The Courtship of Jesus
Readers of John’s Gospel who feel at home in the Old Testament could be forgiven for expecting Jesus to marry a Samaritan bride in John 4. The clues for a courtship scene and marriage are all present in John 4. Old Testament (OT) readers who traverse John 4 expect Jesus to marry a foreign (and disadvantaged) woman. The textual clues suggest Jesus’ marriage is about to happen. John’s story is a courtship scene richly rooted in OT history.
The Pattern of a Courtship Scene
Observe the clues that reflect an OT pattern: Jesus left Judea (in the south) on the way to Galilee (in the north) and passes through Samaria (foreign land) because he has to (he does not have to geographically speaking; there is another way to Galilee; he has to because of the courtship pattern he fulfills; John 4:4). In Samaria, Jesus meets a complete stranger, a foreign woman at a well who has come to draw water (John 4:7). Dialogue between Jesus and the woman ensues. Jesus asks her for a drink (Jesus, ironically, never receives any water from her to drink). When the discussion is finished, the woman then returns to her own town to talk about the Jewish male stranger she met at the well.
John, the predecessor to all romance novelists, says silently to us: “Get it? Remember this repeated OT courtship pattern? Did you pick up the courtship clues I dropped into the story? Does it bring back OT memories and create expectations? Jesus has just met his future wife, right? You got it, right?”
A Well is a Courtship Clue
Jesus’ courtship is a realistic expectation. This same courtship scene has been repeated three times with three major characters in the OT—a repeated pattern–and results in a betrothal and marriage each time. Patterns in OT Scripture which focus on major characters establish rhythms. Rhythms suggest to the reader (you and me) that the courtship scene is not accidental or fortuitous; it a case of divinely appointed destiny. The meeting of Jesus, John’s major character, and the woman at the well had to be (John 4:4; “had to, divinely foreordained”).
So, Jesus meeting a foreign woman at the well in a foreign country–aligned to match the prior OT pattern–appears divinely appointed and creates expectations (marriage). God the Father has set up a marriage courtship for His Son, Jesus. Will it happen?
Old Testament Courtship Pattern Repeated
This series of “courtships-at-a-well meetings” occurred with the three major characters—who all foreshadow Jesus–in Genesis and Exodus: Abraham/Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24:10-28), Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29:1-14), and Moses and Zipporah (Exodus 2:15-20). Three heavyweights.
The OT connections with the courtship story of Jesus, the major character in John’s Gospel, are easy to spot. Each male character leaves his country (for different reasons) and travels to a foreign territory. Each man stops at a well. There, at the well, each major character meets up with a complete stranger, mutually unknown, a woman (or women in the case of Moses) who has come to draw water. Discussion ensues between the man and the foreign woman at the well. They talk at the well. The act of drawing water from a well establishes a symbolic bond between the man and the woman. A courtship scene develops. The woman then predictably rushes home to tell family about the male stranger at the well. The betrothal-type scene results in wedding bells and the two people marry (in the case of Abraham, he sent a surrogate to find a bride for his son Isaac).
Can you see the OT pattern in John 4 being repeated? The courtship pattern of “meet-a bride-at-the-well” with major characters in the OT is repeated with Jesus, the major character in John 4.
Old Testament Patterns Fulfilled In Jesus
Patterns that keep repeating themselves in the OT always foreshadow events in the New Testament. The Old Testament–composed of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings–all foreshadow Jesus (Luke 24:25-28, 44; John 5:46-47). The list of repeated patterns in the OT that foreshadow Jesus is lengthy. This “male stranger-meets a female foreigner-at-a-well” courtship pattern is fulfilled in John 4. So, we expect a marriage in the making between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (yes, a woman with a shameful past). Isaac, Jacob, and Moses foreshadow Jesus in many ways.
The courtship drama in John is another example of Jesus foreshadowed in the OT and is a perfect match with its OT predecessors.
