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B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)



      After the Savior's Passover and the conversation with Nicodemus, he tarried in the land of Judea, probably until the late fall of the year (chapter 4:35). He had not yet called his apostles nor ordained his baptism, but he co-operated with John in administering his baptism, through his disciples (chapter 3:22). A question concerning this baptismal rite was raised with John's disciples by the Jews, evidently to provoke jealousy of Christ, which led these disciples to come to John with a complaint. This gave him another opportunity to give a noble testimony to Christ. The jealousy of the Pharisees and the arrest of John, caused the Lord in the fall to return to Galilee. On the route occurred the memorable conversation with the woman of Sychar.

      The Jews, whose discussion had thus deeply moved the followers of John, may well have been of the prominent Pharisees, and our Lord soon became aware that they were watching his proceedings with an unfriendly eye. Their hostility to John was a still deeper hostility against him, for the very reason that his teaching was already more successful. Perhaps in consequence of this determined rejection of the earliest steps of his teaching--perhaps also out of regard for the wounded feelings of John's followers--but most of all because at this very time the news reached him that John had been seized by Herod Antipas and thrown into prison--Jesus left Judea and again departed into Galilee. Being already in the north of Judea, he chose the route which led through Samaria. The fanaticism of Jewish hatred, the [65] fastidiousness of Jewish Pharisaism, which led his countrymen when traveling alone to avoid that route, could have no existence for him, and were things rather to be discouraged than approved.--Farrar.

      The historic setting of the visit to Sychar is so entirely harmonized with the facts, that the account must have been penned by an eye-witness. "We are confronted with the historic antagonism of the Jews and Samaritans, which still survives in Nablus, the modern Shechem, where the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Samaritan synagogue are still shown to the stranger; here we see the genuine humanity of Jesus, as he sat 'wearied with his journey,' though not weary of his work of saving souls, his elevation above rabbinical prejudices which forbade conversing with any woman out of doors, his superhuman knowledge and dignity, and his surpassing wisdom of parabolic teaching; here the life-like sketch of a sinful, yet quick-witted woman, full of curiosity and interest in the religious question of the day, and running to tell her neighbors her great discovery of the prophet who had touched her conscience, excited her thirst for the water of life, and led her from Jacob's well to the fountain of salvation, and from the dispute about the place of worship to the highest conception of God as an omnipotent Spirit to be worshiped in spirit and truth. Truly, no poet could have invented such a story.

      1. When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John. These verses explain why Christ left Judea and returned to Galilee. Evidently the controversy noted in the last chapter (3:22-27) had stirred up no little excitement. "The Jew" who disputed with John's disciples was probably a Pharisee. This bitter sect was noting the increasing influence of Christ. There were, therefore, two reasons for departure; first, to avoid arousing the jealousy of John's disciples, and secondly, to prevent a premature conflict with the Pharisees.

      2. Though the Lord did not himself baptize, but his disciples. Christ's message at this time was John's: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and his baptism was that of John. Hence it was needful that it be administered by servants, rather than the Master. His own baptism could not be observed until after the death, burial and resurrection, since it is a planting in the likeness of his death.

      3, 4. He must needs go through Samaria. Samaria was between Judea and Galilee, and hence the route led through it. It seems probable from John 4:35, that it was in the latter part of the fall that he departed from Judea. See comment on verse 35. [66]

      The scene at Jacob's well presents a most graphic, and yet most unartificial picture of nature and human life, as it still remains, though in decay, at the foot of Gerizim and Ebal, the most beautiful section of Palestine. There is still the well of Jacob, recognized as such by Samaritans, Jews, Mohammedans and Christians alike; there is the sanctuary on the top of Gerizim, where the Passover is annually celebrated by the remnant of the Samaritan sect, according to the prescription of Moses; there are the waving grain-fields, ripening for the harvest in the well-watered, fertile valley.--Schaff.

      5. Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar. Samaria was the district, embracing the ancient city of Samaria, which lay between Judea and Galilee. As it was interposed between, when our Lord would go from Judea to Galilee "he must needs go through Samaria," unless he would take a very circuitous route east of the Jordan. The district of Samaria comprised the country formerly occupied by the tribe of Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh. When the Ten Tribes were carried to Babylon the Assyrian king sent in other tribes to occupy the country. These, on account of calamities, and probably influenced by Israelites who had been left in the country, requested of the Assyrian king a Hebrew priest, and one was sent. Henceforth they had a religion partly Jewish and partly pagan. When the Jews returned from Captivity and began to rebuild the temple the Samaritans offered to aid them, but were sternly repulsed. Henceforth a bitter feeling existed between the two peoples. When Manasseh, a priest, was expelled from Jerusalem by Nehemiah, for an unlawful marriage, he fled to Samaria, took charge of their worship, and a temple was erected on Mt. Gerizim, in opposition to the one at Jerusalem. Henceforth the Samaritans, claiming to be the children of Israel (Jacob), insisted that Gerizim, the Mount of Blessing, was the place chosen by God for worship. As the later Jewish Scriptures recognized Jerusalem as the seat of divine worship, they were rejected by the Samaritans, who received the five books of Moses alone. Sychar. This place was the ancient Shechem, so famous in the early history. It was forty miles, north of Jerusalem, and was situated between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, the Mounts of Blessing and Cursing (Joshua 8:30-35). Here Jacob built his first altar (Gen. 33:18); here Joseph was buried in the land given him by his father (Joshua 24:32); and here also the covenant of Israel was renewed with amens to the blessings and curses, after Joshua had conquered Canaan. Few spots in all Israel had a more interesting history. The word Sychar signifies a drunkard and a liar, and was, doubtless, first applied by the Jews in derision. It was afterwards called Neapolis, and at present a village called Nablous exists with a population of two thousand, about two hundred of whom are Samaritans and preserve their ancient worship. Near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. In this parcel Joseph was buried when Israel came up out of Egypt, his bones having been carried with them in accordance with his dying wish. His tomb is still shown and it can hardly be doubted that his bones really rest in the place pointed out. [67]

