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Bible Commentaries

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

John 4

Verses 1-10

The Samaritan woman - 1

John 4:1-10

As we study John 3:4 together, we discover a series of striking contrasts.

1. In John 3:0 we have ‘a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus;’ in John 4:0 it is an unnamed woman before us.

2. Nicodemus was a man of high rank; the woman was a poor woman who came to draw water.

3. One was a favored Jew; the other was a despised Samaritan.

4. One was a man of strict morals; the woman was of no reputation.

5. Nicodemus sought out Christ, but Christ seeks out the woman.

6. To the self-righteous Jew Christ said, ‘ye must be born again;’ to this Gentile sinner he speaks of ‘the gift of God.’

John 4:1-3 . Even at that early date in our Lord's public ministry, the Pharisees manifested their opposition against him. He had openly condemned their ignorance and hypocrisy; and here was a man from Nazareth, whom they regarded as no more than a carpenter, who was attracting even more people than John. This could not be allowed at any cost (our Lord baptized no one, but left that to his disciples). The Pharisees probably planned some action against Christ; and because his hour was not yet come and much was to be done before his death at Jerusalem, he departed out of Judea and returned to Galilee.

John 4:4 . In going from Judea to Galilee, our Lord's most direct route lay through the country of Samaria. There was a longer route which some of the stricter Jews sometimes took to avoid contact with the Samaritans; but the providence and purpose of his Father took him through Samaria, for some of his elect were there (John 10:16). We shall never appreciate the gospel until we go back to the basic truth of predestination, which puts God first, which makes the choice his before it is ours (2 Thessalonians 2:13; John 15:16). Election is of persons; predestination is of things. His journey through Samaria was predestinated because there were some chosen sheep there which had been given him from all eternity (John 6:37-40).

John 4:5 . Most agree that Sychar is the city called Shechem, which was on the ground that Jacob bought and later gave to Joseph (Genesis 33:18-19; Genesis 48:21-22). Joseph's bones were buried there (Joshua 24:32).

John 4:6 . Jacob's well was there. It was called his well because he either dug the well or because he and his family used it. Our Lord always traveled by foot; therefore, he was weary and sat down on the well. John takes note of his weariness to let us know that he was truly man and subject to weariness and other human infirmities. He rested on the sides of the well, and it was about noon.

John 4:7-8 . The woman probably chose the hot noon hour to come to the well because she thought no one else would be there. This was no accident. She chose this hour because it was God's hour for her to meet Christ. How often people meet with divine mercy when they think not of it (Isaiah 65:1). The Lord asked her for a drink of water. He asked her for a drink not only because he was weary and thirsty, but in order to deal with her on the subject of ‘living water.’ In the providence of God, his disciples had gone to the city to buy food that our Lord might be alone with this sinner. Alone with Christ is where a sinner needs to be with none between.

John 4:9 . The Saviour's request struck the woman with surprise. Among the Jews it was considered the depth of degradation to even converse with a Samaritan, but to ask a favor of one would never be tolerated. Our Lord's humility and condescension made the woman to marvel. Oh, the grace of our Lord! Tenderly and patiently he led this adulteress step by step to conviction, conversion, and faith in him. She knew him not; she saw in him nothing but a ‘Jew’ (Isaiah 53:1-3).

John 4:10 . ‘If you knew the gift of God, if you knew who speaks to you, if you knew your need, you would ask of me the living water.’ This is the root of man's whole problem. The gift of God is salvation; it is eternal life (1 John 5:11). God is the giver; all we do is receive. Man does not know the gift; and he does not know Christ, the giver! Neither does he know his need for mercy. ‘If you knew these things, you would ask of me.’ Asking proceeds from knowing. Before we ask, God has to deal with us in conviction and revelation. Notice Christ deals with her on the basis of who, not what; it is not doctrine, anymore than doing, that saves. It is the person Christ Jesus! How different was the Lord's speech to the woman than to Nicodemus! He says nothing of the new birth but tells her at once of the ‘gift of God.’ Nicodemus had religion, morality, and works to glory in; she had nothing (Matthew 9:10-13).