Old Testament Pattern and John’s Gospel
John makes explicit the connection of Jacob (OT character) and Jesus’ encounter at the well in John 4: “so He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there…You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.” (John 4:5, 12)
The connection of Jesus to Jacob’s well is plain to see.
Jesus Expected to Find a Bride in Samaria
The expectation of a courtship scene between Jesus and the Samaritan woman has prior hints in John’s Gospel. Jesus attended a marriage feastwhere he replaced the waters of purification with his own prize-winning wine (John 2:1-11). Using matrimonial imagery, Jesus is depicted as winning the allegiance of new followers since he trumps old rituals in Jewish religion. What is more, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Bridegroom who has now come: “He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete.” (John 3:29)
John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the bridegroom in chapter 3. So, if Jesus is the Bridegroom, who, then, is the bride? Where will we find a bride for Jesus? Answer: the next chapter, the courtship scene at a well in John 4.
Readers of John’s Gospel should expect Jesus to find a bride. His trip to a foreign land (Samaria) in chapter 4 is expected. When Jesus meets a stranger, a foreign woman at a well, and a discussion ensues between them, it appears that we have another OT courtship scene developing. Jesus is going to get a bride like his OT predecessors (Isaac, Jacob, and Moses). Right on que, the woman, like her female predecessors, leaves the well, heads back to her town to tell her friends about the male stranger (John 4:29). The courtship pattern is precisely followed. A wedding is at hand. Jesus is about to get married.
The Courtship Plot Hits an Embarrassing Snag
The courtship plot thickens when Jesus tells the woman to call her husband(John 4:16). She replies that she has no husband. Jesus concedes that her statement is correct. The woman has had five previous husbands and the man she now has is not her husband. The courtship scene hits a snag. Is Jesus really courting a woman with such a shameful past? The courtship clues seem to suggest such. And the woman is unmarried. She is a candidate for marriage.
Will Jesus be the replacement for her previous five husbands? Will Jesus be number six, her true husband? Is God the Father supplying such a bride for His Son (just as father Abraham supplied a bride for his son Isaac)?
The Courtship Plot Breaks Down
But the expected courtship scene breaks down. The Samaritan woman does not become Jesus’ wife, but it is not because of her baggage (John does have a reason for setting up the courtship scene). And even though wedding bells do not ring in John 4, the Samaritan woman is portrayed by John as the ideal female disciple in 4th Gospel (see part 2 of this blog post). She, in fact, plays an apostolic role.
The Samaritan female, a foreigner with many strikes against her—disadvantaged–a woman with baggage, becomes the model female disciple in John’s Gospel. She is clearly superior to Nicodemus (chapter 3) who is male, respected, privileged, but doesn’t get it; more on the comparison between Nicodemus (John 3) and the Samaritan woman (John 4) next time.
Imagine: Shame to Fame
But just imagine. A woman with five previous husbands and an existing living arrangement which was a source of embarrassment to her—such a woman is depicted by John as the woman who fulfills the OT courtship pattern with Jesus and as the ideal female disciple in John’s Gospel. Consider the radical difference Jesus can make with people whose past is tainted with embarrassing details.
The mercy and grace we receive in Jesus is simply staggering (John 1:17). The woman goes from shame to fame. Her story is one of hope, the confident expectation of good in our tomorrow. It is life-changing, hope-producing, and jaw-dropping. The grace of Jesus is amazing.
Part 2 will focus on her IFD qualities. Part 2 will also focus on not only why the Samaritan woman did not become Jesus’ wife, but also why she did become—with all her baggage–the ideal female disciple of Jesus, parallel to the ‘beloved disciple,’–the one disciple who had no baggage–the ideal male disciple in John’s Gospel. Don’t you just love the sharp thrust of irony?
“The Law came through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17
Jesus, show mercy and overflowing grace to many present-day women and men whose past history resembles the story of the Samaritan woman. Let them experience fresh hope by meeting you at the well of your choosing. By meeting you, let them exchange their shame with fame. For your name’s sake, άμην