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Tuesday, November 28th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
John 4

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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In Samaria (John 4:1-42). The woman of Samaria, and the living water (John 4:1-16). The people of Samaria, and the fields white unto harvest (John 4:17-42);


In Galilee (John 4:43-54). Received by the people. The courtier’s faith.]

Verse 1

(1) When therefore the Lord knew.—The second clause of this verse is given in the exact words of the report which came to the Pharisees: When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees heard, “Jesus maketh and baptizeth more disciples than John.”

The report which reached John (John 3:26) had come to them also, and the inference from His retirement is that it had excited their hostility. The hour to meet this has not yet come, and He withdraws to make, in a wider circle, the announcement which He has made in the Temple, in Jerusalem, in Judæa, and is about to make in Samaria and in Galilee.

Verse 2

(2) Though Jesus himself baptized not.—This is a correction, not of the writer’s statement, but of the report carried to the Pharisees. The form of the report is quite natural. John did personally baptise, and when multitudes thronged him, it is probable that his disciples assisted. Greater numbers still (John 3:26) were thronging to the baptism administered ministerially by the disciples of Jesus. (Comp. Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5; 1 Corinthians 1:15-17.) They had been drawn to Him by His teaching and miracles in Jerusalem and the country round about, and they spoke of receiving His baptism. But the writer cannot let the report appear in his Gospel without correction. There was a reason which they did not know for the fact that Jesus did not baptise with water, for it was He “which baptiseth with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). and this power His disciples had not yet received (John 7:39).

Verse 3

(3) Again.—This word is almost certainly part of the original text, though it is not found in some MSS. Its omission is due to a difficulty of interpretation. What is the previous return into Galilee? The only one mentioned in this Gospel is that of John 1:43. We have had another note of time in John 3:24, from which we learn that this Judæan period of the ministry preceded the imprisonment of John, and therefore the commencement of the Galilean ministry recorded in Matthew 4:12 (see Note there) and Mark 1:14. This second return, then, is the starting-point of the history of our Lord’s work in Galilee as told by the earlier Gospels.

Verse 4

(4) He must needs go through Samaria—i.e., following the shortest and most usual road, and the one we find Him taking from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 9:52; see Note there). Josephus spoke of this as the customary way of the Galileans going up during the feasts at Jerusalem (Ant. xx. 6, § 1). The Pharisees, indeed, took the longer road through Peræa, to avoid contact with the country and people of Samaria, but it is within the purpose of His life and work (“needs go,” i.e., was necessary that He should go) to teach in Samaria, as in Judæa, the principles of true religion and worship, which would cut away the foundations of all local jealousies and feuds, and establish for all nations the spiritual service of the universal Father (John 4:21-24).

Verse 5

(5) The “Samaria” of this chapter is the province into which the older kingdom had degenerated, and which took its name from the capital city. This was the Shomĕron built by Omri, on a hill purchased from Shemer (1 Kings 16:23-24). The city was given by Augustus to Herod the Great, who rebuilt it, and called it after the Emperor, Sebaste, a name which survives in the modern village Sebustiêh.

Sychar involves questions of greater uncertainty. The reading may be regarded as beyond doubt, the attempts to substitute “Sychem,” or “Sichem” being obviously made to avoid the topographical difficulty. The older geographers, followed by many modern commentators, suppose the word to be an intentional variation of the word Sychem, by which the Jews expressed their contempt for the city of the Samaritans, the sound being very nearly that of the Hebrew words for “lie” and “drunken.” Others suppose the change of termination is a natural dialectic variation. (Comp. Ben, the Hebrew for son, as in Benjamin, Genesis 35:18, which in the later language became Bar, as in Simon Bar-Jona, Matthew 16:17.) These explanations assume that Sychar is the same place as Shechem; but it is very improbable that St. John would have spoken of a city so well known as Shechem with the prefix “which is called,” or would have thought it necessary to define it as “near to the parcel of ground. . . .” The only other places with the same prefix are Ephraim (John 11:54), the Pavement (John 19:13), and Golgotha (John 19:17), but in the latter instances, as in the mention of Thomas called Didymus (John 11:16; John 20:24), the words do not imply a soubriquet (comp. Farrar, Life of Christ, i. 206, note, and Grove in Smith’s Dictionary of Bible, “Sychar”), but are a citation of the names in Hebrew and Greek, for the benefit of Greek readers. To assert that Sychar is meant to convey a double meaning is to imply that this would be understood by readers for whom it is necessary to translate Gabbatha and Golgotha, Thomas and Cephas (John 1:42), for whom Messias has been rendered in Greek in John 1:41, and is to be again in this very discourse (John 4:25). Shechem, moreover, was then known by the Greek name Neapolis, which has become the present Naplûs (see Ewald in loc., and comp. Jos. Wars, iv.), and this name would have been as natural in this Gospel as, e.g., Tiberias, which is found in it only (John 6:1; John 6:23; John 21:1). Nor can it be said that Shechem was near to Jacob’s well, for admitting that the old city extended considerably “farther eastward than at present,” it must still have been more than a mile distant.