Why is water used here as a figure of salvation?

1. It is the gift of God; man can't create it. For water we are absolutely dependent on God.

2. Water is indispensable; it is not a luxury but a necessity. We cannot live without it.

3. Water is the need of everyone rich, poor, white and black, young and old.

4. Water descends from heaven. It is not a product of the earth but comes from above. So it is with salvation!

Verses 11-22

The Samaritan woman - 2

John 4:11-22

In the first section of this narrative we are impressed with several things.

1. Divine purpose. This sinner was one of his sheep whom he came to save, and he must cross her path.

2. Divine providence. She is brought to the well at the time he is there and the disciples are gone.

3. Divine patience. He bore with her prejudice, ignorance, and objections until he reached her heart and brought her to faith.

John 4:11 . The Saviour spoke metaphorically in John 4:10, comparing his grace, his mercy, and his redemption to living water, as he often did at other times regarding the new birth, the vine and the branch, the head and the body. But the woman (blind to the glory of him who spoke to her, occupied only with material things, and ignorant of spiritual matters) replied much like Nicodemus when Christ spoke to him of the new birth. All natural men are ignorant of spiritual things until they are enlightened by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-14).

John 4:12 . Still ignorant of the fact that she was speaking to Jacob's Lord and God, and ignorant of the fact that he was speaking of the water of life, she asked if he thought himself wiser and greater than Jacob, who could find no better water for himself, his family, and his cattle.

John 4:13-14 . Over all of the ‘wells of the world's providing’ must be written, ‘Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again and again.’ The ‘true thirst’ within men lies too deep for the waters of the earth to quench. The thirst of the soul is a spiritual thirst, and that is why material things cannot reach it. Health, wealth, comfort, fame, luxury, and even ceremonial religion can be ours and still the heart be empty. But the person who receives the Holy Spirit, the grace of God in Christ, and the light and life of Christ shall never want any good thing that is necessary to peace, rest, comfort, hope, and eternal glory (Colossians 2:9-10; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Corinthians 3:21-23). Though the believer continually desires spiritual growth and fresh supplies of grace, yet, in Christ, he has all that he needs and wants (Colossians 1:12; John 7:38-39).

John 4:15 . The woman still did not understand that our Lord spoke of spiritual life and a true knowledge of the living God through him. Her thoughts were only of the present life and her ease and comfort in that (Romans 8:5).

John 4:16-18 . The Saviour had crossed her path; he had engaged her in conversation and secured her attention and interest; he had sown seed of spiritual truth in her mind. Now he deals with her real ‘soul thirst’ her sins and her unhappy, confused life. Now comes the work of conviction of sin and the realization of her need of him and the living water. He knew all about her adultery, her sins, and her present state of shame and unhappiness (this is what brought her to the well at noon when she thought no one would be there, for she was ashamed). But he must bring her to admit it and face it herself! This accounts for questions like: ‘Adam, where art thou?’ or ‘Cain where is your brother?’ or ‘Whom do you say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ Faith in Christ is born of personal, known, and admitted need! (Matthew 8:1-3; Matthew 15:22-28.) ‘To whom much is forgiven, he will love much.’

John 4:19-20 . ‘I perceive that thou art a prophet,’ whose office is to reveal the will and word of God and to whom God reveals secret things one chosen and sent of God (Hebrews 1:1; Ephesians 4:11). Her eyes are beginning to open; she sees that she is in the presence of some mysterious person sent of God. But again the working of the flesh is evident, for she brings up the age-old contention between Jews and Samaritans about where to worship God. The Lord had spoken directly to her heart and conscience about sin; and it may be that she either wanted to change the subject or she thought, being a prophet, he might truly enlighten her on where to worship.

