Today’s Reading: Genesis 21-23
I would guess that most people would see the title of this post and think my reading this morning was John 4. That’s the story where Jesus meets a Samaritan women at a well – a pretty famous story in the Bible. But, that story is the not reason for the title of this post.
The title for this post comes from a story in Genesis 21 where the “angel of God” spoke to a woman at a well. You might be saying to yourself, “Yeah, but the title of your post is ‘Jesus Meets a Woman at a Well’ and Genesis 21 is about the angel of God, not Jesus.”
That is because I believe the angel of God and Jesus are one and the same person. Jesus is the angel of God made flesh, after the angel of God became a man. To see why I believe that we need to look at Genesis 16 and 21 in the context of John 4 because the actual story of Jesus meeting a woman at a well helps us to read the chapters in Genesis in the language of Son.
So, first, we need to go back to Genesis 16. This chapter is the first time in the Bible that God meets a woman at a well. The first time something happens in the Bible is significant. And, God, or a man, meeting a woman at a well is a recurring theme throughout scripture. That makes the Genesis 16 story, and consequently, the Genesis 21 even more important. Further, all these stories about women being met at wells are different pictures of the story in John 4.
In Genesis 16, Sarai was barren. So, as was the custom at the time, she gave Hagar, her servant, to Abram to produce a child for her. When Hagar became pregnant, Sarai looked at her with contempt. Sarai dealt harshly with Hagar, which caused Hagar to flee from her.
Genesis 16:7 says, “The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur.” This is the first mention of the angel of the Lord in the Bible. An angel is a messenger. But, this is “the” messenger of the Lord. If you study all of the references to the angel of the Lord, then you will find that he is not like any other angel. In many cases, the angel of the Lord is referred to directly as “the Lord,” as if he is God, yet he submits to God. Typically, the angel of the Lord is doing something that Jesus would do. When I take everything into account, I believe the angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Word of God, which when he takes on flesh is Jesus.
Therefore, in Genesis 16:7, we have a picture of Jesus meeting a woman, Hagar, at a well. In this particular case, Hagar fled from Sarai. So, the angel of the Lord told Hagar to go back to Sarai and submit to her. (Didn’t Paul say that if you are a slave to remain a slave – in other words don’t flee – but if you have a legitimate opportunity to be free to take it?) The angel of the Lord promises to bless Hagar. So, Hagar called the “name of the Lord” (the distinction between the angel and the Lord is blurred) the God of seeing, or the God who sees me. Hagar then names the well Beer-lahai-roi. After doing some research and thinking about Jesus, I would say she named the well “the underground well of water of the one who sees me and makes me live.”
With that as background, let’s pick up the story in Genesis 21. At the beginning of the chapter, Sarah conceives and bears Abraham a son named Isaac, which comes from a root word meaning to laugh, to joke. Genesis 21:6 says, “And God said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.'”
I think what Sarah is really saying is “God has made a joke about me; everyone who hears will laugh about me.” I think this for two reasons. First, the words “for” and “over” are the same Hebrew word in Genesis 21:6. The Hebrew word means for, until, into, to or towards, away or from, and of or about.
Second, what Sarah says God has done to her needs to be in context of what Sarah does next. Several years later, after Isaac was weaned, “Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son.'” (Genesis 21:9-10). I think Sarah believed was God making her a joke to others, that everyone who heard her story would laugh about her. Therefore, when see saw Hagar’s son, Ishmael laughing, she projected her belief of what God had done to her onto Ishmael. The scripture does not tell us what Ishmael was laughing about. It only tells us what Sarah believed. Do we know another’s heart? Sarah projected this onto Ishmael because he was a rival for Abraham’s inheritance, which Sarah wanted to go to her son Isaac. Sarah flat out says this Genesis 21:10. Therefore, Sarah cast out Hagar and Ishmael.
This time, instead of fleeing, Hagar is cast out, or made an outcast. God tells Abraham to let this happen because he is going to make Ishmael a great nation. So, Abraham gives Hagar bread and water and sends her and Ishmael away.
Hagar and Ishmael wander in the wilderness. When the water runs out, Hagar leaves Ishmael under a bush. Then, she goes “a good way off” because she doesn’t want to see her son die. Hagar begins to cry out and weep. Genesis 21:17 says, “And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.'”
So, Hagar has been cast out. She is all alone, wandering in the wilderness. She has no protection and no provision. But God hears her son and the angel of God calls to her from heaven. Now, I can’t remember any other time were a mere angel spoke to someone from heaven. Typically, angels appear to men or women in some sort of bodily form as a man in the Bible. But, Hagar hears the angel of God calling to her directly from heaven. Could that be because she already met the angel of the Lord once before in Genesis 16?
