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Home / Commentaries / Barne's Notes / John /  Chapter 4

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

John 4

Verse 1

The Lord knew - When Jesus knew. how he knew this we are not informed; whether by that power of omniscience by which he knew all things, or whether some person had informed him of it.

How the Pharisees had heard - The Pharisees, here, seem to denote either the members of the Sanhedrin or those who were in authority. They claimed the authority to regulate the rites and ceremonies of religion, and hence they supposed they had a right to inquire into the conduct of both John and our Lord. They had on a former occasion sent to inquire of John to know by what authority he had introduced such a rite into the religion of the Jewish people. See the notes at John 1:25.

More disciples than John - Though many of the Pharisees came to his baptism John 1:25. The reasons of this were, probably, the severity and justness of his reproofs Matthew 3:7, and the fact that by drawing many after him he weakened their authority and influence. As they were displeased with John, so they were with Jesus, who was doing the same thing on a larger scale - not only making disciples, but baptizing also without their authority, and drawing away the people after him.


Verse 2

Though Jesus himself baptized not - The reason why Jesus did not baptize was probably because, if He had baptized, it might have made unhappy divisions among his followers: those might have considered themselves most worthy or honored who had been baptized by Him. Compare 1 Corinthians 1:17.


Verse 3

He left Judea - The envy and malice of the Pharisees he might have known were growing so rapidly as to endanger his life. As his time to die had not yet come, he retired to Galilee, a country farther from Jerusalem, and much less under their control than Judea. See Mark 2:22; Luke 3:1. Though he feared not death and did not shrink from suffering, yet he did not needlessly throw himself into danger or provoke opposition. He could do as much good in Galilee, probably, as in Judea, and he therefore withdrew himself from immediate danger.


Verse 4

And he must needs go through Samaria - Samaria was between Judea and Galilee. The direct and usual way was to pass through Samaria. Sometimes, however, the Jews took a circuitous route on the east side of the Jordan. See the notes at Matthew 2:22.


Verse 5

Sychar - This city stood about eight miles southeast of the city called Samaria, between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. It was one of the oldest cities of Palestine, and was formerly known by the name of “Shechem,” or Sichem, Genesis 33:18; Genesis 12:6. The city was in the tribe of Ephraim, Joshua 21:21. It was at this place that Joshua assembled the people before his death, and here they renewed their covenant with the Lord, Judges 9:46. It was destroyed by Abimelech, who beat down the city and sowed it with salt, Judges 9:45. It was afterward rebuilt, and became the residence of Jeroboam, the King of Israel, 1 Kings 12:25. It was called by the Romans “Flavia Neapolis,” and this has been corrupted by the Arabs into “Nablus,” its present name. It is still a considerable place, and its site is remarkably pleasant and productive.

The parcel of ground - The piece of ground; or the land, etc.

That Jacob gave … - Jacob bought one piece of ground near to Shalem, a city of Shechem, of the children of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for an hundred pieces of silver, Genesis 33:19. In this place the bones of Joseph were buried when they were brought up from Egypt, Joshua 24:32. He also gave to Joseph an additional piece of ground which he took from the hand of the Amorite by his own valor, “with his sword and his bow,” as a portion above that which was given to his brethren, Genesis 48:22. Possibly these pieces of ground lay near together, and were a part of the homestead of Jacob. The well was near to this. There is now, E. Smith mentioned to me in conversation, a place near this well called Shalem.


Verse 6

Jacob‘s well - This is not mentioned in the Old Testament. It was called “Jacob‘s well,” probably, either because it was handed down by tradition that he dug it, or because it was near to the land which he gave to Joseph. There is still a well a few miles to the east of Nablus, which is said by the people there to be the same. Eli Smith, missionary to Syria, stated to me that he had visited this well. It is about 100 feet deep. It is cut through solid rock of limestone. It is now dry, probably from having been partly filled with rubbish, or perhaps because the water has been diverted by earthquakes. The well is covered with a large stone, which has a hole in the center large enough to admit a man. It is at the foot of Mount Gerizim, and has a plain on the east.

