1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
The Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible, covers the period from the slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh (around 1250 BCE, if the account is historical), the Exodus itself, and the months in the Wildernesses of Sin, of Paran and of Zin, all of which are in the Sinai Peninsula.
The accounts of various “events” in Exodus differ in many ways from the accounts in Numbers and Deuteronomy.
The Book of Exodus (like the Torah as a whole) is an amalgam of religious traditions, some of which are dated to about 950 BCE and some of which were developed as late as 450 BCE. Since the late 19th Century, Biblical scholars have recognized four major “strands” or sources in the Torah, and these sources are identified (among other ways) by their different theological emphases, names for God, names for the holy mountain, and portrayals of God’s characteristics.
The story in Chapter 16 (just before today’s reading) is considered part of the oldest traditions. In it, the people complained about not getting enough food, and YHWH told Moses that He would “rain bread from heaven.” This was “manna,” a Hebrew word that means “What is it?” Manna is real stuff and can be purchased even now in Arab markets in Jerusalem. It is the carbohydrate-rich excretions of insects that feed on the twigs of tamarisk trees. It has a mildly sweet taste.
In today’s reading, the Israelites quarreled with Moses and asked (rhetorically) if he brought them out of Egypt only so they could die of thirst. YHWH was portrayed anthropomorphically and told Moses to strike a rock with his staff to get water. There is a similar story in Numbers 20, and there is a reference to it in Psalm 78:15-16. As an “underpinning” of the story, The Jewish Study Bible states: “in the Sinai there are limestone rocks from which small amounts of water drip, and a blow to their soft surface can expose a porous inner layer containing water.”
Because the account comes from multiple sources, it is difficult to locate the places referred to in the reading. Some maps show the Wilderness of Sin in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula, but it is not to be confused with the Wilderness of Zin in the northern Sinai near the Negeb Desert. Rephidim is in the southern part of the Sinai, but Meribah (according to Numbers 27 and Deuteronomy 32) is about 120 miles north of the Wilderness of Sin (near the Wilderness of Zin).
The Israelites lack of trust in YHWH also appeared in the Book of Deuteronomy (and other books by the Deuteronomists – Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) as the reason the fortunes of Israel and Judea declined, and the people were conquered by the Assyrians and the Babylonians.
1 Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was his longest, last, and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE), about 10 years before the earliest Gospel (Mark) was written to a Jesus Follower community that Paul did not establish. Today’s reading appears to be addressed to Gentile Jesus Followers to whom Paul gave equal standing with Jewish Jesus Followers, even though the Gentiles were not circumcised.
Paul used some words that are difficult for us. He said we are “justified by faith” in verse 1. “Justified” means living in “righteousness” or in a right relationship with God and others – being “justified” as a page of type is “justified” when the margins are square on both the left and the right.
Paul’s use of “faith” is better understood as “faithfulness” because of the active aspect of the Greek word Paul used (pistis). For many modern persons, “Faith” is an intellectual assent to one or more propositions. “Faithfulness,” however, is active living into one’s beliefs through grace and trust in God. In considering the “justification by faith[fulness]” The New Oxford Annotated Bible offers that our justification comes about not through our own faithfulness, but through the faithfulness of Jesus in being true to the God of Love and accepting his own ignominious death as a consequence of his preaching and teaching.
In considering verses 3-5, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary notes: “Paul is not advocating here some form of Pelagianism when he says that tribulation produces endurance, endurance character, and character hope, for the basis of it all is divine grace.” (Pelagianism was a 5th Century “heresy” that denied Original Sin and stated that humans could achieve salvation by exercising their free will, through their own efforts and without grace.)
Paul was a Jew who became a Jesus Follower (the term “Christian” hadn’t been invented in Paul’s lifetime). All during Paul’s life, animal sacrifices were made at the Jerusalem Temple as a way Jews were reconciled to YHWH. Animal sacrifices continued until the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE – after Paul’s death in 63 CE.
Given this background, it is therefore not surprising that Paul used “sacrifice” language to interpret the meaning of the Crucifixion: “Christ died for us” (v.8) – “on our behalf” in other translations; we are “justified by his blood” (v. 9); and “we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son (v.10a). It is noteworthy, however, that in 4:25, Paul said that we are justified by the Resurrection. Paul went beyond the sacrifice language, however, and stated we are “saved” (i.e. made whole as human beings) by the life of Jesus the Christ. (v.10b).