John 4:21 . ‘Woman, the time is at hand when you shall neither in this mountain’ (where your fathers have long worshipped God superstitiously, without any direction from him) ‘nor at Jerusalem’ (which is the place the Lord designated for the temple and worship) ‘worship the Father.’ God is putting an end to the Levitical ceremony, law, types, and holy places and days. They are all fulfilled in Christ (Hebrews 10:8-10; Hebrews 10:19-22; Galatians 5:1-4).

John 4:22 . You Samaritans have no divine instructions and rule for your worship in the mountain. You only do what your fathers in tradition and custom taught without any revelation of the divine will. You really do not know what or whom you worship, being void of divine instructions. At least the Jews know that God has revealed his will that his people should have the priesthood, the sacrifices, the mercy seat, and the day of atonement in the temple at Jerusalem. This was all done according to his word to Moses and is acceptable to God (Romans 3:1-2; Romans 9:3-5).

Verses 23-30

True worship

John 4:23-30

John 4:23 . Under the clear revelation of the gospel and the kingdom of the Messiah, true worshippers of God shall not worship God as the Samaritans (who had no divine rule nor word for their tradition), nor as the hypocritical Jews (who rested upon rituals, ceremonies, and form), nor yet as the sincere Jews (who followed the pattern in faith and sincerity Hebrews 9:6-10). But the time of reformation in and through Christ has come when true worshippers of God all worship God in Spirit, heart, and truth as opposed to temples, ceremony, and ordinances. The great question is not where to worship, but how (Philippians 3:3). This is the will of God (‘My son, give me thine heart’) that we come to him by faith through Christ Jesus.

John 4:24 . God is not a corporeal being, made up of blood, flesh, and bones, being pleased with material and fleshly things, impressed with form and lip service. God is a spiritual being, the father of spirits, and requires spiritual honor, reverence, love, and trust proportioned to his great name. It has always been true! Abel came to God with the typical offering, but he came in faith and sincerity. Abraham offered the sin-offering which pictured Christ, but he believed God! The Jews had forgotten the Spirit of the law and only kept the dead letter and the form. This was the error of their so-called worship. We do gather together or separately, we do offer public prayer or private, we do our offerings, our sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, and our commitments to God through our great high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Spirit of God, the spirit of sincerity, the spirit of faith, and the truth as it is in Christ Jesus! (Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 10:16-22.)

John 4:25 . Slowly but surely the word had done its work (Romans 10:17; James 1:18; Ephesians 1:13). At last the woman had been driven from every false refuge, and she speaks of the hope of a revealed Redeemer! She had some understanding of the promises and prophecies of the coming Christ, or Messiah, who would reveal the will of God as to salvation and the worship of God (Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:3; Genesis 49:10; Deuteronomy 18:15; Malachi 3:1).

John 4:26 . ‘I that speak to thee am He!’ The moment the woman expresses her desire for Christ, he answered, ‘I am He!’ Nothing more is needed; the Saviour of sinners stood revealed. That was enough; all is settled now. It was not a mountain nor a temple, Samaritan nor Jew; she had found Christ, the Saviour-God. A needy sinner and a sovereign Saviour had met face to face; and all is set-tied, once and forever! (Matthew 11:28; John 7:37-38; Isaiah 45:20-25.)

John 4:27 . The disciples had gone into the city to buy food and were kept there by the providence of God until the Saviour had finished the talk with the woman of Samaria. When they returned, they marveled that he talked with a woman in the road (forbidden by their traditions) and that he talked with a Samaritan woman (with whom the Jews had no dealings). But they had so much reverence and respect for the Master that they did not mention it.

John 4:28 . In the meantime the woman ‘left her waterpot and went into the city.’ She had come to the well with one thing on her mind a pot of water; but now she had met Christ, tasted the living water, and was so taken with him that she not only forgot the water she had come for, but left even her waterpot. Once there is a clear perception of Christ to the heart, once he is revealed, known, and received as Lord and Saviour, the things of this world do not seem so important.