Sat thus - Jesus was weary, and, being thus weary, sat down on the well. The word translated “on” here may denote also by - he sat down “by” the well, or near it.

The sixth hour - About twelve o‘clock noon. This was the common time of the Jewish meal, and this was the reason why his disciples were gone away to buy food.


Verse 7

Of Samaria - Not of the “city” of Samaria, for this was at a distance of 8 miles, but a woman who was a Samaritan, and doubtless from the city of Sychar.

Give me to drink - This was in the heat of the day, and when Jesus was weary with his journey. The request was also made that it might give him occasion to discourse with her on the subject of religion, and in this instance we have a specimen of the remarkably happy manner in which he could lead on a conversation so as to introduce the subject of religion.


Verse 8

Buy meat - Buy food.


Verse 9

No dealings with the Samaritans - For an account of the Samaritans, and of the differences between them and the Jews, see the notes at Matthew 10:5.


Verse 10

The gift of God - The word “gift,” here denotes “favor.” It may refer to Jesus Himself, as the gift of God to the world, given to save men from death John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 9:15, or it may refer to the opportunity then afforded her of seeking salvation. If thou knewest how favorable an opportunity God now gives thee to gain a knowledge of himself, etc.

And who it is … - If thou knewest that the Messiah was speaking.

Living water - The Jews used the expression “living water” to denote springs, fountains, or running streams, in opposition to dead and stagnant water. Jesus here means to denote by it his doctrine, or his grace and religion, in opposition to the impure and dead notions of the Jews and the Samaritans. See John 4:14. This was one of the many instances in which he took occasion from common topics of conversation to introduce religious discourse. None ever did it so happily as he did, but, by studying his example and manner, we may learn also to do it. One way to acquire the art is to have the mind full of the subject; to make religion our first and main thing; to carry it with us into all employments and into all society; to look upon everything in a religious light, and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak, Matthew 12:34.


Verse 11

Hast nothing to draw with - It seems that there were no means of drawing water affixed to the well, as with us. Probably each one took a pail or pitcher and a cord for the purpose. In traveling this was indispensable. The woman, seeing that Jesus had no means of drawing water, and not yet understanding his design, naturally inquired whence he could obtain the water.

The well is deep - If the same one that is there now, it was about 100 feet deep.


Verse 12

Art thou greater? - Art thou wiser, or better able to find water, than Jacob was? It seems that she supposed that he meant that he could direct her to some living spring, or to some better well in that region, and that this implied more knowledge or skill than Jacob had. To find water and to furnish a good well was doubtless considered a matter of signal skill and success. It was a subject of great importance in that region. This shows how ready sinners are to misunderstand the words of Christ, and to pervert the doctrines of religion. If she had had any proper anxiety about her soul, she would at least have “suspected” that he meant to direct her thoughts to spiritual objects.

Our father Jacob - The Samaritans were composed partly of the remnant of the ten tribes, and partly of people sent from Chaldea; still, they considered themselves descendants of Jacob.

Which gave us - This was doubtless the tradition, though there is no evidence that it was true.

And drank thereof … - This was added in commendation of the water of the well. A well from which Jacob, and his sons, and cattle had drank must be pure, and wholesome, and honored, and quite as valuable as any that Jesus could furnish. People like to commend that which their ancestors used as superior to anything else. The world over, people love to speak of that which their ancestors have done, and boast of titles and honors that have been handed down from them, even if it is nothing better than existed here - because Jacob‘s cattle had drunk of the water.


Verse 13

Shall thirst again - Jesus did not directly answer her question, or say that he was greater than Jacob, but he gave her an answer by which she might infer that he was. He did not despise or undervalue Jacob or his gifts; but, however great might be the value of that well, the water could not altogether remove thirst.