As early as the fourth century, Sychar was distinguished from Shechem by Eusebius, Jerome, and the Bordeaux Pilgrim, and the name also occurs in the Talmud. (See quotations in Wieseler’s Synopsis, p. 231 of the Eng. Trans.) It is still found in the modern village Askar, about half a mile north from Jacob’s well. A plan and description of the neighbourhood, by Dr. Rosen, Prussian Consul at Jerusalem, appeared in the Journal of the German Oriental Society (xiv. 634), and the results of this are now accessible to the English reader in the translation of Caspari’s Introduction (p. 124). (Comp. Dr. Thomson’s The Land and the Book, John 31) The identification is accepted by Ewald, Godet, and Luthardt, among modern writers. Mr. Grove (Art. “Sychar,” as above), inclines to it, but, as he says, “there is an etymological difficulty . . . ‘Askar begins with the letter ‘Ain, which Sychar does not appear to have contained; a letter too stubborn and enduring to be easily either dropped or assumed in a name.” One is tempted to think it possible that this ‘Ain is the first letter of the word for Spring or Fountain, the plural of which occurs in Ænon, in John 3:23, and that ‘A-Sychar (well of Sychar) = ‘Askar.

The parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.—The reference is to the blessing of Joseph in Genesis 48:22, which is translated by Kalisch, “And I give to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I take out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.” The patriarch is confident that he will, in his posterity, drive out the Amorite and possess the land promised him by God (John 4:4; John 4:21). In that land there is a portion where Abraham had raised his first altar, and received the first promise that his seed should possess that land (Genesis 12:6-7). That portion had been his own first halting-place on his return from Padan-aram; and he, too, had erected an altar there, in a parcel of a field where his tent rested, which he bought for a hundred pieces of money, and made it sacred to El, the God of Israel (Genesis 33:18-20). It comes to his mind now, when in the last days of his life he looks on to the future and back to the past, and he gives it to his own and Rachel’s son. The Hebrew word here used for portion is “Shechem” (Shekhem), and this, as the proper names in the following chapter, has, and is meant to have, a double meaning. The Greek of the LXX. could not preserve this play upon the words, and rendered it by the proper name Sikima, understanding that the portion referred to was that at Shechem. This the children of Israel understood too, for they gave this region to Ephraim (Joshua 16:0), and the parcel of ground became the resting-place for the bones of Joseph (Joshua 24:32-33).

Verse 6

(6) Jacob’s well is one of the few spots about the position of which all travellers are agreed. Jesus, passing from south to west would pass up the valley of Mochna until the road turns sharp to the west, to enter the valley of Sichem between Ebal and Gerizim. Here is Jacob’s field, and in the field is Jacob’s well. It is dug in the rock, and is about 9 feet in diameter. The older travellers described it as more than 100 feet deep, and with several feet of water. Modern travellers have generally found it dry. Wilson describes it, in 1843, as only 75 feet deep.

Sat thus on the well.—Better, was sitting thus at the well. The words are one of the instances of exact knowledge which meet us in this Gospel. The tense is the descriptive imperfect. He was thus sitting when the woman came. He thus recalls the picture as it was impressed and remained fixed in the writer’s mind. He saw Him, wearied by the noontide journey, sitting thus by the well, while they went on to the city to procure food. The reality of this fatigue, as one of the instances witnessing to the reality of His human nature, is important.

About the sixth houri.e., as elsewhere in St. John, following the ordinary mode of counting, about 12 o’clock. (Comp. Note on John 1:39.) It is contended, on the other hand, that this was not the usual time for women to resort to the wells to draw water, but the narrative perhaps implies an unusual hour, as it speaks of only one woman there.

Verse 7

(7) Of Samariai.e., of the country (John 4:1), not of the city, which was nine miles farther north. She was of the people inhabiting the valley between Ebal and Gerizim, not, like Himself, a chance passenger by the well. The contrast is at once drawn between Him, a Jew and a man, and her, of Samaria and a woman.

Give me to drink is the almost always asked and almost never refused favour as the traveller meets the native by the well-side. He was wearied by the heat of the journey, and seeks the ordinary refreshment.

Verse 8

(8) For introduces His reason for asking this favour of her. The disciples had gone on. He was alone, and without the means of getting water for Himself (John 4:11).

Meat.—Better, food, as the former word is misleading in modern English. See Genesis 1:29-30, and Deuteronomy 20:20, where herbs and fruits are termed “meat.” It will be remembered that the meat-offering did not consist of flesh, but of flour and oil and ears of corn (Leviticus 2:0).

Verse 9

(9) Woman of Samaria (twice).—Better, Samaritan woman. In both cases the Greek has the adjective. It is the religious and national position as a Samaritan which is prominent in this verse.

Being a Jew.—This she would know from dress and language. It has been noted that the Hebrew for “Give me to drink,” “Teni lishekoth,” contains the letter Sin, or Shin, which was one of the distinctive points in the Ephraimite pronunciation. They did not say Shibboleth, but Sibboleth (Judges 12:5-6). They would not say “Teni lishekoth,” but “Teni lisekoth.”

For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.—The original has not the articles, For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. This is a remark made by the writer to explain the point of the woman’s question. She wondered that a Jew, weary and thirsty though he might be, should speak to her. For the origin of the Samaritans, see 2 Kings 17:24-41, and Note on Luke 9:52. The later Jewish authors abound in terms of reproach for them—e.g., “He who eats the bread of a Samaritan is as he who eats swine’s flesh;” “No Samaritan shall be made a proselyte;” “They have no share in the resurrection of the dead” (Pirke, Rabbi Elieser, 38; comp. Farrar, Life of Christ, i. 209, note). Jesus Himself speaks of a Samaritan as an alien (Luke 17:16; Luke 17:18; comp. Luke 10:33), and is called a Samaritan and possessed of a devil (comp. John 8:48). But the strictest Jews allowed exceptions to the forbidden intercourse. If bread was interdicted, fruit and vegetables were not; if boiled eggs were forbidden, fresh ones were not. At no time probably did the Galileans follow the practice of the Judæans in this matter, and hence they go to the city to buy food, while the woman asks this question of a Jew whom she met on the road from Jerusalem. Later, it was only “because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem “that the Samaritan village did not receive Him; and it is the Evangelist of the Jerusalem ministry, who would have called down fire from heaven then, who adds this note of explanation for his Greek readers now (Luke 9:52-53).

