At Jacob's Well

“Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but it shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13, 14).

What a wonderful story is that from which these words are taken! There is something about it that grips my heart-strings every time I read it. If you have not been moved by it, it must be because you have never yet sensed your own deep need, nor the marvellous grace that will meet that need if you will but accept the loving invitation: “Whosoever will let him take the water of life freely.”

As we drove down through the land of Palestine, one delightful day last February, it was with a thrill of gladness that we found ourselves in sight of Jacob’s Well, just at noontime. We left Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, at nine o’clock in the morning. That is the city, with its hot baths, where so many people still go for the medicinal good that they expect to get from them, as in the days of Herod himself. We do not read in the Gospels: that the Lord Jesus ever entered Tiberias. It was a Gentile city in the midst of Jewish Palestine. It was devoted to worldly pleasures of every kind as well as the exercise of the healing art. Whether or not the Lord ever actually entered it we do not know. If there was a Jewish synagogue there, He did, because we are told that He preached in “all the synagogues of Galilee.” He Himself said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). That was His mission while here on earth.

We spent a very interesting part of two days in Tiberias and its environs; and were almost loth to leave it when the time came to start for Jerusalem. It was our plan to visit several places of interest on the way, and to lunch at Jacob’s Well, and then push on to the “City of the Great King.”

Soon we espied a little village nestling on the hill-side bearing the name of Kafr Kanna. It was the ancient Cana where our Lord wrought His first public miracle. We spent a little while looking about the town, purchased a few souvenirs and moved on across the eastern part of the Valley of Jezreel, or Esdraelon. As we journeyed we talked together of the significance of the miracle of turning water into wine. Of course it was but doing in a moment what our Lord does year by year in thousands of vineyards. He gives the water from heaven that is changed by omnipotent power into the red blood of the grape. Men call it Nature, but we know it is God, who alone can do this. And Jesus was manifesting His glory— displaying His creatorial power when He wrought that sign in Cana. Those empty waterpots (for Jewish purifications) picture the ancient forms and ceremonies—all empty when He came—into which was poured the water of the New Testament revelation, and ever since His servants have been drawing the new wine of the Kingdom of God out of these Old Testament types! And surely He has kept the best wine until the last.

We were charmed with the beauty of Jezreel—especially with the many prosperous Jewish colonies dotting the plain and climbing the hillsides. Beautiful orchards and vineyards were flourishing where a few years ago all had been desolation and barrenness.

Crossing a ridge, inside of a couple of hours we were in Samaria, but still we saw the same evidences of Jewish thrift, and we realized that the time must be near when Israel will not only be restored to their land, but to their God and to Him whom once they rejected as an Impostor and a Deceiver, but who is God’s blessed Son, our Saviour.

We did not take time to climb the hill of Samaria to see the ruins of Ahab’s palace, but contented ourselves with viewing it from a distance, as our time was limited.

At Nablus, however, the Shechem of the Bible, we spent about half-an-hour, threading our way through its dirty, narrow, winding streets to find the Samaritan synagogue. We entered it and found a very kind old Samaritan gentleman, the last high priest of that tribe, who succeeded to the priesthood about a year-and-a-half ago when his predecessor died. He told us a little about the history of his people, and how they still observe the Passover. He showed us a very ancient scroll written upon parchment, which he declared was written by the grandson of Moses. We had our doubts about that, but did not think it polite to express them. It was at least very interesting. I examined the Hebrew letters, and they were not the square ones which have been in use for many centuries but were of a much more ancient type. After leaving the Samaritan priest, as we went out of the city, our attention was drawn to Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal—Mount Gerizim, where certain of the Levites stood to bless the people, and Mount Ebal where others stood to pronounce the curse if they departed from the living God. We felt we must be very near the well where Jesus met the woman of Samaria. Soon we drew near a little city and I asked its name. It was Sychar. John tells us: “And He must needs go through Samaria. Then cometh He to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.” Joseph himself was buried there. We did not have far to look to see his sepulchre, and our guide said, “There is Joseph’s tomb. We Mohammedans think just as much of that as the Jews and Christians do, and it has been undisturbed through the centuries.” It was interesting indeed to know that that in all likelihood the body of Joseph was actually still preserved within that tomb.

Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah are buried in Machpelah, at Hebron, but Joseph was buried in the plot of ground given him by his father. Soon the voice of the Lord will be heard and they shall all rise to meet Him, with all the redeemed, in the air. What a moment that will be!

