You Worship What You Do Not Know

John 4:16-22

“Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.”

The Samaritans lived in what had once been territory of the erstwhile Northern Kingdom of Israel, giving them jurisdiction over some ancient and very sacred landmarks. This helped to form their spiritual identity and fueled their assumption that, as descendants of Jacob, they were included among his beneficiaries in regards to the blessings foretold in the Torah. But they were also a very “mixed” race of people, and the sacred scriptures and religious customs they adhered to were a corruption of the teachings of Moses, mingled with the idolatrous traditions of the heathen nations included among their ancestry. So, although they observed the feasts, such as Passover, and used much of the same terminology as the Jews, they weren’t really worshipping the same God, but rather a “God” adapted to fit their own ideology.

All of this serves as a backdrop to the exchange taking place between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, and helps to explain why she would suddenly challenge him with a topic of religious controversy, just at the point when things were starting to get rather personal.

As outsiders “listening in” on this private conversation, we might assume that she just changed the subject in order to avoid talking about her deeper personal issues. But that wasn’t really the case. It wasn’t an attempt to steer the conversation away from deeper issues, it actually WAS the deeper issue; not her relationships with men, but rather her relationship with God. Who was she worshipping?

“Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” – The phrase “believe me” is unique here, this is the only passage in scripture where Jesus uses it, and the fact that he further emphasized the phrase with “woman” lends an explicit significance to the words which follow. He was telling her that a time was coming when she, herself, would indeed worship the Father, his Father, the one and only true God.

“You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know”– Throughout Jewish history, there had always been a remnant of true believers living in the land of Judea. Enduring through the reign of one wicked king after another, persistent despite the oppression of heathen conquerors, we can see them personified in the likes of Simeon (Luke 2:25), Anna (Luke 2:36-37), Elizabeth and Zechariah (Luke 1:5-6), as well as Jesus’ own earthly parents. They all knew the God whom they worshiped – not some hybrid, semi-biblical idol concocted from their own traditions, but the true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Creator of heaven and earth; the One who was, and is, and is to come.

“For salvation is of the Jews.” – When Jesus said this, he wasn’t speaking to a group of people, he was speaking only to her, so it was said with the intent that she would be able to understand him. As a Samaritan, she wouldn’t be familiar with the messianic prophecies of Isaiah or Jeremiah, but she would be very familiar with the messianic prophecies contained in the books of Moses, especially this one, spoken by Jacob himself:

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. (Genesis 49:10)

As well as this one, spoken by Baalam:

I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future. A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel. It will crush the foreheads of Moab’s people, cracking the skulls of the people of Sheth. (Numbers 24:17)

Jesus was reminding her that the promised Messiah was to come from the lineage of Judah, the people that she now referred to as “the Jews.”

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