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John 4:1-3. When therefore the Lord perceived that the Pharisees had heard, Jesus maketh and baptizeth more disciples than John, (though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) he left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. The object of these verses is to explain the reason why Jesus now left Judea for Galilee. How long He had remained in Judea we are not informed (see the note on chap. John 3:22), being only told that in the country districts the success of His ministry had excited the notice of the Pharisees (of Jerusalem), and had led to comparisons between the two teachers who had so suddenly appeared in the land. It will be observed that the circumstances described in this verse are substantially the same as those brought before us in the words of the disciples of John after their disputation with the Jew (chap. John 3:26). They said to their master that to Jesus all were coming,-that is, by plain inference, more were flocking to Jesus than to the Baptist. It is only necessary to allow a short interval of time for the diffusion of the news, and we are brought to the state of things presented here. If, then, there is this close connection between chap. 25 , 26 , and the opening of the present chapter, it seems impossible to believe that the imprisonment of the Baptist can have taken place in the interval, when in chap. John 3:24 the Evangelist expressly refers to the fact that John was as yet at liberty. The imprisonment is nowhere expressly mentioned by him; but while it is very easy to understand such an omission if the event fell in one of those intervals which separate so markedly the successive narratives of his Gospel, it would be strange if, in a closely connected paragraph, he should first record that the imprisonment had not yet taken place, and then, although the event took place at the very time, pass over it in silence. It seems, then, much more natural to interpret the words heard by the Pharisees as meaning that Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John is making and baptizing, than to suppose the contrast to be between the present action of the one and the past ministry of the other, as if the words were, ‘Jesus maketh more disciples than John used to make. ‘Hence we regard the ministry of John as still enduring at the period to which this verse relates. The journey into Galilee now alluded to is not, therefore, that recorded in Matthew 4:12, which was taken after the imprisonment of John. (See further the note on John 6:1.) On the determination of this question rests the explanation of our Lord’s departure from Judea. If John had now been delivered up to his foes, the Evangelist’s meaning might be that Jesus withdrew from a persecution which those who had successfully opposed the Baptist would surely raise against. One whose success was even greater. But such a meaning is beset with difficulties, for there would be something strange and unlike the style of this Gospel in so brief an allusion to the avoidance by our Lord of open hostility at this early period of His ministry; and it would not be easy to see why the Pharisees should be expressly mentioned and not ‘the Jews.’ If, however, we take the view defended above, that the Baptist was still pursuing his course, these difficulties disappear. Not to escape from persecution, but to put an end to comparisons which (however true in fact) were mischievously used, Jesus retired from the land in which John was teaching and baptizing. True, He must increase and John must decrease; but the hour for the close of John’s preparatory labours had not yet come, and the purposes of Jesus Himself would be best furthered by the complete accomplishment of the Baptist’s mission. Individuals might be removed from the circle of John’s disciples and be received by Jesus (see chap. John 1:37); but a general impression of this kind could not be made until a certain work of preparation had taken place. For His own sake, therefore, it was not desirable that this preparation - work should prematurely close. Again, we shall thus better understand the mention of the Pharisees. That class had rigidly and suspiciously inquired into John’s right to assume the position of a prophet, and the report which they now heard might well rouse them to renewed action in their character of defenders of the faith and religious practice of their nation. Any such action on their part could hardly fail at this stage to be injurious, even if it were directed against John and not against Jesus Himself. But there was no reason to think that their opposition would be limited to the Baptist Jesus, too, would have His work interrupted by their embittered feeling. Not, therefore, to avoid His enemies, but to transfer His labours to freer and more open fields, did our Lord withdraw from Judea at this time. The remarkable indirectness of the language of this verse is explained by the writer’s wish to seize the very moment at which the withdrawal from Judea became necessary. The sojourn of Jesus in the neighbourhood of John’s sphere of action brought out John’s distinct confession of the relation in which he stood to his Lord. That was for the present enough; and the sojourn terminated at the very moment when it threatened to be the means of injuring the Baptist’s work, and of precipitating the open conflict between Jesus and the Jews. It seems most natural to take the word ‘knew’ or ‘perceived’ as referring, not to information obtained, but to supernatural knowledge (compare chap. John 2:24-25). Most seemly, therefore, is the designation of Jesus here as ‘the Lord’ a rare usage with John, who commonly employs the personal name Jesus. Because He was the Lord, not man only, He discerned the first stirrings of hostility in the minds of the Pharisees and the occasion which gave them birth. Afterwards the name Jesus occurs, because the Evangelist quotes the very words of the report, a report indeed containing an incorrect statement, set right in the parenthesis which follows. But there was nothing unnatural in the error. Jesus might easily be represented as baptizing (compare chap. John 3:22), because His disciples could only have acted in His name and by His authority. The Pharisees could not know why He should abstain from performing the act Himself: we know that His baptism was not with water but with the Holy Ghost, and ‘the Holy Ghost was not yet given’(chap. John 7:39). Such, then, were the circumstances amidst which Jesus ‘left’ Judea and retired into Galilee. The word used for ‘left’ is interesting, and confirms our interpretation. It means literally Met go, Let alone; ‘and it is hardly possible not to feel that by his use of it the Evangelist would direct our attention to the fact that Israel’s rejection of God’s mercy was, in the wisdom of the Divine arrangements, the cause why it was itself rejected, and the other nations of the world called.-It should be added that we have assumed throughout that AEnon and Salim were situated in Judea, so that both Jesus and the Baptist were at this time in the same region of the country. If Salim was near Scythopolis, in Samaria (which seems very unlikely), the argument is not seriously affected. In any case, it is clear that for the time Jesus wished to remove His sphere of labour from the immediate view of the Pharisees by a retirement into Galilee.
The general object aimed at in the relation of the story of Nicodemus in chap. 3 is pursued in the account given us in this section of the interview of Jesus, first with the Samaritan woman, and then with the inhabitants of Sychar, who are brought by her to listen to His teaching. The subordinate parts are ( 1 ) John 4:1-4, introductory, after the manner of the introduction to the story of Nicodemus in John 2:23-25; ( 2 ) John 4:5-26, interview with the Samaritan woman; ( 3 ) John 4:27-30, the mission of the woman to her fellow-townsmen; ( 4 ) John 4:31-38, the conversation of Jesus with His disciples, in regard to the nature and success of their work; ( 5 ) John 4:39-42, the work of Jesus among the inhabitants of Sychar.
