A Waterpot at Jacob’s Well

John 4:28 says, “So the woman left her waterpot, and went away into the city.” References to waterpots are found only in John’s gospel (cp. 2:6-10). Obviously the waterpots of John 2 were different from the waterpot this woman brought to the well. The waterpots of John 2 were of stone, making them very heavy. In addition, they were very large: each held 2-3 firkins each (a firkin was 9 gallons, thus each waterpot held 18-27 gallons). Even if the waterpot only held 18 gallons, a stone pot with this volume of water would be very heavy. Add to this the fact that the woman’s words, “neither come all the way hither to draw” (Jn. 4:15) indicated it was quite a distance from her house to the well, and you can see the serious challenge of carrying such a heavy pot, especially when full. The waterpots of John 2 were of stone but we are not told what material this woman’s pot was — it could have been of skins.  Jews of Jesus’ day did use skins to store liquid items in (Lk. 5:37-38).

Some have seen and commented on the waterpot the woman left behind as a pledge that she would return, and such it was. She rushed back to her village to tell fellow villagers of her encounter with Jesus, saying, “Come, see a man who told me all things that ever I did. Can this be the Christ?” (Jn. 4:28-29). While her claim that Jesus “told her all things that ever I did” was a hyperbole, there was no doubt in the woman’s mind that from what Jesus had revealed to her of her past, He could have told her everything she had done in the past. When she did return to the well, many of the people of her village were right behind her.

The woman came to the well to get water to momentarily quench her physical thirst. She knew she would have to return again and again. When Jesus told her that had she asked of Him, He would have given her living water (Jn. 4:11), He made clear that the power to quench her thirst did not lay with the water from the well. Her waterpot would be replenished often, sometimes daily. That waterpot could not hold the water of which Jesus spoke, for that water was spiritual. Perhaps the woman knew her waterpot could not hold the water of which Jesus had spoken, and her interest had been so aroused in the spiritual water of which He spoke that, momentarily, interest in physical water gave way to interest in spiritual water.

The woman’s moral character was “shady” at best, but she was not unredeemable. She immediately perceived from Jesus’ revelation of her past life that he was a prophet, something the Jewish rulers had difficulty accepting. When  the Jewish rulers were faced with the undeniable fact that Jesus gave sight to a man born blind, they said to that man, “We know that God hath spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we know not whence he is” to which the man responded, “Why herein is the marvel that ye know not whence he is, and yet he opened mine eyes … if this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:24, 30, 32).

The woman not only recognized Jesus as a prophet. The knowledge provoked in her a question of spiritual import: “Where is the place where men ought to worship?” (Jn. 4:20). She professed faith that the Messiah was coming and that when He did come, He would tell “us” all things (Jn. 4:25). To this last expression of faith, Jesus said, “I that speak unto thee am he” (Jn. 4:26). At this point the woman left her waterpot to rush to her villagers, urging them to come see a man who had told her all things she ever did, ending with this question: “Can this be the Christ?” (Jn. 4:29).

The honesty of this woman speaks volumes. She made no protest of self-defense to Jesus’ revelation of her past. By saying, “I perceive thou art a prophet” she acknowledged, “You are right.” She was honest by acknowledging what His revelation of her life indicated — He was a prophet. She believed there was a coming Messiah who would tell her all things. Her thirst, at that moment, was not nearly so great for physical water as it was for spiritual knowledge. At that moment her waterpot was of little significance.

Jesus is the giver of living water to those who thirst for it. The psalmist wrote, “As the hart panteth for the waters brooks, so panteth my soul for thee, O God” (Psalm 42:1). John does not explain how the story ended for this woman’s thirst for spiritual water, which was so great that she momentarily forgot about physical water. We hope, for the sake of her soul, that when Samaria was later evangelized by the preaching of Philip, then Peter and John (Acts 8:5, 25), she was among Samaritans who, hearing about the Christ, believed and were baptized (Acts 8:12). We hope, that just as her physical thirst was satisfied from the water of Jacob’s well, that she was also able to drink of the spiritual water of which she had heard about from the Son of God Himself! Yes, hers’ was a checkered past, but she was not unredeemable. After all, it was for such people as she, and me and you, that our Savior died on Calvary.

Jim McDonald

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