      6. Now Jacob's well was there. It is still seen by the traveller, cut through the solid rock, between eight and nine feet in diameter, and about seventy-five feet deep. When visited by Maundrel, two hundred years ago, it was over a hundred feet deep. The accumulation of rubbish at the bottom has lessened its depth and there is now no water visible. It is about two miles from Nablous. There is no account of Jacob digging the well, and it has been asked why he should have dug it when there was an abundance of springs within two miles. Probably because the springs belonged to others and were occupied. At any rate, some one did dig the well, and a tradition that Christ did not reject and which John seems to admit, ascribed it to the patriarch. Jesus . . wearied . . sat thus on the well. The wells were usually curbed around with stone and covered. On this curb the Savior sat sheltered from the sun at noon, the sixth hour being twelve o'clock. His body was human and subject to all the infirmities of ours. The morning journey had wearied him; he could hunger; he sank under the weight of the cross.

      7, 8. There cometh a woman of Samaria. A Samaritan woman of the city of Sychar. Why she should come so far from the city for water is a matter of conjecture. It was the custom for women to work in the fields, and she was probably employed near, and came at the noon hour, the hour of rest and refreshment, to the well for water. She had lived a checkered and, in part, disreputable life, and this might account for her not being accompanied by any of her sex. The Savior had been left alone by his disciples, who had gone to the village to buy food, and he opened a conversation by asking the woman to give him a drink of water, a request that the children of the East regard it an obligation to comply with most cheerfully, even to strangers and enemies. In that parched land water is the chiefest of blessings; Jesus pronounced a blessing upon him who should give a cup of cold water; Mahomet enjoined that it should never be refused; the servant of Abraham had asked it of the daughter of Nahor; the request of Jesus, even to a strange woman, was the custom of the East.

      9. How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me? She saw by his dress, appearance, and the direction whence he came that he was of the Jewish race. The antipathy between the Jews and Samaritans was so bitter that, although there might be some trade and they could buy food of each other on a journey, [68] they were never wont to ask any hospitable rite. The woman's reply is not a refusal of the Lord's request, but an expression of astonishment that a Jew should ask a favor of a Samaritan. "The maxims of the Jews respecting intercourse with the Samaritan people varied much at different times and it is not easy to say what rules prevailed at the period with which we are here concerned. One precept in the Talmud approves their mode of preparing the flesh of animals, others commend their unleavened bread, their cheese, their food. Elsewhere, however, we find restrictions; and the wine, vinegar, etc., of the Samaritans were forbidden to every Israelite, their country with its roads and other products only being regarded clean. This narrative shows that it was held lawful to buy food in a Samaritan town, so that the words of this verse must be understood to mean that the Jews had no hospitable intercourse with the Samaritans."--Milligan. Dr. Robinson says: "If of old the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, the latter at the present day reciprocate the feeling, and neither eat, nor &ink, nor marry with the Jews, but only trade with them."

      10. If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink. The gift of God is not water, nor even peace of soul, but Christ himself, God's "unspeakable gift." "God gave his only begotten Son." She neither knew of God's unspeakable gift, nor that the Son given was at that moment speaking to her. Had she known, the Savior declares: Thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. Observe: 1. That Christ asks a favor in order to confer a greater one; makes a request in order to open up a conversation that will give access to a heart. 2. The well and the water suggest the thirst of the soul and the waters of life. With him natural objects, the sparrows, the lilies, the storm, the harvest, the water, the sower, the seed, etc., were constantly made texts for teaching spiritual truth. Living water meant, literally, "running" water, the water from a fountain or stream. It is known from the term used for well in the Greek of verse 6 (pege) that it was a fountain fed by subterranean springs, not a deep cistern supplied with rainwater. The "living water," water that fails not while it quenches thirst, but flows right on perennially, is taken by the Savior as a symbol of himself, the one who quenches the thirst of the soul. Elsewhere he says: "The Spirit and the Bride say come; and let him that is athirst come and partake of the waters of life freely."

