“Don’t open that door!” Have you ever seen a horror film and screamed like a little girl those exact words? I know I have. A certain tension is created by knowing what happens in these situations. We know the rules. When young scantily clad girls open doors to darkened rooms, there’s a knife welding maniac just waiting for them.
Well John isn’t too far removed from creating such tension in the description of Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman. Why else would he mention the PLOT OF GROUND THAT JACOB GAVE TO HIS SON JOSEPH (John 4:5)! I know. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Well maybe it’s not scary, but something really intense did happen at this exact spot. And involved… yea, you guessed… a man and a woman.
The plot of ground is mentioned three times in the Old Testament (Gen. 33:19, 48:22 and Josh. 24:32). In the later two instances its just mentioned in passing. The first time, however, it’s the backdrop and catalyst to a very heated story. Read Genesis 33:18-34:4:
And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
That’s the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Keep reading.
Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl for my wife.”
Hamor rapes Dinah and wants to marry her. But that’s not the end of the story!
When the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.
The son’s of Jacob plot revenge! They promise to intermarry among the people on the condition that they all be circumcised according to there own family custom. The people agree. But on the third day, after all the males have been circumcised, Simeon and Levi, the brothers of Dinah, storm the city and kill all the men.
In addition to the geographic reference, note the similarities between this story and Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman.
- The Samaritan woman goes out (Gen. 34:1, John 4:7)
- She meets Jesus, a foreign man (Gen. 34:2-4, John 4:6-7)
- They have an illicit exchange (Gen. 34:2-4, John 4:9)
- The disciples return and find out about what went down. (Gen. 34:7, John 4:27)
Of course there’s no rape in the story of Jesus encounter. What might John be driving at? By referring to the plot of ground, John wants us to see this scene in light of its sinister history. The story in part shows the bad blood that exists between the Jews and the Samaritans. When the Samaritan woman comes out of town and finds the man sitting by the well, we hold our breath and cross our fingers, hoping that things will turn out differently this time around.
And it does!
But its interesting that the desire to marry is once again at the heart of this story. Once again the allusion suggests that Jesus is looking for a bride.
Does the Samaritan woman know what Jesus is up to? It all depends on what she thinks Jesus means by “water”.
This is part three in a five part series. You can find parts one and two here,