Verse 14

The water that I shall give him - Jesus here refers, without doubt, to his own teaching, his “grace,” his “spirit,” and to the benefits which come into the soul that embraces his gospel. It is a striking image, and especially in Eastern countries, where there are vast deserts, and often a great want of water. The soul by nature is like such a desert, or like a traveler wandering through such a desert. It is thirsting for happiness, and seeking it everywhere, and finds it not. It looks in all directions and tries all objects, but in vain. Nothing meets its desires. Though a sinner seeks for joy in wealth and pleasures, yet he is not satisfied. He still thirsts for more, and seeks still for happiness in some new enjoyment. To such a weary and unsatisfied sinner the grace of Christ is “as cold waters to a thirsty soul.”

Shall never thirst - He shall be “satisfied” with this, and will not have a sense of want, a distressing feeling that it is not adapted to him. He who drinks this will not wish to seek for happiness in other objects. “Satisfied” with the grace of Christ, he will not desire the pleasures and amusements of this world. And this will be forever - in this world and the world to come. “Whosoever” drinketh of this all who partake of the gospel - shall be “forever” satisfied with its pure and rich joys.

Shall be in him - The grace of Christ shall be in his heart; or the principles of religion shall abide with him.

A well of water - There shall be a constant supply, an unfailing fountain; or religion shall live constantly with him.

Springing up - This is a beautiful image, It shall bubble or spring up like a fountain. It is not like a stagnant pool - not like a deep well, but like an ever-living fountain, that flows at all seasons of the year, in heat and cold, and in all external circumstances of weather, whether foul or fair, wet or dry. So religion always lives; and, amid all changes of external circumstances - in heat and cold, hunger and thirst, prosperity and adversity, life, persecution, contempt, or death - it still lives on, and refreshes and cheers the soul.

Into everlasting life - It is not temporary, like the supply of our natural wants; it is not changing in its nature; it is not like a natural fountain or spring of water, to play a While and then die away, as all natural springs will at the end of the world. It is eternal in its nature and supply, and will continue to live on forever. We may learn here:

1.that the Christian has a never-failing source of consolation adapted to all times and circumstances.

2.that religion has its seat in the heart, and that it should constantly live there.

3.that it sheds its blessings on a world of sin, and is manifest by a continual life of piety, like a constant flowing spring.

4.that its end is everlasting life. It will continue forever; and “whosoever drinks of this shall never thirst, but his piety shall be in his heart a pure fountain “springing up to eternal joy.”


Verse 15

The woman said … - It may seem strange that the woman did not yet understand him, but it shows how slow sinners are to understand the doctrines of religion.


Verse 16

Go call thy husband - We may admire the manner which our Saviour took to lead her to perceive that he was the Christ. His instructions she did not understand. He therefore proceeded to show her that he was acquainted with her life and with her sins. His object, here, was to lead her to consider her own state and sinfulness - a delicate and yet pungent way of making her see that she was a sinner. By showing her, also, that he knew her life, though a stranger to her, he convinced her that he was qualified to teach her the way to heaven, and thus prepared her to admit that he was the Messiah, John 4:29.


Verse 17

I have no husband - This was said, evidently, to evade the subject. Perhaps she feared that if she came there with the man that she lived with, the truth might be exposed. It is not improbable that by this time she began to suspect that Jesus was a prophet.

Hast well said - Hast said the truth.


Verse 18

Hast had five husbands - Who have either died; or who, on account of your improper conduct, have divorced you; or whom you have left improperly, without legal divorce. Either of these might have be. en the case.

Is not thy husband - You are not lawfully married to him. Either she might have left a former husband without divorce, and thus her marriage with this man was unlawful, or she was living with him without the form of marriage, in open guilt.


Verse 19

A prophet - One sent from God, and who understood her life. The word here does not denote one who foretells future events, but one who knew her heart and life, and who must therefore have come from God. She did not yet suppose him to be the Messiah, John 4:25. Believing him now to be a man sent from God, she proposed to him a question respecting the proper place of worship. This point had been long a matter of dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews. She submitted it to him because she thought he could settle the question, and perhaps because she wished to divert the conversation from the unpleasant topic respecting her husbands. The conversation about her manner of life was a very unpleasant topic to her - as it is always unpleasant to sinners to talk about their lives and the necessity of religion - and she was glad to turn the conversation to something else. Nothing is more common than for sinners to change the conversation when it begins to bear too hard upon their consciences; and no way of doing it is more common than to direct it to sonic speculative inquiry having some sort of connection with religion, as if to show that they are willing to talk about religion, and do not wish to appear to be opposed to it. Sinners do not love direct religious conversation, but many are too well-bred to refuse altogether to talk about it; yet they choose to converse about some speculative matter, or something pertaining to the mere “externals” of religion, rather than the salvation of their own souls. So sinners often now change the conversation to some inquiry about a preacher, or about some doctrine, or about building or repairing a place of worship, or about a Sunday school, in order to seeM to talk about religion, and yet to evade close and faithful appeals to their own consciences.