      11. Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with . . . whence then hast thou that living water? She was deeply impressed by his manner and his words. This is shown by her calling him Sir (Kurie, Lord), but she fails to rise above the material meaning of his words. The well is a hundred feet deep; it, like the wells of the [69] country usually, has no bucket; he has brought no vessel with him as, she has done; how then can he furnish her this water from the fountain? She cannot understand.

      12. Art thou greater than our father Jacob? The question indicates still further her dawning conviction of the greatness of the stranger. It was from Joseph, the son of Jacob, that the Samaritans claimed descent. Jesus spoke of giving living water; Jacob, their great ancestor, had given this well; he, his flocks, his children and his servants had drunk of it; it was a sacred object of reverence; was Jesus greater than the giver of the well? Perhaps it was because the well was deemed holy that she had come there to obtain water. Often those least truly religious in life have most faith in relics.

      13. Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again. Her own experience would confirm his words. Nothing earthly satisfies long. Raiment, food, drink, all have to be supplied again.

      14. Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst. The water of which he speaks is a gift which he gives to humanity. It is not given to him but is his own gift. No prophet ever spoke thus, no man, only Jesus Christ. His language is always that of the Son of God. He says, "I am the life;" "Come to me ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest;" "I am the bread of life;" "He that believeth on me shall never thirst;" "If any man thirst let him come and drink * * * from him shall flow rivers of living water." Such words could not fall from human lips. "The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." Springing up into everlasting life. The water that Christ bestows, the living water, the water of life, not only satisfied the longings of the soul, but is the real "elixir vitae," and quickens it into a new life that never ends.

      15. Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not. The mysterious words of the Jewish stranger she cannot yet understand, but she is deeply stirred, and one thing seemed plain--if she could have this water she would thirst no more, and would not be compelled to come to the well. She is bewildered, but eager to comprehend the nature of the gift. The tenor of the whole narrative shows that she was neither flippant, nor sluggish.

      16. Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman has asked for the water; [70] before she can receive it she must be fully conscious of her need, of her soul's thirst, of her sinfulness and wretchedness. Hence Jesus makes a demand that will awake her to a sense of her condition. His abrupt words are designed to recall her past life.

      17. I have no husband. The words have their designed effect. Probably with the deep blush and confusion of shame she admits that she has no husband. She has a man, but not a husband. The emphasis is on the word husband.

      18. Thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband. The Lord accepts her statement as true in words, but reveals to her his knowledge of the real facts. She had been married five times; the easy divorce laws of the age, permitting a "divorce for any cause," would allow many changes without the death of either party. Some of her husbands may have died; a part were almost certainly divorced. Her sixth alliance did not even have the apology of such a marriage. It was illegal and condemned even by her unenlightened conscience as sinful. The Savior's words are like a probe, keen, severe, but gentle.

      19. Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Every word that Jesus had uttered had excited her wonder more and more, and when he lifted the curtain off her life, she was convinced at once of his superhuman knowledge. She had heard of the ancient prophets; he must be one.

      20. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Partly to turn attention from her sinful life, and partly to have him settle a great controversy, she appeals to him to say where men ought to worship God. The Jews went up to Jerusalem to the temple. From the time of Jeroboam the Ten Tribes had worshiped elsewhere. When the Israelites returned from the Captivity and repulsed the Samaritans, Manasseh, the renegade priest, conducted this worship on Mt. Gerizim, the "Mount of Blessing." In the reign of Alexander the Great, according to Josephus, a temple was erected there. At a later period it was destroyed by John Hyrcanus, the Jewish prince, but still the altar was kept up, and the Samaritans made it their holy place. Note that the woman worshiped there because "our fathers" did. The "fathers" were wrong. Many now keep up infant sprinkling and other corruptions because their "fathers" practiced it. Fathers are no authority in such matters; only Christ and the word of God. [71]

      21. The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem. Now comes the announcement of one of the grandest truths revealed by Christ. The Jews said that men must worship at Jerusalem to worship acceptably; the Samaritans contended for Mt. Gerizim as the true holy place; the Mahometan insists on a pilgrimage to Mecca; the Catholic on praying at some holy shrine, but Christ says that the time even then was at hand when no holy place need be sought for worship. A little later God emphasized this lesson by the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem. In verse 23d the reason is given.

      22. Salvation is of the Jews. In the controversy between the Jews and Samaritans, the former were right on the great issue. The Samaritans, worshiped, but knew not what they worshiped, because they rejected the prophets who would have directed them. In this the Jews had the advantage, and the salvation of the world was to come through the Jews, through Christ of the seed of David. "Ye" refers to the Samaritans; "we" to the Jews.

      23. The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth. This verse is linked with verse 21st. The time is at hand, says the Lord, when a worship of forms, or at holy places, will not meet the demands of the Father. He must be worshiped with the heart, in spirit and in truth. Spiritual worship can be offered in any land, wherever the soul can humble itself before God. God is seeking for such true, spiritual worshipers.