John 4:4. And he must needs go through Samaria. The natural route from Judea to Galilee lay through Samaria. The other route, through the country on the east of Jordan, was so much longer that no one would choose it unless desirous of avoiding Samaria. The necessity here spoken of, therefore, may simply have reference to geographical position, and to the present urgent motive for reaching Galilee without delay. Still the use of ‘must’ in this Gospel compels us to lay an emphasis on the word, and to interpret it as denoting more than merely usage or convenience. If the Evangelist’s thought is that the hostility of the Pharisees (partly actually existing, partly foreseen) made it necessary for the Saviour to hasten into Galilee, then he would have us understand that the Jews themselves brought about this visit to the hated nation of the Samaritans. But above and beyond all this, there seems a clear intimation of the truth brought before us in John 4:34, chap. John 9:4 ， etc: here, as always, Jesus acts according to His knowledge of His Father’s will.
John 4:5. He cometh therefore to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar. ‘From the hills through which the main route of Palestine must always have run the traveller descends into a wide plain, the widest and the most beautiful of the plains of the Ephraimite mountains, one mass of corn unbroken by boundary or hedge, from the midst of which start up olive trees, themselves unenclosed as the fields in which they stand. Over the hills which close the northern end of this plain, far away in the distance, is caught the first glimpse of the snowy ridge of Hermon. Its western side is bounded by the abutments of two mountain ranges, running from west to east. These ranges are Gerizim and Ebal; and up the opening between them, not seen from the plain, lies the modem town of Nâblus ... the most beautiful, perhaps it might be said the only very beautiful spot in central Palestine.’  Nâblus is a corruption of Neapolis, the name given by the Romans to the ‘new city’ built nearly on the site of the ancient Shechem. The city which gave its name to this district of the Holy Land, Samaria, distant about six miles, had recently been rebuilt in a style of great magnificence by Herod the Great, who gave it the name of Sebaste. But, partly through the prestige of its antiquity and famous history, and partly through the power of religious associations, Shechem was pre-eminently the city of Samaria. It lay, as has been said, at the loot of Mount Gerizim, on the summit of which was the temple of the Samaritans, the stronghold of their worship for nearly three hundred years. It is impossible here to do more than trace the main outlines of the history of the Samaritan people. Their origin has in modern times been a subject of warm controversy. The narrative of 2 Kings 25:12 certainly seems to imply that all the inhabitants of the country were carried away to ‘Halah and Habor and the cities of the Medes’ (2 Kings 17:6): Josephus also speaks of the transplanting of all the people. But, apart from the improbability that such a wholesale deportation would be made, we find both in Scripture (2 Chronicles 34:9, and perhaps 2 Chronicles 30:1; 2 Chronicles 30:5; 2 Chronicles 30:10) and also in Josephus intimations that some few at least of the inhabitants remained, after the land had been colonised by settlers from Cuthah and other cities of Assyria. In the manner related in 2 Kings 17:0 these colonists were led to mingle a worship of Jehovah as the tutelary Deity of their new country with the idolatry brought with them from their native cities. What we read of their history at a later date is in exact accord with the mixed character of their race and their worship. They referred their own origin only to Assyria (Ezra 4:2), yet they were desirous of fraternising with the Jews in their work of rebuilding the temple of Jerusalem; and, when finally repulsed by the Jews and defeated in their attempts to injure and frustrate their work, they built (B.C. 409) a rival temple on Mount Gerizim after the model of that in Jerusalem, taking as their first high priest one whom Nehemiah had expelled (Nehemiah 13:28). From this time they seem to have maintained a system of worship modelled on that of the Jews, their older idolatry being, as far as we can judge, entirely renounced. Of the Scriptures the Samaritans received one portion only, the Pentateuch; but for this they professed peculiar reverence. A comparison of the Samaritan Pentateuch with that of the Hebrew Bible shows that many alterations had been introduced into the text by the Samaritans, but at the same time that these had only been made for the purpose of authenticating their own mode of worship and of maintaining the honour of their sacred places. This partial agreement, however, between the religious beliefs of the two peoples, so far from preventing, had really led to the most determined hostility between them. To the Jew, a man of purely Gentile descent and a man of mixed race were equally Gentiles; and an approximation to Jewish belief and modes of worship gave no claim of brotherhood with Jews. Hebrew literature is full of strangely varying statements in regard to the Cuthim (as they are called), statements which probably reflect the relations subsisting between the nations at different periods (see Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, iii. 1117 , 1118 ). In the time of our Lord the temple on Mount Gerizim had long been in ruins, but both the mount and the city at its foot had retained their sacred character; and it was here that the true Samaritan practices and traditions had their strongest hold on the people. The slight sketch which we have been able to give of the history of this people will be sufficient to show how singular was their situation. The ancient writings of the Jews themselves deal with Samaritans now as with heathen, now as with men belonging to the stock of Israel; and the narrative of this chapter places them in the same position a position not wholly Gentile, but intermediate between the Jewish and the Gentile world. It has been commonly assumed that the ‘city called Sychar’ is identical with Shechem, and the chief subject of controversy has been the motive for the change of name. Whilst some have regarded the alteration as a mere error of pronunciation, most have ascribed it to Jewish prejudice, interpreting Sychar as ‘drunkard’ or ‘falsehood:’ others, again, have considered the word identical with a well Sokhar mentioned in the Talmud. It seems more probable, however, that Sychar is a village still known by a name substantially the same (El-Askar), situated about two miles to the east of the present town of Nablus. This village is nearer than Shechem can have been to the well which bore the name of Jacob; and it is much more likely that the Evangelist would pause to describe the position of such a place than that of the ancient city of Shechem.
 Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, pp. 233, 234.
Near to the parce of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. There can be no doubt that, in speaking of Jacob’s gift to his son Joseph, John refers to Genesis 48:22, ‘I have given thee one portion above thy brethren,’ whatever meaning may be attached to the last words of that verse. The Hebrew word here rendered ‘portion’ is identical with the name Shechem. At Shechem, therefore, were the bones of Joseph buried (Joshua 24:32), and the city and surrounding country ‘became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.’