We passed on from Joseph’s tomb and just ahead saw an inclosed garden and a little Greek chapel within. Our guide told us that Jacob’s well was inside the chapel. It always provoked us to find these chapels over so many of the places of special interest. Almost every site of this kind is covered over either with a Roman Catholic church or a Greek or Armenian chapel. However, we entered the chapel and saw the well itself. It is built up about two feet from the ground with the coping, as when Jesus sat there so long ago. I am not sure, of course, that it is actually the same coping as the one on which He sat, but it seems very old and they have built another wall of stone around it to keep it from falling to pieces. We sat there and looked into its depths. We could not see very far down in the darkness, but a Syrian woman brought a candle with a long cord on it, and after we had given her a few piasters she dropped it down nearly a hundred feet, and there we could see the water in the bottom of the well. We understood what the woman of Samaria meant when she said, “Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast Thou that living water?” As we sat there we called to mind that scene so vividly described in our Bibles.

A little later we went into the garden and, sitting on one of the stones, read this fourth chapter of John’s Gospel, and it seemed more real, more living than ever, though I think it is one of the chapters I have preached on literally hundreds of times during the last forty-five years. I could see the blessed Lord Jesus coming from the opposite direction to which we had come. He came from the south, from Jerusalem, and wended his way straight to Jacob’s well because an appointment had been made in the past eternity with a poor sinner who was utterly unconscious of it. He was to meet her there that day, and cleanse her from her sins, and change her whole life and save her soul. So He was there on time. His disciples were off to buy food while He sat there waiting for one needy soul. He was tired and wearied with His journey. I love to think of that. The Lord of Glory who from all eternity had never been weary came down to earth and took the form of a servant, and here as Man on earth tired Himself out seeking after poor sinners. And while He was sitting on the well that day there came from the village yonder this woman for whom He waited. We looked up the road and could easily imagine we saw her coming, coming to draw water with her pitcher on her shoulder or on her head. And as Jesus looked upon her He knew her great need, He knew the sin of her life, He knew the sorrow of her heart, He knew the distress of her conscience, and He was there to meet all these in His own wonderful way.

If you are a poor sinner, a slave to sins and passions that you do not seem to be able to overcome; if your heart is burdened with grief and your conscience smarts because of conscious guilt, thank God, Jesus is waiting for you, waiting to give deliverance to you just as He was waiting for that poor woman of Samaria so long ago. I think that as she drew near the well a feeling of resentment probably arose in her breast. The Jews had one way of dressing and the Samaritans another in those days, and as soon as she saw this Man she knew in a moment that He was a Jew. The Jews hated the Samaritans, and the Samaritans hated the Jews. But on she came, a poor brazen woman, I suppose, and when she drew near to Jesus I presume she was ready to give as good as He might give her. She would be ready to answer back if this Jew insulted her. What was her amazement to see Him look up in the most kindly, gentlemanly way and ask a favor of her, a poor, wretched, polluted, unchaste woman of a despised race! Yes, Jesus’ heart was overflowing with tender compassion and interest. She got the surprise of her life. She knew that if she ventured to say to the average Jew, “Will you take a drink?” he would have knocked the cup from her hand, but this One said to her, “Give Me a drink.” He was willing to put Himself in a place where she might do Him a favor in order that He might save her precious soul.

She asked in amazement, “How is it that Thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” And then John explains why she said that, “For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.” I do not think she said that herself, but I believe John added that in order that you and I might understand. Otherwise we would not comprehend why she should speak in this way, “How is it that Thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” But the Lord Jesus Christ, instead of answering that question in the way she perhaps expected, gave her information that was utterly beyond her understanding for the moment. “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.” Consider these statements. “If thou knewest the gift of God”—O woman, if thou only knewest how God delights to give, and if thou knewest who it is that has put Himself in the place of a suppliant today, and asked of you, you would have turned it right around and said, “Give me what I cannot get from Jacob’s well, give me the water of life.”

Do you know the gift of God? Do you know that God is a Giver? I find people all around who imagine that God is a merchantman, that God has something to sell. I have even heard preachers say, “God will save everybody who is willing to pay the price.” What a misrepresentation of God’s salvation! Jesus paid the price, and God is a Giver. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). You do not have to earn salvation by anything you do. You cannot buy it by penances, by turning over a new leaf, by giving money. Tears won’t put away sin; works won’t put away sin; money won’t put away sin. Salvation is a gift, full, free, eternal. Sinner, do be persuaded that God is a Giver. He has something He wants to give to you without money and without price. Won’t you accept His gift and make Him yours for eternity?

“If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith unto thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.” You cannot separate the gift from the Person. In fact the Person Himself is the expression of the gift. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God has given Jesus, and in giving Him He has given Heaven’s Best. And having not withheld His Son He with Him will freely give us all things. “Thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.” This poor woman cannot understand it. She looks at the well and then at Him and says, “Sir, Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.”

We found it about a hundred feet deep. Often the water rises higher. It is really a cistern, and sometimes the water is seventy-five or ninety feet down, but at any rate it is a very deep well. “From whence then hast Thou that living water? Art Thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?”

