Reconsidering the Woman at the Well

A “prostitute.” A “harlot.” A “promiscuous woman.” These are all words traditionally used to describe the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Like Mary Magdalene, she is often judged for her past as a sinner and as a person with little-to-no value due to her circumstances. But is this characterization accurate?

John’s Account

At the beginning of John 4, Jesus and His disciples arrived in the Samaritan village of Sychar on their way to Galilee. Normally, Jews traveled for three days around Sychar to ensure they would have no contact with Samaritans, a group they considered unclean; but the Bible says that Jesus and His disciples had to go through the village (but no explanation is given as to why) (Lizorkin-Eyzenberg).

Once they arrived at Sychar, the disciples went into the village to buy food. Jesus, who was very tired, sat beside Jacob’s well (a field near the village) to rest. Shortly after, a Samaritan woman approached to draw water. Although the woman was never named, we know from the story that her interactions with Jesus and the revelation she was in the presence of the long-awaited Messiah impacted an entire village. However, we also learn she was married five times and living with a sixth man to whom she was not married, a discovery that has frequently painted her in a harsh light.

Reconsidering the Samaritan Woman’s Character

Interestingly, the Samaritan woman’s assumed naughty behavior is not commented on directly by Jesus as sinful, unlike the adulterous woman to whom He told to “go and sin no more.” In addition, John, as part of his account, never stated the cause of the woman’s situation either. It seems possible this omission may be on purpose as it is likely not the focus of the story; however, it has traditionally been used as the emphasis. Why do I say her alleged sin is not the primary piece of the story? Let’s take a look at some common scenarios this unnamed woman might have faced that have nothing to do with sinful behavior that could have led to her tragic marital situation.

The Widow

It was not uncommon in the First Century for a young teenage girl to marry a much older man. The life expectancy was short and becoming a widow more than once was a reality for many women of antiquity for that part of the world. Could it be possible the woman at the well experienced the death of at least one of her five husbands? It seems very likely (Crown, Silver).

Marriage Laws

Some Biblical researchers have suggested the Samaritan woman may have been involved in a Levirate marriage; however, this scenario, although possible, was not allowed by Samaritan and Levitical laws (see Leviticus 18:16 and Deutoronomy 25:5-10) and has been strictly followed (most of the time) for what is known from ancient Samaritan historical writings. The Levirate marriage was the practice of a widow marrying the dead husband’s brother to provide financial security and continue the brother’s family line.

History suggests Samaritans may have practiced Levirate marriages at some point since Jewish women, for whom this practice was common, married into Samaritan families upon occasion to reduce the genetic consequences of continuous intermarriage of extended family members. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume the rules and laws may have changed slightly over time, but due to poor records on marriage laws and customs from that timeframe, it is difficult to know for sure (Atteberry, Crown, and New World Encyclopedia).

It was also acceptable for Samaritan men to have more than one wife, especially if the first wife was barren. Although the law legally allowed this form of marriage, Jesus’ definition was between one man and one woman only. Some theologians have suggested that perhaps Jesus was not pointing to her sin with the last man she was with but simply pointing to an arrangement that was not recognized by Him (Crown).

Occasionally, it was necessary for a woman who had no dowry to be taken in by a distant male relative (which was common). This is also a possibility as she would have been living with a man to whom she was not married (Crown).

Divorce

Serial divorce initiated by the woman at the well has also been brought up as a possible reason she had so many husbands, but that situation seems the most unlikely. Since women have to have a male relative help with divorce initiations, it would have been unheard of to have any respectable man help her divorce several different men. It would have been considered extremely taboo in that part of the world during the First Century (Crown).

Is it possible she initiated at least one divorce of the five marriages? Yes, it is possible. It would not be unthinkable that multiple men may have divorced her. It was much easier for a man to divorce his wife than for a woman to divorce her husband (Crown).