John 4:6. Now there was a fountain there, Jacob’s fountain. The distinction between the natural spring and the artificial well is usually maintained with great care in the language of Scripture. Now and then, however (as is very natural), a well, fed as it is by springs, is itself called a spring or fountain. Thus ‘the angel of the Lord found’ Hagar ‘by a fountain of water in the wilderness’ (Genesis 16:7), and ‘the well was called Beer-lahai-roi’ (John 4:14); and in the narrative of Genesis 24:0, where in the Authorised Version we find ‘well’ three times (in Genesis 24:11; Genesis 24:13; Genesis 24:16), the original has first well, then spring or fountain twice. The country round Shechem was a place of ‘fountains and depths that spring out in valley and hill’ (Deuteronomy 8:7); but it is not of such natural springs that we must here think. What in this verse is called a fountain is a ‘well’ in John 4:11-12. Yet it may be worth noticing that the litter name is used by the woman of Samaria: to the Evangelist the well is a ‘fountain,’ and his name implies far deeper and richer thoughts than hers. An almost continuous tradition fixes beyond doubt the position of this well, which lies very near the road by which our Lord would be travelling from Judea to Galilee; and amongst the inhabitants of the adjoining towns it is still known as the well of Jacob or the fountain of Jacob. When visited by Maundrell two hundred years ago the well was more than 100 feet deep, but the accumulation of rubbish has diminished the depth to 75 feet: the bore Isaiah 9:0 or 10 feet wide. That Jacob (if indeed this patriarch’s name was rightly given to the well, and there is no reason for questioning the tradition) should have sunk this well, excavated out of the solid rock, in the immediate neighbourhood of abundant springs, is a striking proof of the insecurity of his position in the ‘land of promise,’ and of his precarious relations with the people of the country.
Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus by the fountain. Shechem was one of the main halting-places on the route from Jerusalem to Galilee. Turning off a little from the road, Jesus reached the well, and (now alone, because His disciples had gone into Sychar to buy provisions) wearied with a long day’s travel He ‘sat thus’ sat, wearied as He was ‘by the fountain,’ or on the low wall built round the well.
It was about the sixth hour. As in the other passages in which John mentions the ‘hour,’ there has been great difference of opinion respecting the time intended. If the ordinary reckoning be adopted, as in the other Gospels, the sixth hour would fall in the morning, a little before noon. But for the reasons assigned in the note on chap. 39 , it seems much more probable that a different computation is followed here, in which, as among ourselves, the hour is of fixed length (not a twelfth part of the variable interval between sunrise and sunset), and the time is reckoned from midnight and noon. By ‘sixth hour,’ therefore, according to the usage of the ancients, we must understand either the hour between 5 and 6 A.M. or the hour between 5 and 6 P.M. On the whole, the latter seems more probable. If our Lord’s journey through Samaria took place in the middle of December (see the note on John 4:35), 5 P.M. would be about the time of sunset, and the evening twilight would last until about half-past 6 . This hour was the ordinary time at which women came forth to draw water at the public wells. No difficulty need be felt on account of the lateness of the hour, for very little time is really required for all that is here related up to the 38 th (John 4:38) verse (comp. Mark 1:32; Luke 4:40).
John 4:7. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water. By Samaria here we are of course to understand the country not the city of Samaria. The woman belonged to Sychar; by race and religion she was a Samaritan, and it is to this fact, as is shown by the preposition employed in the original, that the Evangelist would direct our special attention. It was very natural that she should come at this time to draw water at the well; but from the narrative that follows it seems probable that something more than the excellence of the water drew her to it day by day. One so strongly imbued with the ancient traditions of her countrymen could not but turn with deepest interest to ‘Jacob’s well.
John 4:7-8. Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy food.) The departure of the disciples had left Jesus thus dependent on the woman’s kindness; for they had left no vessel by which the water could be drawn from the deep well It has been conjectured that the recorder of this narrative had not gone on to Sychar with his fellow-disciples, but himself heard the Saviour’s conversation with the Samaritan woman. The conjecture is most improbable, if not altogether contrary to the statement of the Evangelist. We cannot doubt that it was from our Lord’s own lips that the beloved disciple received the whole account.
John 4:9. The Samaritan woman therefore saith unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a Samaritan woman? for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. It is evident that Jesus was at once recognised as a Jew, probably through some difference of accent, or language, or dress. We can hardly suppose that the woman was really surprised at the request preferred, so natural from the lips of a weary traveller (comp. Genesis 24:17). We may rather imagine her as hastening to procure what was asked for, whilst not failing to point out how inconsistent with Jewish principles it was to ask even for such a favour as this. As has been said above, the maxims of the Jews respecting intercourse with the Samaritan people varied much at different times, and it is not easy to say what rules prevailed at he period with which we are here concerned. One precept of the Talmud (quoted in the Diet, of the Bible, iii. 1117) approves their mode of preparing the flesh of animals; others commend their unleavened bread, their cheese, and finally all their food. Elsewhere, however, we find restrictions; and the wine, vinegar, etc., of the Samaritans are forbidden to every Israelite, their country only with its roads and its other products being regarded as clean. This narrative shows that it was held lawful to bay food in a Samaritan town, so that the words of this verse must probably be understood to mean that Jews avoided all familiar intercourse with the alien people, sought and expected no favours at their hands. It is usually assumed that the last sentence is inserted by the Evangelist in the interest of Gentile readers. It may be so, as such short parenthetical explanations are certainly to be found elsewhere in this Gospel. There seems, however, no sufficient reason for removing the clause from the woman’s answer. The repetition of the well-known maxim gives a piquant emphasis to her words, bringing out with sharp distinctness the contrast between the principles of the countrymen of Jesus and the request which necessity had extorted. The use of the present tense (‘have no dealings’) adds some support to this view; and one can hardly avoid the conviction that, had John himself given such an explanation, he would have so expressed himself as to avoid all appearance of discordance with his statement in John 4:8.
