Bible Commentaries
John 4

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-54

John 4:1 . When therefore the Lord knew how the pharisees, chiefly priests, and many of them principal members of the council, had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John. The priesthood was then powerful, as they had always been in the more prosperous ages of judaism. This order, with few exceptions, had ever been either indifferent or hostile towards the prophets. And in that very age they had winked at the murder of John, and probably had moved Herod to arrest him, as a person dangerous to the state; and now they cast a jealous eye on the Saviour. But why so? Did either the prophets or Christ do wrong to the altar? Did not Christ send the ten lepers, and others, to bring their gifts to the altar? Did they make a schism? Did they not aid the sons of Levi by preaching righteousness? True. But it was objected, “that the harm they did by irregularity was more than all the good they did by preaching; therefore it was hallowed policy to stone the prophets, and put them to death. By the acquisition of so much popularity, they tarnish the reputation of us the lawful priests, and reprove our habits by their sanctity of life.” All this is the ever-subsisting enmity of the serpent, which prompted Cain to kill his brother. If God had a right to call Aaron to be his priest, why had he not a right to call Moses to be his prophet? Our Lord therefore withdrew from the gathering storm, to finish the work which the Father had given him to do in the cities and villages of Israel.

John 4:2 . Jesus himself baptized not. The baptism of water conferred by others is nevertheless called the baptism of Christ, being administered by his authority and command.

John 4:4 . He must needs go through Samaria, which was the best and shortest road to Galilee. After Salmanezer had destroyed the city of Samaria for rebellion, a colony of Chuthians were introduced, who had intermarried with the poor and apostate jews. On this account the jews, on their return from Babylon, would not acknowledge them. Add to this, for human affairs are always unstable, in the time of Jadua, the highpriest, Alexander, his brother, who had been banished from Jerusalem and had married a relative of Sanballat the governor, obtained leave of the emperor Alexander to build a temple on mount Gerizzim, where Moses had commanded the blessing to be pronounced. Deuteronomy 11:29. This became the rival temple of Jerusalem, and one altar was opposed to the other. They retained the pentateuch, or five books of Moses, written in the original text, but rejected the prophets, because those books defended Jerusalem as the place where God had chosen to put his great and holy name. This schism was the grand cause of the peculiar animosity between the two nations. Onias did the same at Heliopolis in Egypt. Isaiah 19:18.

John 4:5 . Then cometh he to a city called Sychar. In 1601, the Rev. Mr. Bidduph, as mentioned by Lightfoot, travelled on horseback from Galilee to Jerusalem. On March 24th he rode seven miles along the sea of Galilee, which he computed to be eight leagues in length, and five in breadth. He then ascended a hill rather steep, but very pleasant, said to be the hill where Jesus fed the multitude. John 6:3. From this hill they could see Saphetta, the academy of the jews. All the way was extremely pleasant, diversified with fertile hills and dales. After a repast at Inel Tyger (merchant’s eye) they were eager to ascend mount Tabor, which was adjacent. On the 27th they came to Sychar, now Napolis, after riding twenty seven miles from Engannim. On their way to Jerusalem they crossed mount Ephraim, from which they could see the sea, and small vessels entering Joppa, (St. John d’ Acre) and thence they reached Samaria, now Sebaste. On coming within four miles of Jerusalem, they had a fine view of the city and adjacent country.

Of Sychar, and Jacob’s well, Mr. Maundrell speaks particularly. The well is situate about twenty minutes walk from the present city of Sychar; but from the remains of some very thick walls, he suspects that it once stood nearer. Perhaps these walls are the remains of the ancient Sichem. “Over this well once stood an ancient church, erected by that great patroness of the holy land, the empress Irene. But of this, the voracity of time, assisted by the hands of the Turks, has left nothing but a few of the foundations remaining.

“The well is covered, at present, with an old stone vault, into which you are let down through a hole, and then, on the removal of a broad flat stone, you discover the well itself. The mouth of the well is three yards diameter, dug through a firm rock; it is thirty five yards deep, five of which are filled with water.

“At this well, the narrow valley of Sichem ends, opening on a wide field, supposed to be the heritage of land which Jacob gave his son Joseph. Genesis 48:22. The field is watered by a fresh stream running through it, and watering Sichem. The field is very fruitful, and may be regarded as a standing token of the kindness of that good patriarch to the best of sons.”

John 4:6 . Jesus being wearied, sat thus on the well: on the walls built around the well for general accommodation. Full of grace, he knew who was coming at the dinner hour to draw water.

