Many of us are familiar with the story of the woman at the well, the Samaritan outcast whom Jesus encountered outside the city of Sychar (see John 4:1-42). Throughout our lives, we may have heard her mentioned in various anecdotes on God’s grace.
A closer look at this story, however, reveals a detailed account of God’s plan to restore broken lives and symbolically, the bride. There are four stages to this process described in John 4: (1) the invitation to accept living water; (2) embracing the past; (3) establishing a relationship through worship; and (4) being released for ministry.
By investigating how Jesus responds to the issues of this woman’s life, we can learn a great deal about how He works with us. Her story offers hope and guidance for overcoming the past in order to enter into divine marriage with Christ.
Accepting the Invitation
At first the woman is suspicious of this stranger who offers to quench a thirst that nothing else has ever satisfied. She asks Him, “Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob?” (vv. 11-12, NIV).
Something within us craves understanding. More aptly, we crave control.
We want the power of a completed calculation, thinking, OK, God, if I do this, then what will You do? If I yield here, then what will You ask of me next? Just what are You after, God?
God understands such questions. After all, we have been born and raised in a fallen world replete with hidden agendas and broken promises.
Most of us have had a fair share of disappointment in our lives. God understands our suspicion, and He sympathizes with our pain (see Matt. 9:36).
In fact, He has designed a plan for our healing. This plan requires us to surrender personal effort and intellect.
When Jesus offers the Samaritan woman living water, He invites her to go beyond her natural intellect and abilities, to move past her previous experiences, and to exceed whatever her upbringing had prepared her to accept as God.
In short, He leaves it up to her to decide: Is Jesus greater than Jacob? Am I willing to take a leap of faith and see for myself?
Embracing the Past
The second step of restoration involves forgiveness. One of the most important “keys of the kingdom” (Matt. 16:19), it literally unlocks the past, removing mountains of painful memories and casting them into the sea (see Matt. 21:21; Mic. 7:19).
It was for this reason that Jesus took a seemingly abrupt detour in His dialogue with the Samaritan woman and said, “Go call your husband” (John 4:16).
Jesus told her to call her husband for the same reason God told both Hagar and Elijah to “go back” (see Gen. 16:9-10; 1 Kin. 19:15-18). Simply stated, we cannot enter into new relationships or seasons of life until we have been rightly released from the past.
Jesus stated that the woman had been married to five husbands and was now living with a sixth man. We are not told why she had so many husbands. But the bottom line is: This woman had experienced great tragedy and rejection in her life.
Now she was living with a man, unmarried, and therefore, subject to scorn. Like other women of her day, she needed a husband because she was unable to own property or get an education.
Throughout Scripture, the relationship between a husband and wife is compared to Christ’s relationship with the church. Individually and corporately, we are called to the close communion of marital intimacy with Jesus Christ.
We are His bride (see Rev. 19:7). First Corinthians 13:12 states that when Christ returns, we shall “know” Him fully even as we are fully known.
The goal of Jesus’ command, “Go call your husband,” was not to shame or hurt her. Rather, the Lord intended to set her free from the rejection and pain of these past relationships.
Furthermore, He sought to prepare her to enter into a new covenant relationship with Him. After reconciling the issues of her past, she could be cleansed and purified, renewed as a bride “without stain or wrinkle” (Eph. 5:27). Then, and only then, would she be ready to enter fully into the most important marriage of her life, marriage to the Lamb of God.