John 4:10. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and 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. We may well believe that there was something in the manner of Jesus, when uttering His first words, that invited conversation, and was intended to lead the woman to inquiry. This point gained, His next words could but cause surprise and excite remark. Her answer had told of her recognition of Him as a Jew: His reply declares her ignorance of Him and of what He was able to give. The ‘gift of God’ is probably not different from the ‘living water’ afterwards mentioned. John himself gives an explanation of the latter in hap. John 7:39, and his interpretation must be applied here also. ‘Living water,’ then, denotes the gift of the Holy Spirit. This was pre-eminently the promised gift of the Father (see especially Isaiah 44:0; Joel 2:0), beautifully and most aptly symbolized by the fresh springing water, which wherever it comes makes the desert rejoice, and everything live (Ezekiel 47:9). This was also the especial gift of the Son (see chap. John 1:33), in whom the promises of the Father are fulfilled (2 Corinthians 1:20). Had the woman known God’s gift, known also that the Dispenser of this gift stood before her, she would have been the petitioner, and He, with no delay and without upbraiding, would have given her living water.
John 4:11. She saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? In the answer of Jesus there was much to cause surprise, especially in the emphatic reference to Himself; but there was nothing in the actual terms used that compelled the hearer to seek for a figurative meaning. ‘Living water’ was a phrase in ordinary use in speaking of the fresh bubbling spring or the flowing brook. ‘Isaac’s servants digged in the valley and found there a spring of living water’ (Genesis 26:19, margin). Wherever running water is spoken of in the ceremonial law, the same expression is used. Hence nothing more than the fresh spring that supplied the well might at first be presented to the woman’s mind, and that this precious gift came of the Divine bounty would be no unfamiliar thought. Though, as a Samaritan, she might know little or nothing of God’s promise of His Spirit under this very emblem, or of Jeremiah’s comparison of God Himself to a fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13), yet reflection would suggest some such meaning. At present, however, she answers without reflection, and perceives no higher promise than that of the Creator’s bounty, attained without the use of ordinary means.
John 4:12. Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his sons, and his cattle? It was from Joseph that the Samaritans were wont to claim descent; all the district around belongs! to his children. But Jacob here receives special mention as the giver of the well. The well was his; he drank of it himself. Again the thought is forced upon us, that the Samaritan woman had sought this well partly on account of its connection with the fathers of her people. The feeling may have been tinged with superstition, but it was honourable in itself. The first part of her answer (John 4:11) showed how limited the range of the woman’s thoughts still was: in the words of this verse we see her dawning conviction of the Stranger’s greatness, and the impression made upon her by His manner and His words.
John 4:13. Jesus answered and said unto her, Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again. The question receives no direct reply: the greatness of the Giver must be learnt from the quality of the gift. Even the living water from Jacob’s well has no power to prevent the return of thirst.
John 4:14. But whosoever hath drunk of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a fountain of springing water, unto eternal life. The living water of which Jesus speaks becomes in him who hath drunk of it a perennial fountain, a fountain of water that is ever springing up in freshness and life, of water that not only is itself living, but that brings and gives eternal life. As before, this water is the Holy Spirit. The whole thought closely approaches that of chap. John 7:38. There the promise is, that out of the heart of him who comes unto Jesus that he may drink, who believes in Jesus, there shall flow rivers of living water; ‘And this spake He of the Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit is the special gift of Jesus; and, reciprocally, it is through the Holy Spirit that the believer remains united to his Lord in an abiding fellowship (chap. John 16:14-15), and that Jesus lives in him (chap. John 17:23). These truths of the later discourses are really present here: Jesus, who first gives the living water, becomes in him that hath received it the fountain which supplies the same stream of life for ever. The end is life eternal, not attained in the remote future, but begun and actually present in every one who has received the water that Jesus gives; for all those to whom the Spirit is given experience that union with God which is eternal life (see the note on chap. John 3:14).
John 4:15. The woman saith unto him. Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come all the way hither to draw. These are words of simple earnestness. In the mysterious words of the Jewish traveller one thing was plain, instead of the water she came to draw, water was offered that would satisfy thirst now and for ever. Could she gain this gift, she would no longer need to traverse the distance from Sychar to Jacob’s well. Though much nearer than Shechem, El-Askar is perhaps three-quarters of a mile from the well. The later narrative makes it impossible for us to regard this answer as one either of flippancy or of dulness of spiritual perception. It is in every way more probable and true to nature to consider it as the expression of a bewildered mind eager to receive such a gift as has been offered, little as she could comprehend of what nature the gift could be. If we are right in the conjecture that other than common motives brought her to the well (see the note on John 4:12), it is still easier to understand her reply. With this verse comp. chap. John 6:34.
John 4:16. He saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The promise Jesus has given is one of satisfaction, a promise, therefore, which cannot be understood or fulfilled till the want has been clearly apprehended and felt. These sudden words are designed to produce this effect He who ever ‘discerned what was in the man’ with whom He spoke, well knew what answer His words would call forth. Her past life and her present state proclaimed guilt and disappointment, carnality and wretchedness; all this she must recognise and feel before His gift can be hers.
John 4:17. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. The effect is produced. The woman’s words are a genuine confession, an acknowledgment, perhaps of wretchedness, certainly of guilt.
Jesus saith unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband. He accepts the truthfulness of her statement, but shows her how fully her life is known to Him. In this answer the emphasis lies on ‘husband’ the woman’s words are repeated with their order changed. ‘I have no husband:’ ‘Well saidst thou, Husband I have not.’
John 4:18. For thou hast had five husbands. The ‘five’ were no doubt lawful husbands, from whom she had been separated either by death or by divorce.
And he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: this thou hast said truly. In contrast with the lawful marriages is set the present unlawful union with one who was no husband. Her life was sinful: in what degree we cannot learn from this brief statement. An age in which divorce was freely allowed cannot be judged by the same rules as one of stricter principles. Whatever may have led her to an evil life, it is plain that her heart was not yet hardened.
John 4:19. The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Nothing can be more misleading than the idea that she is seeking to turn the conversation from an unwelcome subject, or to lead it to other topics than herself. Her answer is rather a fresh illustration of her inquiring and earnest character, notwithstanding all the sinfulness of her life. When her delighted wonder has found expression in her immediate acknowledgment, ‘Sir, I behold that thou art a prophet,’ she eagerly lays before Him a question which to her was of all questions the most important.
