Why didn’t Jesus marry the Samaritan woman at the well? Jesus seems to fulfill a courtship scene repeated three times in the lives of Old Testament heavyweights in Genesis and Exodus—each courtship scene resulting in a marriage.
So, the discerning and knowledgeable reader of Genesis and Exodus could expect a marriage to occur as a result of Jesus’ encounter with a foreign woman at the well in John 4. We expect Jesus to fulfill Old Testament patterns (Luke 24:25-27). We expect Jesus to fulfill Old Testament patterns when they are acted out by the major characters in the stories. Jesus explicitly claimed to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Those OT patterns were designed by the Spirit to foreshadow Jesus, create expectations of a Messiah, and foster hope in the hearts of Old Testament readers.
So, why did the marriage of Jesus and the Samaritan woman fall through? Let’s rewind the story line and see why wedding bells remained silent in Samaria.
Three Courtship Scenes
Three major characters in Genesis and Exodus follow the same courtship pattern that Jesus enacted in John 4. Isaac (via a surrogate), Jacob, and Moses acted out a courtship pattern for marriage. These three men are heavyweights in Israel’s history. Each man foreshadows Jesus in many ways. But let’s examine each courtship scene.
Courtship Scene 1
Isaac, via a surrogate, travels outside his country, enters a foreign land, meets a young (unmarried) maiden (Rebekah) at a well, and water is drawn from the well (Genesis 24). Immediately afterwards, Rebekah rushes back to her family to talk about the stranger (in this case, the surrogate of Isaac) at the well. The result is a marriage. Isaac marries Rebekah. Will this courtship scene reoccur? Or, was it just a one-time event? Let’s wait and see.
Courtship Scene 2
Well, it happens two more times. The pattern of a man meeting his future wife at a well in a foreign land, with water being drawn from the well, is repeated two additional times. The pattern is repeated in the life of two additional heavyweights in Jewish history: Jacob and Moses.
Jacob also fled from his homeland and met unmarried Rachel at a well in a foreign country (Genesis 29). Water was drawn from the well, and she rushed home to tell family about the man she met at the well. The result was a marriage. Jacob married Rachel. The courtship scene at a well had become a pattern; it reoccurred a second time with one of Israel’s starting five. Was it accidental? Will the courtship scene repeat itself in a third heavyweight in Israel’s history?
Courtship Scene 3
Well, we are in for a surprise: Moses, another big league player in Israel’s history, fled Egypt and met unmarried Zipporah at a well in a foreign land (Exodus 2). Water was drawn from the well and the result was predictable: Moses marries Zipporah. That’s three in a row. Three in a row is a pattern.
A clear courtship pattern can be seen. A heavyweight in Israel’s history leaves his home, travels to a foreign country, meets an unmarried maiden at a well, water is drawn, and the maiden heads home to tell her story. In each case, wedding bells start to ring. A marriage occurs. That’s three in a row. Coincidence? Just an accident? Hardly.
The courtship scene is indeed a pattern after all. Patterns create expectations. If another Jewish heavyweight—Jesus–leaves his homeland and meets an unmarried woman at a well in a foreign land—Samaria–we could be forgiven for expecting this fourth courtship scene to also conclude with a wedding. If three in a row, why not four in a row? Why not Jesus? He is , after all, the fulfillment of the lives of Isaac, Jacob, and Moses.
The Courtship Scenes Establish a Pattern
The repetition of the courtship scene—sparked by the meeting at the well–on three separate occasions by major characters, is not fortuitous or accidental. A pattern, under God’s sovereign hand, has been established. All the major patterns—and there are many patterns–revealed in the major characters in the Old Testament are fulfilled by Jesus.
He said as much to the two travelers on the Emmaus Road and to the apostles: “And beginning with Moses and all of the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself….This is what I told you while I was still with you. Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24: 25-27, 44; cf. John 1:44-45; 5:39-40). Get that? Must be fulfilled.
