When traveling to Jerusalem, we prefer to stay in a hostel. This allows us to meet a lot of interesting people. In Jerusalem you always meet people with different ideas and believes. Most of these people are convinced of their truth and are willing to share this with everybody that is willing to listen. If these people sense any disagreement, it can usually lead to long and heated debate. When you go on the internet onto social sites like Facebook, you find the exact same pattern. We have noticed even worse behavior on the internet. Here we see some nasty comments and name calling floating around. We all agree that this is not what should be happening. But, do we have an example of what we should be doing. In the Scriptures we find some good examples of how we should be acting.
In this study, we will be looking at an example that was given to us for instruction. This example is the discussion that Y’Shua had with the Samaritan woman at the well. When we study it in a bit more detail, we will find a clear pattern and lesson. Y’Shua gave us two examples that we can follow. We have spoken earlier about the discussion with Nicodemus. Let us study this additional example to do what our Master did.
The Samaritan Woman
In order to appreciate all this incident teaches, it is good to have some background.
4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; 6 and Jacob’s well was there. So Y’Shua, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
It is significant to know that the woman Y’shua was speaking with was a Samaritan. We have already done a study on the Samaritans. Please read this if you would like to get all the details. It is important to remember that there was a huge conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans during this period. The Jews believed that the Samaritans were heathens and that they are not allowed to mix with them. At the same time the Samaritans believed that the Jews had corrupted the ways of YHVH. The Jews did this by moving the temple; first to Shiloh and then to Jerusalem. It is thus unusual for a Jew to travel to Jerusalem via the province of Samaria. The Jews normally followed the route via Jericho if they had to travel from the Galilee to Jerusalem.
The place where the discussion happened is also significant. The discussion took place at the well of Jacob that is near the city of Sychar. The well is not mentioned in the Tanach but we do find a reference in Gen 33:18-20 about the piece of land. Today we still have a tourist attraction in Israel that is supposedly this specific well. Current measurements state that the well is 41 meters deep with a water height of around 4,5 meters. This well must be fed from another spring in the area, as the water of this well is different than the surrounding wells. The water from the surrounding area is hard and brackish. An impermeable layer of basalt traps the water source for Jacob’s well. The water is thus separated from the hard water which comprises the general water source for the Mount Gerizim area. The result is that the water in this well is sweet compared to the other water in the area.1
The Scriptures record this discussion for us with a purpose. The purpose of recording this incident includes:
- to show that the gospel of salvation is universal and is not limited to the Jews. This is why Y’Shua is speaking to a Samaritan woman.
- to give His disciples instruction in both the theory and practice of evangelism. These are not only the disciples that traveled with Him, but all His future disciples; including us!
- to reinforce the teaching on the doctrine of salvation as explained to Nicodemus.
Let us now look at the discussion in detail and see what principles we can learn from our Master.
7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Y’Shua said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Y’Shua answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of Elohim, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 “You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Y’Shua answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”
We can see from the responses that Y’Shua was dealing with an intelligent woman that was not afraid to speak her mind. Y’Shua makes the first connection with her on a physical and mundane level. He asks her for water. She immediately respond with a bit of aggression or skepticism in her answer. She assumes that there is more to this questions as it is not normal for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan. Even more unusual is a Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman. This was simply not done! Y’Shua does not get sucked into this discussion. He provides her an answer that moves from the physical level to the spiritual level. Y’Shua now raises the topic of living water.
The choice of the term living water is significant. Later in the Gospel of John, we again see Y’Shua using the term.
37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Y’Shua stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Y’Shua was not yet glorified.
With this statement, Y’Shua states that if we believe in Him, the Ruach will be a river of flowing waters for us. In His discussion with the Samaritan woman, He refers to this as the gift of Elohim. It is thus Y’Shua that gives us this gift of the Ruach. Once we have this gift we will never thirst again.
But, the Samaritan woman does not make the switch from the physical to the spiritual. She is still concerned with the water in the well. For her, the reference to living water is to the water in this well. As stated before, the water in this well is sweet water. The people from the area considered this water to be living water. Thus, for her, the term was not spiritual, but a physical term to refer to this specific well’s water. She wanted to know how Y’Shua would give her this well’s water if He did not have any way of getting the water from below.
The Samaritan woman again tries to create a conflict. She picks up on His answer about giving a gift. To represent the full extend of the Greek word, the translation should rather be “free gift.” What exactly is this free gift that Y’Shua is referring to? She tries to make this discussion an issue about Y’Shua’s pride. Does He really think that He is better than Jacob? Jacob had given them this free gift that has sustained them now for hundreds of years. How does He plan to beat that? How can He give her water better than this if He does not even have a way to get to the existing water? Who does He think He is?