Also, notice who God comes to in this story. God doesn’t come to Sarah, the wife of Abraham, the one who dealt harshly with her maidservant in Genesis 16 and the one who cast her maidservant out in Genesis 21. No, the angel of the Lord, which is to say Jesus, comes to Hagar. The angel of the Lord comes to an Egyptian woman, a Gentile. The angel of the Lord comes to the one who is mistreated. The angel of the Lord comes to the one who is an outcast. The angel of the Lord comes to the one who is a victim.
“Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.” (Genesis 21:19) The Bible doesn’t say that Hagar went anywhere. Rather God, or was it the angel of God (again the blurring of the two), opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. God made her able to see the well of water that was with her. She then “filled the skin with water” and to the water her son. Remember, Hagar had gone “a good way off” from Ishmael.
So, summarizing Genesis 16 and 21, Hagar had fled from Sarai because of her mistreatment. Hagar meets the angel of the Lord, Jesus, at a well. She realizes this the God who sees her. She names the well “the underground well of water of the one who sees me and makes me live.” Hagar goes back to Sarah to continue serving her. Sarah thinks God is making a joke of her, sees Ishmael laughing, and thinks Ishmael is mocking her. Sarah sees Ishmael as rival to her son’s inheritance and demands that Hagar and Ishmael be cast out. The angel of God, Jesus, speaks to Hagar who has been cast out. He sees where she is and opens her eyes to a well of water that she takes back to her son so he can drink and live.
To paraphrase Hebrews 2:9, but we see Jesus! Let’s look at the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, keeping in mind everything we know from Hagar’s story.
Jesus left Judea and departed from Galilee and comes to Samaria. He is tried from journey. So he sits beside a well around noon, a very hot part of the day.
John 4:7 says, “A woman from Samaria came to draw water.” This woman was a Samaritan, not a Jew. Therefore she was Gentile and viewed as an outcast by Jews. Also, she came to the well at noon. This was not the time to get water as it was very hot and getting water from a well and carrying your water back to your place was hard work. The woman probably came out noon to avoid the other women at the well. This is a safe assumption because we later find out she has had five husbands and is living with a sixth man who is not her husband. This woman is likely the talk of the town and feeling like an outcast. So, not only is she an outcast according to the Jews but an outcast according to her own town. But, she needs water. This Samaritan woman is just like Hagar.
Jesus asks the woman for a drink. The woman recognizes Jesus is a Jew and is stunned “for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” The woman knew she was the Jews saw her as an outcast and figured this man, who was a Jew, that her asked for a drink saw her as an outcast too. She figured that Jesus would victimize her just like everyone had done.
But, “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.'” The woman wonders how Jesus is going to get this water since he doesn’t have anything to draw with and the well is deep. Remember that Hagar called the well she met the angel of the Lord at an underground well. That’s similar to what the Samaritan woman says about this well. Also, the woman wonders if this is really living water because she asks Jesus if he is greater than her father Jacob.
In John 4:13, Jesus says to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman responds by saying that she wants this water because she will never have to come to draw water from this well again. She’s beginning to see that if she drinks from the water that Jesus is offering she won’t feel that she is an outcast anymore. Just like Hagar, her eyes are being opened to the see the truth of water Jesus has provided for her.
Jesus then asks her about her husband to which the woman replies she doesn’t have one. Jesus tells her the truth about all her husbands. This woman knows that this man is prophet, one who sees. She is like Hagar in that she realizes the man at the well is the one who sees her. The woman says she knows the Messiah is coming. And Jesus says that he is the Messiah. Like Hagar, the woman now knows that it is God, Jesus, the Messiah, the angel of the Lord, who is the one who provides her water and sees her.
The disciples arrive and see Jesus talking to this Samaritan woman. They marveled that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman, an outcast. So, the woman takes her and goes back to town. This is like Hagar, who had to take the water the angel of God showed her back to her son who was “a good way off.”
The woman went back to the town and told them all about Jesus, the Christ, a man who saw her and all she had done. A man who, instead of treating her like an outcast, offered her living water that would become a spring of water welling up in her to eternal life. The people from the town go to Jesus and many believed in him. Just like Hagar took the water that the angel of God gave her to her son and caused him to live, so did the Samaritan woman take the water she received to her town and caused them to live.
So, what do we learn from all this?
Jesus sees those who are outcasts. He sees those who have been made victims. Instead of mistreating and victimizing them too, Jesus gives them a drink from his well of living water. Jesus sees their needs and meets those needs.
This story in John has other layers to it that become more clear when compare with it the other stories of women being met at wells.