      24. God is a Spirit. Rather, "God is Spirit." This declaration is fundamental. 1. God is not material, according to the gross conception of the pagans. 2. He is not a material force, nor an abstract force as some scientists urge. 3. Nor is he a kind of blind, impersonal power, "that makes for righteousness," as Matthew Arnold urges. 4. He is Spirit, fills the universe, is omnipresent, and hence can be worshiped anywhere, because he is everywhere. Since he is Spirit, he must be worshiped in spirit. A material worship, a worship of forms, is not in harmony with his nature. The heart and spirit must be lifted up.

      25. I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ. Her heart had been made lighter with the great hope of the world. The words of Jesus carried her thoughts to that hope. He had told her much; the Messiah would tell her all things, and give light on every dark question. [72]

      26. I that speak unto thee am he. This is the first recorded confession of Jesus that he was the Christ. His disciples learned to believe the truth, but until Peter's confession the last year of his ministry, there was no open admission. Perhaps we never can tell why he chose to make his first acknowledgment of his mission to a poor, wretched, Samaritan woman.


      1. Christ's followers should, like their Master, seize every opportunity to preach the gospel.

      2. Natural objects and passing events should always impart religious lessons.

      3. Earthly food cannot permanently satisfy any want. The soul's wants can never be satisfied on husks. Only the "living Bread" and the "living Water" will sate its hunger and thirst.

      4. One cannot partake of the "water of life" until he is athirst. He must be conscious of his sinfulness before he can be delivered from sin in Christ.

      5. The customs of "our fathers" should not make us content to follow in their footsteps without comparing their course with the New Testament.

      6. God is Spirit; everywhere we may meet him, and pray and worship; everywhere he sees us and takes note of our conduct.

      7. Outward, formal worship, counting beads, genuflections, waving incense, pilgrimages, etc., are not worship, but an insult to God. He is not matter. He demands that those who worship him shall lift up their spirits.

      8. Besides her individual character, there was also the circumstance that she was a Samaritan. It is the first time that Jesus comes into close, private, personal contact with one who is not of the seed of Israel; for though she claimed Jacob as her father, neither this woman, nor any of the tribe she belonged to, were of Jewish descent. "I am not come," said Jesus, afterwards defining the general boundaries of his personal ministry, "but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." When he sent out the Seventy, his instructions to them were: "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans, enter ye not." And yet there were a few occasions, and this is the first of them, in which Christ broke through the restraints under which it pleased him ordinarily to act. I believe that there are just four instances of this kind recorded in the Savior's life: that of the woman of Samaria, of the Roman Centurion, of the Canaanitish woman, and of the Greeks who came up to Jerusalem. All these were instances of our Lord's dealings with those who stood without the pale of Judaism, and as we come upon them in the narrative, we shall be struck with the singular interest which Jesus took in each; the singular tact that he bestowed in testing and bringing out to view the simplicity and strength of the desire towards him, and faith in him, that were displayed; the fulness of the revelations of himself that he made, and of that satisfaction and delight with which he contemplated the issue. It was the great and good shepherd, stretching out his hand across the fence, and gathering in a [73] lamb or two from the outfields, in token of the truth that there were other sheep which were out of the Jewish fold whom, also, he was in due time to bring in, so that there should be one fold and one shepherd.--Hanna.

      The interview with the Samaritan woman marks a great epoch in the development of religion. While the Jews had been forbidden to make any graven image to represent the Deity, and had been taught his omnipresence and spiritual being, like other races, it had been hard for them to rise to any just conception of the Almighty. Hence Jerusalem was the Holy City of their race where they expected the peculiar presence of Jehovah, and forgetting the spiritual meaning of the ordinances given to their nation, their worship had degenerated into outward and, often, frivolous forms. The Samaritans had still lower spiritual conceptions than the Jews, and clung to the idea that on Mt. Gerizim alone could true and acceptable sacrifice be offered to the Almighty, while the heathen faith was either godless or given to the most materialistic, sensual and debasing forms of idolatry. It also had its sacred shrines where the gods must be met, its Delphos, Dodona, and seat of Jupiter Ammon, and seemed to have even in its most cultured philosophers, only the most vague conception of an omnipresent deity. Hence, it was new and revolutionary when Christ proclaimed the dawn of a spiritual religion, the worship of the only true God, an omnipresent Spirit, not content with outward sacrifices, gorgeous forms, counting beads, making signs, or going on long pilgrimages to supposed holy places, but demanding the heart, the worship of an uplifted spirit, and present everywhere to hear the prayers and bless the worship of those who gathered in his name. Only such a religion could be adapted to the whole race, as well fitted to Europe, America, and the isles of the sea, as to western Asia. Hence, in the words to the woman of Samaria there lies imbedded the Gospel for all nations.