Verse 20

Our fathers - The Samaritans; perhaps also meaning to intimate that the patriarchs had done it also. See Genesis 12:6; Genesis 33:20.

Worshipped - Had a place of worship.

In this mountain - Mount Gerizim, only a little way from Sychar. On this mountain they had built a temple somewhat similar to the one in Jerusalem. This was one of the main subjects of controversy between them and the Jews. The old Samaritan Pentateuch, or five books of Moses, has the word “Gerizim” instead of “Ebal” in Deuteronomy 27:4. On this account, as well as because the patriarchs are mentioned as having worshipped in Shechem, they supposed that that was the proper place on which to erect the temple.

Ye say - Ye Jews.

In Jerusalem - The place where the temple was built. This was built in accordance with the promise and command of God, Deuteronomy 12:5, Deuteronomy 12:11. In building this, David and Solomon were under the divine direction, 2 Samuel 7:2-3, 2 Samuel 7:13; 1 Kings 5:5, 1 Kings 5:12; 1 Kings 8:15-22. As it was contemplated in the law of Moses that there should be but one place to offer sacrifice and to hold the great feasts, so it followed that the Samaritans were in error in supposing that their temple was the place. Accordingly, our Saviour decided in favor of the Jews, yet in such a manner as to show the woman that the question was of much less consequence than they supposed it to be.


Verse 21

Believe me - As she had professed to believe that he was a prophet, it was right to require her to put faith in what he was about to utter. It also shows the importance of what he was about to say.

The hour cometh - The time is coming, or is near.

When neither in this mountain … - Hitherto the public solemn worship of God has been confined to one place. It has been a matter of dispute whether that place should be Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim. That controversy is to be of much less importance than you have supposed. The old dispensation is about to pass away. The special rites of the Jews are to cease. The worship of God, so long confined to a single place, is soon to be celebrated everywhere, and with as much acceptance in one place as in another. He does not say that there would be no worship of God in that place or in Jerusalem, but that the worship of God would not be “confined” there. He would be worshipped in other places as well as there.


Verse 22

Ye worship ye know not what - This probably refers to the comparative ignorance and corruption of the Samaritan worship. Though they received the five books of Moses, yet they rejected the prophets, and of course all that the prophets had said respecting the true God. Originally, also, they had joined the worship of idols to that of the true God. See 2 Kings 17:26-34. They had, moreover, no authority for building their temple and conducting public worship by sacrifices there. On all these accounts they were acting in an unauthorized manner. They were not obeying the true God, nor offering the worship which he had commanded or would approve. Thus, Jesus indirectly settled the question which she had proposed to him, yet in such a way as to show her that it was of much less importance than she had supposed.

We know - We Jews. This they knew because God had commanded it; because they worshipped in a place appointed by God, and because they did it in accordance with the direction and teaching of the prophets.

Salvation is of the Jews - They have the true religion and the true form of worship; and the Messiah, who will bring salvation, is to proceed from them. See Luke 2:30; Luke 3:6. Jesus thus affirms that the Jews had the true form of the worship of God. At the same time he was sensible how much they had corrupted it, and on various occasions reproved them for it.


Verse 23

But the hour cometh, and now is - The old dispensation is about to pass away, and the new one to commence. “Already” there is so much light that God may be worshipped acceptably in any place.

The true worshippers - All who truly and sincerely worship God. They who do it with the heart, and not merely in form.

