Jesus prophesies to the Samaritan.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 May

When the woman at the well realized Jesus hears from God.

John 4.16-24.

John 4.16-19 KWL
16 Jesus told the Samaritan, “Go call your man and come back here.”
17 In reply the woman told him, “I don’t have a man.”
Jesus told her, “Well said, ‘I don’t have a man’—
18 You had five men, and the one you now have isn’t your man. You spoke the truth.”
19 The woman told Jesus, “Master, I see you’re a prophet.”

Well duh he’s a prophet.

Notice when Jesus replied to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, he commended her twice for telling him the truth. Probably ’cause she’d never told anyone the truth before. For all we know, no one in her town, Sychár, knew her whole story. But clearly Jesus did. Yet he was in absolutely no position to know anything, so the Samaritan naturally concluded he’s a prophet. ’Cause he is.

This woman previously had five ándras/“men.” Most bibles translate it “husbands,” ’cause in Hebrew custom, ishí/“my man” (or Aramaic enáshi) meant a woman’s husband. (The Hebrews used to use the word baal/“mister” for husbands, but God told ’em to stop it, Ho 2.16-17 ’cause they kept calling pagan gods by that title.) There is an ancient Greek word for husband, gamétis, but it’s not in the bible—though gametí/“wife” appears once in apocrypha. In any case, if Jesus was speaking of “her man,” it’d usually mean her husband.

Most cultures, Samaritans included, figured if you lived together and had sex, you were married. Our culture doesn’t—we call it “living together,” and more conservative folks call it “living in sin.” That’s because we define marriage by wedding contracts and vows. Comes from Christian custom. It’s not universal. The ancients, including the Hebrews, defined it by sexual activity and living arrangement. Like Genesis describes it, a man leaves his parents, bonds to his woman, and the two become “one flesh.” Ge 2.4 Remember?

This woman didn’t currently have this arrangement. She had something with a man—but he wasn’t her man. Shtupping him, likely; but didn’t live with him. They didn’t wanna turn it into a marriage.

Previously she had five husbands. We don’t know why those relationships ended. A lot of preachers judge, and assume divorce. We don’t know that. Maybe she had a thing for older men and outlived them all. Maybe they were criminals, and the Romans crucified them one after the other. Let’s not leap to the conclusion she was defective in some way.

Because that was her problem. That’s why she was going to an out-of-town well at noon: She was isolated. Either because she was unwelcome, or because she didn’t feel welcome; she was sick of the town’s gossip about her. Either way she kept to herself. Possibly shared nothing with no one—meaning there was no way some wandering Galilean prophet could know about her man. Except he did.

How’d he know that?

Yeah, there are Christians who insist Jesus was omniscient, knew all. Knew everything, everywhere, any time; knew everything his Father did. ’Cause he’s God. God knows everything, therefore Jesus knows everything. Simple.

But there are big, big problems with that “simple” explanation. Y’see, if Jesus were all-knowing, it means every single time he asked a question for the sake of gaining information, he already had that information… so it was all an act to keep up the appearance of being an ordinary human. He faked ignorance. He was pretending. Lying. He was a hypocrite and fraud.

Yeah, later in John he appeared to ask such a question, but it was meant to test his student Philip. Jn 6.5-6 Fans of an all-knowing Jesus figure all his questions were like that: He wasn’t faking anything, but testing everyone. They can’t imagine the reason John had to describe Jesus’s question to Philip, was because Jesus’s other non-rhetorical questions in the gospel weren’t tests.

A much better and more biblical explanation: Jesus surrendered his divine power to become human. Pp 2.7 Not his divinity; his power.

Certain Christians balk at the idea of a depowered Jesus. ’Cause they wrongly equate divinity with power: If he’s not powerful, not sovereign, he can’t really be God. But divinity isn’t about what God can do; it’s about who he is. Jesus has God’s character, God’s nature; he’s everything God is. Cl 1.19 He’s fully God. Nature, not power, makes him God. But we don’t have that nature, and we covet power. We’d never surrender power; we’d figure Jesus would never truly give up everything for us. He’d hold onto those reins somehow. Which goes to show how little we understand Jesus.