John 4:20. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men must worship. ‘This mountain’ is of course Gerizim, near the foot of which they were standing. With this mountain was connected, as she believed, all the religious history of her nation; for in the very Scriptures which the Samaritans possessed (the Pentateuch) the name of Gerizim had been inserted in the place of the holy city of the Jews. She could point to the sacred spot on which their temple had stood, then and in all succeeding ages up to our own time pre-eminently ‘holy ground.’ Her question was not prompted by mere curiosity or an interest in the settlement of an ancient controversy. It was a question of life and death to her. The claim of the Jews was exclusive. Not only ‘ought’ men to worship in Jerusalem, but that was the place where men must worship, the only true holy place. One cannot but think that their confident and consistent maintenance of this first principle had long disturbed her mind; and when she saw in the Stranger one who could declare God’s will, she eagerly sought for the resolution of her doubt. As long as she knew not with certainty where was God’s true altar, she had no means of satisfying her religious wants. That her national pride had not stifled every hesitation on such a point as this plainly attests her earnestness: it is no ordinary candour that can look on the supremacy of Gerizim or Jerusalem as an open question. Her words imply a willingness to accept the revelation of the truth, whatever it may be, if only she can learn where with acceptance she may appear before God.
John 4:21. Jesus saith unto her, Believe me, woman, an hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father. The woman can hardly have doubted that the decision of a Jewish prophet would be in favour of Jerusalem, but the answer of Jesus sets aside all ideas of sanctity of place. With neither of these two most hallowed spots shall the thought of true worship be bound up. In saying ‘an hour cometh,’ Jesus shows that He is not repeating a truth belonging to the revelation of the past, but is proclaiming a new order of things. Yet the chief characteristic of the new order is, after all, not the equality of places where men worship, but the clear knowledge of the Being to whom worship is paid: from this the former flows. Samaritans shall offer worship in spite of Jewish exclusiveness, for they shall worship the Father . ‘Israel is my son, even my first-born,’ were God’s words to Pharaoh; but now He offers the name to all, and the words of Jesus imply the abolition of every distinction, not of place only but of nation, in the presence of God, and for the purpose of true worship.
John 4:22. Ye worship that which ye know not: we worship that which we know. The two questions at issue between Jews and Samaritans were those of holy place and holy Scripture. The former, though of far inferior importance (as the Jews’ themselves were by their ‘dispersion’ being gradually trained to know), was the more easily seized upon by national prejudice and zeal. Of this question Jesus has spoken. He passes on immediately to the other, which the woman had not raised, but which was of vital moment. The Samaritans did really worship God, there is no slur cast on the intention and aim of their worship; their error consisted in clinging to an imperfect revelation of Him, receiving Moses but rejecting the prophets. Hating and avoiding Jews, they cut themselves off from the training given by God to that people through whom His final purposes were to be made known to the world. It was the essential characteristic of the whole of Jewish history and prophecy that it gradually led up to the Messiah; that the successive prophets made known with increasing clearness the nature of His kingdom; and that every one who could understand their word saw that the Divine purpose to save the world was to be accomplished through One arising out of Israel. He who knew not God as thus revealing and giving salvation did not really know Him. Every Jew who truly received and understood the oracles of God committed to his trust (Romans 3:2) might be said to ‘know’ the object of his worship; and it is because our Lord is speaking of such knowledge, knowledge respecting God given by the Scriptures which the Jews possessed, that He says ‘that which we know,’ not ‘Him whom we know.’ The Samaritans then worshipped that which they knew not, in this more enlightened than the Athenians who built an altar to an unknown God, but inferior even to those of Israel who had ‘a zeal of God but not according to knowledge,’ and standing far below those meant by our Lord when He says ‘ we worship,’ we, namely, who have really appropriated Israel’s inheritance of truth and hope.
Because the Salvation is of the Jews. ‘The Salvation’ is that foretold in Scripture, and long waited for. The words are those of Jesus; but, remembered and quoted as they are by the Evangelist, they show how unfounded is the charge sometimes laid against this Gospel, that it is marked by enmity to the Jewish people. It is only when ‘the Jews’ have apostatized and rejected Jesus that the term becomes one of condemnation, designating the enemies of all goodness and truth.
John 4:23. But an hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth. This verse links itself with both the preceding John 4:21-22. To no place of special sanctity shall worship belong: though ‘the salvation is of the Jews,’ this involves no limitation of it to the Jewish nation: on the contrary, an hour cometh when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth. ‘An hour cometh’ had been said before by Jesus (John 4:21), but He could not then add ‘and now is;’ for, till the truth set forth in John 4:22 had been received, Samaritans could not truly worship ‘the Father.’ Now, however, they and all may do so. But the added words ‘and now is’ imply still more than this. Following the declaration that the Messianic salvation comes from among the Jews, they are no obscure intimation that, in Himself, the hour so long waited for has arrived, and thus they at least prepare for the direct announcement to be made in John 4:26. The word ‘true’ here is that which has been already spoken of (see note on chap. John 1:9, the only place before this in which it has as yet occurred) as so common and so important in this Gospel. The worshippers denoted by it are not merely sincere, free from all falsehood and dishonesty; they offer a worship that deserves the name, that fully answers to the lofty, noble, pure idea that the word ‘worship’ brings before the mind. In the day now dawning on the world such worshippers as these will worship the Father in spirit and truth. It is difficult to exhaust the meaning of these words, but we must start from the two thoughts of the verses which immediately precede: the first and chief points in the interpretation are, not in sacred place but in spirit (John 4:21), not in imperfection of knowledge but in truth (John 4:22). The very name by which Jesus indicates the object of all worship, ‘the Father’ (a name no longer used of a chosen nation, but offering to each man a personal relation to God), had prepared the way for the abolition of all limitations of place: the leaching is completed here, when man’s spirit is declared to be the ‘hallowed ground’ where he may approach his Father and his God. Again, in the past all knowledge of God had been imperfect, not merely as our knowledge of the Infinite must be limited, but also in comparison with what may be known by man. Even Jews who held the oracles of truth saw in them as ‘in a glass darkly;’ Samaritans who rejected the words of the prophets were far more ignorant. The law had been but a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things (Hebrews 10:1); type and figure concealed whilst they revealed the future blessing. But ‘the hour now is’ when the truth of God is revealed, ‘truth’ as well as ‘grace’ has come (chap. John 1:17); and (in the full knowledge of it) worship may now be offered to the Father. Read in connection with other parts of our Lord’s teaching, the words ‘spirit and truth’ express much that could not be apparent at the moment when they were spoken. The Son appearing as the revealer of the Father, Himself the Truth, Himself giving to men the Holy Spirit who alone can hallow man’s spirit as the sanctuary of worship, all these are thoughts which cannot but press on us as we read this verse.