The Samaritan has great respect for Jacob and the fathers. He almost expects to be saved through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus might have said, “Greater than Jacob! Woman, do you remember away back in the past years when Jacob remained at the ford Peniel and sent his family and his cattle on ahead of him and there came One down and wrestled with him all night and finally had to put his thigh out of joint? I was that One. I was He who changed Jacob’s name that night; I was the One that put his thigh out of joint, and out of weakness he was made strong.” If He had told her that, she would have thought, “Why, this person is insane.” So He did not astonish her by telling her these things, but pointing to the water He said, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” Oh, she knew that. How many times she had come to that well! She had often refreshed herself, but she had been just as thirsty the next time.

Is that not true of everything that worldlings seek? They try in vain to quench the thirst of their souls with the follies of earth. I am sure some of you have tried all your lives to satisfy the thirst of your souls. You have tried worldly pleasures, wealth, fame, music and literature, and many other things; and yet you are just as thirsty and dissatisfied as ever because it is true of everything that earth can offer—“Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” Augustine said, “O God, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our souls will ever be restless until they rest in Thee.” It is impossible that man created for eternity should be satisfied by the water of this poor scene.

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” What does He mean? He is saying, “I have living water to give you. If you will accept My testimony, believe Me, and allow Me to give you life, your soul will be satisfied forever, and you will never thirst again for the things of this world.” But it is utterly beyond her for the moment. And yet in some sense she believes in Him, and she is not afraid to come to Him as a suppliant, and so she pleads, “Sir, give me this water.” He has won her confidence and her heart. It is important to first win the confidence of souls, but there must be more than that. Her conscience has to be aroused. She has to face the sin of her life before she will get the living water from Him. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). There is no salvation apart from repentance. None ever came to Jesus for life and peace until he realized something of his lost condition.

And so He told her to go and call her husband. I wonder whether her eyes did not drop and her cheeks blush. She had been lost to shame for years, but in His presence she was abashed because of the unchastity of her life, and she replied, “I have no husband.” Jesus took her right up and said, “Thou hast well said, I have no husband…in that saidst thou truly.” She had lived with five different men. She had discarded one after another and now was living with, a sixth one, and Jesus said, “He is not your husband. You are living in the sin of adultery.” And instead of fighting back, instead of justifying herself, she cries out in amazement, “Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet.” That was just another way of saying, “O Sir, I confess that I am a sinner,” for she knew that He had seen into the depths of her soul. He had uncovered the sin of her life. But He did not drive her from Him because she was a sinner; He would draw her to Him and cleanse her from her sins. If God wounds, He wounds to heal; if He kills, it is only that He may make alive. If He strikes down with the thunder and lightning of Sinai, it is in order that He may lift up in matchless grace and save the soul. And now—awakened to a realization of her guilt in the sight of God—she would know where she may find Him and how she may approach Him. “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain”—and she pointed to Mount Gerizim—“and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” But the Lord does not wait for her to finish the sentence. He knows what is in her heart, and anticipating it, He says, as it were, “You do not have to go to Jerusalem or to climb this mount to meet God; you can meet Him where you are—for the hour cometh and how is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” He declared a wondrous fact that day, the fact that a needy soul, a repentant sinner, can find God where he is and as he is. If you are troubled about your sin and anxious to be delivered from it, you do not need to go to some church and make confession, you do not need to come to me as a minister of Christ to have me tell you to do something or other in order to be saved. But where you are, and as you are, lift your heart to God and tell Him you are a poor lost sinner and that you want salvation and cleansing. Come in all your need and He will meet you on the ground of faith and give you the living water that will satisfy for all eternity. “Salvation is of the Jews.” He came as the promised Seed to give Himself a ransom for all. She then looked at him rather doubtfully as something rose up in her heart, and she was evidently saying to herself, “Messiah! Messiah! I have heard of Him all my life. I wonder whether by any possibility this could be He.” And then voicing the thoughts of her mind, she said, “I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things.” There were so many questions for which she wanted answers, and she thought she never could get to God until they were all cleared up, and so she puts it in that doubtful way. But Jesus replies, “I that speak unto thee am He.” And she took one long look into those wonderful eyes of His and could not doubt Him any more. She forgot her water-pot for love of Him, and went into the village and said to the men, “Come, see a Man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”

Friend, have you met Him like that? Have you looked into His eyes by faith? Have you seen Him as the Son of the living God who came from heaven to give the living water?

“I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My Breast.’
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.

“I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Behold, I freely give
The living water, thirsty one,
Stoop down, and drink, and live.’
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.”

And it is because I have done just what that poor Samaritan did and found that Jesus satisfies the soul, that I commend Him to you.

“If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.”

May I add that I am quite sure that when this Samaritan woman spoke of worshipping God she had simply the idea of drawing near to Him. She was a sinner, and she wanted to know how to approach Him, and the Saviour made it clear that He was waiting to receive her at that very place and at that very time.

For us, of course, worship has a much higher meaning, since the cross and the rent veil. It is the outpouring of our adoring hearts as we prostrate ourselves before the God of all grace in the Holiest of all, rejoicing in the privilege of sins forever put away.