Today, we are turning the page in our study of the Gospel of John. As we begin our study of John 4 we find Jesus leaving the region and going through Samaria, an uncomfortable and strange place for a Jew to take a trip. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today.
1 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John– 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:1-15 NIV)
The woman said, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” One of the most widely known family feuds in American history took place in Pike County Kentucky along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, the boundary between Kentucky and West Virginia. The tension between the two families had been simmering for some time when in 1865, Asa Harmon McCoy, the brother of the patriarch of the McCoy family, Randolph McCoy, was killed by the Logan Wildcats, a local militia group that included some of the members of the Hatfield family.
The seeds of bitterness and hatred were sown deep in the soil of the souls of the Hatfields and McCoys. Twenty years later the two families found themselves in court over a supposedly stolen pig. A stolen pig?! Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield of stealing his pig. The trial took place in McCoy territory, but the star witness, Bill Staton, was a relative of the McCoys, but married to a Hatfield…he was a traitor. When the verdict was reached and Floyd Hatfield was exonerated of all charges, the McCoy’s were furious. Two years later, Bill Staton, was killed by Sam and Paris McCoy who were then acquitted for reason of self-defense. I don’t think I need to say any more for you to know where the relationship of the two families was heading.
These types of tension filled, hatred spewing, bitter rivalry relationships between individuals, families, and people groups are not limited to the good ol’ U.S.A. You can circle the globe and find envy, rivalry, bitterness, and hatred driving wedges and taking lives.
From 2000-2001, our own Colonel Robert Bradford, left Britton Christian Church to go and serve our country in the Bosnian conflict where the Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks were fighting each other. There was horrible fighting, loss of life, and hatred spilling over the borders of the neighboring countries. Robert and the American forces were there to try to secure peace. I was talking to Robert this past week and I asked him, “What was behind the hatred and conflict?” Robert said that all three groups share a common ancestry, they speak basically the same language, and look alike, but the root of their problems stemmed from the fact that they come from a “blood culture.” It’s an eye-for-an-eye mentality among the people of the region. Somebody did somebody wrong way back when and the honor of the offended party and people group depends on righting the wrong by getting back at them.
The “blood culture” mentality is much like what we see going on in our own nation with rival gangs like the Crips, Bloods, Aryan Brotherhood, and the Mexican gang, MS 13. If you harm one of ours we’ll kill one of yours.
Long before the Hatfields and McCoys, Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, Hutus and Tutsis, or members of the Aryan Brotherhood, Crips and Bloods, there were the Samaritans and the Jews.
History of the Samaritan and Jewish Hatred
The hatred between the Jews and the people of Samaria dates back to 721 B.C. when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was overtaken by the Assyrian king Shalmanessar V and Sargon II. The nation of Israel was united under King David and King Solomon, but after their deaths the nation divided into Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom and Jerusalem was the capital of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. About 200 years later, God’s patience ran out with the Northern Kingdom of Israel because of their idolatry and rebellion against God and they were handed over to their enemy, the Assyrians. You can read about it in 2 Kings 17. In the chapter we learn that the Assyrian king took the best and brightest of Israel’s citizens and deported them to his own country. At the same time, he brought foreigners in to repopulate Samaria and what use to be the Northern Kingdom. In 2 Kings 17:24 we read,
24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. (2 Kings 17:24 NIV)
The new citizens of Samaria brought their own gods with them. God’s people had been told over and over again not to intermarry with the people of the surrounding nations or they would turn their hearts away from God. In Deuteronomy 7:3-4 we can see an example of what I’m talking about.
3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (Deuteronomy 7:3-4 NIV)
The most glaring example of what happens when we turn away from God’s counsel and marry whomever we want is king Solomon. Solomon is said to have been the wisest man that ever lived and yet he chose to dismiss God’s counsel about marriage and marry the very women God said not to marry. What was the result? Well, in 1 Kings 11 we are told that Solomon “loved many foreign women.” Women who were Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites. Then, in 1 Kings 11:4-5 we read,
4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. (1 Kings 11:4-5 NIV)
The Jews of Samaria intermarried with the Gentiles who had been imported and began visiting pagan temples that the foreigners built. The Jews of the Southern Kingdom of Judah looked down upon the Jews who had polluted themselves with foreigners and taken to their gods. You need to know that there were still faithful Jews who lived in Samaria, yet the particulars of their faith didn’t square perfectly with the faith of their neighbors to the south. The Jews of Samaria only accepted the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, as their Bible whereas the Jews in Jerusalem accepted the entire Hebrew Bible. Let me give you another example. The woman at the well stated another of the differences between the Samaritans and the Jews to Jesus when she said,
20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem. (John 4:20 NIV)
The “this mountain” referred to by the woman at the well was Mount Gerizim in Samaria. The story of the building of the temple on Mount Gerizim is another chapter in the story of the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans.