John 4:7 . Jesus saith unto her, give me to drink. A very unusual request of a Jew, whose nation had peculiar animosities against the Samaritans. No Jew would drink out of the bucket of the Samaritans.

John 4:9 . How is it that thou, being a Jew, and apparently a sanctified person too, askest drink of me, who am a woman of Samaria? This was a question of irony.

John 4:10 . If thou knewest the gift of God. The woman’s Son, Abraham’s Seed, the promised Shiloh, as in your pentateuch: for the word, “gift of God,” can have no other import than that of the Messiah, of whom the Father had said, “I will give thee for a covenant of the people;” and whom Paul calls “the unspeakable gift.” Again: if thou knewest who it is that saith to thee, give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. She might have understood him to speak of spiritual blessings, but being in darkness, her mind was full of national prejudices.

John 4:11-12 . Sir, said she, pert enough, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well? The Lord resumed the subject, and kept to the point; for it is a great thing to fix an idea clear in a hearer’s mind. Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst. The woman, most critics think, spake ironically when she said, give me this water, that I thirst not, nor come hither to draw. But she might speak seriously, as seem rather implied in the next words, which indicate a desire to learn. For the Saviour said,

John 4:16 . Go, call thy husband. Virgins and married women in the east were always distinguished by their dress. Our Lord intimated therefore that it was proper for her husband to come and learn, and drink of the well of life.

John 4:17 . The woman said, I have no husband. Jesus answered, in that saidst thou truly, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband. Three things are essential to a lawful and a holy marriage; the consent of the parties, the blessing of the parents, and the sanction of the civil magistrate, who in office never dies. He is ever the widow’s husband, the orphan’s father, and the avenger of injured innocence.

John 4:19 . Sir, I perceive thou art a prophet. This disclosure of the Redeemer’s omniscience showed the woman in whose presence she stood, and perfected her conversion. It was the same with Nathanael: his heart yielded to grace the moment he heard that voice, “When thou wast under the figtree, I saw thee.” Sinners, return in like manner to God. He has searched and known you; he understandeth your thoughts afar off. You cannot hide from him. Psalms 139:0.

John 4:20 . Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, probably referring to mount Gerizzim, where their temple stood, but the jews say, that Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. I am a poor sinful woman, but I wish to amend; tell me whither I must go, and I will worship there. Well did the Saviour say, ye worship ye know not what, joining idols with the worship of Jehovah.

John 4:22 . Salvation is of the jews. They had the oracles of God, and from them the Messiah must descend. But the idols to which ye pray are all vanity.

John 4:24 . God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. His perfections are seen in his works. The worship we pay to him must correspond with his nature. We must love him with all our heart and mind, and serve him with all uprightness and delight. By the light of instruction and all the operations of grace, he draws and allures mankind to worship him aright. Very similar are the words of Cato to the young people of the Romans.

Si Deus est animus, nobis ut carmina dicunt, Hic tibi præcipue sit purâ mente colendus.

If God, as poets say, a Spirit be, Let him with upright mind be served by thee.

John 4:25 . I know that Messiah cometh when he is come, he will tell us all things. Oh glorious disclosure essential for this woman’s conversion; a disclosure kept back from the jews till after his resurrection. In like manner Philip preached Christ to the Eunuch. Acts 8:37. The apostles preached, not themselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord. How can men believe on him of whom they have not heard? The glory of his person must be disclosed to gain and overcome the heart.

John 4:29 . Is not this the Christ? Mark the climax of her faith. At first she called him a jew. Then despised him for affecting greater purity than Jacob. Next she called him a prophet. She finally preaches his righteousness as the omniscient Messiah. He told me all things that ever I did. Is not this the Christ? Lord, encrease our faith.

John 4:35 . There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest. Spring wheat, as we call it, in Judea might be ready in a hundred and twenty days. The barley was never more than a hundred days from sowing to reaping; but here the seed sown by the woman, who said that Christ had told her all things whatsoever she had done, sprung up and whitened for the harvest in a few hours. The whole of Sychar came out to see and hear the Saviour.

John 4:38 . Other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours. Think of this, oh young minister of Christ. The prophets have laboured, and fought, and died in the conflict. The apostles followed their example, resisting even unto blood. Learned men have given us the holy scriptures, in every language and form. The martyrs have contended with antichrist for the faith, and loved not their lives unto death. Good men have planted churches, and built temples to the Lord. Then we do not, as the colonists say, make land out of forests; but enter on cultivated farms. Let us keep the vineyard of the Lord in all its glory and beauty; for the enemy goes about as a roaring lion, to destroy the faith, and devour the flock.