The Prostitute

Could the woman at the well have been a prostitute? If she initiated divorce, she may have lost any dowry or other assets to her ex-husband. In that ancient culture, no husband would have meant little or no financial security, personal value, or future hopes. She would have been at high risk for living on the streets, starving, and destitute. It also seems reasonable to assume that if she were a prostitute, no one in her village would have listened to her testimony of her encounter with Jesus because her standing within her own community would have been so low (Atteberry).

Final Thoughts

Honestly, the more I consider any of the scenarios listed above, the more I feel compassion for this woman. Her past seems to indicate she was most likely a victim of her circumstances instead of a sinful, wicked woman. The one fact that stands out the most about the Samaritan woman’s story to me is that Jesus saw her worth. He spoke about her situation which carried a lot of personal significance about her financial situation, standing within her own community, and the likely deep lack she felt. In addition, Jesus, a Jewish teacher, talked to an “unclean” Samaritan who was a woman. Then, He asked to share her water vessel which would have caused him to be considered ritually unclean. Any of those things on their own would have been considered odd by the culture of the day (Atteberry).

It seems the account tells so much more than about a woman at the well. It was a divine appointment which led the first evangelist, a woman, as recorded by John to reach a people separated from God. Jesus offered worth and restoration to a broken woman; she took the same hope and restoration to her community.

Beloved, if you carry shame and unworthiness, consider the story of the woman at the well. Like Joseph, who’s tragic circumstances led to the salvation of his people (by the way, his bones were buried very closely to Jacob’s well), this unnamed woman’s story follows a similar path (Bible Study Tools).

No shame is too great. No brokenness too unworthy for God to look beyond your past and speak restoration over you.

Sincerely,

Heather
Resources

Atteberry, Shawna, The Voice, http://www.crivoice.org/WT-samaritan.html

Bible Study Tools, “At Jacob’s Well and at Sychar”, http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/the-fourfold-gospel/by-sections/at-jacobs-well-and-at-sychar.html

Crown, Alan, Jewish Women’s Archive “Samaritan Sect”, http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/samaritan-sect

Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Eli and Loden, Lisa, “Reconsidering the Samaritan Woman”, http://jewishstudies.eteacherbiblical.com/john-4-reconsidering-the-samaritan-woman/

New World Encyclopedia, “Levirate Marriage”, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Levirate_Marriage

Silver, Sandra, Early Church History, “Longevity in the Ancient World”, http://earlychurchhistory.org/daily-life/longevity-in-the-ancient-world/

The Covert Christian: How Transformed Lives can Secretly Transform the World

In a world that’s becoming increasingly hostile to the Gospel, how do we fulfill the Great Commission to share our faith and make disciples, especially in places where it may be cropped-cropped-cropped-joyinchrist1.jpgrestricted?  For some Christians, this task may seem daunting, paralyzing or impossible.  What do we do?  Do we give up?  Do we defiantly disregard the rules placed upon us and share anyway?

As Believers, we are called to follow God’s laws over man’s laws even at great cost; however, we are also given the responsibility to exercise wisdom and good judgment when facing scenarios in which sharing our faith is restricted (Acts 5:29; Ephesians 5:15-16).  You could disregard the rules; but in many instances, this may not be the wisest option.  In some instances, disobedience may be necessary, and should be used as a last resort (Acts 5:29).  In other situations, you must weigh the degree and necessity of actions which may cause you to lose access to the people to whom God called you to minister.  We must always do what is right, but we must also ask who will reach the lost if we’re not there as His testimony and witness.

The Power of a Transformed Life

One key way to share the Gospel in our workplaces or other places where we may face restrictions is through transformed lives.  Actions almost always impact people more strongly than words.  The words we speak may tell people who we are and what we think, but our actions tell people what we believe and Who’s we are.  When others see how we live, it should cause them to wonder why we live that way and for whom we live.