Jesus Fulfilled the Pattern
Predictably, Jesus is involved in a courtship scene. He fulfilled the same pattern. Jesus entered a foreign land (Samaria); he stopped at a well (John 4:6) and met a woman, an unmarried Samaritan woman (John 4:7). (Jesus shows disregard for established prejudices when he engaged the woman in conversation; his disciples were surprised to find him talking to a woman; 4:27; this is one of the practices I love about Jesus—he refuses to respect and follow custom and biases and prejudices that, though they might be well-established and even held by his own followers, are contrary to God’s design; he ignores the customs; to Jesus, religious sacred cows simply make good cheeseburgers). As a result of the conversation at the well, the Samaritan woman rushed home to her people and told them about the man at the well (4:28). Jesus seems to have fulfilled the established Old Testament courtship pattern. There should be a wedding in the making in John 4.
John the Baptist Calls Jesus “the Bridegroom”
Our expectation for Jesus’ marriage in John 4 is validated by the words spoken in the prior chapter about him as a bridegroom by John the Baptist: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. But the bridegroom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. He must become greater. I must become less.” John 3:27-30
John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the bridegroom. Bridegrooms are only identified as such at weddings, at the marriage ceremony of a man and woman. After the wedding ceremony is completed, the term “bridegroom” is dropped in place of the word, ‘husband.’ So, if Jesus is labeled as the bridegroom, where is the bride? Where is bridegroom’s bride? When will the wedding ceremony take place? As readers, we could be forgiven for expecting Jesus’ bride to appear in the next chapter (John 4) and the wedding to take place shortly thereafter.
Courtship Scene 4
And, no surprise at all to the reader familiar with the Old Testament pattern, we view a courtship scene unfold in John 4 when Jesus—the bridegroom—meets an unmarried woman at a well in a foreign country. Case closed, right? Jesus will marry the Samaritan woman he met in John 4? Right?
No. A keen observer of Scripture will notice that one essential element is missing from the courtship scene in John 4—an element present in the three prior OT courtship scenes.
The Missing Element in the Courtship Scene
The missing element in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well—an element present in the three prior examples–is the drawing of water from the well. The three prior examples in the Old Testament included water being drawn from the well (Genesis 24:16-20; 29:10; Exodus 2:16-27). The actual drawing of water from the well seems to be the act that created the marriage bond with Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, and Moses and Zipporah.
But in the case of Jesus, the water in the well stays in the well. No water is drawn. But we expected water to be drawn. Jesus asked the woman for a drink (4:7). He had just traveled a long distance and was physically tired (4:6). The woman herself came to the well with a bucket used for drawing water. But she left the bucket at the well when she returned to her own town (4:28). So, the missing element is conspicuous, even striking for its absence.
The Missing Element is Intentionally Left Out
The absence of the drawing of water is intentional. Why? John wants us to see that the Samaritan woman, a woman laden with disadvantages and many social strikes against her, has access to a different kind of water, not the kind drawn from a well.
The disadvantaged, Samaritan woman has access to living water, flowing water, spring water. Living water is a symbol for a new kind of life, the life of the Spirit of which Jesus is the source and giver (John 7: 37-39). The disadvantaged and despised woman gradually comes to accept that Jesus is indeed the source of this living water–for she leaves her bucket behind (4:28) and heads home without it. She will no longer need the bucket. She, a disadvantaged woman with a shameful past, now has Jesus, the source of living water. That is what she really needs and thirsts for. It’s what we all need. It’s what you need.
Earthly Things Fail to Satisfy Us
John shows us the insufficiency of earthly things like water to truly satisfy us. Jesus told Nicodemus how insufficient our first birth is (John 3). We all need a birth from above, a birth from the Spirit (John 3:5) to see (experience) God’s Kingdom. Jesus shows us how insufficient pool water was to bring about healing of the lame man (John 5). Jesus, not pool water, is necessary for total healing (John 5:7-8). Jesus shows us how insufficient bread is to permanently satisfy our hunger. Jesus, not bread, will satisfy our hunger for the nourishment of eternity (John 6:35, 48-51).
Only Jesus Can Satisfy Us
He also teaches us how insufficient water is to satisfy our deepest thirst, the thirst for eternity. We all need an inner spring of flowing water which only Jesus can give. We all need the Spirit to satisfy our thirst for the eternal. All of this Jesus provides. He is the source of the new birth (John 3), the source of living water (John 4; the Holy Spirit), the source of healing (John 5), and the source of true, everlasting nourishment (the bread of life, John 6).
