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Mountains Of Samaria - Mount Ephraim And Jacob's Well

( Originally Published 1908 )

SAMARIA is a mountain land, but its characteristic features, as distinguished from Judea, are the easiness of approach through open gateways among the hills, and the fertility of the broad vales and level plains which lie between them. The Kingdom of Israel, in its brief season of prosperity, was richer, more luxurious, and weaker than the Kingdom of Judah. The poet Isaiah touched the keynote of the northern kingdom when he sang of "the crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim," and "the fading flower of his glorious beauty which is on the head of the fat valley." (Isaiah xxviii: 1-6.)

We turn aside from the open but roundabout way of the well-tilled Wadi Farah and take a shorter, steeper path toward Shechem, through a deep, narrow mountain gorge. The day is hot and hazy, for the Sherkîyeh is blowing from the desert across the Jordan Valley: the breath of Jehovah's displeasure with His people, "a dry wind of the high places of the wilderness toward the daughter of my people, neither to fan nor to cleanse."

At times the walls of rock come so close together that we have to wind through a passage not more than ten feet wide. The air is parched as in an oven. Our horses scramble wearily up the stony gallery and the rough stairways. One of our company faints under the fervent heat, and falls from his horse. But fortunately no bones are broken; a half-hour's rest in the shadow of a great rock revives him and we ride on.

The wonderful flowers are blooming wherever they can find a foothold among the stones. Now and then we cross the mouth of some little lonely side-valley, full of mignonette and cyclamens and tall spires of pink hollyhock. Under the huge, dark sides of Eagle's Crag—bare and rugged as Ben Nevis —we pass into the fruitful plain of Makhna, where the silken grainfields rustle far and wide, and the rich olive-orchards on the hill-slopes offer us a shelter for our midday meal and siesta. Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim now rise before us in their naked bulk; and, as we mount toward the valley which lies between them, we stay for a while to rest at Jacob's Well.

There is a mystery about this ancient cistern on the side of the mountain. Why was it dug here, a hundred feet deep, although there are springs and streams of living water flowing down the valley, close at hand? Whence came the tradition of the Samaritans that Jacob gave them this well, although the Old Testament says nothing about it? Why did the Samaritan woman, in Jesus' time, come hither to draw water when there was a brook, not fifty yards away, which she must cross to get to the well ?

Who can tell ? Certainly there must have been some use and reason for such a well, else the men of long ago would never have toiled to make it. Perhaps the people of Sychar had some superstition about its water which made them prefer it. Or perhaps the stream was owned and used for other purposes, while the water of the well was free.

It makes no difference whether a solution of the problem is ever found. Its very existence adds to the touch of truth in the narrative of St. John's Gospel. Certainly this well was here in Jesus' day, close beside the road which He would be most likely to take in going from Jerusalem to Galilee. Here He sat, alone and weary, while the disciples went on to the village to buy food. And here, while He waited and thirsted, He spoke to an unknown, unfriendly, unhappy woman the words which have been a spring of living water to the weary and fevered heart of the world : " God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."

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