In calling the recipients of the letter former “enemies” (v.10), Paul was referring to the fact that Gentiles were (in his view) formerly alienated from God and worshiped idols but they are now reconciled to God.
5 Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband;’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“Cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who was described as “the Lamb of God” in the Fourth Gospel) died at the same time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held the night he died.
Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written by an anonymous author around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
Samaria was the area between Judea and the Galilee and was inhabited by the remnants of the northern tribes of Ancient Israel. Samaria separated from Judea when the Unified Kingdom split after the death of Solomon in 930 BCE. It remained independent until it was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. Assyria sent some of its other conquered persons to Samaria and they intermarried with the Samaritans. As a result, Judeans looked down upon Samaritans as not purely Jewish.
Samaritans worshiped YHWH at Mount Gerizim and had their own version of the Torah called the Targum. According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Judeans and Galileans did not acknowledge the authenticity of Samaritan observances. Nevertheless, Samaritans saw themselves as part of the covenant with the patriarchs. The woman referred to “our ancestor Jacob” (v.12). According to The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, the Samaritans expected “the prophet” to uncover the lost Temple vessels and vindicate its own tradition of worship, not in Jerusalem, but at Mount Gerazim.
Sychar, the locale of today’s reading, was either Shechem, or was near ancient Shechem, a place where Abraham settled (Gen. 12:6), Jacob settled and made a well (v.12), and where Joshua caused the Israelites to swear to their covenant with YHWH (Josh.24). The NJBC says that the well of Jacob was at a major fork in the road and the village of Sychar was about half a mile from the well.
“Living water” (v.10) was understood as flowing water such as a stream or river.
The “prediction” that persons would no longer worship in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim (v.21) had already been fulfilled by the time of the writing of the Gospels.
According to The NOAB, the “astonishment” of the disciples (v.27) is not surprising in that religious teachers avoided speaking to women in public, particularly at a well – the customary place where men went to find a wife, for example, Rebekah (for Isaac), Rachel (Jacob) and Zipporah (Moses). For the most part, women went to wells in the morning when it was cooler to get water for the day for their households. That this woman came to the well at noon (v.6) may indicate that she was an outcast among the women of the town.
In The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, Bishop Spong saw the Samaritan woman as a mythological character and a symbol for Samaria. The words of Jesus (“Give me a drink”) (v.7) are an echo of the words used by Abraham’s servant as he sought a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:17) and are seen as part of a “courtship ritual.” Spong noted that Jesus was described by John the Baptizer a few verses earlier (3:29) as the “bridegroom” who was “inviting the Samaritans to a faithful constituent part of the ‘new Israel,’ another name for the developing Christian covenant.”
The NJBC notes that the evangelist’s presentation of Jesus the Christ as the “Savior of the world” (v.42) reflected the fact that substantial numbers of Samaritans had become Jesus Followers by the time of the writing of the Fourth Gospel. This is the only time the term “Savior” was used in the Fourth Gospel, and The NJBC observes that the term was used in the First Century for deities, kings and emperors, including a “deified Julius Ceasar.” Although the term was used in Philippians 3:20 for the exalted Jesus coming at the parousia, it was used substantially more in the Pastoral Epistles that were written near the end of the First Century.
When Jesus told the woman that she (Samaria) had been married five times, the reference can be understood as the five kingdoms that conquered Samaria: Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Syria (Seleucids). She was now living with Rome.
When the woman spoke of the Messiah, Jesus responded “I am he” – the first time in the Fourth Gospel that Jesus used the phrase reminiscent of the name of God given in the Burning Bush to Moses (I AM WHAT I AM) (Ex. 3:14). First Century Jews would have believed that this name (I AM) predated the division of the Kingdoms. The use of it by the evangelist affirmed that Jesus was the Christ for all persons, including the Samaritans.
When Jesus left Samaria, he returned to Cana (v.46), the place of the wedding where he had changed water into wine (2:11). The story of the Samaritan woman is therefore bracketed by two references to marriage.