For the Father also is seeking such, them that worship him. The hour of this real worship is already come, for the Father also is seeking such real worshippers. They are offering Him real homage, for He on His part is seeking them: His seeking through His Son, come to save (John 4:23), and to seek that He may save (Luke 19:10) explains and renders possible this worship. There is much difficulty in determining the true meaning of the original in this clause. It is usually explained to mean either , ‘The Father seeketh that His worshippers be such’ ( i.e., that they should worship in spirit and truth), or, ‘For such the Father seeketh to be His worshippers.’ Both interpretations involve serious difficulties, partly of language, partly of meaning. On the whole, the translation given above seems most probable, but its force is not at once apparent. There is a curious variation in the Greek words, which is often considered accidental, or at all events too minute to be significant, but which we must regard as intentional and important. In John 4:21 and in the first part of John 4:23 the word ‘worship’ has its usual construction, but in this clause the case which follows the verb is suddenly changed, and a very unusual construction is introduced. We may represent the force of the word as it is commonly used by ‘offer worship to;’ but as used in the clause before us and in John 4:24, the connection of the verb with its object becomes more direct and close. An English reader can feel the force of a sudden transition from ‘offering worship to the Father’ to ‘worshipping the Father.’ The former may or may not be real and successful, and may be used of a lower as well as of the highest homage; the latter implies actual attainment of the end desired, reaching Him in worship, if we may so speak; and thus it may almost be said to contain in itself the qualifying words of the preceding clause, for the ‘ real ’ offering of worship to God is equivalent to worshipping Him. If this view is correct, and we are persuaded that such a writer as John could not so vary the language without design, the meaning of the clause is: For also the Father is now seeking such men, those, namely, who actually worship Him. There is thus a mutual seeking and meeting on the part of the Father and His children.
John 4:24. God is spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth. Such worship as is described in the last verse is the only real worship that can be conceived. This verse does not say what men must do, in the sense of what men ought to do. It is the nature of worship in itself that is described. No other worship than that which is offered in spirit and truth can possibly be actual worship of God (the same idea is here expressed as in the last clause of John 4:23), because ‘God is spirit.’ We must not render these words ‘God is a spirit,’ for it is not personality that is spoken of, but abstract being, the nature of the Divine essence. Since the spiritual presence of God is everywhere, Gerizim and Jerusalem lose all claim to be the special places for His worship. Not the outward action of the worshipper, not the forms he uses or the gifts he brings, but his spirit alone can be brought to meet the spiritual presence of God. Where this is done, God Himself meets the spirit which He has sought and prepared, and to which He has made known the truth lying at the foundation of all worship, the truth which reveals Himself. In this wonderful passage are concentrated many of the most essential truths of New Testament teaching. The historical development of God’s plan, the preparation for Christianity made by Judaism, the idea of progress from the outward to the inward, from the sensuous to the spiritual (comp. 1 Corinthians 15:46), the independence of forms which marks the essence of religion, and yet its freedom to clothe itself in form so long as the spirit is not lost, these are the lessons taught here; and however special the form in which they are presented, they are in perfect accord with the whole course of New Testament doctrine. The main principles of these verses would be understood by the woman to whom our Lord was speaking. But a day in which such principles should be realised must surely be that for which Samaria as well as Judea was waiting, the ‘latter days’ of Messiah’s advent?
John 4:25. The woman saith unto him, I know that Messiah cometh (which is called Christ). There is nothing surprising in her avowal that a Deliverer was looked for. We know from other sources that this was, and still is, an article of the Samaritan as of the Jewish faith; from age to age this people had waited in expectation of ‘the Converter’ or ‘the Guide.’ But the use of the Jewish name ‘Messiah’ is more remarkable. We might suppose that it pointed to an approach towards Jewish faith and thought effected in this woman’s heart by the teaching of Jesus, were it not that John 4:29 seems to show that the name was understood by Samaritans in general. Yet it could hardly be otherwise. Separated as the nations were, the famous name which the Jews universally applied to the Deliverer, for whose coming both peoples alike were waiting, would naturally be known far beyond the limits of Judea. The explanatory parenthesis, ‘which is called Christ,’ was no doubt added by the Evangelist, who afterwards (John 4:29) translates the word without any mention of the Hebrew form.
When he is come, he will tell us all things. There can be little doubt that the Samaritan hope was mainly founded on the great passage in the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy 18:15-18 (see note on chap. John 1:21). The language here used, ‘He will tell us all things,’ at once reminds us of Deuteronomy 18:18, ‘He shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.’ The dependence of the Samaritans on the Pentateuch alone would naturally lead to their giving prominence to the prophetic aspect of the Coming One, so emphatically presented in this passage of the Law, rather than to the aspects under which the Deliverer is viewed in the later books of the Old Testament. The woman’s words, indeed, may not convey her whole conception of Messiah, for the context has pointed only to revelation and teaching; but it is more than probable that many elements of the Jewish faith on this subject would be unknown in Samaria. If, however, the Samaritans expected less than the fuller revelation warranted, they at least escaped the prevalent Jewish error of looking for a Conqueror rather than a Prophet, for a temporal rather than a spiritual King.
John 4:26. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. She has sought and found the truth. The hope rising in her heart receives full confirmation; and a revelation not yet so clearly and expressly given by Jesus to Israel is granted to this alien, whose heart is prepared for its reception.