      The hearty reception given by the Samaritans to the Jewish teacher shows that their hearts were much more open to the reception of divine truths than the conceited and bigoted Jews. It seems strange, with such readiness to receive him on their part, that we do not hear more of our Lord's intercourse with the Samaritans. His heart, full of the love of man, not of a single race, seemed bursting to reach out and embrace all the lost children of Adam. He is the "Son of Man," not of David or Abraham; he "came to save the world," not the Jewish race alone; he is "the Lamb slain for the sins of the world." Yet, when he gives his apostles their first commission, he forbids them to go to the Samaritans and Gentiles. Why is this? Because he was "born of woman, made under the law." The law of Moses was yet in force. He kept it in all points blamelessly. It was still the law of God, but when the "handwriting of ordinances was nailed to the cross," then the "middle wall of partition was broken down," the "Old Covenant was taken away to give place to the new," and then, under the New Covenant, a covenant that embraced mankind instead of the children of Abraham, the Lord directed his disciples to preach the gospel "in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth."

      27. Upon this came his disciples and marvelled that he talked with the woman. His disciples had left him alone at the well, while they went to the village of Sychar to buy food. As they return they see him in the clear air of that country and on the elevated site of the well on the mountain side, engaged in conversation with a woman. They probably approached near before the conversation ended, and paused and wondered that he would talk with a woman, and especially with a Samaritan woman. It was considered by the Jews indecorous to talk with a woman in public, and the Rabbis held that to talk with such an inferior creature was beneath the dignity of a doctor of the law. Their surprise well illustrates the state in which woman was held before Christ lifted her to the side of man as his equal and companion. Among the Greeks, Socrates, their best and wisest teacher, thanked the gods daily, that he was born neither a slave nor a woman; the Roman law gave the husband absolute authority over the wife, even to put her to death; among the Jews the wife could be divorced "for any cause," their most renowned doctor, Hillel, insisting that for her to burn the bread in baking was a sufficient reason. It is in the New Testament, first, that woman stands forth as the minister of Christ and the helper in the gospel. Christ's disciples had not yet been emancipated from their false teachings, and hence they were filled with surprise at the condescension of the Master. Yet such was their awe that none interrupted, or asked a reason for his departure from all that they had ever known. They soon learned better.

      28. And the woman left her water-pot and went her way. Her soul was so stirred that she forgot the errand on which she came to the well. She had got a taste of the "living water," and forgot her need of the water of the well. The Savior had told her to call her husband. Her soul was so full of the strange, good news, that she wished to tell every one. What a touch of nature in her forgetting her water-pot in her excitement! Such little things prove the truth of the narrative.

      29. Come and see a man who told me all things I ever did. He had told her some things about her own life, and conscience had told her more. She felt that all was known to him, and naturally exaggerates by saying, "He told me all my life." Notice that as soon as she believes she seeks to spread the tidings. Notice, too, her unconscious skill. Instead of asserting, she asks them to come and see for themselves. She believed him to be the Christ, but she asks: Is not this the Christ? Chrysostom speaks of her zeal and wisdom: "She said not, Come, see the Christ, but, with the same condescension with which Christ had netted her, she draws men to him; Come, she saith, See a man who told me all I ever did. Is not this the Christ? She neither declared the fact plainly, nor was she silent She desired, not to bring them in by her own assertion, but to make [75] them share her opinion by hearing him." Had she asserted they would hardly have believed her, but her modest manner arouses their curiosity and makes them eager to see and hear. There is a good example here for all Christian workers.

      30. And then went they out of the city. Her success was immediate. Their curiosity was aroused and they were eager to hear. It is evident, by the effect of her words, that they were not a skeptical people, but were waiting for the Christ.

      31. His disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat. While the woman was gone, spreading the tidings, this episode occurs with the disciples. They had returned with food, which they now pressed upon the Master whom they had left wearied and hungry. To their surprise, although it was now past the noon hour, he hesitated to touch the food.

      32. I have meat to eat ye know not of. "Man shall not live by bread alone." The Lord who could go forty days in the wilderness without food, in the exaltation of soul caused by his baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit, would forget the hunger of the body also, when he was pouring out the water of life to a poor, thirsty soul. He had been lifted above hunger by the eagerness of his spirit in his holy work. This forgetfulness of the needs of the body at such an hour was not surprising or supernatural. It constantly occurs to those whose spirits are deeply stirred.

      33. Hath any man brought him ought to eat? Their ideas were still as gross as those of the Samaritan woman, who at first could not comprehend the "living water." They cannot think of spiritual food, heavenly manna, bread of life. Yet, long before, the prophet had spoke of this food and had said, "Ye that have no money, come, buy bread, and eat." They fancy, therefore, that he has received food, and wonder who has brought it.

      34. My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. It must be borne in mind that "meat" in the Scripture, means not only flesh, but any kind of food. The Savior then declares, in explanation of the perplexity, to his disciples, that to do the will of God is food to him; that is, discharges the same offices as food. 1. It was an enjoyment; 2. He longed for it, as the hungry long for food; 3. It refreshed and strengthened him. This is always true of doing the will of God. The character of his service is such that the faithful (1) Delight in it; (2) Are made better and stronger by it, all the time. His work does not weary, but refreshes the soul.

