Tuesday, August 12, 2008

John 4...Carl's Blogged Bible Study Samaritans

I rarely blog at 6am, but my wife and I woke up early to watch the Persoid Meteor Shower...which was fantastic. Watching the streaks of molten rock actually reminded me of the early use of John by the gnostics. Anyway, here are a few quick thoughts on the gospel.

This 4th chapter introduces the first believer in Jesus Christ other than Jesus' mother, cousin, and disciples. Whenever I come across a 'first' in scripture (or any other literary work for that matter) I take special note. As I mentioned before, John, being a Jew, thought more linearly and less chronologically therefore this 'first' conversion really should clue us in on the nature of Christ, since the whole gospel is Christological work.

There is not a whole lot of written history by those called 'Samaritans,' but we do know that Samaritans considered themselves Jews (heirs of God's promises) but every other Jew considered them half breed non-Jews. The Samaritans spoken of in John were certainly a mixed people group. Whenever an ancient power conquered another nation in ancient times they always took some of the conquered back home (i.e. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abendigo) while leaving some of their own colonists behind. This safeguarded against revolt. After the Northern kingdom of Israel (including Samaria) fell to Assyria, colonists (from Babylon and Mesopotamia) were left behind. The remnant of Jews intermarried with colonists--against Mosaic law--resulting in a mixed race unnaccepted by mainstream Judaism.

In fact, when the temple in Jerusalem was being rebuilt (around the time of Nehemiah) the Samaritans offered assistance, but their offer was rejected. The Samaritans then built their own temple on Mt. Gerazim and developed a very conservative form of Judaism. They only accepted the first five books of the old testament (the Samaritan Penteteuch), were rigid monotheists, had their own set of prophets and Rabbis, and were anticipating a messiah.

The animosity was so intense between Jews/Samaritans in 128 B.C. John Hyrcanus (Hasmonean Jew--Maccabean) destroyed the Samaritan Temple on Mt. Gerazim. In 9 A.D. the temple at Jerusalem was desecrated by the Samaritans at the passover. In John 8:48 the Pharisees insult Jesus by saying he, "is a Samaritan and has a demon."

All that to say, in John 4, Jesus shouldn't be speaking with a Samaritan, and most certainly a woman. What's interesting to note is that the woman at the well, while being somewhat promiscuous, knows her stuff...she even questions Jesus on whether Jerusalem or Mt. Gerazim is the correct place to worship. She doesn't act very surprised when Jesus starts talking about "living water," which certainly sounds weird to me; but read what this Samaritan philospoher wrote:

"3 There is a Well of living water dug by a Prophet whose like has not arisen since Adam and the water which is in it is from the mouth of God. Let us eat from the fruit that is in this garden and let us drink from the waters that are in this well. There is no need for us to see it in a place we cannot get to. "It is not in heaven" and it is not in crossing the sea (Deut 30:12-13). "In the mouth and in the heart" it is done (Deut 30:14). And woe to us! For we do not do it; it is far from us. We do not learn it though we came down from heaven! It was given to us and we believed in it. It was with them; it was within the Light. And the glory was around, for it was the word of God. His hand wrote and the Prophet received it with signs from on high. And YHWH came down and dwelt with him. --- Marqah, Memar 6.3"
Jesus was speaking her language not his. After this woman believed, she spread the word and many others believed (Jn. 4:39). In verse 42, after Jesus stayed with the Samaritans for a couple of days, many believed in him and they told the woman that they no longer believe because of her word, but becasue of Jesus'. I imagine that must have been disheartening for her. Listen to what John Calvin had to say about this incident:
"...and the Samaritans appear to boast that they have now a stronger foundation than a woman's tongue, which is, for the most part, light and trivial. "
After I take all this in, I am amazed at Jesus sensitivity in dealing with this woman. I am impressed that he contextualized his message and catered it to her undestanding. I am amazed that John's first example of response to Jesus' message was the lowliest of the low: an adulterer...a margianalized religious reject...a woman.

*the image is a pic of Jacob's Well


darla said...

great post! I love this story so much, maybe because I can see myself in her, and maybe because Jesus really was kind and compassionate to women in a time when they were not looked upon as much more than a possession.


nate said...

Thanks Darla...
I like the story too. As someone who has messed up a bunch in life, it is encouraging to me!

True about how women were viewed at the time. it's interesting...Romans were more 'enlightened' so to speak. Women could hold jobs, own land, and make a life of their own. I bet it bugged Jesus to see his people acting so differently.

Anonymous said...

I also like the fact that John used a woman here. For the most part they had no voice in society. Even their eye witness testimony in a trial was not accepted. So for people to hear her story and believe, and for John to record it, it was important, in that God will use whoever, where ever, when he needs to get him message out. Puts more viability behind the historical record also.

nate said...

"Puts more viability behind the historical record also."
That's a sweet point! it really helps make John and Luke very compatible too.

Michelle said...

We have very similar thoughts on this, Nate. I love seeing the compassion Jesus has for women in a world which used and abused them so often.

He truly came to seek and save the lost.

Anonymous said...

WOw, amazing insight. I was the woman at the well...it took the mix of God's love and understanding along with matter of fact non rosey truth to bring me in as well.

It really is eye opening in so many levels on how to relate to eachother...to someone steeped in sin...

Love this, loved the history...thank you! And yes, tonight is our star night :)