Verse 10

(10) If thou knewest the gift of God.—Expositors differ very widely as to the meaning to be given to “the gift of God” and “living water.” See, e.g., the summaries of views in the notes of Meyer and Godet, both of which are now translated into English. Yet there can be little doubt of the true meaning if we observe the turn given to her question by the emphatic pronouns, “Thou wouldest have asked of Him.” You stand by this deep well that for centuries has been God’s gift of refreshment to man and beast; you have the means of drawing the water, and are thus the apparent benefactor to Him who asks for your aid. It is not really so. There is a deep well of spiritual truth in communion with God, as necessary for man’s true life as water is for the natural life. I stand here with the means to draw, with the power to enter the depths hidden from man, and reveal to your spirit the Being of God. It is really you that are the traveller in the journey of life, weary with the burning heat of its trials, and travel-stained by the sins through which you have passed, thirsting in the hopes and fears of that spirit that cannot rest apart from God, helpless at the very side of the well, for the Eternal is ever near you, and you know Him not. If you knew this gift of God, and knew Who it is that is now here to reveal it to you, you would have asked, and He would have given you that Spirit, which would have been in you as a fountain of living water.

Verse 11

(11) The woman saith unto him, Sir . . .—Her tone changes to one of respect. Something in His voice and manner, it may be, has touched her. She does not understand His words, but she is conscious of their latent force. She feels the presence of One who teaches with authority, and the “Thou, being a Jew,” passes to the reverential “Sir.” Still, she does not see how He can give her living water. Where will He get it? He has no means for drawing it, and the water in the well is far below His reach. His word, too, strikes her, and she dwells on it;—“that living water.” She thinks of spring water, as in Genesis 26:19, and Leviticus 14:5, where the Hebrew is “living water.” He cannot draw from that well. Does He mean to say that He knows of another, with better water? The word used here for “well” is different from that in John 4:6, where the surface only was thought of. Here, and in the next verse, the depth is prominent, and we have the same word, which is rendered “pit,” in Luke 14:5.

Verse 12

(12) Art thou greater . . .?—Again, the pronoun is the emphatic word, “Thou surely art not greater.” “The well used to satisfy the wants of the patriarch, and his household, and his flocks, and has come down from him to us. It is surely sufficient for all our wants.” This claim of Jacob as their father was through Ephraim and Joseph, and the well was part of “the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his .son Joseph” (John 4:5). There was abundance of water near to it, but a patriarchal household could not depend for a necessity of life upon neighbours who may be hostile, and Jacob had dug this well in his own purchased plot. It was sacred, then, as the very spot where their asserted ancestor had digged his well and built his altar. There was an unbroken continuity in the history of the place, and it was prized the more because it was not so in the history of the people.

Verses 13-14

(13, 14) Whosoever drinketh of this water.—Jesus does not answer her question, but asserts the universal recurrence of thirst, after even the water of Jacob’s well, to lead her to the thought that His “living water” is something widely different.

Verse 14

(14) The water that I shall give him.—These words are emphatic as opposed to this water. It is not an external supply, which must be sought to meet the recurring physical want, but it is the inner never-failing source, the fountain of living water, which satisfies every want as it occurs. He who has it, therefore, can never thirst. Coming from the source of all life, it issues in eternal life. (Comp. Notes on John 7:37-38.)

Verse 15

(15) Come hither.—The Sinaitic and Vatican and some other MSS. read, “come through hither,” or as Alford, who adopts the reading, renders it, “come all the way hither.” Godet also adopts the reading, but renders it, in the service of a forced explanation, “pass by here,” thinking that the woman was on her way home from work at meal-time, and that this accounts for her presence at the well at noon. He regards this as sans doute, but the reading itself is at least uncertain, and is probably to be explained by its first syllable being added from the last syllable of the previous word; and the translation is more than uncertain.

The woman understands the words in their physical sense. How many a toilsome hour, how many a weary journey would she be saved!

Verse 16

(16) Go, call thy husband.—She has asked for this living water. She knows not that the well must first be dug. In the depth of her spirit there is a power of life; but like the source of a spring, it is hidden. Many a hard rock of impenitence was there, and many a layer of every-day transgression, and many a habit once formable as clay, now hard as adamant, and many a deposit of carnal thought which had left nothing but its dregs behind. All this must be dug through before she can have the living water, and this well, too, must be deep. The command, “Go, call thy husband,” is the first stroke breaking up the surface of that fair appearance, and revealing the foulness of the life beneath it.

Verse 17

(17) I have no husband.—The stroke has left its mark. It lays bare to her own consciousness the past and present life, but she does not know that it is laid bare to His. The reply is no longer prefaced by the half-sarcastic “Thou, being a Jew,” or the reverential “Sir.” The tone has passed from vivacity to earnestness, and from earnestness to sadness. That one word—what a history it has revealed! But she will hide it from Him and from herself. “I have no husband” (or, according to the Sinaitic MS., more emphatically still, A husband I have not).

