In the fifteenth chapter of Exodus, following the miracle at the sea, Israel ventures on to Elim, “where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palms trees, and they camped there by the water” (15:27). Coincidentally, their first stop following their deliverance was at a place called Marah. It is reported that “they came to Marah, but they were not able to drink the waters of Marah, because they were bitter. (That is why its name is Marah)” (15:23). Through Moses, the Creator God of Israel is said to have intervened in this situation, making the water safe to drink. However, it is not until they reach Elim, the place of twelve wells (reminding the reader of the twelve sons/tribes of Jacob/Israel), following the miraculous crossing and defeat of their pursuers, that they are said to have made camp.
In the book of Numbers one finds an interesting mention of a well. As it is connected to Moses and to a song, while also occurring during their long exodus experience, it is not difficult to imagine this account having a special place within Israelite memory. Reading on then: “they traveled to Beer; that is the well where the Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Gather the people and I will give them water.’ Then Israel sang this song: ‘Spring up, O well, sing to it! The well which the princes dug, which the leaders of the people opened with their scepters and their staffs.’” (21:16-18a)
Fresh on the heels of the song about the well, “Israel sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites, saying, ‘Let us pass through your land; we will not turn aside into the fields or into the vineyards, nor will we drink water from any well, but we will go along the King’s Highway until we pass your borders.’” (21:21-22) This request was rebuffed. Not only was there a refusal, but “he gathered all his forces together and went out against Israel in the wilderness” (21:23b). In consequence, “the Israelites defeated him in battle and took possession of his land” (21:24a). One could rest assured that Israel then drank from their wells and turned aside into the fields and vineyards.
Is there any way that this particular well-story could come into play when looking at the well-story of the Gospel of John? Certainly, otherwise why ask the question? How does that story in the Gospel of John begin? John reports that Jesus had “left Judea and set out once more for Galilee. But He had to pass through Samaria” (4:3-4). Obviously Jesus could have avoided going through Samaria, taking a different route on His return trip to Galilee, but this was the route that He chose.
Similarly, Israel could have taken any number of routes towards their promised land, but they did not. Just as they chose (or their God chose for them through Moses) a route that was going to take them through the land of the Amorites (specifically including the “King’s Highway”), so also Jesus chose a route that would take Him through Samaria. On another level, it would certainly not be a reach to consider the idea that the author of John believed that any road being traveled by Jesus would be the “King’s Highway.”