I’ve taken note that whenever the Samaritan Woman (you know, the woman with whom Jesus conversed at Jacob’s well in John 4) is mentioned, laughter follows, howbeit nervous and scattered. A minister might say something like: “The Bible states that this adulterous woman had been married five times, and the man with whom she currently lived was not her husband.” Why does that evoke laughter instead of, say, sympathy? Jesus didn’t condemn her — just gave her the Truth.
What is it about adultery or divorce that makes us nervously laugh at this woman’s situation? Curious about first-century divorce customs, I did a little Internet reading and research on the subject and learned that women, especially Jewish woman, could not divorce their husbands, that is, could not give them a writing or bill of divorcement—hence the bum rap.
On the other hand, a Jewish man could divorce his wife for almost any reason. One could, however, argue that the Samaritan woman was not a Jew and, therefore, did not abide by Jewish law. He would be correct—to a point. The woman was indeed a Samaritan, and historically Samaritans were a group of people who had intermarried with Jews. As a result, Jews did not interact with them (although the disciples went to Samaria to buy meat). Isn’t it interesting, though, that the Samaritan woman referred to Jacob as “Father Jacob” in verse 12, and that Jesus did not dispute her. She, as a Samaritan, was a descendant of Abraham.
In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus says: “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”
Although, the Scriptures do not specify under what circumstances the Samaritan woman had been divorced, it is possible that her ex-husband(s) made her who she was — an adulterer. Could it be that Jesus needed to go through Samaria because, not only had prejudice and racism gotten out of hand, but so had the ease of getting divorces and the ramifications they had to the people involved? Samaria needed the Gospel. Jesus, after all, told His disciples that they themselves would be witnesses of Him in Samaria.
Mark 10:12 seems to contradict the idea that women could not divorce their husbands: “And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” Some believe that Mark was referring to instances when Jews, under the influence of Herodian rule, allowed women to divorce their husbands or ask their husbands to divorce them. If the man refused, she could request the court system to ask him to give her a divorce if the man broke some part of the marriage contract or was in some way repulsive to her (for example, had a bad odor due to his work or had a physical ailment such as a rash). Even so, the man had to agree to give her a divorce; he could not be forced.
Whether this Samaritan woman initiated her divorces or her five husbands put her away, for whatever reason, she needed someone. Whether she resolved not to risk another marriage or the man with which she was living thought her unworthy of wedlock, life had placed her in a situation where she needed help. Furthermore, the times were perilous, what with the economy associated with Roman occupation and the stigma of being a divorced woman of mixed races.
What Did Jesus Want From the Woman, or from Us?
Jesus wanted from the Samaritan woman the same thing He desires from you and me. That is: “Give Me to Drink,” He told her. Or, let God provide that which we need for life — everlasting.
In my book Behold, the Bridegroom Cometh, Chapter 3, called “Nasty, Filthy, Dark Places,” I wrote about the Samaritan woman. Below is an excerpt:
“Give me to drink.” From the Samaritan woman, Jesus wanted a drink. (John 4:7) A simple drink. But was it that simple? A drink is something that is consumed, taken in, absorbed, or used by the body. A drink is a portion of liquid, as in taking a turn at a fountain. The original Greek translation of Jesus’ use of the word in that setting meant a literal drink (as described in the definitions above). However, the figurative or symbolic meaning goes deeper, meaning that which serves the same purpose as a drink.
“Give me to drink.” When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink, He not only wanted to quench His physical thirst, for He had journeyed long and was tired. But He wanted her to give up that which was “drinking” her, consuming her, and that which would eventually destroy her. She had a seemingly unquenchable thirst for relationships with men. After her first marriage ended, and then the second, third, fourth, and fifth, the only apparent lesson she learned was not to marry legally again. The Samaritan woman carried whatever leftover baggage she had in each of her relationships into the next relationship, and each relationship ended unsuccessfully.
“Give me to drink.” In addition, Jesus was asking her to let Him be that part of her life that provided everlasting, thirst-quenching satisfaction. She had allowed other men to drink of her resources, so now Jesus wanted a drink. The Samaritan woman had an insatiable need to be in a marriage relationship or a part of a couple. At this point, six men, that we know of, had taken a drink, had taken time out of her life. Jesus wanted an opportunity—a turn at her fountain—to provide what was missing in her life for which she continued to search. His drinking from her fountain would mean becoming to her the Fountain of Living Water that would never be used up, run dry, or cause her to be thirsty again.
Women (or men, for that matter), whether we run into Jesus, run to Jesus, or run with Jesus, He “has our backs,” no matter what our situation involves. God loves us and wants us whole. Don’t try everything and everyone else before Jesus. Call on the Name of Jesus. He’ll never forsake you.
If you have insights, corrections to this post, or information about early Jewish divorce customs, please leave a comment. Thank you!
B. Graham Simpson
Please click “Like” below, if you liked this post. Or feel free to leave me a Comment.