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John 4

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

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Verses 1-54

The Samaritan Woman

1-42. Christ in Samaria. The ministry in Samaria is recorded because it is the author’s design to exhibit Christ as the Saviour, not only of Israel, but of the world (John 4:42).

The Samaritans were mainly an alien race, descended from the colonists planted in the land by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:6, 2 Kings 17:24, 2 Kings 17:26, 2 Kings 17:29; Ezra 4:1, Ezra 4:9-10). They boasted, however, of being Israelites, and with some degree of justification, for there was probably a considerable Jewish element in the population. Their worship, originally a compromise with heathenism, was now purely Jewish. They kept the sabbath, and the Jewish feasts, and observed circumcision and other traditional ordinances. Of the OT. they accepted only the Pentateuch, which they interpreted as commanding the erection of a Temple on Mt. Gerizim. That Christ should have preached in Samaria is somewhat surprising in view of such passages as Matthew 15:24 and Matthew 10:5, but it must be remembered that He did not enter Samaria for this purpose, but simply to reach Galilee (John 4:3).

1. The Pharisees had been hostile to John’s ministry; they were likely to be more so to the more successful ministry of Jesus. Our Lord, therefore, left Judæa, the chief centre of Pharisaism, to avoid a rupture. 2. Our Lord did not baptise, because it was His work to baptise with the Holy Ghost (John 1:33), and He could not do this (fully at least) till after His Ascension (see on John 3:5; John 3:22).

4. Must needs go through] Jesus had just heard that Herod Antipas had cast John into prison (Matthew 4:12). To escape this fate, He avoided Peræa, the seat of Herod’s power, and passed through Samaria.

5. Sychar] now ’Askar, near Shechem. Jacob’s well still retains its name. The parcel of ground, etc.] This is a Samaritan tradition, not expressly authorised by the OT., but based on a comparison of Genesis 33:19 with Genesis 48:22.

6. Thus] i.e. wearied as He was. For Christ’s subjection to human infirmity, see also John 11:35, John 11:38; John 19:28.

The sixth hour] i.e. either noon or 6 p.m. The number of events which happened subsequently seems to require the earlier hour, but see on John 1:39.

8. The later rabbis declared that to partake of Samaritan bread was like eating swine’s flesh, but in our Lord’s time Samaritan food was accounted clean.

9. The Jews have no dealings, etc.] Some ancient authorities omit this statement, which must be taken to refer only to intimate dealings. Our Lord had broken down the barrier by asking a favour. He wished to encourage her to ask a favour of Him, and so to give Him an opportunity of leading her to the truth.

10. The gift of God] i.e. all the blessings offered to us in Christ, especially the gift of eternal life (see John 4:13-14). Living water] As Christ does not identify Himself with the ’water,’ as He does with the ’bread’ in John 6, the ’water’ must be ’the grace and truth’ of which He is full (John 1:14), and which are communicated to believers through the Spirit (John 7:39). Both the thirst and the hunger of the soul (and these are felt even by such outcasts as the Samaritan woman) are satisfied by Christ.

11. The woman takes ’living water’ literally, as meaning the running water of a spring or stream as distinguished from the stagnant water of a cistern or well (Genesis 26:19; Leviticus 14:5, etc.).

12. In spite of their mainly heathen origin, the Samaritans claimed Israelitish descent.

14. Shall never thirst] ’Every spiritual desire and aspiration of the soul shall be completely satisfied, and for ever, for the life which I give is eternal.’

15. These mocking words show that the woman was still unimpressed.

16. Finding her impervious to gentleness, our Lord uses stronger measures. He reveals Himself to her as a prophet, and with a prophet’s authority reveals and rebukes her sin: cp. 2 Samuel 12.

18. Although this woman had apparently been divorced by five husbands for unfaithfulness, and was now living in sin, our Lord did not deal with her harshly. For other examples of His considerate treatment of fallen women, see John 8:1-11 and Luke 7:36-50.

20. The woman is ashamed, and seeks to change the conversation. Our Lord kindly permits it, knowing that the words He has spoken will bear fruit. She asks Him, since He is a prophet, to pronounce upon the main point in dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans argued from Deuteronomy 27:4 that Grerizim was the one divinely appointed place of sacrifice, because there God had commanded an altar to be raised and the Law inscribed. The Samaritan text reads Gerizim in this passage instead of Ebal.

21-24. Speaking as a prophet, our Lord draws a sublime picture of the religion of the future. All that is transitory, national, local, and ceremonial about the religion of Jerusalem and Gerizim is to pass away, and God will accept for the future only the worship of the spirit and the heart. In the meantime, however, Jerusalem, not Gerizim, is the true centre of worship, there Jehovah has placed His name, there the Redeemer is to suffer, and there His religion is to be first established.