In spirit - The word “spirit,” here, stands opposed to rites and ceremonies, and to the pomp of external worship. It refers to the “mind,” the “soul,” the “heart.” They shall worship God with a sincere “mind;” with the simple offering of gratitude and prayer; with a desire to glorify him, and without external pomp and splendor. Spiritual worship is that where the heart is offered to God, and where we do not depend on external forms for acceptance.

In truth - Not through the medium of shadows and types, not by means of sacrifices and bloody offerings, but in the manner represented or typified by all these, Hebrews 9:9, Hebrews 9:24. In the true way of direct access to God through Jesus Christ.

For the Father seeketh … - Jesus gives two reasons why this kind of worship should take place. One is that God sought it, or desired it. He had appointed the old mode, but he did it because he sought to lead the mind to himself even by those forms, and to prepare the people for the purer system of the gospel, and now he sought or desired that those who worshipped him should worship him in that manner. He intimated his will by Jesus Christ.


Verse 24

God is A spirit - This is the second reason why men should worship him in spirit and in truth. By this is meant that God is without a body; that he is not material or composed of parts; that he is invisible, in every place, pure and holy. This is one of the first truths of religion, and one of the sublimest ever presented to the mind of man. Almost all nations have had some idea of God as gross or material, but the Bible declares that he is a pure spirit. As he is such a spirit, he dwells not in temples made with hands Acts 7:48, neither is worshipped with men‘s hands as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things, Acts 17:25. A pure, a holy, a spiritual worship, therefore, is such as he seeks - the offering of the soul rather than the formal offering of the body - the homage of the heart rather than that of the lips.


Verse 25

I know that Messias cometh - As the Samaritans acknowledged the five books of Moses, so they expected, also, the coming of the Messiah.

Which is called Christ - These are probably the words of the evangelist, as it is not likely that the woman would explain the name on such an occasion.

Will tell us all things - Jesus had decided the question proposed to him John 4:20 in favor of the Jews. The woman does not seem to have been satisfied with this answer, and said that the Messiah would tell them all about this question. Probably she was expecting that he would soon appear.


Verse 26

I that speak onto thee am - he I am the Messiah. This was the first time that he openly professed it. He did not do it yet to the Jews, for it would have excited envy and opposition. But nothing could be apprehended in Samaria; and as the woman seemed reluctant to listen to him as a prophet, and professed her willingness to listen to the Messiah, he openly declared that he was the Christ, that by some means he might save her soul. From this we may learn:

1.The great wisdom of the Lord Jesus in leading the thoughts along to the subject of practical personal religion.

2.His knowledge of the heart and of the life. He must be therefore divine.

3.He gave evidence here that he was the Messiah. This was the design of John in writing this gospel. He has therefore recorded this narrative, which was omitted by the other evangelists.

4.We see our duty. It is to seize on all occasions to lead sinners to the belief that Jesus is the Christ, and to make use of all topics of conversation to teach them the nature of religion. There never was a model of so much wisdom in this as the Saviour, and we shall be successful only as we diligently study his character.

5.We see the nature of religion. It does not consist merely in external forms. It is pure, spiritual, active - an ever-bubbling fountain. It is the worship of a pure and holy God, where the heart is offered, and where the desires of an humble soul are breathed out; for salvation.


Verse 27

Upon this - At this time.

Marvelled - Wondered. They wondered because the Jews had no contact with the Samaritans, and they were surprised that Jesus was engaged with her in conversation.

Yet no man said - No one of the disciples. They had such respect and reverence for him that they did not dare to ask him the reason of his conduct, or even to appear to reprove him. We should be confident that Jesus is right, even if we cannot fully understand all that he does.


Verse 28

Left her water-pot - Her mind was greatly excited. She was disturbed, and hastened to the city in great agitation to make this known. She seems to have been convinced that he was the Messiah, and went immediately to make it known to others. Our first business, when we have found the Saviour, should be to make him known also to others.


Verse 29

Is not this the Christ? - Though she probably believed it, yet she proposed it modestly, lest she should appear to dictate in a case which was so important, and which demanded so much attention. The evidence on which she was satisfied that he was the Messiah was that he had told her all things that she had done - perhaps much more than is here recorded. The question which she submitted to them was whether this was not satisfactory proof that he was the Messiah.