Verse 18

(18) In that saidst thou truly.—The stroke goes deeper. It lays bare the secrets of all those years over which she thought the veil of the past had for ever been drawn. The bright days of joy and dark days of sin; the heart’s promises made and broken; the sad days of death, which five times over had robbed her of a husband; or, worse than death, the sin which had severed the sacred bonds; the shame of the present shameless life—all these are at least hidden from a stranger. But His words pierce to the inmost thoughts, and prove Him to know all the acts of her life (John 4:29). “Thou hast well said, A husband I have not. The holy name may not be given to the paramour thou now hast; with the loss of purity is linked the loss of truthfulness; the very truth thou utterest is meant to convey to Me an untruth, but to One who knows all, the words are really true;—“in that saidst thou truly.”

Verse 19

(19) But who can it be who thus enters her mind and reads the pages of her memory as if it were a book? He must be as one of those of olden time of whom she has heard. The tone of reverence prevails again, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.”

Verse 20

(20) Our fathers worshipped.—She gives a sudden turn to the conversation. It is not that the question of worship is the all-engrossing problem of her mind, for which she seeks solution at this prophet’s hands. Such questions hardly came then within the circle of a Samaritan woman’s thoughts, and this woman’s life had not been such as to make her an exception to the rule; but the heart, quivering before the eye that reads it as it never before had read itself, shrinks from the light that is let in upon it. She will speak of anything rather than of self. There is the mountain overhanging them, the theme of many a discussion between Samaritan and Jew; she will ask the prophet to decide that question.

Verse 21

(21) Woman (comp. Note on John 2:4), believe me, the hour cometh.—Better, there cometh an hour. The Authorised version of the latter clause gives the correct sense, if it is punctuated as follows: “When ye shall, neither in this mountain nor yet in Jerusalem, worship the Father;” “when ye shall worship, but without the limitation of holy places; when ye shall worship the Father of mankind, before whom Jew, and Samaritan, and Gentile are brethren.” Both these thoughts are suggested by her words. She had referred in the past tense to the worship on Gerizim, when for more than a century and a half the temple had been in ruins, but she refers in the present to the temple at Jerusalem, where the form of worship was every day gone through. From that temple He had just come. The ruins of the one are before Him, the ruins of the other are present to His thoughts (John 2:18-22). Both centres of local worship are to cease. She had referred more than once to the claim which arose from direct descent from the patriarch (John 4:12-20). But the Father is God, and the hour coming, and then present (John 4:23), in Christ’s mission, had the Fatherhood of God and the sonship of humanity as its message to the world.

In this mountain.—Sychar was between Ebal and Gerizim, and she would point out the holy mountain with the ruins of the temple then in sight.

The contrast between “our fathers” and the emphatic “ye” carries back the thoughts to the rival temple and worship on Mount Gerizim from the time of Nehemiah. The enmity took its rise in the refusal to accept the help of the Samaritans in the restoration of the temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 4:2; comp. 2 Kings 17:24 et seq.). The next step is recorded in Nehemiah 13:28. Manasseh, the son of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, had married a daughter of Sanballat, and was chased from Jerusalem. Sanballat thereupon supported his son-in-law in establishing a rival worship, but it is not clear that the temple was built until a century later, in the time of Alexander the Great. The authority for the details of the history is Josephus (Ant. xi. 8, § 2), but he seems to confuse Sanballat the Persian satrap, with Sanballat the Horonite. In any case, from the erection of the temple on Mount Gerizim, the schism was complete. The temple was destroyed by John Hyrcanus, about B.C. 129 (Ant. xiii. 9, § 1), but the mountain on which it stood continued to be, and is to this day, the holy place of the Samaritans. All travellers in the Holy Land describe their Passover, still eaten on this mountain in accordance with the ritual of the Pentateuch. They claimed that this mountain, and not Jerusalem, was the true scene of the sacrifice of Isaac, and Gentile tradition marked it out as the meeting-place with Melchizedek (Euseb. Prœp. Evang. ix. 22). In accordance with their claim, they had changed in every instance the reading of the Pentateuch, “God will choose a spot” (Deuteronomy 12:14; Deuteronomy 18:6, &c.), into “He has chosen,” i.e., Gerizim. “Ebal,” in Deuteronomy 27:5, had become “Gerizim,” and the Ten Commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy are followed by an interpolated command to erect an altar in Mount Gerizim. Jerusalem, on the other hand, had never once been named in the Pentateuch, which was the only part of the Jewish canon which they accepted. It was but a modern city in comparison with the claim that Gerizin was a holy place from the time of Abraham downwards.

Verse 22

(22) For salvation is of the Jews.—This verse has sorely tried critics who seek to construct the Gospel out of their judgments of what it should be. It can be no difficulty to those who seek to form their judgments from the Gospel as it is. Assume that the Gospel belongs to the Greek thought of the close of the second century, and the verse must be omitted, though it is certainly part of the original text; accept the Gospel as belonging to the Hebrew thought of the first century, and this touch of Jewish theology is in entire harmony with it. The contrast between the Samaritan and the Jewish worship lay in its history, its state at that time, and its rejection of the fuller teaching of the prophetical books of the Old Testament. “In every way the Jews had much advantage, but chiefly that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” Little as they knew the treasure they possessed, they were the guardians of spiritual truth for the world, and in a sense deeper than they could fathom, “salvation was of the Jews.” (Comp. Romans 3:2; Romans 9:4-5, Notes; Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2.)

The “we” of this verse is in answer to the “ye” of John 4:20. She identifies Him with those who claim Jerusalem as the place of worship. That “ye” contained its own answer. In using it she had said that the Messiah was of the Jews.