I told you that the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed in 721 B.C., but I didn’t tell you that the Southern Kingdom of Judah was also overtaken in 586 B.C. About 50 years later, in 538 B.C., king Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to go home and rebuild their temple. It was almost 100 years after Cyrus allowed the Jews to return home that Nehemiah, Ezra, and Zerubbabel began working on the wall around the city and eventually the temple. While the work was going on there were some Samaritans who tried to frustrate and stop the work. There were other Samaritans who offered to help according to Ezra, but they were told that they wouldn’t be allowed to help. The Samaritans went home and built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim, near Shechem, and which was later destroyed by a Jewish leader named, John Hyrcanus, in 128 B.C. The Samaritans then built another temple near Shechem.
Much has been written to fuel the hatred of the Samaritans by the Jews. The book, Wisdom of Ben Sirach, not found in the Protestant Bible, but included in the Catholic Apocrypha, says,
There are two nations that my soul detests, and the third is not a nation at all: the inhabitants of Mount Seir, and the Philistines, and the stupid people living in Shechem (Samaritans). (Sirach 50:25-26)
In the Jewish Mishna, which is the edited version of the Jewish oral tradition and law, written around 200 A.D. we read, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like who eats the flesh of swine.” (Mishna Shebiith 8:10) The Samaritans were cursed in the synagogues, the testimony of a Samaritan was not permissible in court, no Samaritan could become a convert to Judaism—they were a people with no hope.
The hatred went both ways. The Samaritans looked down upon the Jews, they weren’t the true people of God, and Mt. Gerizim, and not Jerusalem, was the true place of worship. On one occasion in Jesus’ day, some Samaritans scattered bones in the Temple at Jerusalem. On another occasion, in Jesus’ day, the Jewish leaders were so frustrated and filled with hatred towards Jesus that they blurted out, 48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” (John 8:48 NIV)
I’ve shared all of this with you to simply lay the foundation for the study we will be in for the next couple of weeks. When we come to a passage in the Bible it is important that we understand the context in which it was written, the context and culture in which the events took place. With all that I’ve shared with you I hope you can understand why the woman at the well asked, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” The circumstances that got the Jews and the Samaritans in the mess they were in is a long story isn’t it? And yet the answer to question she posed to Jesus is a long story as well. Let’s take a look at John 4:1-4.
1 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John– 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4 Now he had to go through Samaria. (John 4:1-4 NIV)
In our study last week we learned that Jesus and John the Baptist were in the same general vicinity. John the Baptist’s followers had seen the crowds building around Jesus. They had witnessed Jesus, or actually His disciples, baptizing folks and they went back to report to John the Baptist that everyone was now following Jesus. Now, as we move into John 4, we learn that Jesus had been made aware that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus’ popularity was exceeding that of John the Baptist. John the Baptist and Jesus were not competitors. Jesus recognized what was going on so He decided that He and His followers would leave Judea and head up towards the area around the Sea of Galilee. There is a really interesting statement made in John 4:4. Let me read it to you: “Now he had to go through Samaria.” (John 4:4 NIV)
Jesus Had to go to Samaria?
If a person was going to leave the region of Judea, the area around Jerusalem, and make their way north to the Galilee, there were several different routes they could take. The region of Samaria was situated right between Judea and the Galilee. We now know how the vast majority of Jews felt about Samaria and the Samaritans so you know that Jewish folks wanted to avoid that neighborhood if at all possible. They could go from Jerusalem over to Jericho and walk up the Jordan River valley until they got up to the Galilee. That route took twice the time, but hey, anything to avoid that neighborhood right?! They could also travel along the coastal plains of the Mediterranean, but that route was much longer also. So, you can see, Jesus didn’t “have” to go through Samaria, He could have taken another route.
