education was complete by age 18. Young girls would learn at home from their mothers and other women. Young men were educated by a Rabbi (teacher) from the local synagogue. Women were not allowed a formal education, allowed into the inner most sanctuary, and were not on any of the Jewish legal councils and were not even allowed to be a witness in a legal matter before the Sanhedrin.

Josephus and the “Antiquities of the Jews” is a great source. It is a large book that envelopes the history of the Jewish nations and some of the nations it had dealings with. Also, Women’s Lives in Biblical Times by Jennie R. Ebeling is a fantastic book. It achieves the nearly impossible task of giving life to the largely nameless and barely visible women of ancient Israel. Not only does she draw on multiple sources to reconstruct the tasks and relationships that defined women’s lives, but also she gives vitality to those features by tracing the life course of a fictional woman in a highland village. Her sensitive portrayal of an imagined person, based on meticulously researched evidence, helps readers discover what life was really like for women in biblical antiquity. Mrs. Ebeling uses her archaeological and historical expertise to explore stages in the life of women including birth, childhood, puberty, marriage, motherhood, widowhood, death, and burial. She explores the roles women played in agriculture, food preparation, and healthcare, as well as artistic celebrations such as dance and music. an expert in Syro-Palestinian archaeology, masterfully accomplishes her goal to explain what everyday life was like for early Israelite women in a book that is scholarly, engaging, and accessible to the general public.

I hope this helps Abbie. Thank you so much for your comment. Truly, Christianity is the only religion of the world that elevates women to equal status with men as co-heirs and co-equals in society and in God’s salvation. Even though God has placed men as the head of the household, this does not mean superiority just as Jesus was co-equally God as the Father is, He willingly submitted to the Father for the sovereign plan of God’s redemption of mankind.

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John sitati November 1, 2012 at 9:32 am

IAM VERY MUCH PLESSED WITH THIS ARTICLE GOD BLESS

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Melissa March 2, 2013 at 10:38 pm

I’m currently involved in a bible study on Wednesday evening. We are reading, “Twelve Extraordinary Women”, by John MacArthur. Each lady in our class has been assigned one of the twelve women and mine is the Samaritan Woman @ The Well. I’ve been trying to read everything I can find on the subject. I just wanted to thank you for your article & I’ve found it so helpful. I’m looking forward to sharing the things I read from your article. I certainly appreciate all the help I can get! Thanks again for your work & dedication to educate us about the bible & historical background to help us understand!

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Jack Wellman March 3, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Thank you Melissa. I love John MacArthur and listen to him daily on podcast for free downloads at oneplace.com. I appreciate your edifying comments. What I loved about Jesus is the fact that He went to those that society would scorn and gives grace to those who have prejudices against. You can’t do better than John MacArthur as a pastor, teacher, and author. We both love this man’s work.

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agnes March 16, 2013 at 11:52 am

i like it it has touced me

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Jack Wellman March 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Thank you Agnes for your kind words. I appreciate that. There is no room for discrimination at the foot of the cross. Women are every bit of man’s equal. God sees us as co-heirs, co-equal.

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E forde July 16, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Where in the Bible it say that Samaritans women fetch water in the morning and evening.

Please let me know

Thank you

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Jack Wellman July 17, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Thank you so much E forde. This was a historical and cultural fact because in Judea, the noon was the very hottest part of the day and so women fetched water in the early morning or late evening since it was cooler then and carrying large amounts of water in the noon day sun was too hard.

Does this help my friend?

Reply

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