Verse 23

(23) But the hour cometh.—Better, as in John 4:21, but there cometh an hour. He adds to this thought, what He could not add to the previous one, “and now is.” Local worship was not yet giving way to spiritual; but a band of true worshippers was being gathered, and some were then following Him.

The true worshippers.—Her distinction of place was of the accident, but the essence was the nature of the worship. What could any worship be to a God who saw the impurity of the heart, and the contradiction of thought and word? What could she know of the worship of which she speaks? Yes; and the temple at Jerusalem was a house of merchandise, instead of one of prayer; what did priest and Levite, scribe and Pharisee, know of true worship?

In spirit and in truth.—The link between human nature and the divine is in the human spirit, which is the shrine of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). All true approach to God must therefore be in spirit. (Comp. Romans 1:9, and Ephesians 6:18.) Place, and time, and words, and postures, and sounds, and all things from without, are important only in so far as they aid in abstraction from the sensible world, and in elevation of the spirit within. The moment they distract they hinder true worship. Ritual cannot be discussed without risk of spiritual loss. The words “in truth,” already expressed in true worshippers, and repeated in the following verse, are more than “truly.” Sincerity is not a test of acceptable worship, though it is a requisite. Bigots sincerely think they do God’s service. Worship which is “in truth” is in harmony with the nature of the God whom we worship. To think of God in hearing His truth, to kindle the soul by hymns of praise, to realise the earlier portions of collects and prayers which utter His attributes, are necessary to the truth of the petitions, and thanksgivings, and adorations of worship. The model prayer of Christianity brings home to the heart the Fatherhood of God in its first words.

For the Father seeketh such to worship him.—Better, for such the Father also seeketh His worshippers to be. The word “such,” i.e., of this character, is emphatic. The “also” expresses that the worship, on the part of the true worshippers, is in accordance with the divine will: “the Father also (on His part) . . .” The reader will not fail to note the emphasis in this reply on the word “Father” (John 4:21 and twice in this verse). This name of God, which we teach children to lisp in earliest years, came to her, it may be, now for the first time. He is not Vengeance to be appeased, nor Power to be dreaded, but Love to be received. (Comp. Note on John 3:16.) It is when men learn to think of God as Father that merely local and material worship must cease. The universal desire and practice of worship is the witness to a universal object of worship. The yearning of the human spirit is that of a child seeking the author of his being. The seeking is not human only. The Father also seeketh His child, and seeth him when he is a great way off (Luke 15:20).

Verse 24

(24) God is a Spirit.—Better, God is spirit. His will has been expressed in the seeking. But His very nature and essence is spirit, and it follows from this that all true worship must be spiritual. The appeal is here made to a doctrine of special prominence in the Samaritan theology. They had altered a number of passages in the Pentateuch, which seemed to them to speak of God in language properly applicable to man, and to ascribe to Him human form and feelings. But to believe in the spiritual essence of God contained its own answer both as to place and mode of worship.

The second “Him” (“they that worship Him”) should be omitted, as the italics show.

Verse 25

(25) I know that Messias cometh.—She is puzzled by these new doctrines. “Father!” “Spirit!” what did all this mean? Was God in any real sense like the father who in childhood’s happy days had protected, and forgiven, and loved? Was the divine nature in any real sense approached by human nature in its highest and best moments, when it seemed lifted above earth, and things of the earth? Was there for her a Father who could still forgive, a Spirit whom her spirit could still love, and in the grasp of that love lift itself to virtue and truth? How different are His words to any she has ever heard before! She, as others, feels half unconsciously their power. Her answer is also a question. He, whom her countrymen called “The Converter,” or “The Returner,” and expected from such passages as Genesis 49:10 and Deuteronomy 18:15, and whom the Hebrews called “Messias,” and Hellenists called “Christ,” would come, and with Him the answer to every question. She uses the present tense, “Messias cometh.” Can it be that He stands before her now? (Comp. John 4:29.)

Verse 26

(26) I that speak unto thee.—The announcement is being made. The solution of some of the problems which she connects with the Messianic advent is contained in the very words she has heard.

Am hei.e., the Messiah. (Comp. especially Notes on John 8:24; John 8:58.)

Verse 27

(27) With the woman.—Better, probably, with a woman. They are surprised, not at His talking with a Samaritan, but at His talking in public with a woman, which was directly contrary to the Rabbinic precepts. The words of the Law were to be burnt rather than taught to a woman. A man should not speak in public to his own wife. They would like to ask Him, as He asked some of them (John 1:38), what He sought to learn from her, or else to know what truth He would teach her (comp. “speakest” with “I that speak,” in the last verse); but there is already a sense of the reverence due to Him, which checks the question as it rises to the lip.

Verse 28

(28) The woman then left her waterpot.—The waterpot left behind was a pledge of her return; and it is to us a mark of the presence of him who has related the incidents.

Verse 29

(29) Is not this the Christ?—Better, is this the Christ? She felt that He was a prophet when His words revealed her past life (John 4:19). She has had the thought of Christ present to her mind when He teaches the nature of true worship (John 4:25). She has heard that He is the Messiah from His own lips (John 4:26); but she does not frame her question so as to expect the answer “Yes:” she states the fact of His knowing the life, known perhaps to many of them, and leaves them to form their own judgment.

Verse 30

(30) Came unto him.—Literally, were coming unto Him. They were still on the way when the conversation in John 4:31-38 took place. The general expectation of the Messiah, and the receptive spirit of the Samaritans, is shown in her alacrity to go and tell the men of the place, and in their desire at once to see Him for themselves. Many, indeed, were convinced by her statement only (John 4:39-40).