In order to share our human experience, Jesus had to depower himself. He had to surrender immortality so he could die. He had to surrender immutability, ’cause life is change. He had to surrender omnipresence, ’cause humans only exist at one point in spacetime. And if he gave up those powers, it’s not hard to imagine him surrendering the big two: Almightiness, and all-knowingness.

Then how could Jesus know the unknowable, and do the impossible? By the Holy Spirit. Ac 10.38 The same Spirit who makes us able to do everything Jesus did, Jn 14.12 because he empowered Jesus in the first place.

If Jesus were play-acting, his statement, “Go get your man” is nothing but cruel: He already knew the correct answer, already knew she’d give a truthful response. The only reason to bring it up—and some Christians do in fact teach this—was to remind her she was a sinner. (And when these teachers are also sexist and racist, they also particularly enjoy the idea of “putting her in her place.”) Basically, Jesus would be picking on her.

And that is not Jesus. He’s kind. He would never have any such motive. The reason he told her to get her man, was because he was gaining information.

I figure he was confirming a word of knowledge. I’m speculating, but I still think this is likely what went on in Jesus’s head:

Spirit. “She had five husbands, and the guy she’s with isn’t hers.”
Jesus. [Internally] “This is God, right? Prove it’s God.”
Spirit. “Tell her to bring her man here. She’ll admit she doesn’t have one.”
Spirit. [Internally] “Gotcha.” [Aloud] “Go call your man and come back here.”
Samaritan. “I don’t have a man.”
Spirit. “Told ya.”
Jesus. [Relieved] “Yeah you did.” [Aloud] “Well said, ‘I don’t have a man’…”

This is how confirmation works. Prophets know what I’m talking about.

True, other scriptures indicate Jesus also had the gift of supernatural discernment. Mk 9.28-29 Thus he shouldn’t have to test the message, for he’d immediately knew the Holy Spirit gave it. Still, even someone who can discern spirits can have an off day. Especially after a whole lot of walking on a really hot day. If Jesus was at such a weak point, he was wise enough to double-check a prophecy, just to be sure.

“Well since you’re a prophet…”

Since Jesus was a prophet, the Samaritan figured she’d grill him on the then-current Samaritan/Jewish controversy: Which temple was the real temple? Which religion was the true religion? Where was the one-and-only place to serve God? ’Cause the Jews said Jerusalem, and the Samaritans said Shechem. Can’t both be right. Right?

John 4.19-20 KWL
19 The woman told Jesus, “Master, I see you’re a prophet.
20 Our ancestors worshiped on this hill.
You say Jerusalem is the place where worship must be done.”

You remember the Hebrews had a temple, on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. It began as “the tabernacle,” the LORD’s sacred tent which traveled with the Hebrews after the Exodus. Under Solomon’s reign, round 1000BC, it became a permanent building, a temple. It remained standing till the Babylonians demolished it in 586BC. It was rebuilt twice: First in 516BC under Zerubabel, Babylonian governor—and descendant of Solomon. And second, renovated top to bottom, by the Herod family, during Jesus’s lifetime—completed in the year 64. Just in time to be destroyed six years later by the Romans.

The Samaritans opposed the first rebuilding, and in response created their own temple, round 432BC. They built it on Mt. Gerizim in Shechem, the hill where Moses had the Hebrews proclaim God’s blessings. Dt 11.29 Since God’s name was proclaimed from there, the Samaritans figured this was the hill where God’s name was meant to dwell. Not Moriah, where King David had originally purchased a threshing floor to put an altar. 1Ch 21.28, 22.1 David, the Samaritans figured, picked the wrong site. Moses had picked Gerizim. So Gerizim it was.

You might not have known these weren’t the only temples to the LORD in the world. Jeroboam ben Navat built two of ’em—one at Dan in the north, Beth El in the south—so his people wouldn’t visit the Jerusalem temple for worship, but worship at home. Problem was, Jeroboam also included gold calves as representations of God. 1Ki 12.26-29 Just goes to show how heretic these sites were. They were destroyed when the Assyrians invaded.