Verse 30

They went out of the city - The men of the city left it and went to Jesus, to hear and examine for themselves.


Verse 31

Prayed him - Asked him.


Verse 32

I have meat to eat - See John 4:34.


Verse 33

Hath any man brought him … - This is one of the many instances in which the disciples were slow to understand the Saviour.


Verse 34

My meat … - Jesus here explains what he said in John 4:32. His great object - the great design of his life - was to do the will of God. He came to that place weary and thirsty, and at the usual time of meals, probably hungry; yet an opportunity of doing good presented itself, and he forgot his fatigue and hunger, and found comfort and joy in doing good - in seeking to save a soul. This one great object absorbed all his powers, and made him forget his weariness and the wants of nature. The mind may be so absorbed in doing the will of God as to forget all other things. Intent on this, we may rise above fatigue, and hardship, and want, and bear all with pleasure in seeing the work of God advance. See Job 23:12; “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necesary food.” We may learn, also, that the main business of life is not to avoid fatigue or to seek the supply of our temporal wants, but to do the will of God. The mere supply of our temporal necessities, though most people make it an object of their chief solicitude, is a small consideration in the sight of him who has just views of the great design of human life.

The will of him that sent me - The will of God in regard to the salvation of men. See John 6:38.

To finish his work - To “complete” or fully to do the work which he has commanded in regard to the salvation of men. It is his work to provide salvation, and his to redeem, and his to apply the salvation to the heart. Jesus came to do it by teaching, by his example, and by his death as an expiation for sin. And he shows us that “we” should be diligent. If he was so diligent for our welfare, if he bore fatigue and want to benefit us, then we should be diligent, also, in regard to our own salvation, and also in seeking the salvation of others.


Verse 35

Say not ye - This seems to have been a proverb. Ye say - that is, men say.

Four months and … - The common time from sowing the seed to the harvest, in Judea, was about “four months.” The meaning of this passage may be thus expressed: “The husbandman, when he sows his seed, is compelled to wait a considerable period before it produces a crop. He is encouraged in sowing it; he expects fruit; his labor is lightened by that expectation; but it is not “immediate” - it is remote. But it is not so with my preaching. The seed has already sprung up. Scarce was it sown before it produced an abundant harvest. The gospel was just preached to a woman, and see how many of the Samaritans come to hear it also. There is therefore more encouragement to labor in this field than the farmer has to sow his grain.”

Lift up your eyes - See the Samaritans coming to hear the gospel.

They are white - Grain, when ripe, turns from a green to a yellow or light color, indicating that it is time to reap it. So here were indications that the gospel was effectual, and that the harvest was to be gathered in. Hence, we may learn:

1. that there is as much encouragement to attempt to save souls as the farmer has to raise a crop.

2. that the gospel is fitted to make an immediate impression on the minds of men. We are to expect that it will. We are not to wait to some future period, as if we could not expect immediate results. This wicked and ignorant people - little likely, apparently, to be affected - turned to God, heard the voice of the Saviour, and came in multitudes to him.

3. We are to expect revivals of religion. Here was one instance of it under the Saviour‘s own preaching. Multitudes were excited, moved, and came to learn the way of life.

4. We know not how much good may be done by conversation with even a single individual. This conversation with a woman resulted in a deep interest felt throughout the city, and in the conversion of many of them to God. So, a single individual may often be the means, in the hand of God, of leading many to the cross of Jesus.

5. What evils may follow from neglecting to do our duty! How easily might Jesus have alleged, if he had been like many of his professed disciples, that he was weary, that he was hungry, that it was esteemed improper to converse with a woman alone, that she was an abandoned character, and there could be little hope of doing her good! How many consciences of ministers and Christians would have been satisfied with reasoning like this? Yet Jesus, in spite of his fatigue and thirst, and all the difficulties of the case, seriously set about seeking the conversion of this woman. And behold what a glorious result! The city was moved, and a great harvest was found ready to be gathered in! “Let us not be weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.”


