Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” John 4:6-7
There should have been a wedding in John 4. In the Torah, when a man meets a woman at a well, there’s often a wedding in the future. Isaac (Genesis 24), Jacob (Genesis 29) and Moses (Exodus 2) all found wives at wells. The story of Abraham’s matchmaker finding Rebecca for Isaac even involves a traveler asking a woman to draw water so that he can have a drink.
He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water. Then he prayed, “Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” Genesis 24:11-14
John 4 fits the Old Testament pattern so well that there should have been a wedding. And maybe there was one – not in the manner of the “Jesus was secretly married” conspiracy theories that capture headlines from time to time, but in John’s way of using a wedding as a symbol of God’s kingdom. In John 2, Jesus attended a wedding in Cana and turned water into wine. John calls this Jesus’ first “sign”. The coming of the kingdom in Jesus’ life and ministry is like a wedding feast. In John 3:29, in response to a question about Jesus baptizing people, John the Baptist calls Jesus “the bridegroom”.
The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.
John 4 comes on the heels of the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as the bridegroom. I think, then, that the echoes of wedding imagery in the Jacob’s well story are intentional. Like his patriarchal ancestors, Jesus the bridegroom came to the well for a wedding. In this case, the wedding marks the spiritual union of the Son of God with the redeemed and restored people of God.
Perhaps, then, Jesus’ discussion of the woman’s marital status in John 4:16-19 is not a coincidence, either. Certainly, Jesus is speaking about the woman’s real life history when he mentions her five past husbands and “the man she has now.” It’s Jesus’ supernatural knowledge about her life that convinces the woman that Jesus is a prophet. But as John so often does, he writes this passage so that it has multiple levels of meaning. Despite the woman’s history – and the history of the Samaritan people and the overall history of God’s broken and idolatrous people – the bridegroom still comes for his bride. God’s wedding feast is taking place. I think the early church fathers were right to read this detail allegorically; that’s probably how John meant it to be read.