John 4:46 . A certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. Erasmus, following some others, reads regulus, a deputy, a prince, a lord lieutenant, a thane. He was a nobleman high in office, but his rank is not exactly known.

John 4:47 . Besought him that he would come down, and heal his son. He was accustomed to command attendance; but now he does it with solicitation. Like Martha, he was not as yet acquainted with the omnipresence of the Saviour.

John 4:49-50 . Sir, come down ere my child die. He was importunate, and would not be denied. His faith was real, though less enlightened than that of some others. He obtained however an immediate answer: Go thy way, thy son liveth. He believed the word, and on his return his servants met him with the joyful news that the fever had left his son at one o’clock, the very hour of the preseding day that the Lord had said, “Thy son liveth.” So he and all his house believed on the Lord. And shall one branch of our families be clearly converted to the Lord, and made happy in the joys of remission, and the rest of the family remain unmoved, and unconverted? What greater slight can such a family offer to the grace of God? What other means do they await to effectuate their conversion?


Wherever our Lord went, glory and grace shone in his path. Wisdom dropped from his lips, and blessings were scattered by his hands. He was always about his Father’s business; he traversed the nation to seek the lost sheep, and made weariness itself contribute to the furtherance of his work. Being fatigued with his morning walk, he sat to repose on the well. Here, full of grace, he awaited the approach of a woman distinguished by a strong understanding, a brilliant wit, and a profligate life. But oh the condescension of Jesus; he deigned to ask water of this woman, waiting to give more than he asked. Let us learn of our divine Master, not to despise the reprobates of society. They are not happy in their sins, nor have they resolution to break their chains. They want some friend of sinners to take them by the hand and pull them out of the mire: and where shall they find such a friend but among the disciples of Christ?

Let us learn of Jesus, after a word of civility, to turn unprofitable conversation to divine subjects: the world expects this from ministers, because of their profession. Jesus made a transition from common water to the water of life; and from the place of worship to spiritual worship. And if our hearts are properly imbued with holiness, we shall delight in the imitation of our blessed Lord.

We never do the wicked effectual good, but when we leave them self- convicted of their sin. While this woman was playing off the height of glee against the Jew, for asking water of a Samaritan; and against the prophet for his ignorance, with an assurance which said, I have no husband; Jesus gave her wantonness the fatal blow. He appeared in all the glory of the prophet, and the culprit stood convicted at his bar in all the guilt of complicated and habitual adultery. Yet he gave her no harsh names, but treated her with impartial tenderness. And it is worthy of remark, that when striking at sin this was his usual method. The lovely youth whose fault was to love his land more than God, did not go from him unconvicted. And when Jesus met Saul of Tarsus, whose only sin, so to speak, was persecuting the church, he demanded his reason for that one sin. “Why persecutest thou me.” Minister, learn of thy Lord and Master, not to suffer the wicked to depart unwarned and unwounded from thy sermons.

The encomiums which awakened people bestow on the ministry have a powerful effect in promoting revivals of religion. “Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did.” Jesus indeed had told the woman but of one sin; and her conscience added all the rest. Happy is that ministerial talent which has the key to open the heart, and read at large in the sinner’s conscience. The mirror of truth presents a fair portrait of his heart. He is confounded at the sight, and groans to be renewed in the image of God. The conversion and testimony of awakened persons will rouse a neighbourhood more than twenty sermons.

We must next admire the disclosure of his person, to help the faith and save the soul of this woman. Oh what a word of grace, when she mentioned the Messiah, to hear the stranger add I am He! He would not have told a jew so, because it would have involved his ministry in political questions, and regal dignity. But here, where no such danger existed, he disclosed his Godhead without ostentation.

One illustrious conversion is often productive of many. The men of the village came out in an abundance, like the whitening harvest, to greet the Messiah, and hear for themselves. Happy cloud which refreshed a sinful people with converting grace, and left the fragrance of paradise on all the surrounding hills. Blessed gospel, which made the Jews and Samaritans everlasting friends; and in so short a time. What in future can resist her charms? The enmity of sin, the corruptions of the age, and gentile superstition must all retire and hide their heads, wherever she displays the unsullied beauties of her celestial mien.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on John 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.