To the Word

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Jesus, the woman, and the well in John 4

Reading the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, do you get the feeling we've been there before? The theme of a man and woman meeting at a well is prominent one in the Old Testament. Consider:

1. Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 24:10-61),
2. Jacob and Rachel (Gen. 29:1-20),
3. Moses and Zipporah (Ex. 2:15-21).

Each of these three scenes share the pattern of six common steps [1]:

1. A man of the covenant goes to a foreign land.
2. He meets a young woman at a well.
3. One of them draws water.
4. The young woman rushes home to announce the stranger's arrival.
5. A marriage betrothal is made, usually after a meal.
6. The marriage yields great fruit.

Notice that the scene with Jesus and the Samaritan woman follows this pattern perfectly through step four. But what, you may ask, does Jesus and the Samaritan woman have to do with marriage?

Only this. Jesus is the bridegroom, and the church is the betrothed of Christ. The church is made up not only of good, clean Jews, but of the most outcast of the Gentiles. In this scene the Samaritan woman is a type of the church. And who could be more symbolic of the breadth of Jesus' proposal than a Samaritan woman of questionable moral background?

1. For a treatment of these steps in the OT, see The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter.

Copyright 2005, A. Milton Stanley


Blogger Doug Floyd said...

Good comments Milton. Should have stopped by here before last Sunday. We talked about the sexual/bridal overtones of the encounter on Sunday including the bridegroom/bride motif, but I like the six points you laid out here; I may send this out to our church. We also paralleled the story with the previous Nicodemus encounter:
1. Night vs Day
2. Man vs Woman
3. Nicodemus vs Unknown woman
4. Respected leader of the elect vs unclean person in a despised community.
5. His responses toward Jesus does not change in dialogue vs She moves from contempt to respect to adoration.
6. Both misunderstand.

Then we took the notion of misunderstanding and traced throughout John. Beginning with the light coming into the darkness. This sets up an interesting tension of the dark kingdom vs the light kingdom. This pattern is all through Scriptures. So we had a discussion on dark vs light. How according to John 3, dark cannot even comprehend light until it is born into light. Then we began a list, which might make an interesting devotional exercise of listing dark vs light comparisons in Scripture. Such as:

Adam vs Jesus, Taking vs Recieving, Greed vs Gratitude, Self-Centered vs Relational, Stumbling in the Dark vs Walking in the ever increasing Light, etc. If as Paul says, we have been delivered into the kingdom of light, then this is our position even when we continue to live out patterns from darkness. Paul seems to continually challenge to live out the reality of our position.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for the information, Doug. I'm working on a commentary on John's Gospel, and I'll be sure to pursue a few of these ideas. Peace.

5:19 PM  
Blogger upstream said...

Appreciated this Milton and am using it today in my teaching!

Thanks mate

6:49 PM  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

You're welcome, Hamo. Thanks for letting me know.

11:57 AM  

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