On the way to Galilee from Judea, Jesus stopped at the town of Sychar and sat by a well there at the sixth hour—noon by our reckoning of time (John 4:1–6). Our Lord was weary and thirsty, for it was the hottest part of the day. Here we see a revelation of Christ’s human nature. According to His humanity, Jesus could get tired and thirsty just as we do.
Jesus was not by Himself at the well for too long before a Samaritan woman came out to draw water (v. 7). In those days, women ordinarily traveled in groups to get water for their households, and they would come earlier in the morning or later in the day in order to avoid the intense heat of the noonday sun. That the Samaritan woman came to the well without the company of any other women and that she came at a time when she was likely to be the only one at the well indicate something of her status as an outcast. We read later on that the woman had had five husbands and was involved with a man who was not her husband (vv. 16–18). The Samaritan woman was rejected by her community for her sexual immorality.
This helps explain why she was so surprised when Jesus asked her for a drink, for she was an immoral woman, and one would not ordinarily converse with a known immoral person in that culture. Furthermore, He had no bucket with which to draw water, so He would have had to drink from hers, but Jews and Samaritans did not ordinarily share the same vessels for food and drink (vv. 8–9, 11). But Jesus did not press her on her reluctance to serve Him water; rather, He took the opportunity to teach her something about Himself.
Jesus said that if she knew who He was, she would ask Him for living water (v. 10). This living water, the entire chapter makes clear, is nothing less than eternal life. But the woman did not understand this at first, thinking that Jesus was offering physical water drawn with a physical vessel (v. 11). She understood that He was claiming to give her better water than she had ever drawn, hence her disbelief. After all, the great patriarch Jacob had dug the well at which they sat, and water had flowed there for more than a millennium. How, then, could Jesus provide better water (v. 12)?
But of course, Jesus was not offering physical water of better quality than what was available at the well. He was offering the water of eternal life, the abundant, never-ending sustenance from God Himself that ensures we will live forever (vv. 13–15).