      Some have insisted that Christ says: "My meat is in order to do his will, etc." or that his soul is fed that he may do it. Though the original may be thus [76] translated it does not harmonize with verse 32. He is explaining what the meat is that has taken away his hunger, not what it is for. The whole passage is one of many similar sayings. See Matt. 4:4; John 5:30; 6:38; 15:10, etc.

      35. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Harvest began about the middle of April in Palestine. The time when the Savior spoke would then be about the middle of December. This would indicate that he had passed eight months in Judea, as he had come from Galilee to attend the passover. Of this period of his ministry but little is recorded, save the incidents of the passover, the conversation with Nicodemus, and the fact that Christ preached and baptized (through his disciples) more converts than John. Now the idea of the harvest suggests, as the water and the food had done, another spiritual lesson. From their elevated position on the mountain side the road to Sychar is visible, filled with the throngs who are flocking to "see and hear" the Stranger of whom the woman has told. He points to them and says: "Lift up your eyes and look on the (spiritual) fields. They are already white for the harvest." The words, "Lift up your eyes," show clearly that he pointed to what was visible, the fields with a harvest of men ready to be gathered.

      36. He that reapeth receiveth wages. The figure is kept up. The reaper in the harvest fields receives wages, and so shall those who reap the harvest of souls; not earthly pay in money, or fame, or position, but the happiness of doing the noblest work, and beyond, the crown of life shining with stars. "They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as stars forever and ever. In the reaping there is joy on earth and, on high, the joy of bringing sheaves to the Lord. Gathereth fruit. Souls, that are gathered as sheaves, into the eternal gainer. There, the saved souls and the reaper who gathered them "rejoice together."

      37. One soweth, and another reapeth. This was a common proverb, growing out of constant human experience, true of worldly and spiritual things. How often has the patient pastor sowed, and then the evangelist has reaped in a meeting the results!

      38. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor. The verb "sent" is past, and refers to some event before the present incident. It can only be explained by referring it to the events of the last eight months. The disciples had baptized multitudes, "more than John" (chapter 4:1); so many that John's disciples reported "all men come unto him" (chapter 3:26). The disciples of Christ who [77] baptized all of these (chapter 4:2), were reaping the fruit of John's sowing, to a great extent, supplemented by the labors of Christ. John had sown; they were reaping. Other men labored. John and other holy men, but the disciples had entered in upon their labors. So, too, Christ sowed, and at Pentecost, in Judea, and in Samaria, they afterwards entered into his labors. See the reaping of what he had sowed in Samaria, at this time, in Acts 8:5-8.

      39. And many of the Samaritans believed on him for the saying of the woman. She had borne witness, wisely, gladly, as best she could, and though a very humble creature, she had not preached Christ in vain.

      40. So when the Samaritan were come. Because already faith was sprung up in their hearts, they insisted that he should tarry with them. A strange invitation for a Samaritan village to give to a Jew. It was also a strange thing for a Jewish teacher to accept the invitation.

      41. Many more believed because of his own word. They saw and heard for themselves. He worked no miracles, but he poured the waters of life with the result that they recognized in him a divine teacher. He wrought miracles at Jerusalem, but how different the course of the self-righteous Pharisees!

      42. Know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world. The Samaritan hearts were good soil, ready for the word, open and honest, and hence there was a wonderful result. To the woman Jesus had said, that he was the Christ. Now by his teachings, many months before Peter's confession, the Samaritans pronounce him the Christ, the Savior, not of Jews only, or Jews and Samaritans, but of the world. It indicates a wonderful freedom from the narrow prejudices of their times that they should proclaim him as the world's Savior.


      1. God's work does not fatigue and weaken. It refreshes and strengthens. It is meat for the soul. It is the idlers in the vineyard who are sickly. It is the workers who are fresh, vigorous, and full of rejoicing.

      2. Harvest is a season of rejoicing. Pentecost, when the first fruits were waved, was a festival of joy. The "Harvest Home" has been an era of gladness in every land. What a time of heavenly rejoicing when the reapers in life's [78] harvest and their sheaves stand together in the presence of the Lord, and rejoice together!

      3. The fields are now white for the harvest; the harvest is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, that he may send laborers into his harvest.

      4. Though wearied, he does not neglect the occasion and opportunity offered to him. He commences the conversation by a natural request. He opens the woman's heart by requesting from her a favor. He passes, by a natural transition from the physical to the spiritual world, from nature to the truth of which nature testifies.--Abbott.

      5. Had you but stood by Jacob's well and seen the look of Jesus, and listened to the tones of his voice, or, had you been in Sychar during those two bright and happy days, hearing the instruction, so freely given, and so gratefully received, you would have had the evidence of sense to tell you with what abounding joy to all who are waiting and who are willing, Jesus breaks the bread and pours out the water of everlasting life. Multiplied a thousand fold is the evidence to the same effect now offered to the eye and ear of faith. Still, from the lips of the Savior of the world, over all the world the words are sounding forth: "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink." Still, the manner of his dispensation of the great gift, stands embodied in the words: "Thou wouldst have asked, and I would have given thee living water." And still the other voices are heard catching up and re-echoing our Lord's own gracious invitation: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely."--Hanna.