Verse 31

(31) Master.—The Hebrew word Rabbi has been preserved in the earlier passages (John 1:38; John 1:49; John 3:2; John 3:26), and will meet us again in John 6:25. It is less ambiguous than the English word, and should be restored here and in John 9:2; John 11:28.

They had left Him weary by the side of the well (John 4:6), and had gone to the town. They now return with the food they had obtained, and ask Him to partake of it.

Verse 32

(32) I have meat to eat that ye know not of.—The emphasis is on the pronouns, which are opposed to each other. “Meat” is better rendered food (see Note on John 4:8). The Greek word here is the same as in John 6:27; John 6:55.

Verse 33

(33) Hath any man brought him ought to eat?—The question expects the negative answer, “Surely no one hath brought Him anything to eat?” The only person with Him is this Samaritan woman. Surely she has not! They understand His words in the ordinary sense. He proceeds to explain their real meaning.

Verse 34

(34) My meat.—Better, My food, as before (John 4:8).

To do the will. . . . to finish.—Better, that I may do the will, . . . that I may finish. These verbs point out the end which He ever kept in view. In some of the best MSS., and in the received text, the tenses are different. That. I may be constantly doing the will of Him that sent Me, and may then at last complete His work. (Comp. John 17:4.)

This work He speaks of here, and in John 4:32, as actual food, as the supply of the truest needs, and the satisfaction of the truest desires of His nature. (Comp. Note on Matthew 4:4.) Analogies to this are within the limits of every man’s experience, and, faint as they are, help us to learn something of what this spiritual sustenance was. The command of duty, the cheering power of hope, the stimulus of success, are forces that supply to weak and weary nerves and muscles, the vigour of a new life. Under them the soldier can forget his wounds, the martyr smile at the lion or the flame, the worn-out traveller still plod onward at the thought of home. We cannot analyse this power, but it exists. They have food to eat that those without know not of.

Verse 35

(35) Say not ye, There are yet four months.—The emphasis in this verse should be laid upon “ye.” It follows immediately out of the contrast between the natural and spiritual food. Every outer fact is the sign of an inner truth. They here, as the woman in John 4:11, as the teacher of Israel (John 3:4), as the Jews (John 2:20), speak in the language of the outer facts only. He speaks of the spiritual realities. Looking on the fields of springing corn, they would say that in four months there would be harvest. He sees signs of life springing up from seed sown in receptive hearts; and eyes lifted up and directed to the wide fields of the world’s nations would see that the fulness of time was come, and that the fields were even now white to harvest. The Samaritans coming to Him are as the firstfruits, the earnest of the abundant sheaves which shall follow.

Four months.—This gives us probably a note on time. There is no evidence that it was a proverbial saying, and the form of the sentence is against the supposition. The legal beginning of harvest was fixed (Leviticus 23:10; Deuteronomy 16:9) for the 16th of Nisan (April). This would give us in that year, which was a Jewish leap-year, with a month added (Wieseler’s Synopsis, Eng. Trans., p. 187), some time about the middle of the month Tebeth (January) as the date of this conversation. (Comp. John 5:1.) For the idea of the harvest, comp. Matthew 9:36-38, and the parable of the Sower, Matthew 13:3 et seq.

Verse 36

(36) And he that reapeth.—The wages of the reaper is the joy—the greatest that the heart can know—of gathering others, as men gather corn into the garner, into eternal life. The sower is Christ Himself, whose words have been the seed in the woman’s heart, already bringing forth a harvest in those who are coming to Him. The reapers are the disciples. In this harvest day they would learn, from sympathy with the souls of others, the joy of the reaper, and in that joy it was ordained that sower and reaper should rejoice together.

Verse 37

(37) Herein is that saying true—i.e., in the deeper sense of the word true (comp. Note on John 1:9)—has its realisation; is ideally true. The proverb itself was known both to the Greeks and to the Romans (sec examples in Schottgen and Lampe), but the reference is probably to the Old Testament Scriptures. Those who heard it would certainly think of such passages as Deuteronomy 6:11, or Isaiah 65:21-22. The saying expressed something of the bitterness of human disappointment, which in darker moments all men have felt. They have sown in hopes and plans and works, which have never sprung above the surface, or have been reaped in their results by other men; or they themselves have passed away before the harvest has come. This is as men see it, but this is not the ideal truth. The saying is realised in the relation between sower and reaper, which was true then, and holds true of every sower who really sows the good seed. He, too, has a daily work and a daily sustenance in the will of Him that sent him. In the inner consciousness of that work being done, and the hope of its completion, he has food no less real than that of him who reaps the harvest. That he stands alone is the result of his rising above his generation; that he is little understood, or rewarded, by those for whom he works, will be a disappointment to his friends, but, in his truest thoughts, not to himself. His satisfaction will be hard for men to understand. “Surely no one has brought him to eat!” “I have food to eat that ye know not of.” Men smile at this as sentiment or enthusiasm, but this food has been the strength of the best lives, and noblest deeds, of humanity.

Verse 38

(38) I sent you to reap . . .—The pronouns are again emphatic. “I sent you to reap;” and the statement is of wide meaning. He is ever the Sower. All others are more or less fully reapers, though in the degree in which they really reap they will become likened unto Him, and will become sowers too. We all inherit from the past the greatest part of our mental and spiritual knowledge. The child of to-day knows more than the philosopher of early history.

Other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.—Or, others have laboured. In the immediate application to the present case, the “others” is to be interpreted of Christ Himself, who had been sowing during their absence, and it may be of the woman who has sown this seed by her testimony to the Samaritans. Or the plural may be chosen as in contrast with the plural ye, and as pointing to the general truth, while the immediate reference is to Christ only.

