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A Crazy Proposal About Jesus and the Woman at the Well

wedding rings on hand sxc.hu smallOkay, as promised, this is the last post on the popular type-scene “Foreigner at the Well.” I hope it will be rewarding enough to warrant a gander. No, you don’t have to pay a goose to read it, just take a curious poke into it to check it out, like ganders are renowned for doing—they are supposed the rubberneckers of the animal kingdom. Of course, Ostriches are renowned for sticking their heads in the sand and they don’t do that at all, so… whatever… just read the post will ya?!

In four posts thus far we’ve been considering the oft repeated scriptural type-scene called, “Foreigner at the Well,”[1] which plays on common scenarios from the biblical world and works them into a theologically significant pattern played out with subtle variations and, in the case of Saul, with anti-typical results. In the Old Testament this pattern entertainingly depicts the sovereign hand of YHWH working in chance encounters to bring together destined lovers from disparate places to produce world changing offspring.

As modern westerners, it can be difficult for us to hear the significance in subtle story elements that would have been obvious to native listeners. We also confront the constant left-brained concern that we not be too imaginative in our reading lest we make literary mountains out of proverbial mole hills when it comes to seemingly insignificant repetitive elements in the biblical text. This said, I would like to propose that our five Old Testament uses of “The Foreigner at the Well” establish a strong literary foundation for reading John 4:1-43, where Jesus encounters the woman at the well.

The first thing we notice is that Jesus, like both Jacob and Moses, seems to depart under pressure and travels into foreign territory. He leaves Judah where he was born heading for Galilee where he was raised, but takes the more arduous passage through Samaria instead of bypassing Samaria, like the Jews normally did, by traveling up the Jordon River Valley. (John 4:1-4)

Of particular import is that Jesus, having grown weary, swings by a famous well reputed to have belonged to Jacob, (Genesis 33:18-20) (One who met his own beloved bride at a well) whose waters are fed by an underground spring, being, thus, called “Living Waters”—Cool and clean and refreshing.

He, the consummate bachelor, meets there an unmarried woman, creating a known type-scene that builds anticipations of love and a transformed world. He asks her for water, like “the servant” in Genesis 24:13-17. She does not, however, demonstrate the character of Rebekah. He tells her that if she knew who he was she’d ask him for a drink of “Living Water” (Recall that both Jacob and Moses draw the water for the women they encounter at the well, and Boaz offers water from the well drawn by his workers.) She is confused, however, for he has nothing to draw the living waters with. Jesus then overtly raises the discussion to the spiritual level he intended. Not physical water but a spiritual spring leading to eternal life, reflecting his other spiritualizing remarks,  “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth,” (John 4:24) and “”My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” and,  “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life. (John 4:35-36)

Jesus does not, however, find here a physical bride who will become mother to Dan Brown’s favorite children.

What he finds instead is a sinner who comes under conviction before his disclosure of her sin, who eventually crumples before his prophetic power as he preaches of Himself. She says, “”I know that Messiah is coming.” Jesus says, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:25-26)

Indeed Jesus finds a spiritual bride—an idea that is foreign to neither the New Testament nor  the Old Testament.[2] (Isaiah 50:1ff; Isaiah 61:10; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2) The woman from the well goes out and bears witness to him, saying, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:34) Her witness bears—if you’ll pardon my stretch of the metaphor—children. John writes, “ Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. (John 4:39) John adds, And many more believed because of his word. 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 indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:41-42)

[1] “Wells: The Singles’ Bars of the Ancient Near East,” “I’ll Have One “Foreigner at the Well” with a Twist,” “What’s Good for the Gander is Good for Goose: “The Foreigner at the Well” in Ruth,” and “Saul Loses the Girl and Gains a Doomed Throne.”

[2] Psalm 45 celebrates the marriage of messiah (Every Davidic king was Messiah.) 2 Samuel 17:3 plies the image of the people as the bride of the king. Scripture frequently uses the metaphor of Bride and Bridegroom for YHWH and Israel. ( Ezekiel 16:1ff) Jesus calls himself the bridegroom in his work, (Mark 2:20) and uses the image of the bridegroom in his parables. (Matthew 25:1ff)

[3] Media pic from sxc.hu

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