A Changed Heart Begins with a Renewed Mind

Before we can live in a way that reflects Jesus, our lives must be transformed from the inside-out.  This means our minds must be renewed, and Jesus must drive our new motives and mindsets (Romans 12:2).  A renewed mind means we change our ways of thinking, hoping, believing, and trusting.  We have new perspectives, new motives, and allow His will to become ours.  It means we choose to let go of the attitudes that once controlled our thought life and drove our motives without God (Romans 6:6).  As with salvation, once we have renewed minds, we act out what we believe in our hearts (Romans 10:9-10).  What we act out should be evidence of the motives of our hearts and what we believe.

Evidence of a Transformed Life

The Scriptures place a high emphasis on our lives as a powerful witnessing tool and declaration of what we believe (James 2:17-18):

  • Our thoughts and attitudes change to reflect His Spirit within us. – 1 John 3:5-6
  • We produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. – Galatians 5:22-23
  • People will know we are Jesus’s followers because of our great love for each other. – John 13:35
  • Our eyes reflect His light of purity and righteousness within us. – Luke 11:34
  • We chose mercy over judgment even when the world claims we have a right to be justly unmerciful. – James 2:13
  • We speak the truth and mean what we say. – 1 John 3:18-19
  • We “do what is right” when faced with tough moral choices. – 1 John 2:29
  • We keep God’s commandments. – 1 John 2:3-5

I’ve often found that when you exhibit facets of the character of God through the fruit of the Spirit, other people notice.  I don’t say this pridefully.  After all, it’s not me whom they see.  It’s Him.  If we live our lives in a way that reflects who He is, other people will be drawn to His attractive nature within us.  Questions like: “Why is there something different about you?”, “Why do you live that way?”, and “How can you forgive when I never could in your situation?” are open doors to share the Gospel with others.

May God use your life as such a powerful testimony of His love, mercy and grace that people are drawn to the Light you carry.  May they also see the radiance and genuine expression of grace and mercy that clearly reflects the evidence of a transformed life.  In many ways, this is the call of the In-Place Missionary — which is you!

We are the Kingdom: Bringing Heaven to Earth

The question “what is the Kingdom?” colors my view of everythingkingdom as I walk around on this physical earth with a resurrected mindset. It describes the future and the present. It is simultaneously a place and a description of God and His people. If you’ve never really thought about the “Kingdom”, God says some amazing things about it.

Examining the Words of Jesus and Personal Analysis

The “Kingdom” is talked about several times in the Bible. According to Luke 17:20-21, a religious leader asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. Jesus answered by stating the Kingdom “can’t be detected by visible signs…for the Kingdom of God is already among you (‘among you’ in the original translation also means ‘within you/within grasp’).” Some Christians believe this section of verses depicts Jesus talking about His second coming which is detailed in the Book of Revelation. But is seems possible that He was also talking about His resurrection. Both views seem perfectly accurate. It’s my personal belief God intentionally provides us Scriptures that hold multifaceted levels of understanding.

Revelation 5:10 says we are “a Kingdom of priests for our God”

Revelation 5:10 says we are “a Kingdom of priests for our God” who will (“are” is used in some manuscripts) “reign on the earth.” If we compare His pre-resurrection statements to this post-resurrection Scripture, it appears God is calling us the Kingdom.

Heaven on Earth

If we are the Kingdom as the Scriptures state we are, then it opens up a whole new level of revelation when we read the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” It appears Jesus taught us to pray for a revelation of our identity — that we bring heaven to earth in His name as priests for our God (and model after Jesus who is our High Priest). Also, it is a reminder of the powerful Holy Spirit who lives inside of us and excitedly waits to spill out upon others around us.

If we are to follow the Great Commission, we should preach the gospels, heal the sick, cast out demons and raise the dead as Jesus did. it makes sense to me that we are the hands and feet of Jesus that will bring Heaven to earth now. I can personally testify as a witness and a recipient that God has used a “Kingdom is now mindset” as a vessel for healing several times.

May this post encourage you and inspire you, priests of the Kingdom. Let’s bring Heaven to earth!