Y’Shua again does not take the bait for the conflict. It is not about Him as a person. It is about what He as the Messiah can do for her! It is not about the water of this well. In His answer Y’Shua tries to make this clear to her. He persists to ensure that she gets the message. She must know that the water of this well cannot become a well inside a person. But, she either chooses not to listen or she simply patronizes. Y’Shua then changes the line of approach. We will look into this in a moment. Let us first recap.
What have we learned so far from this discussion? What has Y’Shua done that we could use in our next discussion? He has illustrated the following points so far:
- Turn the conversation to spiritual things by use of topical everyday means – In order to get the Samaritan woman to relate to His message, Y’Shua had to find a point where they could connect. Y’Shua used the simple everyday topic of water to start the conversation. This allowed both parties equal entry into the conversation. It did not start of as a sermon, but rather a discussion on equal foot. When we start a discussion from a position of strength, we always stand the chance of the other person retracting or closing up. Few people sign up for sermons from strangers.
- Avoid personal pride – the Samaritan woman tried more than once to make it personal. This is so typical of difficult conversations. If people do not have an answer, they try to make the conversation personal. We need to be so careful not to make the discussion about ourselves or about the other person. When it becomes personal, the discussion normally heats up. When emotion enters a discussion with two opposing views, we end up with an argument. This is never an opportunity to share the Gospel.
- Keep the purpose in the forefront – Y’Shua kept the conversation on topic. It was about the gift that He could offer her. His purpose was to explain this to her. He was persistent in getting the message across. He had to rephrase the message more than once to ensure she gets the real message. We need to make sure that we do not get distracted onto little side paths. Steer the topic in the right direction. Discipline yourself not to get distracted.
Now let us see how the conversation changes.
Creating the need
Y’Shua used the everyday topic of water to explain to the Samaritan woman what gift He could offer her. Hopefully she had realized that He was not talking about the water in the well. Somehow she still did not get the importance of this gift. This is the reason why Y’Shua changed His line of approach. The solution was clear, the free gift of living water, but the demand did not yet exist. Let us see how Y’Shua highlights the need.
16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Y’Shua said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” 19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Y’Shua said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 “YHVH is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Y’Shua said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
Y’Shua seems to be changing the topic when He asks about her husband. On a physical level, this would have been a normal point to discuss. It was not acceptable for men to discuss religious topics with women. It was normally done man to man. But based on the woman’s answer, we see that Y’Shua had another reason. As Y’Shua knows all, He was aware of the sin in her live. Without confronting her, Y’Shua starts to bring her need for a savior into the conversation. This also raises His stature in her eyes. She now sees Y’Shua as a prophet. But, He is a prophet from the Jews.
Again, the Samaritan woman tries to start up an argument. Now it is about the place of worship – Jerusalem vs. Mt Gerizim. This tactic guarantees an argument with a Jewish prophet. Y’Shua does not leave the question unanswered. He also does not divert the conversation. Y’Shua provides a response, but then He steers the conversation back to her need for a Messiah. The woman acknowledged the fact that the Samaritans also expected a messiah. The Messiah is the one that will declare the real truth to all. The Messiah will resolve this debate about where to worship. Then Y’Shua makes it clear that He is the Messiah that she has been waiting for. He is the One that knows all and can give her the salvation from her sinful life. Clear and simple.
Let us now do another recap of what happened in this part of the conversation. To get the gospel across to this lady, Y’Shua changed His line of approach. What Y’Shua did was:
- He got her attention by asking her an innocent question;
- He directed her attention to her need by making it clear that He knew about her sin and then,
- He pointed her need to the Savior, the Messiah she had been waiting for.
Thus, He revealed Himself as her savior. He was the Messiah that could give to her what she needed.
From the text, we get a clear indication of what the result of this conversation was.
28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Messiah, is it?” 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.
39 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Y’Shua, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of His word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”
From the scriptures above, we can see that Y’Shua succeeded in getting His message across to the Samaritan woman. She was so excited about what had happened, that she left her container behind. The spiritual had overcome the physical. The living water that Y’Shua had explained became more important than the physical water she came to fetch. She was so excited about the news, she had to share. Due to her excitement , more people people came to the well to see who this man was. The conversations that followed after this is not recorded for us. But it must have been interesting as it convinced many more Samaritans to believe that the Messiah came from the Jews. It also made Y’Shua stay another two days with the Samaritans.
Thus, we can see that Y’Shua was successful in explaining the gospel. How can we imitate Y’Shua in our effort to get the message across? Let us summarize what Y’Shua has shown us with this conversation.
Lessons learned from Y’Shua
Let us summarize the things that we have learned. What did Y’Shua do and say?2
- Y´Shua did not allow personal prejudices or physical needs to hinder Him. He was tired, hungry and thirsty. She was a Samaritan woman. Yet, Y´Shua made the time to talk with her.
- He met this woman in a friendly way and did not force her into a decision. Nowhere did Y’Shua ask her to “convert” in any way. He showed her what she needed and offered her a solution. She made the choice all on her own.