John 4:29-30 . She said to the men of the city, ‘Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did; is not this the Christ?’ ‘Come and see.’ These were the words of Philip to Nathanael in John 1:46. Christ the Lord had undoubtedly told her much more than the few words we have recorded here (John 21:25), but several things are evident here. She was totally persuaded that he was the Christ, that he was the promised Messiah! She fully believed him and found great joy in this faith and knowledge. She wanted others to know Him, so she invited them to come to him and see for themselves. Our business in witnessing is to point men to Christ; they must come and see for themselves. Evidently she was most persuasive, for they went out of the city and came to him there at the well.

Verses 31-42

His word the foundation of faith

John 4:31-42

The disciples had gone into the city to buy food and had returned to Jacob's well to find the Master engaged in conversation with a woman of Samaria. They had marveled at this for she was not only a Samaritan, but a known adulteress. None of them asked him any questions. But now the conversation was over; she had left in great joy to tell others about the Redeemer, to try to bring them to see and hear Christ themselves. While she was gone and before the Samaritans came out to the well, Christ was left alone with his disciples.

John 4:31 . The disciples knew that he had been weary and hungry when they left him at the well a few hours ago; so now that they had food, they encouraged him to eat something.

John 4:32 . The Master replied, ‘I have food to eat which you do not know about.’ He had been feeding upon this food all the time that they had been away, and he explains it in John 4:34.

John 4:33 . They began to look at one another and ask, ‘Did someone bring him food to the well while we were away?’

John 4:34 . Our Lord, without any rebuke for their dullness in understanding (Psalms 103:13-14), explained to them that his food and drink was to do the will of his Father and to finish the work the Father had given him to do. The will of the Father and the redemption of his sheep so occupied Him, so filled his soul, so satisfied Him, that it outweighed his natural hunger and made him forget natural food.

John 4:35 . There was in those countries usually about four months between seedtime and harvest. This may be true of wheat and barley but not in spiritual matters. Everyday is seed-time, watering time, and harvest time. The Master had but just spoken to this woman; now she rejoiced in Him, and others were on their way there to receive him. Lift up your eyes and behold the people of all nations and tribes who are ready to hear and believe. The seed has been sown by the prophets of old, by the word of the Lord, and by John the Baptist. We alone are not the sowers and the reapers, although we may do both.

John 4:36 . In the kingdom of Christ the sowers and the reapers are all one (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). The prophets, the writers of scripture, the apostles, the reformers, all who sowed the seed of the gospel, and we who reap the fruit, shall have the same reward and rejoice together in his glory and eternal life.

John 4:37 . This was a proverb commonly used with reference to those who unjustly enjoyed the fruits of other men's labors by reaping what they did not sow (Joshua 24:13). But in our Lord's kingdom there is no such attitude, for there is no competition among believers. It is our Lord's vineyard, and we do what we do for his glory!

John 4:38 . Yet there is a sense in which this was true of the disciples and is true of us today. We enter in on the labors of all who have gone before us; without their faithfulness there would be no harvest (Acts 8:5).

John 4:39 . The woman had gone into the city and told people about Jesus Christ, whom she had met at the well. ‘He told me all that ever I did. He told me things that only God knows.’ And as a result of her testimony, many believed.

John 4:40-41 . So when they came out to see Him, they asked him to abide with them; and he stayed there two days. The Master himself abode among them for two days, preaching the gospel of his grace and revealing to them his glory; and many believed because of his word. We do not read of any miracles that he performed among them (though he may have), but they believed his word!

John 4:42 . There may be a progression of faith taught here. Certainly they did believe the woman's testimony. God used her to tell them about Christ and to encourage them to ‘come and see.’ But after coming to him and hearing his own words, they believed more fully and strongly, so as to say to the woman, ‘We have heard him ourselves and know that he is indeed the Messiah and Redeemer of people of all nations.’ Faith grows. The object of saving faith is Christ, and the very foundation of faith is his word. The more of the word, the stronger the faith.

