On the significance of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman in relation to Old Testament betrothal histories.
There are three stories in the Old Testament in which an encounter between a man and a woman at a well in a foreign land leads to an engagement. The first time is in the story in which Abraham sends his servant to Haran to find a wife for his son Isaac. This servant meets Rebekah. When Rebekah tells about this meeting at home, the servant is invited to a meal, and before eating the servant explains the purpose of his mission and Rebekah decides to go along to become Isaac's wife. The second time something similar happens is when Jacob flees from his brother Esau and meets Rachel at a well in the same area. He goes to work for her father Laban, his mother Rebekah's brother, and gets first Leah and then her sister Rachel as wives. And finally, we know the story of Moses fleeing from Pharaoh because it was discovered that he had killed an Egyptian. In Midian he meets seven sisters, daughters of Jethro. He goes to work for Jethro and marries one of his daughters, Zipporah.
The striking thing is that the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman also fits into this series. We will discuss this in more detail and then ask ourselves what this means.
Jesus meets the Samaritan woman
The story of Jesus' encounter with a Samaritan woman is very similar to the three Old Testament histories.
The Pharisees were told that He made more disciples and baptized more than John, and so Jesus decides to leave Judea. No doubt because otherwise He could get into big trouble. Jacob is fleeing from Esau when he goes to Haran, Moses is fleeing from Pharaoh because it is discovered that he has killed an Egyptian, and Jesus is in fact also on the run.
Next we read that Jesus had to pass through Samaria. Abraham's servant and Jacob meet a woman in Haran, Moses in Midian, and Jesus in Samaria. John makes it clear that Samaria was a kind of foreign country for the Jews, a more or less foreign land.
After the conversation about the living water, the Samaritan woman goes into the city of Shechem, tells about her encounter, after which the residents ask Jesus to stay with them. The similarity is striking with the three Old Testament histories. Both Rebekah and Rachel and the daughters of Jethro go home after the meeting and talk about their meeting there. Abraham's servant is then brought home by Laban, and Isaac is also brought home by Laban. Jethro also instructs his daughters to go get Moses.
In all cases there is water. However, in the history of Jesus this is only in the spiritual sense of the word. Afterwards there is also food in all cases, but again in the history of Jesus this is exclusively spiritual food. Indeed, when the disciples return from Shechem where they have been shopping, Jesus speaks of the fact that His food is doing the will of the One who sent Him.
The similarities between the four histories are clear. A table at the end of this article compares the four histories.
History on repeat
As far as I am concerned, there is no doubt that the four stories discussed in this article are true. Yet they are written in such a way that the reader unconsciously tends to place them side by side and compare them. According to the traditional Jewish explanation, that is exactly the intention. The differences between the histories show what the writer wants to emphasize. By paying attention to the differences between the three Old Testament histories, it becomes clear what the writer wants to draw special attention to. We will not elaborate on this further for the three Old Testament histories, but we will examine what the meaning of the story of the Samaritan woman is.
The core of the story of the Samaritan woman
Shortly before the story of the Samaritan woman, we read in the Gospel of John that a discussion arises about the fact that Jesus baptized more people than John. John then points to Jesus as the bridegroom and himself as the friend of the groom. It immediately raises the question of who the bride is. Then we read again that Jesus baptized more people than John, and that He then decided to go to Galilee, through Samaria. Here it becomes clear that the story of the Samaritan woman provides the answer to the question of who the bride of Jesus is.
Then we read a story that is strongly reminiscent of the Old Testament stories: Jesus flees from the Pharisees, comes to a strange land and meets an unmarried woman and starts talking to her. It is inevitable that the association will then arise with other comparable histories. This association is further strengthened by the sequel: the woman returns to the city, tells her fellow townspeople about her encounter with Jesus and then they invite Jesus to stay with them.
The story of the Samaritan woman is often read as the story of a woman who committed many sins and who found forgiveness through the Messiah. However, that is not what the text itself indicates. The woman is said to have gone to the well in the middle of the day to avoid confrontation with her fellow townspeople, according to many explainers. It's an unusual time and the chances of her finding others are slim. The question is whether this is correct. There is no reason to believe that it was unusual to go for water in the middle of the day. And if the woman's reputation was really that bad, it is difficult to understand why the residents of Shechem would accept the woman's testimony about Jesus. Another argument is that the woman has already been married five times. That's right, but the question is whether she can be blamed. It was virtually impossible for a woman to get a divorce. So there is a good chance that her wives have either died or left her. Although we know virtually nothing about this woman's background, it is conceivable that she was infertile. In the first century, that was sufficient reason for a man to quickly divorce his wife. Finally, the last argument: the woman would live together without being married. That is also not what it says. The woman has found shelter with a man, but that does not mean she has a relationship with him. At that time, a woman could not run an independent household. If she found herself alone because her husband died or left her, she had to find shelter with her parents, brother, uncle or someone else. In short, the theme of this history is not sin and forgiveness.
The story of the Samaritan woman provides an answer to the question of who the bride of Jesus is. That is anyone who recognizes Jesus as Messiah. Jesus shows that He knows the woman in all her needs, and wants to have a relationship with her that goes far beyond a relationship between a man and a woman. When she tells the residents of Shechem that she has met Someone who knows everything about her, she does not mean that Jesus has pointed out all her sins. Then she means that He knows how difficult her life has been and that He wants to stand next to her in it. These are the sources of living water that she experiences. And that is the core of this story.
The point of the story of the Samaritan woman is that the recognition of Jesus as Messiah means that He wants to have a relationship with us that goes beyond the most intimate relationship we know in human life, namely that between a bride and a groom . If we accept the Messiah, we may know that Jesus wants to be present in our lives and have a relationship with us through the Holy Spirit, who is symbolized several times in the Gospel of John with water. In this way, as believers we are counted as the bride of Jesus Christ.
Overview of the four encounters with women at a well
Abraham's servant and Rebekah
Jacob and Rachel
Moses and Zipporah
Jesus and the Samaritan woman
27:43 flee to my brother Laban in Charan
15 That's why Moses fled from Pharaoh
3 Jesus left Judea
10 So the servant went to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor.
28:5 Jacob went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau
15 That's how he ended up in Midian
4 To do this, Jesus had to pass through Samaria
11 It was towards evening
29:7 But it is still fully day
6 it was around noon
15 Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor
10 Rachel, the daughter of his mother's brother Laban
16 The priest of Midian had seven daughters
7 a Samaritan woman
16 a virgin
17 I don't have a husband
18 Rebekah gave the servant something to drink
14 The water I give
20 Rebekah drew water for all his camels.
10 Jacob went to the well and gave his uncle's animals something to drink
17 Then he helped the daughters of the priest of Midian and gave the cattle to drink.
28 The girl ran home
12 Rachel ran to her father
18 When they got home
28 The woman went back to town
32 Then the servant went home with Laban
13 Laban took Jacob to his house
20 Invite Moses
40 The Samaritans went to him and asked him to stay with them
33 A meal was also served to the servant
20 to come and eat
32 I have food that you don't know about
51 Take Rebekah with you and make her the wife of your master's son
67 Isaac took her as his wife
18 I will work for you for Rachel for seven years
30 Then Jacob also slept with Rachel
21 Reuel/Jethro gave Moses his daughter Zipporah as a wife.