Today’s post may be the most important post yet as we examine John 4:15-26. It is important from a cultural as well as theological and gender perspective. As this is a longer section of verses we will not provide all of them here in this post, but ask you to read them on your own as a preface to this post.
In verses 16-20 Jesus tells the Samaritan woman to go get her husband and come back, to which she replies that she has no husband. Jesus tells her you are right to say you have no husband because you have had five husbands in the past and are now living with a man who is not your husband. In Jesus’ response, her perception of Jesus begins to change as she states that now she recognizes that Jesus is a prophet. The major reason for this woman going to the well in the heat of the noon hour by herself and not with the other village women was that she had been married and divorced five times and was presently living out of wedlock with a man. Kenneth Bailey makes the observation that in Jewish society a woman could be married and divorced 2-3 times without it being necessarily unusual, but more than three times would carry a distinctively negative effect for the woman. He observed that if the Samaritans who accepted the first five books of the Old Testament, had the same perspective on marriage and divorce as did the Jews, then a woman would have had a negative stigma about her, especially where other women were concerned. There would have been a lot of negative, critical, gossipy talk about her to the point she would have felt ostracized and so it makes sense she would go alone to the well to draw water.
We should make the very important observation that in Jewish society and culture as in other cultures in the world at that time it was the male who always initiated the divorce. A Jewish woman would never initiate a divorce, and divorce could be for any illegitimate reason that the man could think of such as not being a great cook, or as was the case with a number of women and their not providing a male child for the perpetuation of the family line. Females were not as valued as males in the culture and society of that day. One wonders if this wasn’t the reason this woman had been married and divorced so many times.
When Jesus commands the woman to go, call, bring her husband back to the well to speak with them, within the culture of that day Jesus is commanding her to be a witness of him to her husband or male companion to be precise. Is it even possible for her a female to be considered a reliable witness of a Jewish male and rabbi to her male companion? One must remember that in that era a woman was not considered a reliable witness, as her word was not admissible in a court of law, so Jesus’ commands to her were something totally unexpected and out of the ordinary. But before she actually leaves Jesus at the well and returns to her village to get the man she is living with there is a redirection of the direction of the conversation. She begins to move from the physical to the spiritual and this is where it becomes really interesting.