22. ’We Jews understand the nature of the God we worship: you Samaritans do not. We have the Psalmists and Prophets to teach us the meaning of spiritual religion: you reject all but the ceremonial Law of Moses. Moreover, you show your ignorance of God by setting up an unauthorised worship in a place which He has not chosen.’ Salvation is of the Jews] alluding to the promises to Abraham (Genesis 12), and to David (2 Samuel 7:11-13, 2 Samuel 7:16, Psalms 89:3-4; Psalms 132:11), and to the historic fact that the gospel was to be preached to all nations ’beginning at Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:47).

23. In spirit] i.e. with true inward reverence, as distinguished from mere outward observance. In truth] i.e. with true holiness of life. ’Truth,’ in St. John, is not only correct belief, but also practical piety: see on John 3:21.

24. God is a Spirit] or, rather, ’God is spirit’ (RM). ’Spirit’ is the name, in the NT., of the highest and most god-like faculties of the soul. Our Lord means, therefore, that God is the supreme understanding, knowledge, reason, will, love, holiness, etc., and hence must be worshipped with the corresponding faculties of the human soul, which is also ’spirit,’ as made in His image.

25. Messias cometh] An excuse for delay. There is no need (says the woman) to trouble about a more spiritual worship until that distant day when the Messiah comes.

26. The Samaritan idea of the Messiah was religious, not political, and hence Jesus could here proclaim Himself as the Messiah without causing a political ferment: contrast His action among the Jews (John 6:15; John 10:24, etc.).

Our Lord’s teaching about worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), though general in form, had special reference to the woman’s needs. Her religion was an external one of forms and ceremonies, and this accounted for her evil life. If she could but be taught that religion is the attitude of the heart towards God, all would be changed.

27. With the woman] RV ’with a woman.’ In His high estimate of womanhood Jesus rose far above the ideas of His time, and taught lessons which are only now being learned (see on Matthew 1:18-25). The contemporary rabbis refused to teach religion to women, and would not even speak to a woman in a public place.

34. My meat, etc.] Jesus meant that in the joy of seeking to save a sinful soul His fatigue and hunger had vanished, and He no longer needed the food which the disciples had brought.

35. Four months] Harvest began in April, so the date would be December, a.d.

27. The ministry in Jerusalem and Judæa (John 2:13 to John 4:3) must accordingly have lasted eight months. Lift up] At this moment Jesus sees the Samaritans coming through the cornfields.

They are white already] The literal harvest is four months distant, but the spiritual harvest of the souls of these Samaritans is ripe, and will be reaped this very day.

36, 37. Christ had sowed alone in converting the Samaritan woman, but the Apostles would share in reaping the harvest of Samaritan converts (cp. Acts 8). And this was a type of the future conversion of the world. Christ would sow the seed, but the Apostles would reap the harvest. The wages are simply the unselfish joy of saving souls.

38. Other men] In spite of the plural this means Christ Himself.

42. The Saviour of the world] They accepted Him as the world’s Saviour, because they had experienced His saving power in their own case. It is an instance of the argument from Christian experience: see John 1:29; John 3:16-17; John 6:33; John 12:47; 1 John 4:14.

43-54. Beginning of the ministry proper in Galilee, December, 27 a.d. Healing of the nobleman’s son.

44. Our Lord’s own country here is probably Judæa, where He was born, and which the ancient prophecies indicated as His true home. Others suppose that it is Galilee, and that He deliberately went there to suffer dishonour and rejection. In Matthew 13:57 our Lord applies the same proverb to Nazareth, where He was brought up.

46-54. This miracle cannot be the same as that recorded Matthew 8:5; Luke 7:2 the differences are too great. We have here a king’s officer, there a centurion; here a father and son, there a master and servant; here a Jew (see John 4:48), there a Gentile; here a fever, there a palsy; here weak faith which is blamed (John 4:48), there strong faith which is commended; here Jesus is asked to come, there He is begged not to come; here He does not go, there apparently He does; here the healing words are spoken at Cana, there at Capernaum.

46. Nobleman] The word means ’one of the king’s officials.’ The ’king’ is Herod Antipas, who was, strictly speaking, only a tetrarch, but was called king by courtesy.

48. Except ye see signs] Not too much must be made of this rebuke. Our Lord was trying his faith, as in the case of the Canaanitish woman (Mark 7:27). It answered the test, and was rewarded by the healing of his son. For ’signs and wonders,’ see on Matthew 12:38.

54. Translate, ’This again as a second sign did Jesus, after He had come out of Judæa into Galilee.’ It thus clearly preceded all the Galilean miracles recorded by the synoptists.

The evangelist probably records this miracle to show that the effects of faith may extend beyond the person who exercises it; perhaps also to show that our Lord’s power to heal could be exercised at a distance.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on John 4". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/john-4.html. 1909.
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