There is a lot of interesting background detail to the account of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman, recounted in John chapter 4.
The Samaritans were non-Israelites who were forcibly brought from Assyria to resettle the land vacated by the Jews’ deportation to Babylon.
They were gathered from five different regions – Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim (2 Kings 17:24) – and were presumably from five different tribes.
On settling in the lands formerly belonging to the Israelites, they set up their worship of their pagan gods. This incurred the wrath of Yahweh, who sent lions amongst them.
“When they first lived there, they did not worship the Lord; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people.
It was reported to the king of Assyria: ‘The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires.’
Then the king of Assyria gave this order: ‘Make one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.’
So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the Lord.” (2 Kings 17:25-28 NIVUK)
Which would seem to have been the perfect solution, however, the Samaritan’s worship of Yahweh was based only upon fear; indeed they were called “lion proselytes” by the Jews.
Once the lions disappeared, they drifted back to their pagan gods, or rather to a syncretistic mix of the worship of Yahweh and pagan deities, worship that included the horrific burning of children (2 Kings 17:31).
They appointed their own priests, to officiate at their pagan cults, in parallel with the priest of Yahweh (2 Kings 17:32).
Indeed, it seems that this is what Jesus is referring to when he asks the Samaritan woman to bring her husband; she replies that she doesn’t have one (John 4:16-18). To which Jesus responds that she has had five and that the one she has now is not really her husband. This seems like a clear reference to the five pagan deities of the Samaritan tribes who have been supposedly replaced by the worship of Yahweh, but only in a partial way, not with the integrity required in a covenantal relationship.
Indeed, it is only with this sense in view that the Samaritan woman’s follow up remark about religious observance makes any sense (John 4:19-20).
Indeed, Jesus’ statement about the kind of worshippers God wants is clearly a reference to the imperfect worship of the Samaritans.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.
God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24 NIV)
God is not looking for “Lion Christians”, those whose worship is under duress, coerced, or reluctant.
What He seeks is those who will open their hearts wide to receive His love, who will be open, transparent, true, and single-minded.