References to Old Testament events and individuals in John 4-5 reinforced that Jesus had a distinct perspective on Israel’s history. The Samaritan woman and the Jewish leadership confidently cited the Old Testament to explain their actions. Jesus stated that He was greater than Jacob and free to operate at full vigor on the Sabbath. In Jesus, a new day had dawned.
(1) In John 4:12, the Samaritan woman asked Jesus if He thought Himself greater than Jacob. After Jacob peacefully departed from Esau in Genesis 33, he purchased a section of land in Canaan and set up an altar to God to acknowledge God’s power in bringing him safely back to the land (Gen 33:16-20). God had shown Himself faithful to Jacob just as Jacob hoped when he swore to the Lord that he would make the Lord an altar after returning from Padam-aram in pursuit of a wife (Gen 28:18-22). The Samaritans cited the Lord’s blessing on Jacob outside of Jerusalem to reinforce their claim on God’s blessing even though they lived north of Jerusalem. For the Samaritan woman and her people, the land of Jacob was the land of promise. When the Samaritan woman asked Jesus if He considered Himself greater than Jacob, Jesus replied that those who drank of Jacob’s well continued to thirst, “but whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever!” (John 4:14). Jesus promised that the water He gives would become a source of water springing up for eternal life. Jesus’ statement to the Samaritan woman anticipated His teaching in the temple when He said, “The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within Him” (John 7:38).
(2) In John 4:21-24, Jesus told the Samaritan woman that worship of God was not bound to Jerusalem, referencing Jerusalem’s importance as the center of worship in the Old Testament. Israel’s religious life was centered on the tabernacle that Moses constructed according to the word of the Lord in Exodus 33-40. The tabernacle provided a mobile worship center for Israel as they traveled to Canaan and took the land. Israel set the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant in Shiloh. When Samuel judged Israel, Shiloh became the center of Israel’s worship (1 Samuel 1-2). After the Philistines captured the ark, the Lord intervened and compelled the Philistines to return it to Israel and it was brought to Kiraith-jearim (1 Sam 5:1-7:1). David brought the ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam 13:1-16:6). After David took the military census in 1 Chronicles 21, the Lord confronted David and the angel of the Lord exacted God’s wrath on the people. The Lord told David to set up an altar and offer a sacrifice to atone for his sin and appease God’s wrath. David did so on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. The Lord’s wrath ceased while David sacrificed there and David said, “This is the house of the LORD God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel” (1 Chron 22:1). David instructed Solomon to build the temple in Jerusalem. When Solomon dedicated the temple, he asked God to hear the petitions His people prayed toward the temple in Jerusalem, establishing Jerusalem as the center of Israel’s worship (2 Chron 6:12-42). But when the Assyrians destroyed Israel and repopulated the land with foreigners, the cities of Samaria were filled with mixed races and mixed religion (2 Kgs 17:24-41). The people in Samaria began to worship the Lord away from Jerusalem and it was in Samaria at Jacob’s well that Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman in John 4. When Jesus told her that the hour had arrived when true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and truth without regard to Jerusalem or the northern Samaritan worship center (John 4:21), He established a new viewpoint on Israel’s religious practices.
(3) In John 5:1-15, Jesus healed a lame man on the Sabbath and then described the Sabbath as a day when He and the Father were working. The Sabbath commands of the Old Testament were based upon God’s creative power and perfection in Gen 2:1-3. As Israel rested on the seventh day, they would show the world that the Lord cares for His people (Exod 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15). Therefore, those who violated the Sabbath defamed God and were to be executed (Num 15:32-36). The Jewish leadership confronted Jesus for healing the lame man and telling him to carry his bedroll on the Sabbath (John 5:16). Jesus challenged their notion of God’s creative activity and what they believed about Him, saying, “My Father is still working, and I am working also” (John 5:17).
(4) In John 5:41-47, Jesus told His opponents that they should listen to Him since Moses wrote about Him. On the plains of Moab, just before Israel entered the Promised Land, Moses said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deut 18:15). In John 5:41-47, Jesus concluded His self-defense before the Jews by stating that Moses spoke of Him. God had raised up a prophet from among Israel; Jesus came to His own, John said, but His people did not receive Him (John 1:11).