Verse 39

(39) Many of the Samaritans of that city believed.—The willingness to receive the truth on the part of the Samaritans, is contrasted with the rejection of it on the part of the Jews. They refused the witness of a great prophet; these accept the witness of a woman. Their minds were prepared by the general expectation of the Messiah; and this woman witnesses that Jesus had revealed to her the whole past of her life. There is here a sign they do not question.

Verse 40

(40) When the Samaritans were come.—The next step in their faith is to go to Him and ask Him to remain with them, that they too may learn from Him; and He, a Jew, accepts the hospitality of Samaria, and abides with them for two days.

Verse 41

(41) And many more believed.—The veil is left upon those two days, as upon so many days in the life of Christ. We know how much was said at the well in a few minutes, and that many believed on Him in a few hours. What questions they must have asked! What truths He must have taught during this sojourn! How that central truth of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man must have burned in the hearts of this mixed and despised people! Salvation was of the Jews, and they were from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim. But Fatherhood is a truth for every heart of man, and He who thus linked heaven and earth was the Saviour of the world. We know not what words passed from them to Him, from Him to them; but we know that the result was that many more believed, and that those who before believed on testimony passed to the higher faith of personal conviction.

Verse 42

(42) We have heard him ourselves.—The “Him” is not part of the original text, and the sentence is more forcible without it: We have ourselves heard. Probably “the Christ” should also be regarded as no part of the original text, and the last clause should be, and know that this is truly the Saviour of the world. The result of their hearing is that they know. There is here, as frequently in St. John, stress laid upon the development of faith. We shall find it again in the following verses, which mark it in the case of the courtier.

Verse 43

(43) Two days.—Literally, the two days. It is the time mentioned in John 4:40, not a second period of two days.

Verse 44

(44) A prophet hath no honour.—The statement that a prophet hath no honour in his own country is at first thought a strange explanation of the fact that He went into Galilee, and that the Galileans received Him; and the common geographical solutions, as that “His own country” means Judæa, or Nazareth, as distinct from Galilee, or the district of the so-called lower Galilee, are brought to, not from, the text. The narrative of the earlier Gospels places the commencement of the ministry in Galilee. John has in these opening chapters told of an earlier ministry in Judæa and Samaria. He now records the reception in Galilee to which this earlier ministry had been the real introduction. Jesus Himself said so. He knew the principle that a prophet’s own friends are the last to hear his message, and He came to His own country only when that message had been received by many in Judæa and Samaria, and when His own countrymen had seen and known His work at the Passover. Others had received Him at Jerusalem, and they therefore receive Him in Galilee. The honour is brought from without. It does not arise in His own country.

Verse 45

(45) All the things that he did.—See the reference in John 2:23 to the unrecorded work at Jerusalem.

Verse 46

(46) So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee.—He returns to the place where He had manifested His glory and knit to Himself in closer union the first band of disciples. This thought is present to the writer as the reason why He went there. It was the place “where He made the water wine.”

And there was a certain nobleman.—The margin shows the difference of opinion among-our translators as to what English word gives the true idea of the position of the person who is in the text called “nobleman.” The Greek word is an adjective formed from the word for “king,” and as a substantive occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is frequent in Josephus, who uses it in our sense of courtier, or for a civil or military officer, but not for one of the royal family. The king, whose “king’s man” is here spoken of, was almost certainly Herod Antipas, who was left the kingdom in his father’s first will, and is called “king” by St. Matthew (Matthew 14:9) and by St. Mark (Mark 6:14). The person here named may therefore be a “royalist” or “Herodian” (comp. Matthew 22:16; Mark 3:6), but in a domestic incident like this the reference would be to his social position rather than to his political opinions. Perhaps “king’s officer” represents the vagueness of the original better than any other English term. It is not improbable that the person was Chuza, and that his wife’s presence in the band of women who followed Christ (Luke 8:3) is to be traced to the restoration of her child. For the position of Capernaum, see Note on Matthew 4:13.

Verse 47

(47) The distance of Capernaum from Cana was from twenty to twenty-five miles. The report of Christ’s return to Galilee had spread, then, over this wide area.

Verse 48

(48) Signs and wonders.—See Note on John 2:11. The words are here addressed to Jews, for there is no reason to think that the nobleman himself was not one. They are spoken to him, but the ye extends them to others standing near and to the class of persons whom he represents. It had been so with the Jews in Jerusalem (John 2:18; John 2:23), and it was so with the Jews in Galilee. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 1:22.) How different from this faith, which demanded a miracle, and therefore was not faith, but sight, was the acceptance by the Samaritans without a miracle, who believed for the woman’s word, and more fully when they heard the word of Christ Himself.

Ye will not believe.—The negative is in its strongest form, Ye will by no means believe.

Verse 49

(49) Ere my child die.—But human sorrow is the birth-pang of faith. The sense of utter powerlessness leads the soul to cast itself on the Strong One for strength. The faith is still weak, but it is there. It does not realise that Christ can speak the word and heal the child, but it does feel that His presence could save him, and pleads as a father for his son. “Come down, ere my child die.”

Verse 50

(50) Go thy way.—His faith is to be strengthened, and is to pass beyond a trust in aid through bodily presence. Jesus will not go down, but he is himself to go with the assurance, “Thy son liveth.” Up to this point he had believed on the testimony of others, but he, too, now believes on account of the word of Christ Himself.