      6. In the temple, between the court of the Gentiles and the next inner court, was a marble screen or curiously carved fence, some two feet high, beyond which no Gentile could venture. Had a Samaritan put his foot inside of that "wall of partition," he would have been whirled away in a fury of rage and stoned to death in the twinkling of an eye. But Jesus was treading down that partition wall. This visit in Samaria is of singular importance, at the opening of Christ's ministry, in two respects: First, as a deliberate repudiation and rebuke of the exclusiveness of the Jewish church; and secondly, and even more significantly, as to the humane manner of his treatment of a sinning woman. It was the text from which flowed two distinguishing elements of his ministry--sympathy with mankind, and the tenderest compassion for those who have sinned and stumbled.


      This lesson, though it follows the last without a break in John's Gospel, is thought to be separated in time by a short interval from the last. It will be noted that Jesus, on leaving Samaria, does not return to his old home at Nazareth, the home of his mother and brethren, but goes to Cana, where he made the water wine, the home of Nathanael or Bartholomew, one of his disciples. It is well known that John did not aim to give a full history of the words and deeds of Jesus (John 21:25), but rather to supply what had been omitted by Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is thought by many that the teaching in the synagogue of Nazareth, related in Luke 4:16-30, occurred at [79] this time, immediately after his departure from Samaria. It certainly occurred early in his ministry, and it is probable that it was at this time. If this view is correct, Jesus passed a Sabbath, soon after his sojourn at Sychar, at his old home, and attended the synagogue where he had often worshiped; was handed the Scripture to read the lesson of the day, as a teacher of established fame; read from Isaiah and spoke words that were at first listened to with profound attention, but soon with disapproval; and when he rebuked sternly the implied demand that he should work a miracle for their gratification, they rose in an angry mob and endeavored to take his life. Passing from their midst, by the exercise of a power, either moral or supernatural, which he often exerted, he turned his back on Nazareth never to return. "For," says John, "Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honor in his own country." Therefore he went into other parts of Galilee. This view is made more probable by the fact that in going from Sychar to Cana, Jesus would pass either through, or very near to Nazareth, it lying almost directly between the two former places. See also Matt. 13:57; Mark 6:4, and Luke 4:24, in each of which passages the same statement is made as in verse 44 by John, and in each case refers to the rejection of Christ by the people of Nazareth.

      The return of Jesus brings him once more in that part of Palestine in which his youth was passed and where, until the last year of his ministry, he did most of his teachings and wrought most of his miracles. Though Nazareth might be filled with narrow prejudice against the exalted claims of the boy who had grown up in the humble carpenter's family, whom it had seen so often playing on its hills, or had beheld in his manhood working at the bench, and who, it knew, had never attended any of the great schools of Jewish theology, yet the Galileans, as a body, were far more disposed to listen with favor to his teachings than the proud Jews of the national capital. Though Galilee was not free from its conflicts, yet it furnished Christ all the apostles but one, and that one proved a traitor, and we find evidence that his teachings exerted a profound effect on the Galilean mind in the fact that, after his resurrection, "five hundred brethren at once" were permitted to behold the risen Lord in Galilee. The Galileans, remote from the influence of the temple, and brought into closer contact with Gentile influences, were less prejudiced and narrow, more simple in their faith, and of more open hearts than the Jerusalem Jews. It was among this teachable people that the Savior seemed to love to linger; there was Capernaum "his own city," there he fed the five thousand who attended his ministry on two different occasions, there the transfiguration occurred, there the enthusiastic multitudes sought to make him a king by force, and when on the last Sunday of his earthly ministry he made his entry as a king into Jerusalem, the multitude who surrounded him were mostly Galileans.

      43. After two days he departed thence and went into Galilee. Two days were spent delightfully in sowing the seed of the kingdom in the "good ground" of the Samaritan hearts. Then he went on to Galilee, for which he had started, and [80] which he had left about eight months before. Luke 4:14, 15, which probably refers to this time, makes it probable that he spent a short time teaching elsewhere before reaching Nazareth.

      44. For Jesus himself testified that a prophet hath no honor in his own country. The "for" explains why Jesus did not tarry at Nazareth, but went to other parts of Galilee and stopped at Capernaum. This statement of Jesus is recorded four times and in three of these certainly refers to the rejection of Jesus by his neighbors and kindred at Nazareth (see Matt. 13:57; Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24). This must be its meaning here, and is evidently based on the incident recorded in Luke 4:14-30. It declares a general truth. Judea persecuted Isaiah and Jeremiah; Israel, Elijah; Columbus had to go to a foreign land to got help to discover America. The interpretation of this passage, suggested by comparison with the parallel passages, that it explains his turning aside from Nazareth to sojourn elsewhere, is so easy and natural that it is a surprise to the writer that so many commentators reject it for far-fetched and complicated explanations.