Verses 43-54

The nobleman's son healed

John 4:43-54

John 4:43-44 . Our Lord spent two days in Samaria, where many people believed on Him, not because of miracles, which he did; they believed his word. We do not read of any miracles being performed in Samaria at this time. After these two days in Samaria, he journeyed into Galilee. He did not go to Nazareth, which is a city in Galilee, but into the country part of Galilee and to Cana, another city in Galilee. He said on two occasions, ‘A prophet hath no honor in his own country’ (Matthew 13:57; Luke 4:24).

John 4:45 . Perhaps this verse will give us a key to understanding John 4:44. When he came to the country of Galilee (which was his home country, where he grew up), he was received not as a prophet but as a miracle worker; for many of these Galileans were at Jerusalem during the feast of the Passover and had seen the miracles performed by him (John 2:23-25). Such is human nature, materialistic, fleshly, and caring much for the body and little for the soul (John 6:25-27; Luke 4:23). People are interested in miracles but not mercy. As a miracle-worker, Christ is honored: but as the Son of God incarnate, he is rejected (John 1:10-11) in Galilee.

John 4:46 . So Jesus came to Galilee and chose to go again to Cana of Galilee, where he had performed his first miracle, turning water into wine. There was a certain nobleman (royal officer and ruler) there whose son lay very ill in Capernaum. Capernaum was about twenty miles from Cana.

John 4:47 . It is evident that this nobleman had heard of Christ or had been present in Jerusalem or Cana when Christ performed other miracles, for he went to the Master and asked him to go to Capernaum and heal his son. He had a form of faith in the power of Christ to heal, but it certainly was not as strong nor as great as the centurion of Matthew 8:5-10 who believed that only the word of Christ was sufficient to heal, whether he was present in body or not.

John 4:48 . Our Lord rebuked him. He knew the man's heart. A measure of faith he had, but not a full committal to Christ nor a full understanding of who he was (John 4:10; Mark 8:11-12). This man not only undertook to tell the Lord what to do but how to do it. He certainly did not manifest the attitude of the father in Mark 9:23-24.

John 4:49 . The nobleman did not become angry at the Saviour's rebuke: instead he accepted the Lord's exhortation and continued to plead for the life of his son. One thing he did know and believe, and that was that Christ could heal his son; and if he did not, the boy would die. He repeated his request, this time pleading, ‘Sir, come down or my child will die.’ His faith may have been weak, but he continued to plead for mercy for his son.

John 4:50 . Our Lord said, ‘Go thy way; thy son liveth.’ Upon this the man turned and left, believing the word of Christ! We see here the growth of faith. He certainly manifests more and truer faith in Christ than when he first came to him. Here is the foundation of true and saving faith the word of God (Romans 10:17; John 5:24; Hebrews 13:5-6). The nobleman raised no objections, asked no questions, looked not for signs nor feelings, but simply went his way believing the word of Christ.

John 4:51 . As the nobleman journeyed home, his servants came out to meet him to bear the good news that his son was healed. They knew nothing of the meeting of their master with the Lord Jesus, but merely came to tell him the good news.

John 4:52 . He inquired of the servants the hour when the boy was healed; and they said, ‘Yesterday at one hour past noon.’ The word ‘yesterday’ brings out an interesting point. Cana and Capernaum were only four or five hours apart, and it was only one hour after noon that the Master pronounced the boy healed. Why did not the father rush right home? It may be that he had such confidence in the word of Christ that he completed his business in Cana and spent the night, confident that his son was all right. John 4:50 says that he believed, and indeed he did.

John 4:53 . We see all the way through this narrative the growth of this man's faith. He came to Christ at the first because he believed upon the testimony of others or because of the miracles he had seen. Having met the Lord Jesus himself and hearing him speak, he believed the more and rested upon his word. Now, having experienced the results of faith, the joy of our Lord's mercies, it is said, ‘Himself believed, and his whole house.’ He told them about Christ and they, too, believed.

John 4:54 . The first miracle was turning water into wine; this was the second miracle. Later he performed many more (Matthew 4:23).

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Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on John 4". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 2013.