Verse 36

He that reapeth - He that gathers the harvest, or he who so preaches that souls are converted to Christ.

Receiveth wages - The laborer in the harvest receives his hire. Jesus says it shall be thus with those who labor in the ministry - he will not suffer them to go unrewarded. See Daniel 12:3; Matthew 19:28.

Gathereth fruit unto life eternal - Converts souls, who shall inherit eternal life. The harvest is not temporary, like gathering grain, but shall result in eternal life.

That both he that soweth … - It is a united work. It matters little whether we sow the seed or whether we reap the harvest. It is part of the same work, and whatever part we may do, we should rejoice. God gives the increase, while Paul may plant and Apollos water. The teacher in the Sunday school, who sows the seed in early life, shall rejoice with the minister of the gospel who may gather in the harvest, and both join in giving all the praise to God.


Verse 37

That saying - That proverb. This proverb is found in some of the Greek writers (Grotius). Similar proverbs were in use among the Jews. See Isaiah 65:21-22; Leviticus 26:16; Micah 6:15.

One soweth … - One man may preach the gospel, and with little apparent effect; another, succeeding him, may be crowned with eminent success. The seed, long buried, may spring up in an abundant harvest.


Verse 38

I sent you - In the commission given you to preach the gospel. You have not labored or toiled in preparing the way for the great harvest which is now to be gathered in.

Other men laboured -

(1)The prophets, who long labored to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.

(2)the teachers among the Jews, who have read and explained the law and taught the people.

(3)John the Baptist, who came to prepare the way. And,

(4)The Saviour himself, who by his personal ministry taught the people, and prepared them for the success which was to attend the preaching of the apostles.

Especially did Jesus lay the foundation for the rapid and extensive spread of the gospel. “He” saw comparatively little fruit of his ministry. He confined his labors to Judea, and even there he was occupied in sowing seed which chiefly sprang up after his death. From this we may learn:

1. That the man who is crowned with eminent success has no cause of “boasting” over others, any more than the man who reaps a field of grain should boast over the man who sowed it. The labor of both is equally necessary, and the labor of both would be useless if God did not give the increase. Compare 1 Corinthians 3:6.

2. We should not be discouraged if we do not meet with immediate success. The man that sows is not disheartened because he does not see the harvest “immediately” spring up. We are to sow our seed in the morning, and in the evening we are not to withhold our hand, for we know not whether shall prosper, this or that; and we are to go forth bearing precious seed, though “weeping,” knowing that we shall come again rejoicing, bearing our sheaves with us, Ecclesiastes 11:4; Psalm 126:6.

3. Every part of the work of the ministry and of teaching men is needful, and we should rejoice that we are permitted to bear any part, however humble, in bringing sinners to the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 12:21-24.


Verses 39-42

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him, … - There is seldom an instance of so remarkable success as this. From a single conversation, in circumstances, in a place, and with an individual little likely to be attended with such results, many sinners were converted; many believed on the testimony of the woman; many more came to hear, and believed because they heard him themselves. We should never despair of doing good in the most unpromising circumstances, and we should seize upon every opportunity to converse with sinners on the great subject of their souls‘ salvation.


Verse 43

Into Galilee - Into some of the parts of Galilee, though evidently not into Nazareth, but probably direct to Cana, John 4:46.


Verse 44

For Jesus himself testified … - See the notes at Matthew 13:57. The connection of this verse with the preceding may be thus explained: “Jesus went to Galilee, but not to Nazareth, for he testified,” etc. Or, “Jesus went to Galilee, ‹although‘ he had said that a prophet had no honor in his own country; yet, because he foreknew that the Galileans would many of them believe on him, he went at this time.”


Verse 45

Received him - Received him kindly, or as a messenger of God. They had seen his miracles, and believed on him.


Verse 46

A certain nobleman - One who was of the royal family, connected by birth with Herod Antipas; or one of the officers of the court, whether by birth allied to him or not. It seems that his ordinary residence was at Capernaum. Capernaum was about a day‘s journey from Cana, where Jesus then was.