Jewish communities in Egypt also created temples. There were temples to the LORD in Elephantine and Leontopolis. Both Judeans and Samaritans knew of them (and Flavius Josephus wrote about ’em) and considered them heretic: There was only one place where God would establish his name. Dt 12.11 And they ran it—or figured they did.

So which one was the right one? (Better answer correctly, Jesus!)

John 4.21 KWL
Jesus told the Samaritan, “Trust me, ma’am:
The time’s come when you’ll worship the Father neither on this hill, nor Jerusalem.”

Wait, neither?

Yep. As Jesus’s follower Stephen pointed out years later, God doesn’t live in temples. Ac 7.48-50 If you remember your bible, the temple wasn’t even God’s idea. It was King David’s. 2Sa 7.5-7 God only ordered Moses to construct a tabernacle, and was perfectly fine with that. God chose to pitch his tent among humanity. Heck, he did it again in Jesus. Jn 1.14 We humans like temples. We like building houses for God. ’Cause our infinite LORD is far easier to fathom once we domesticate him, stick him in our building, build him a box and expect he’ll never go outside its walls. Kinda like we caged him.

Temples are suitable for metal or stone gods, who don’t speak, don’t move, and need defending. Whereas the Living God can have Babylonians and Romans knock his temple down, and doesn’t hinder him in the slightest. On the contrary: It gets his people to stop thinking of him as limited or regional, and realize he’s unlimited and universal.

You know, like Jesus describes in the next couple verses.

Worship in spirit and truth.

The Samaritan wanted him to prophesy, and so Jesus did: Forty years later, there’d be no more temple in Jerusalem. The Romans destroyed it. It’s still gone. Not that we don’t try to create substitutes. Christians still build impressive cathedrals, megachurches, memorials, and prayer centers. For Jews, they still gather on the west side of the retaining wall Herod built for the temple’s platform; gentiles call it the Wailing Wall, and Jews call it the Kotel (and don’t really wail any more than Christians do). But in revering these sacred spaces, we wholly miss Jesus’s point.

John 4.22-24 KWL
22 “You worship One whom you haven’t known.
We worship One whom we know: Salvation comes from Jews.
23 But the time’s come—it’s now!—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.
The Father seeks such people to worship him.
24 God is spirit, and must be worshiped by his worshipers in spirit and truth.”

Interestingly, both Jews and Samaritans at the time had developed synagogue-based denominations: The Pharisees and the Dositheans. These groups claimed, rightly, we can worship God anywhere. You don’t have to go to a prayer room or monastery to pray; you can pray at home, at work, at school, at Starbucks. You don’t have to baptize new converts in a special fountain; any river, the ocean, or a hot tub would do. You can bless anyone anywhere. Worship isn’t limited to a space. Worship is unlimited, just like our God.

Some of us Christians don’t entirely realize this. It’s not really a church service, we figure, unless it’s in a church. Not really a wedding unless it’s in a church. Not really a blessing unless a reverend does it. Okay, we can pray anywhere, but if we really want God to hear us, better hit the prayer room. ’Cause those places are holier, right?—or some other rubbish belief.

Here’s what Jesus meant by “spirit and truth”: It doesn’t need to be physical. It does need to be honest. You can be in a sacred space, or not. But if you’re a hypocrite, placement does you absolutely no good. Ditch the hypocrisy. Worship God truthfully, wherever you are.

Lastly, let’s deal with the elephant in the room: Jesus just told the Samaritan her people didn’t really know God. Well, they didn’t. But Jesus had come to rectify that. Salvation comes from Jews: Jesus in particular. Despite what antisemites claim, we can’t embrace the LORD, yet dismiss Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, God’s chosen nation of the Hebrews, their prophets, their apostles, and their scriptures. We can’t turn our back on 50 centuries of tradition just because we have some bright ideas. We’re not gonna understand Jesus without it, and the one thing Christians must do is strive to understand Jesus. Because he’s right and we’re not. We need him.