- Wisely, He guided the conversation and allowed the Word to take effect in her heart. There was never any argument. From Y’shua’s point of view, it was never about who had the right answer. It was about helping her.
- He dealt with her privately and lovingly as He presented the way of salvation. Y’Shua did not make an issue of her sin. He in no way condemned her for her choices and lifestyle. All He did was use this to show her why she needed a Savior. That was good enough! She was clever enough to put two and two together.
- He captured her attention by speaking about something common and at hand—water—and used this as an illustration of eternal life. This was not deep theological discussion. He met her at her level. With Nicodemus the discussion was different. Nicodemus was at another level and Y’Shua communicated with him at that level. Thus, we need to learn to adjust our conversation to the right level. You will have a different conversation with an academic atheist than with a working class Christian or Muslim. Adjust your conversation for the recipient!
This is so different from the way most people try to get the Gospel across today. We can surely learn from this and change the way we share the gospel.
How do we apply these lessons?
Let us now see how we can bring this into context of our everyday lives. What have we learned that we could apply the next time we try to get the gospel across to an unbeliever? Or the next time we try to convince a believer in Y’Shua that we should still be keeping all the commandments. We often have these type of discussions. It would be good to consider all these key points next time.
I have found that one of the most significant improvement we can make is: stay out of arguments. Having an argument or debate seldom changes people’s minds. Getting into arguments or debates causes people to dig in their heels. It becomes a war of words. People no longer listen in an argument. They are too busy getting their next response ready. Arguments are all about each party defending his own turf. Very seldom is a person convinced of your view because you have won the argument. In his famous book – How to win friends and influence people, Dale Carnegie sums this up very well. He has a principle for influencing people that he words as follows:
It is amazing how many of Dale Carnegie’s principles Y’Shua applied while teaching the gospel. Some truths just stick around. For a short summary of the principles defined by Dale, have a look at this summary: http://www.dalecarnegie.com/secrets_of_success/
The next major improvement – do not have this type of discussion in the public. When the discussion is conducted in public, the stakes are much higher. Now more people are watching and saving face becomes an issue. Nobody likes to be proven wrong and nobody wants to be proven wrong in front of others. If you want to make an lasting impact on another person’s life, you need to have respect for that person. This includes not humiliating them in public. We see the same type of message in some of the traditional wisdom recorded in the Mishnah.
B R. Eliezer says, “(1) Let the respect owing to your fellow be as precious to you as the respect owing to you yourself.
C “(2) And don’t be easy to anger.
D “(3) And repent one day before you die – Pirket Avot 2:10 4
If you have respect for the other party in the conversation, you will do a couple of things. You will listen with the intent to understand. Do not listen with the intent to respond. In this way you may also learn something new. If you have the conversation in a public forum, most people will go the extra mile to defend their position. The discussion becomes a battle of wills. More often than not, more people will join the conversation. This will make it even more difficult to steer the conversation or keep it on track. As a result of this type of group behavior, we have made a decision to stay out of online debates! Rarely do they add any value. People have images to protect and will get personal in order to do that. The more public the forum, the more difficult it becomes to share the Gospel effectively.
Third area for improvement – remember that it is not your responsibility to convince. In this conversation with the Samaritan woman, Y’Shua did not try to convince her. He simply planted the seed. He made her aware of her need for salvation. Then He explained to her the solution and the benefit. The rest he left up to her. She had to convince herself of the need to change. In modern day organizational change management, this is also a fundamental step to making change stick. People need to make their own decision and then have the want. If you force change upon people, it does not last long. The Ruach will do the convincing once the seed is planted. It also ties in with another of Dale Carnegie’s points for getting people to your way of thinking.
If the other person ends up owning the solution, the probability of the change sticking is simply that much higher.
Last but not least – Careful with the perception of pride. So people may walk into a discussion with pride. This normally turns the conversation into an argument in a short space of time. It is also important to keep an eye on the other person’s perception. We may not see ourselves as being prideful, but what does it look like to the other person? Do we come across as somebody that believes they know everything? It ties back to the previous point of active listening and trying to understand the other person’s view. If you listen to them only to prove them wrong, the perception may be created that were are full of pride. None of us have all the knowledge. We all can still learn, provided we are willing to listen. Paul was specific about the fact that we must be careful of pride. Here are some text from his letter to the Romans.
3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as YHVH has allotted to each a measure of faith.
16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
Y’Shua has provided us with a good example. With Nicodemus He showed us how to deal with a learned intellectual. With the Samaritan woman He has shown us how to deal with person that would be hostile towards the Gospel. If we study these two conversations, we should be able to improve our skills in communicating His word.
- Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Jn 4:4–8). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 222). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
- Carnegie, Dale. How to win friends and influence people. Pocket Books. ISBN – 0671027034
- Neusner, J. (1988). The Mishnah : A new translation (p. 677). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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