These words were those of a Samaritan woman whom Jesus engaged in conversation near Sychar, a city of Samaria. The woman was astonished at Jesus’ request for water because she was a woman and Jesus, a Jew, had spoken to her, a Samaritan. Jesus and His disciples were passing through Samaria, returning to Galilee after He had preached in Jerusalem and Judaea. The fact that Jesus had commanded His disciples not to preach to Gentiles or Samaritans, but instead to go to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5), did not mean that should an occasion arise in which God could be glorified in interacting with these two groups that Jesus would not seize the opportunity which presented itself. And an opportunity had presented itself to Jesus when this woman came from the city to draw water from the well.
After Jesus asked for a drink of water, she astonishingly asked Him why He would ask a Samaritan for water. Jesus told the woman that had she known to whom she was speaking, she could have asked of Him and He would have given her living water — water which would forever satisfy her quench for thirst (Jn. 4:10). She misunderstood what kind of water He said He could provide, and she asked that He give that water to her. It was at that point that Jesus instructed her, “Go, call your husband” (Jn. 4:16). Jesus’ instructions brought honesty in her and she replied, “I have no husband.” Jesus then said, “Thou saidst well I have no husband for thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband” (Jn. 4:17-18).
If the woman had been astonished that Jesus asked her for water, how much more that He knew these details of her past life! She responded, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet” (Jn. 4:19). The question she then asked could have been an effort to change an embarrassing question, or it could have been that realizing she was truly speaking to a prophet of God she could know the answer to a lifelong question deeply held within her heart. I believe the latter was the case with her. She said, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place men ought to worship …” (Jn. 4:19).
This woman knew that Jesus’ words, “You have had five husbands” were true. She also knew that this stranger whom she had never seen before could not have known her marriage status just on His own. He had to have had that revelation about the woman’s marital life from God. The fact that Jesus knew of her former husbands and present state did not, within itself, prove He was God. Nathan was just a man, a prophet, but he knew about David’s sordid relationship with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:14). Elisha was also a man (and prophet) like Nathan, but he knew about the deception of his servant Gehazi who had obtained money from Naaman (2 Kings 5:26). But both Nathan and Elisha, although just men, knew what men cannot know. What they knew had been revealed to them by God.
So while what Jesus knew about the woman’s past didn’t necessarily mean Jesus was God, it did mean that God approved of Him. Nicodemus saw the signs Jesus worked and said, “Rabbi, we know thou art a teacher come from God for no man doeth the things thou doest save God be with him” (Jn. 3:1). The blind man, when given sight by Jesus and then asked of others, “What do you say of him?” responded, “He is a prophet” (Jn. 9:17). It was not until later — after he had received further revelation from Jesus of that truth — that he acknowledged that Jesus was the Son of God (Jn. 9:35-38). The signs Jesus worked proved Him to be from God. Those signs, coupled with His words that He was the Son of God, were sufficient evidence for honest hearts to accept His claims as true.
Not everyone would see the significance of Jesus’ signs. Faced with the fact that the miracles Jesus did were genuine, some said, “The man doth not cast out demons but by Beelzebub, the prince of demons” (Matt. 12:24). These had already made up their minds about Jesus, and there was nothing Jesus could have said or done to convince them otherwise. Isaiah had spoken of such when he wrote, “By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand, and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive” (Isa. 6:9; Matt. 13:14). But honest hearers, seeing the marvels Jesus worked, exclaimed as did the Samaritan woman, “Sir, I perceive thou art a prophet” (Jn. 4:19). This was the reaction God intended His miracles to produce (Jn. 20:30-31).