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  • Lindsay Esterline

Living Water - Samaritan Woman at the Well

John 4:1-42

These are my notes from a study that I planned for a weekend retreat. I hope my outline will help guide your personal study. I have tried to include all of the references for the quoted material.

Woman's eyes peering over a cloth

Who were the Samaritans?

  • An ethnic group descended from intermarriages mostly between Jews and Assyrians.

  • Claimed to be the true people of God

  • Thought that only the first five books of the Hebrew Bible were legitimate.

  • Believed worship should take place on Mt. Gerizim, not in Jerusalem. (She asks)

  • Religious leaders on both sides discouraged contact with the opposite group.

Who was she?

  • Unnamed

  • Longest recorded, one-on-one conversation with Jesus

  • Understand the cultural issues that may have led to her five marriages and current living arrangement.

    • Married young

    • Widowhood not uncommon

    • Divorce not uncommon (initiated by men)

    • Current arrangement for survival - 2nd wife or concubine?

    • Not likely a prostitute since no one would marry her in that case

  • Jesus didn’t condemn her. No “go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

  • Understands her cultural traditions and beliefs

  • Curious, open

  • Humble - she saw her need, and she didn’t turn away when Jesus told her about herself, her reputation didn’t prevent her from sharing with others (the others she was avoiding).

Crossing Lines

Jesus did THREE things out of the ordinary for a Jew:

  • Traveled through Samaria (would save a week of travel on foot)

    • Evidence that this was possibly not that uncommon

  • Spoke to, asked a favor of, a Samaritan

  • Interacting with an obvious social pariah (drawing water alone at noon)

    • men rarely spoke to women in public, even their wives

“By the end of the story, Jesus and this woman have overcome the intersectional boundaries of gender, ethnicity, and religious affiliation as well as a history of violent conflict. Jesus, the Jewish teacher, provided living water for an unmarried Samaritan Woman. And a generous Samaritan woman left behind her water jar for a weary Jewish man.”

The Samaritan Woman and the Man of the Pharisees

Nicodemus (John 3)

Samaritan Woman


male (respected, powerful)

female (vulnerable, disregarded)


Pharisee/high status

unmarried woman/low status


Jewish “insider”

Samaritan “outsider”

Meeting Jesus

comes to Jesus at night

approached by Jesus in daylight

Level of Understanding

misunderstands Jesus initially

misunderstands Jesus initially


insincere dialogue

engages in extended dialogue

Response to Jesus

ambiguous faith, private

demonstrated bold faith, public declaration

“In her own context, she is powerless and vulnerable, a person on the margins. She engages Jesus in an extended conversation. While Nicodemus’ continues to misunderstand, this woman’s awareness develops over the course of the dialogue. While Nicodemus subtly and secretly sides with Jesus; this woman recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and becomes an evangelist for his message!”

In Nicodemus’ defense, the Samaritan woman didn’t have much to lose. Yes, it took a measure of humility to put herself in a position to potentially face more rejection. But, she was not risking her reputation. She had no social standing to lose if Jesus was not who he said he was.

Living Water

Close up of flowing water

Jesus is revealed in the story three times: as Living Water, a Prophet, as the Messiah.

The Greek phrase hydor zon can refer to “running water” vs stagnant water. The phrase can also have a metaphorical meaning — water that gives life (Isaiah 58:9-11).

Later at a feast in Judea, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. (John 7:38-39a)”

Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13 satisfies all need, abundance “river” not a stream

-Very little rainfall in Israel. Average per year is 20in during the rainy season (Atlanta is close to 50in). Outside of the rainy season, water was kept in cisterns dug in the ground. So fresh water was considered a gift from God.

"Living water" in the Bible refers both to flowing, fresh, pure water that satisfies our thirst in the physical sense and to perpetual, God-given spiritual blessing and life-giving power that satisfies our thirst in the spiritual sense.

Two conditions from John 4:10-15 for receiving the life-giving living water that Jesus gives:

1) Perceive who Jesus really is (the Messiah, the Christ), and

2) Desire to have the living water that Jesus is willing to give.

The First Female Evangelist

How does she react to Jesus’ message?

  • Listens, and asks genuine questions (posture of discipleship/learning)

  • Believes Jesus is the Messiah

  • Leaves her water jar, much like the disciples left their nets, as a complete embrace of calling

  • Shares her faith with others (action)

  • She was given a new reputation and purpose in the very midst of a mundane moment!

She was so overjoyed by what she found in Jesus that she left her water. She forgot her need for physical water and ran to share the living water she had found!

Jesus is re-energized by her joy! When the disciples return and try to get him to eat something he responds, “I have food to eat that you do not know about”.


  • Jesus alone can satisfy. He recognized her thirst beyond temporal need. (Ps 37:4; John 10:10)

  • Jesus is not fazed by our sins. He sees our sin (Rom 3:23), and loves us anyway (Rom 5:8). He seeks to reconcile us (Heb 7:25; Col 1:19-20).

  • Jesus is our Savior. He saves completely, now and into eternity (Titus 3:5, Galatians 2:20).

  • Jesus is to be exalted in our lives. He has saved us, and that joy should overflow into every part of our lives (Matt 5:16; 1 Peter 2:9; Matt 28:19-20)!

Discussion Questions

  • The nameless woman at the well was called to be a disciple and evangelist. What is God whispering to you about your own calling?

  • Who told you about Jesus? Who in your life witnessed to you that they knew and were known by Jesus?

  • What surprised you in this Bible study session?

  • What do you hear the Spirit saying to you/your family/your church/your community?

  • What boundaries will you breach for Jesus?

  • Are you throwing your “water jug” into the wrong “wells” (success, job/$, relationships, etc)?

  • How did you "meet Jesus"? Did you approach him reluctantly? Did you feel perused? After your encounter did you share his message with boldness?

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