Jesus did not talk about living water with Nicodemus. He discussed a second birth from above. That is what religious leaders need to hear. All of their religious advantages due to their first birth, are insufficient to become children of God and experience His rule. They need a birth from above, a birth from the Spirit that only an encounter with Jesus can provide. He is the key to entering God’s family.
Five Husbands: Sign of a Deeper Thirst
But Jesus did not discuss the new birth with the Samaritan woman. He talked with her about her thirst and well water. Her trips to the well indicated physical thirst. But her past history of having five husbands–known to Jesus–indicated another type of thirst, a deeper thirst, a thirst that a mere man could never satisfy, even five men were unable to satisfy. She sought to quench that deeper thirst in the embrace of men. And her search to quench that thirst failed. So will yours.
Truth and Grace
The message that John desires to communicate to all whose past history is marked by sexual brokenness is one of truth and grace (John 1:17). The truth is that the thirst for love, the cravings to be loved and cherished by someone are similar to the thirst for water. They feel the same. They are like wild horses. They can make us desperate and do desperate things.
The Truth about Our Thirst for Love
Men and women will walk for endless miles and face enemies to assuage their thirst. They will cross over boundaries and trespass into forbidden territory simply for a drink (1 Chronicles 11:15-19). The cravings of a thirsty man or woman for water are powerful. The same is true with the cravings for love. Men and women will walk endless miles and cross over forbidden boundaries and trespass into sexual no-man’s land for a drink of physical love. The thirst for love, like the thirst for water, is powerful and intoxicating. It can make us desperate and do desperate things. It is like wild horses. But, Jesus can satisfy that thirst. That is John’s message of truth (John 1:17). But there is more. Read on.
Grace and our Past
But John also has a message of grace—God’s undeserved goodness to us in Jesus– for those whose past is checkered by sexual brokenness. By drinking the living water that Jesus offers us, our desperate thirst can be assuaged and the broken past only a distant memory. The Samaritan women had five husbands in her past and the man she was living with was not her husband. But she met Jesus, drank the living water he offered to her, and she became a missionary to her own people. The Samaritan woman became an evangelist.
Yes, I just said that. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? But God’s grace in Jesus is incredible because it can do incredible things for the desperate and broken. God’s grace to us can transform the color of blush into a full flush, from shame to fame. It can do the same for you.
Grace and Our Future: Come and See
John ranks the Samaritan woman with Philip, the only disciple Jesus explicitly calls to follow him in John’s Gospel (John 1:43). In response to Nathaniel’s protest that nothing good could come from Nazareth, Philip said in reply, “Come and see.” (John 1:46). Philip is repeating the words of Jesus who also played the role of missionary when he said to two would-be-disciples: “Come and you will see.” (John 1: 39)
John’s Model of a Female Disciple
Ranking with Jesus and Philip in missionary response, the disadvantaged woman with a shameful past and not-so-correct living arrangements said to her own people: “Come see a man who told me everything I did.” (John 4:29) They came to Jesus in response to her evangelistic efforts. “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of her word.” (John 4:39)
God’s grace to us in Jesus is so amazing. The disadvantaged woman with a shameful past becomes the model female disciple in John’s Gospel. She becomes a missionary on the scale with Philip, one of Jesus’ apostles. Simply incredible! But God’s grace to us in Jesus, the giver of living water, is nothing short of incredible. Try it. Go to Jesus and drink what he gives you.
The Woman’s Story Can be Your Story, Too
God’s amazing grace is also available to you, even if your past causes you to blush, even if you view your past as a disadvantage or a barrier to God. The shame that folk used to see on your face can be replaced with confidence. You have taken a deep drink of the living water that Jesus gives and now you can say to your friends and family: “Come and see.” You, too, even with all of your disadvantages, can become a model male or female disciple of Jesus. Who knows, Jesus may call you, man or woman, also to be an evangelist or a shepherdess or shepherd. You, too, can say to your people, “Come and See.”
If you do, I’d like to be the first one there to hear you say it.
“The Law came through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17
Like the woman at the well, I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy.
And then I heard my Savior speaking—
“Draw from My well that never shall run dry.”
Fill my cup, Lord;
I lift it up Lord;
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.