John 4:27. And upon this came his disciples; and they marvelled that he talked with a woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her? To talk with a woman in public was one of six things forbidden to a Rabbi. As the disciples were returning from the village, they wonderingly descry their Master thus engaged. Their surprise, no doubt, found expression in these very questions (asked among themselves) which the Evangelist speaks of as not addressed to their Lord. ‘What seeketh He? what can He be in quest of that we cannot furnish? or, if He is not seeking anything, why is He talking with a woman?’ The questions uttered to one another they would have at once addressed to Jesus, but awe checked their impulse to speak. Something in His look may have restrained them; or the eager wondering attitude of the one, and the solemn earnestness of the Other, proclaiming the willing hearer and the earnest Teacher, may have forbidden them to interrupt such intercourse.
John 4:28. The woman therefore left her water-pot, and went her way into the city. ‘Therefore, ‘ because, the conversation being interrupted, there was nothing to restrain her impulse to make known the marvels she had heard. In her eagerness she leaves her waterpot behind: the ‘living water’ has banished the thought of that which came from Jacob’s well.
And saith to the men, whom she would naturally meet on the roads and in the streets.
John 4:29. Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did. She fixes on the wonderful knowledge which the Stranger had displayed: what had impressed her must also convince them. Let them come for themselves, not rest on her testimony; and let them draw their own conclusions.
Can this be the Christ? Her own belief she expresses in the form of doubt, or problem to be solved; and every reader must feel how natural and wise was her procedure. To have declared herself convinced that the Stranger was the Christ would have done little towards persuading the men of her own village: even to have quoted the declaration which Jesus made might have been without effect upon those who had seen or heard nothing to authenticate such words.
John 4:30. They went out of the city, and were on their way unto him. This verse is here introduced partly to show the immediate success of the woman’s message (no slight evidence of the preparedness of Samaria for the gospel), and partly to make plain the words of Jesus in a later verse (John 4:35).
John 4:31. In the mean while the disciples prayed him, saying, Rabbi, eat. Remembering His exhaustion with the journey (John 4:6), they begged Him thus to take advantage of this interval of rest.
John 4:32. But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not. Literally, I have an ‘eating’ to eat. The word for ‘meat’ is in John 4:34 is different from that used here, which rather denotes the meal, the partaking of the food, than the food itself. This ‘eating’ the disciples ‘knew not. The common rendering entirely obscures the meaning: our Lord does not say’ know not of, but ‘know not,’ ye have no experience of it. As yet, they had not learned the power of such work as His (the complete fulfilment of His Father’s will, John 4:34) to satisfy every want.
John 4:33. Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat? Their perplexity is like that of the woman of Samaria in regard to the living water (John 4:11).
John 4:34. Jesus saith unto them, My meat if that I should do the will of him that sent me, and accomplish his work. This is the first of many similar sayings in this Gospel (John 5:30, John 6:38, John 7:18, John 8:50, John 9:4, John 12:49-50, John 14:31; John 15:10, John 17:4), expressing our Lord’s perfect loyalty to His Father’s will, and complete devotion to the accomplishment of His Father’s work.
The pursuit of this is not His joy, His purpose, His refreshment only, but His very food, that without which He cannot live. The ‘will’ to be ‘done’ may perhaps remind us of the action of the hour or the moment; the ‘work’ to be ‘accomplished,’ of the complete expression and fulfilment of the ‘will.’
John 4:35. Say not ye, Has not your language this day been, There are yet four months, and then cometh the harvest? As harvest began in the middle of April it was now the middle of December.
Lo! I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and behold the fields, that they are white for harvesting. As in this chapter we have heard of a natural and a spiritual eating or drinking, water (John 4:10), food (John 4:32), so here, introduced with equal suddenness, we have the thought of a spiritual harvest. Yet, distant as must have seemed the harvest to the disciples when they looked upon the fields, far more distant would seem the day when Samaritans could be gathered in to the garner of the Lord. But, lo! they are bid see, the fields are already white for harvesting. These words, we cannot doubt, were spoken by Jesus in sight of the Samaritans flocking towards Him (John 4:30): He saw the preparation of their hearts, the impression made by the woman’s message, the faith which His own words would immediately bring forth; nay, He saw a harvest far more glorious than that of this day’s labours, even that of the salvation of the world (comp. note on John 4:42).
John 4:36. Already he that reapeth receiveth reward, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. The figure is continued and amplified. Not only are the fields ready for harvesting, but the reaper is even now at work, and receiving his reward; and how glorious a reward! Not a lifeless store, but (as in the case of the springing water, John 4:14, and the eating that abideth, chap. John 6:27) fruit gathered for life eternal, fruit that shall endure for ever in the fruition of the new life which Jesus brings. And all this takes place ‘already’ (the word even standing emphatically at the head of the sentence), that in the spiritual field so quickly does the harvest follow the sowing of the seed sower and reaper may rejoice together.
John 4:37. For herein is the word true, One soweth, and another reapeth. For, in the spiritual field of which Jesus speaks, the familiar saying is true, has full reality (the word used signifying ‘true,’ as opposed not merely to what is false, but to all that is partial and imperfect), that one has the labour of the sower, another the joy of the reaper.
John 4:38. I sent you to reap that whereon ye have not toiled: others have toiled, and ye have entered into their toil. The disciples are the reapers of this harvest; their commission including, however, that of the disciples of Jesus throughout all time was to reap a harvest which had not been prepared by their own toil. Whatever toil may be theirs, it is toil in reaping, in joyfully gathering the results of earlier toil. The surprise and gladness with which they would shortly witness the faith of the men of Sychar was an emblem of what should repeat itself continually in the history of the Church. While the disciples are reapers, this harvesting in Samaria shows clearly who is the sower, whose has been the earlier toil. The words point to Jesus Himself. From beginning to end of the narrative His ‘word,’ first in the conversation with the woman, and then as spoken to the Samaritans (John 4:39), is the instrument by which the joyful result is gained. Nor must we limit our thought of His ‘toil’ to what is related of the work of this evening by Jacob’s well. The ‘toil’ that has made any harvest possible is that of His whole mission. All that was necessary that He might be able to say ‘I am the Christ,’ the self-renunciation and sorrow and pain of His atoning and redeeming work, virtually included in His one act of acceptance of that work, and present to His thought from the beginning, is involved in His ‘toil.’ He says, indeed, ‘ Others have toiled,’ and neither here nor in chap. John 3:11 can we take the plural as simply standing for the singular. He Himself is chiefly intended, but others are joined as having shared in the preparatory work. He had been alone in conversing with the woman of Samaria; but He had taken up and made use of all that she had received from the teaching of Moses (John 4:25), and all that the Jews had learnt from the prophets. Thus He includes with Himself those who had prepared the way for His coming. For Him, and therefore with Him, they too had ‘toiled;’ but all His servants who come after Him find the field prepared, the toil past, the harvest of that toil ready to be reaped.