      45. When he was come into Galilee the Galileans received him. He had honor abroad in Galilee, though rejected at his own home. The ready reception of the Galileans is explained in the statement that they had seen all that he had done at the feast, his cleansing of the temple, and his miracles. John explains, for the benefit of Gentile readers, that "the Galileans also attended the feast," as was customary with all devout Israelites. The hearty reception of the Galileans is in striking contrast with the opposition of the priests, Levites and rulers of Jerusalem. This helps us to understand why Jesus spent so large a portion of his ministry in Galilee and selected Galileans for his apostles.

      46. So Jesus came again to Cana, where he had made the water wine. It was the home of Nathanael, who, there is reason to believe, had followed him in his journey to Judea, and some think that it was now the home of Mary, but this is mere conjecture. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick. The Greek word translated "nobleman" is Basileukos, from Basileus, a king, and implies one connected in some way with royalty. "Origen thinks he may have been one of Cæsar's household, having business in Judea at this time. But the usage of Josephus is the safest guide. He uses the word Basileukos to distinguish the soldiers, or courtiers, or officers of the kings (Herod and others), but never to designate the royal family. He may have been Chuza, Herod's steward (Luke 8:3), but this is pure conjecture. This man seems to have been a Jew.--"Alford. He was probably a king's officer of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, and was stationed at Capernaum. Capernaum. The site of this city, so [81] interesting as the "Lord's own city," his earthly home for two years of his ministry, is certainly known. That of Cana is in dispute, but it was probably distant twenty or twenty-five miles from the former. Cana was in the hill country; Capernaum, "down" on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Hence Jesus is besought to "come down."

      47. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judea. Either he had been to Jerusalem to the feast, or he had heard of the deeds of Jesus from others. The fact that he comes, as soon as he heard of the return of the Lord, shows that he was already regarded as a prophet in Galilee. Note that: 1. The nobleman has already "faith as a grain of mustard seed" in Jesus; 2. That faith moves him to seek the aid of Jesus; 3. To make sure of his help he comes in person, instead of sending servants; 4. While he thought he could heal his son, he did not comprehend that it could be done unless Jesus came to where he was; 5. He thought it would be too late if the son died before his coming. His faith was very imperfect.

      48. Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. Jesus had just come from Sychar where, without a miracle, but because his words and character met the needs of their souls, the people believed on him and declared him "the Christ, the Savior of the world." The nobleman, in his sore distress, has some faith, caused only by the fame of the "signs and wonders" wrought. His faith is still imperfect, far below the holy trust of the Samaritans. He is the type of a class whose belief depended on outward signs, while a higher, nobler faith, is that which recognizes in Jesus the Bread of life, that satisfies the hunger of the soul. A "sign" was a miracle wrought as a proof; the term "wonder" does not demand such a motive for the miracle.

      49. Sir, come down ere my child die. Fearing, by the Savior's reply, that he did not intend to grant his request, he makes an impassioned appeal. "Not a moment was to be lost. Soon it would be too late. Come down, at once, before the child is dead." Christ is educating his faith. It is made more complete by the next utterance.

      50. Go thy way; thy son liveth. These words were spoken like the Son of God. There was no hesitation; no doubt; the fact is as firm as the hills of Cana. The manner of the Lord at once carried conviction to the heart of the sorrowing father. The man believed. At the time of his coming he had a partial belief that Jesus was a prophet; now he believes upon him; believes his word; believes [82] that at the moment he said, "Thy son liveth," his disease was arrested. He did not comprehend the Savior's mission and character, but he now had such faith in him that he was ready to accept all his words.

      51. And as he was going down. He did not hurry back. He might have reached Capernaum the same evening, as the Savior had dismissed him at one o'clock, but his anxiety was gone. It was on the next morning that his servants met him with the good news that his son was well.

      52. Yesterday, at the seventh hour, the fever left him. At the exact hour that Jesus had spoken the fever disappeared. The seventh hour is one o'clock.

      53. Himself believed, and his whole house. Henceforth this household was among the believers. It is a natural and pardonable curiosity that leads us to seek their further history. He was an officer of Herod, and the fact that "Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward," was one who ministered to him in his Galilean ministry, has suggested that he may have been the nobleman. Acts 13:1, names Manaen, "who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch," as a prominent Christian of Antioch. He may have been the man whose son was healed.

      54. This is again the second miracle. The word is "sign" in the Greek. He had wrought other miracles in Judea, but this was the second wrought in Galilee. The seat of the first was Cana; the Lord was at Cana when he wrought the second, but the subject of it was at Capernaum.


      1. Christ is the Great Physician; the healer of the sickness of our souls.

      2. He hears our prayers on his heavenly throne and from thence can say when we pray that our children may drink of the "living water," "Thy son liveth."

      3. "Blessed are they who, not having seen, have believed," because they have found in Christ Him who meets every want of the soul.

      4. How often those who have the best spiritual opportunities are slowest to appreciate them. R. G. Ingersoll was the son of a preacher. We have known many other preacher's sons who were wicked blasphemers. The people of Nazareth rejected Christ. 'He came to his own and his own received him not.' "Many shall come from the east and the west (from afar off), and sit down with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out." [83]

[NTC3 65-83]

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B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)

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