I think John had something else in mind when he wrote, “Jesus had to go through Samaria.” The key for us is found in the little Greek verb, “???” (dei), which means, “It is necessary, there is need of.” John used this word often to highlight the mission of Jesus. Let me give you a couple of examples. When Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus in John 3, He said,
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:14-15 NIV)
Jesus made it plain that He “must be lifted up.” That was why He came, that was His mission, it was a divine appointment. Later in John we will read where Jesus told His disciples,
4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. (John 9:4 NIV)
One final example is found in John 10:14-16 where Jesus tells His followers that He has other “sheep,” other followers that He “must” bring to Himself. Read along with me.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:14-16 NIV)
Jesus was on mission. He could have taken other routes to the Galilee, but then He would have missed the woman at the well, the Samaritan woman at the well. Those that the Jews wanted to avoid, would do everything in their power to avoid, He made a beeline for. When Jesus changed the life of the Samaritan woman she went and told the folks in her village. They came running for Jesus and begged Him to stay with them and He stayed with them for two days.
The Good Samaritan
Jesus not only ministered to Samaritans, but He used a Samaritan as an example to teach a Jewish expert in the law what it means to be a neighbor. Look at Luke 10 with me. Let me set the scene. Jesus is being questioned about how to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered the man’s question. The man then asked, “Who is my neighbor?” So Jesus told him a story so he could figure it out on his own. Listen to this.
30 In reply Jesus said: “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. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 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. 35 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.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37 NIV)
Who is it? Who is the neighbor? The priest? The Levite? The good, Hebrew-Bible-reading leaders of the religious community in and around Jerusalem? Were they the neighbor? No, Jesus made it crystal clear that the neighbor was the Samaritan who refused to pass by the man in need and instead bandaged his wounds, carried him to help, and paid for his lodging. When Jesus had finished His story He asked the expert in the law, “Which one of three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the Jewish law wouldn’t even say, “the Samaritan,” he simply said, “The one who had mercy on him.” He wouldn’t even say “Samaritan.”
The Church, the Body of Christ, has much to learn from the way Jesus dealt with those others avoided. There’s much for us to learn from the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. That’s why we aren’t going to rush through the story this morning, but we’ll sit down in this story, meditate on it, allow the Lord to speak to us, to challenge us, to mold us and shape us, and then send and use us.
The lesson the Lord has been driving home to me over and over again this week is this: The land that others avoided Jesus had to visit. The people that others couldn’t stand to be around, Jesus had to go to. Where is the “Samaria” in your world? Where are the places people avoid? The places you avoid? Who are the people that the good, respectable people of our community steer clear of? Who are the people you avoid, the people who make you uncomfortable? If Jesus were walking the streets of Oklahoma City do you think He would avoid them? No way, He would be right at home in their midst and so should we.
There is another lesson the Lord has been driving home to me during the past week and it is this: The hatred that the Samaritans and the Jews had for one another had roots that went back hundreds of years by the time Jesus stepped onto the scene. Hearsay and history was passed from one generation to another until every Jew was lumped together into the category of “enemy” for the folks of Samaria and every Samaritan was lumped together as an “enemy” of the Jews. Hasn’t the same thing happened in our own day? Hearsay and history have contributed to the way that we look at others. I hear it all the time. One people group looks down upon another because of something someone did. “All white people!” “All black folks!” “All Mexicans!” Because of something that someone did back when, all of those from that group are now labeled in your mind. You won’t even give them a chance because “they” are all alike. Right?!
I grew up in a middle class family. It probably wouldn’t be considered middle class today. My mom and dad had three jobs between them the whole time I was growing up. There are definitely stereotypes that we had about “rich” folks. Jesus wouldn’t let me hold on to those prejudices. I have friends who grew up wealthy and have told me that they had their stereotypes about “poor” people. Jesus wouldn’t let them hold on to their prejudices either. You can’t follow Jesus and hold onto stereotypes and prejudices. You can’t say, “You know how those rich folks are!” “You know how poor people are!” if you are going to follow Jesus.
How about you? What is it about the story of Jesus and the woman at the well that the Lord is challenging you about? Is it bitterness you have towards another person or people group? You need to bring that to Jesus this morning. There is an even deeper need that all of us have and that is the need we have for Jesus to deal with the sin that is rooted in our hearts. Bitterness, hatred, animosity, prejudice—these are merely symptoms of our sin nature. Jesus alone can get to the root of the problem of our sin nature. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 27, 2013
It’s a Long Story…