Have We Missed the Mark on the Woman at the Well? (Part 2)
Updated: Jan 21
In Part 1 of this two-part series, we discussed the Samaritan woman and the misconceptions we have of her in our present day and age. We discussed an alternative reading to this story and wooed you with more to come – specifically the spiritual significance of where this encounter took place. In case you missed the first part, you can read it here: https://www.ourancientpaths.org/post/have-we-missed-the-mark-on-the-woman-at-the-well-part-1
Historically, the Samaritan religious sect emerges clearly at the time of the Maccabees and solidifies during their persecution by the High Priest John Hyrcanus, ruler of the Jewish nation from 135/134 to 104 BCE. Don’t confuse these people (who termed themselves “the keepers” of the Law) with whom historians call the proto-historical Samaritans of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in earlier ages (which was a regional group, not necessarily an ethnic or religious one). The following criteria is what differentiates the religious sect of Samaritans from the regional Samaritans and is important with regard to whom Yeshua is speaking (ref 1).
self-awareness as a religious sect
the use of the Samaritan Penatateuch as their holy text
the preference for Mt. Gerizim as the proper place of worship
According to Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, the Samaritans had a four-fold creed:
One G-d – YHWH
One Prophet – Moses
One Book – Torah
One Place – Mt. Gerezim (ref 2)
The Judeans and the Samaritans agreed on the One G-d and One Book points – it was the other two that were the bones of contention between them. After the High Priest John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan Temple at Mt. Gerizim, however, that split between the two kingdoms (Israel and Judah) was complete and acrimonious.
That is, until Yeshua showed up and spoke to a woman at Jacob’s well.
He came to a town in Shomron called Sh’khem, near the field Ya’akov had given to his son Yosef. Ya’akov’s Well was there; so Yeshua, exhausted from his travel, sat down by the well; it was about noon. (John 4: 5-6 CJB)
Let’s back up and look at some of the historical significance of Sh’khem, which begins with Jacob. The Samaritan woman point blank asks Yeshua, “You aren’t greater than our father Ya’akov, are you? He gave us this well and drank from it, and so did his sons and cattle.” (John 4: 12 CJB)
As we all know, Jacob was one of the Hebrew patriarchs and ancestors of the Israelite people. He was the grandson of Abraham and the son of Isaac and Rebekah. Through his cunning (and by taking advantage of his brother’s weaknesses) he usurped the firstborn blessing from Esau and became the leader of their family. Through his 12 sons, the 12 tribes of Israel were born.
Years later, after Jacob had wrestled all night with a heavenly being (and who changed Jacob’s name to Israel) and after he had been reconciled with his brother Esau the following day, he traveled to the Canaanite city of Sh'khem and pitched his tent outside the city. He purchased this plot of land and put up an altar which he called El-Elohei-Yisrael (G-d, the G-d of Israel). While no well is mentioned in the Genesis account, it would only make sense that a well had to be constructed for watering the flocks and the families. They needed water to survive.
It was here that the momentous encounter between Yeshua and the Samaritan woman occurred centuries later. However, unlike the patriarch Jacob’s well, as Yeshua told the woman, the water he would provide would ensure that no one was ever thirsty again. It’s here that we see a beautiful example of middle eastern thought, which is cyclical in nature, not linear as is western thought.
The sages tell us that Torah has seventy faces. What do they mean by that? It means you can read Torah 70 times and come away with a different meaning and understanding 70 times. It shows us that G-d’s Word is like an onion, and as you peel back layer after layer, a new one emerges. In Greco/Roman western thought, we don’t see cycles. We see from past to present, in one direction only, in dispassionate logic instead insightful hidden truths. Our way of thinking inhibits us many times from seeing the wonderful nuances of G-d’s Word, and this story is one of those instances. Just as Jacob established a presence in Sh’khem with a well, so Yeshua came to establish his presence in Sh’khem, but with living water that would never run out.
Jacob wrestling with the angel of Elohim and his eventual reconciliation with his brother Esau introduces the thematic elements of trials, tribulations, and grace that also carry over into the story of the Samaritan woman. She has many trials in her life. She appears to be struggling with her relationship with G-d and her place in the world.
And grace and reconciliation meet together at an ancient well that came to be because of those same elements centuries before.
But the correlations don’t stop there. This conversation with the Samaritan woman also takes place in the vicinity of Joseph’s bones. The context of Jacob’s well and Joseph’s bones would not have been lost on a 1st century Samaritan.
The bones of Yosef, which the people of Isra’el had brought up from Egypt, they buried in Sh’khem, in the parcel of ground which Ya’akov had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Sh’khem for a hundred pieces of silver; and they became a possession of the descendants of Yosef. (Joshua 24: 32 CJB)
Can there be a more telling story of loss, separation, grace, redemption, and reconciliation than the one between Joseph and his brothers? It was through Joseph’s suffering, his loss, and his separation from his kinsmen that grace, redemption, and life would come. G-d placed him to ensure the continuation of the messianic line from which Yeshua would eventually emerge. Had Joseph not been where he was, most of Egypt and quite possibly many in his family would have perished from the drought. His kinsmen promised his bones would be returned to the land given by HaShem to the Jews. They were taken from Egypt, protected during the 40 years of wandering, and placed in their final resting place when they reached Sh’khem. It was here, in Sh’khem, that Joshua challenged the Israelites to abandon all their foreign gods and to follow after Elohim alone. It was here that they covenanted with Yahweh and agreed to follow and abide by his Law.
In much the same vein, it is through this woman’s suffering and loss that Yeshua is able to reach out and bridge the relational separation of the two kingdoms – the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel – represented by himself and the Samaritan woman and her village respectively. He brought grace, redemption, and reconciliation to the Samaritans – not only as G-d’s Son, but as an Israeli Jew. In the end, the Samaritans and the Jews are brought spiritually and figuratively back together to the point of the beginning. As it was with Jacob and the Israelites, it is now through Messiah that we covenant to follow the G-d of Israel and His laws forever.
And lastly, for our discussion, we have a parallel with the land where this encounter takes place. In the first covenant, G-d designated six areas of refuge where people who committed accidental manslaughter could claim asylum and be granted haven. These cities were Golan, Ramoth, and Bosor, all east of the Jordan River, and Kedesh, Hebron, and Sh'khem, all on the west side of the Jordan. Those who took refuge in these cities were no doubt aware of the special dispensation of grace and mercy that these towns afforded. When Yeshua visited this sanctuary village, divine grace, refuge, and asylum were once again on display as the salvation message was brought to a band of outcast Israelites that they might be saved.
The cyclical nature of the Bible and Hebrew thought allows us to see G-d working in similar patterns down the vast corridors of history. The story of tribulation, loss, grace, redemption, and refuge are intermingled throughout G-d’s interactions with mankind. There is nothing that is done in a vacuum, there is nothing that is done randomly. All things – all things – culminate in the redemption story and eventual Kingdom of Messiah.
During this season of celebrating the victory of the Maccabees and the restoration of the Temple, let our thoughts also be on the Light of the World, Yeshua Messiah, who came to redeem that which was his, to restore that which was broken down, and to reconcile all mankind to the Father, covenant to covenant, for eternity.
1. Anderson, Robert T. and Giles, Terry (2002). The Keepers: An Introduction to the History and Culture of the Samaritans, pp 9-10
2. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Eli (2015-2019). The Jewish Gospel of John: Discovering Jesus, King of All Israel, p 41