Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Part 3 (John 4:7, 1 Kings 17:10-14)

The following is part 3 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

3. “Give me a Drink”

1 Kings 17:10 (LXX)[Elijah] arose and went to Zarephath, to the city gate, and behold, a widow was there gathering firewood, and Elijah called after her and said to her, “Please give (Λαβὲ δή μοι / קחי־נא) me a little water (ὕδωρ) in a jar and I will drink (πίομαι).”
14 “… the flour jar will not run out, and the oil jug will not run short until the day the Lord gives rain upon the earth”

John 4:7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water (ὕδωρ). Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink (δός μοι πεῖν).”
14 “whoever drinks from the water I will give him will never thirst; but the water that I give him will become in him a spring of water…”

John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Sychar is probably not a pure allusion to a single OT passage. As others have pointed out, a meeting between a man and a woman at a well is an archetypal image suggesting courtship and marriage (Gen 24, Exod 2). However, in the case of both Elijah and Jesus, the scene describes the beginning of a relationship between a prophet and an outsider woman.

There are a few direct verbal similarities between the two passages. Both include the obvious words ὕδωρ and πίνω. In the LXX, Elijah’s request Λαβὲ δή μοι … ὕδωρ (“please take me … water”) is a fairly wooden translation of קחי־נא, and does not represent the normal use of λαμβάνω. John’s phrase δός μοι πεῖν is a more normal way of requesting water in first-century Greek.

It is the similarities between the whole accounts that are the most striking. God clearly appoints the meeting between Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-9). As most commentaries on John point out, the phrase “Jesus had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4) indicates Jesus’ divine appointment with the Samaritan woman. Both the widow of Zarephath and the woman of Sychar are outsiders; the one, a Sidonian widow; the other, a Samaritan sinner. In both cases, the woman gives sustenance to the man of God, and the man of God gives far greater sustenance to the woman. Elijah promises the Sidonian woman that “the vessel of flour will not give out, and the jar of oil will not run short, until the day the Lord sends rain upon the land” (1 Kings 17:10). Jesus promises the Samaritan woman that “whoever drinks from the water that I will give to him will never be thirsty, but the water that I give him will become a spring of water in him leaping up to eternal life” (John 4:14).[1] The allusion seems even more likely to be intentional when we realize that the following scene in John alludes to the following scene in 1 Kings (John 4:46-54/1 Kings 17:17-24).

Although both conversations begin over water, they turn towards God. The Sidonian woman swears “as Yahweh your god lives…”, and Elijah pronounces to her, “Thus says Yahweh, God of Israel…” After Elijah raises her son, the woman affirms her belief: “Now I have known (ἔγνωκα) that you are a man of God and the word of Yahweh is truly in your mouth” (1 Kings 17:24). The Samaritan woman affirms her faith as well: “Lord, I see that you are a prophet” (John 4:19); and “he isn’t the Christ, is he?” (John 4:20). Both stories are, in essence, conversion accounts. The Sidonian woman affirms her belief in Yahweh and Elijah as his messenger; the Samaritan woman affirms her belief in the salvation that comes from the Jews and in Jesus as the messenger of that salvation. In OT terms, both women are invited to join in the blessings of the covenant. In this sense, all five similar stories of a meeting at a well – Rebecca, Hagar, Zipporah, the Sidonian woman, and the Samaritan woman – show the inclusion of an outsider woman in the covenant people.

[1] Although Jesus does not ask the woman for food, the disciples get food from Sychar, and food is a prominent theme in the story (John 4:8, 31-34).

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