Verse 47

He went unto him - Though high in office, yet he did not refuse to go personally to Jesus to ask his aid. He felt as a father; and believing, after all that Jesus had done, that he could cure his son, he traveled to meet him. If men receive benefits of Christ, they must come in the same manner. The rich and the poor, the high and the low, must come personally as humble suppliants, and must be willing to bear all the reproach that may be cast on them for thus coming to him. This man showed strong faith in being willing thus to go to Jesus, but he erred in supposing that Jesus could heal only by his being present with his son.

Would come down - It is probable that the miracles of Jesus heretofore had been performed only on those who were present with him, and this nobleman seems to have thought that this was necessary. One design of Jesus in working this miracle was to show him that this was not necessary. Hence he did not go down to Capernaum, but healed him where he was.


Verse 48

Except ye see signs … - This was spoken not to the nobleman only, but to the Galileans generally. The Samaritans had believed without any miracle. The Galileans, he said, were less disposed to believe him than even they were; and though he had performed miracles enough to convince them, yet, unless they continually saw them, they would not believe.


Verse 49

Come down … - The earnestness of the nobleman evinces the deep and tender anxiety of a father. So anxious was he for his son that he was not willing that Jesus should delay a moment - not even to address the people. He still seems to have supposed that Jesus had no power to heal his son except he was present with him.


Verse 50

Go thy way - This was a kind and tender address. It was designed to convince him that he could word a miracle though not personally present.

Thy son liveth - Thy son shall recover; or he shall be restored to health, according to thy request.

The man believed - The manner in which Jesus spoke it, and the assurance which he gave, convinced the man that he could heal him there as well as to go to Capernaum to do it. This is an instance of the power of Jesus to convince the mind, to soothe doubts, to confirm faith, and to meet our desires. He blesses not always in the manner in which we ask, but he grants us our main wish. The father wished his son healed by Jesus “going down” to Capernaum. Jesus healed him, but not in the way in which he asked it to be done. God will hear our prayers and grant our requests, but often not in the precise manner in which we ask it. It is his to judge of the best way of doing us good.


Verse 52

The seventh hour - About one o‘clock in the afternoon.

The same hour - The very time when Jesus spoke.

The fever left him - It seems that it left him suddenly and entirely; so much so that his friends went to inform the father, and to comfort him, and also, doubtless, to apprise him that it was not necessary to ask aid from Jesus. From this miracle we may learn,

1. That Jesus has an intimate knowledge of all things. He knew the case of this son - the extent of his disease where he was and thus had power to heal him.

2. That Jesus has almighty power. Nothing else could have healed this child. Nor could it be pretended that he did it by any natural means. He was far away from him, and the child knew not the source of the power that healed him. It could not be pretended that there was any collusion or jugglery. The father came in deep anxiety. The servants saw the cure. Jesus was at a distance. Everything in the case bears the mark of being the simple energy of God - put forth with equal ease to heal, whether far or near. Thus, he can save the sinner.

3. We see the benevolence of Jesus. Ever ready to aid, to heal, or to save, he may be called on at all times, and will never be called on in vain.


Verse 53

Himself believed - This miracle removed all his doubts, and he became a real disciple and friend of Jesus.

His whole house - His whole family. We may learn from this,

1. That sickness or any deep affliction is often the means of great good. Here the sickness of the son resulted in the faith of all the family. God often takes away earthly blessings that he may impart rich spiritual mercies.

2. The father of a family may be the means of the salvation of his children. Here the effort of a parent resulted in their conversion to Christ.

3. There is great beauty and propriety when sickness thus results in piety. For that it is sent. God does not willingly grieve or afflict the children of men; and when afflictions thus terminate, it will be cause of eternal joy, of ceaseless praise.

4. There is a special charm when piety thus comes into the families of the rich. and the noble. It is so unusual: their example and influence go so far; it overcomes so many temptations, and affords opportunities of doing so much good, that there is no wonder that the evangelist selected this instance as one of the effects of the power and of the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 4:1". "Barnes' Notes on the New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/view.cgi?book=joh&chapter=004. 1870.

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