Had spoken unto him.—Better, spake unto him. The word he believed was that spoken then.

Verse 51

(51) And as he was now going.—Many a long mile lay between him and his child, and many an anxious thought must have come to his mind as he journeyed homeward. Now faith would be strong, and now almost give way; but he travels on with the words, “Thy son liveth,” which had come to him as a voice from heaven, sustaining and cheering him. Again he hears the same words, “Thy son liveth!” but they are spoken by the servants, who have come to meet him, and bring from Capernaum the glad news that he had himself heard at Cana.

Verse 52

(52) Then enquired he of them.—But these two facts—the assurance at Cana, and the actual healing powers at Capernaum—were they in truth related to each other? He remembers the hour at which one was spoken; he inquires the hour at which the other was realised. He does not even now grasp the full meaning of the words, and thinks of the gradual abatement of the fever, and the slow convalescence, and asks when the child “began to amend.” They have seen the sudden change as of a new power passing into the body on the point of death. They have spoken of this as a new life, and they now think of the fever as having completely left him.

Yesterday at the seventh hour.—We have seen (John 1:39) that there is no sufficient reason for thinking that St. John uses the western method of counting the hours of the day. Still less is it likely that Galilean servants, who are here the speakers, should have done so. To believe, moreover, that it was seven o’clock in the morning or evening adds to, and does not remove, the difficulty of the length of time implied in “yesterday.” To say that the father remained some time with Jesus, and that “the believer doth not make haste,” is to pervert both the spirit and the words of the text. He clearly went at once (John 4:50), and his anxiety naturally quickened his speed. The distance was not more than twenty-five English miles, and he had not travelled the whole of it, for the servants had gone to meet him. The supposed explanation cannot therefore be explained. But the words, if taken in their simple meaning, involve no such difficulty. These Jews, as all Jews, meant by the “seventh hour” the seventh from sunrise, what we should call one o’clock. After sunset the same evening they would have commenced a new day (comp. Excursus F.), and this seventh hour would be to them as one o’clock the day before, or the seventh hour yesterday. We have thus an interval of five or six hours between the words spoken by our Lord and their confirmation by the servants.

Verse 53

(53) So the father knew.—He was not mistaken, then. The power he had felt when these words were spoken to him was real. The hours that had passed since, as he hastened to know all, had prepared him to read the sign. “Thy son liveth!” “The seventh hour yesterday!” There is more than one miracle here. A new life passes into his own spirit, and he, too, bound in the death-grasp of a formal religion, liveth! A Father’s love has yearned for him. Christ has come down ere the child died.

Himself believed.—This is a yet higher faith. He believed the report before he went to Cana. He believed personally when he pleaded, “Lord, come down.” He believed the word that Jesus spake when told to go his way, and every step of that road going away from the power to the sufferer was an act of faith; but still there is place for a fuller faith, and he and his household became believers. St. John traces here, as before, in the case of the Samaritans (John 4:41-42), and of the disciples themselves (John 2:11), the successive development of faith.

Verse 54

(54) This is again the second.—The English version has inserted the article, which is not found in the Greek, and has added in italics is and that. Omitting these additions, and remembering that in St. John’s language every miracle has its deeper teaching, the verse will read, “This again, a second sign, did Jesus when he was come out of Judæa into Galilee.” His first presence in Galilee was marked by a sign (John 2:1-11), and this visit is also. There the individual disciples, who were to leave home and follow him, read the lesson the sign was meant to teach. Now for the first time the family is the unit in the Christian life, and the father, himself taught to read the sign, becomes the first teacher, and representative, of the first Christian household.

This miracle of healing naturally brings to the thoughts the healing of the centurion’s servant. See Notes on Matthew 8:5 et seq., and Luke 7:2 et seq. To some minds, from Irenæus downwards, the resemblance has seemed so striking that nothing short of identification could explain it. But there is no a priori reason why two miracles should not be performed under circumstances in some respects analogous, and the knowledge of the healing in this case may well have led to the faith in that. If we bear in mind that the miracle is ever to be regarded as the parable in act, it is probable that the acts of Christ would be repeated. Repetition is a part of the method of every great teacher, and formed a large part in the Rabbinic systems Jesus Christ was, it is true, infinitely above .all human teachers, but His hearers were ordinary men, and His teaching and working must have adapted itself to the constitution of the human mind. A comparison of the present narratives will establish the following points of difference, which in their totality amount, it is believed, to little short of proof, that St. John has added the history of a sign which is not recorded in the earlier Gospels.

(1) It is here a nobleman who pleads for his son; there a centurion for his servant (Matthew 8:6; Luke 7:2).

(2) Here the pleading is in person; there the elders of the Jews intercede (Luke 7:3).

(3) Here the nobleman is almost certainly a Jew; there the centurion is certainly a Gentile (Matthew 8:10 et seq.; Luke 7:9).

(4) Here the words of miracle are spoken at Cana; there at Capernaum (Matthew 8:5; Luke 7:1).

(5) Here the illness is a fever; there paralysis (Matthew 8:6).

(6) Here the father pleads that Jesus will go down with him; there the centurion deprecates His going, and asks Him to command with a word only (Matthew 8:7; Luke 7:7).

(7) Here the Lord speaks the word only, and does not go down; there apparently He does both (Matthew 8:13; Luke 7:6).

(8) Here the Lord blames the half-faith which demands signs and wonders; there He marvels at the fulness of faith, and, it may be in reference to this very nobleman, says, “In no one have I found so great faith in Israel” (Matthew 8:10).

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/john-4.html. 1905.
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