John 4:39. And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in him because of the word of the woman, bearing witness, He told me all things that ever I did. The arrangement of the words shows the prominence which John would give to the thought that many Samaritans believed in Jesus. Their faith, too, was only mediately called forth by the woman’s word, for the Evangelist describes her by his favourite and most expressive term, as one ‘bearing witness’ concerning Jesus.
John 4:40. When therefore the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would abide with them: and he abode there two days. Mark the contrast between Judea repelling and Samaria inviting: a dead and petrified orthodoxy may be more proof against the word of life than heresy.
John 4:41-42. And many more believed because of his word; and they said unto the woman, No longer because of thy speaking do we believe: for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world. Among those that heard the Saviour were evidently some who had first believed because of the woman’s testimony (‘No longer. . .’): hearing for themselves, they were led into a deeper faith. There is nothing disparaging, as some have supposed, in the use of the word ‘speech’ or ‘speaking’ in regard to the woman’s message: the expression is simply equivalent to because thou spakest , and relates to the fact of speaking, in contrast with the substance of the teaching, the ‘word’ of Jesus Himself. The last words in the confession of the Samaritans (this is indeed the Saviour of the world) contain no real difficulty. The teaching of John 4:21-24 directly led to the recognition of this truth. It was much to realise that Jesus, as Messiah, was a Saviour, not merely a Prophet who would bring a revelation from God. But when the thought of a Saviour of Jews alone is once overpassed, there is no intermediate position between this and the conception contained in the words before us a Saviour of the world. The Evangelist, in recording them, plainly intends to point out to us the special significance of the whole narrative: the conversion of Samaritans was a promise of the conversion of the world.
John 4:43-44. And after the two days he went forth thence into Galilee. For Jesus himself bare witness, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country. The connection between these two verses is a question on which the most different opinions have been held. The latter verse evidently assigns a reason why Jesus went into Galilee; and (we may add) John 4:45, which begins with ‘ When therefore,’ must be understood as stating that the welcome He received in Galilee was in full accordance with the motive of His action as stated in John 4:44 . These two conditions of interpretation must evidently be observed, and yet in several solutions of the difficulty one or other of them is plainly set aside. Were we to judge only from what is before us, we should say that the words must mean: Jesus went into Galilee and not into His own country, for there He would be a prophet without honour; and so, when He came into Galilee, He was welcomed by the people. If such be the true sense, ‘His own country’ must be J udea . This is certainly not the meaning of these words in the earlier Gospels, and hence the difficulty. A similar saying is recorded by every one of the three earlier Evangelists, and in each case it is introduced to explain the neglect of the claims of Jesus on the part of the inhabitants of Nazareth, the city of Galilee in which His early years were spent (Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24). In one case, Mark 6:4, the saying is enlarged so as to apply especially to kindred, and not to country alone. If then we have rightly given the sense of these verses of John, it must follow that, though the saying quoted is nearly the same here as elsewhere, the application is wholly different, ‘His own country being in the one case Galilee (or rather Nazareth), and in the other Judea. This is by many held to be impossible. But is it really so? Would not such a difference be in exact accord with the varied aims of the first three Evangelists and the fourth, as they respectively relate the Galilean and the Judean ministry of our Lord? The saying is one that may be used with various shades of meaning. Used in relation to Nazareth, the proverb brings before us the unwillingness with which the claims of a prophet are listened to by those who have grown up with him, have familiarly known him, have regarded him as one of themselves. Used in relation to Judea, the true home and fatherland of the prophets, the land which contained the city of Messiah’s birth, the city associated with Him alike in ancient prophecy and in popular expectation (see chap. John 7:41-42), the words surely signify that a prophet is unhonoured by those to whom he is especially sent: Jesus came unto His own country, and ‘His own received Him not.’ This interpretation then (which is that of Origen, in the third century) seems completely to meet the requirements of the passage. In Samaria Jesus had not intended to remain, and He must therefore either return to Judea or go into Galilee; to Judea He will not go, for the reason given; He departs therefore into Galilee. There is only one objection of any weight to the view we have taken viz., that in John 4:1-3 of this chapter a somewhat different motive for leaving Judea is assigned; yet even there, though success in winning disciples is implied, it is said that He left the land because of the Pharisees. If this last consideration does not entirely remove the difficulty, it is to be borne in mind that our knowledge of the circumstances is imperfect, and that, even in its utmost force, the objection is much smaller and less important than those which lie in the way of the other interpretation of ‘His own country.’ For such as think that Galilee must be intended there are but two explanations possible: these we give, only expressing our belief that they involve difficulties much greater than those presented by the other view. ( 1 ) Jesus went into Galilee, for there He would not meet with the honour of a true faith; and there, consequently, He had a work to do, a mission to prosecute: when therefore He came into Galilee, although He was welcomed, it was from unworthy not worthy motives. ( 2 ) Jesus now at length went into Galilee, for (He had avoided Galilee in the belief that) a prophet has no honour in his own country: such honour, however, He has now won in Judea, outside His own country; when therefore He was come into Galilee, the Galileans received Him.
This section of the Gospel brings Jesus before us in Galilee, in His intercourse with the Galileans, and in particular with the king’s officer, who may be regarded as in a certain sense their representative. The object is still the same as that which we have traced from chap. John 2:12. Examples have been given of the manner in which Judea and Samaria submit to the word of Jesus, and these are now crowned by an instance of similar submission on the part of Galilee. The section divides itself into two subordinate parts ( 1 ) John 4:43-45, introductory, after the manner of the introduction to the story of Nicodemus in John 2:23-25, and of that to the visit to Samaria in John 4:1-4; ( 2 ) John 4:46-54, the account of the intercourse of Jesus with the king’s officer.
John 4:45. When therefore he was come into Galilee, the Galileans received him, having seen all things whatsoever he did at Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went unto the feast. The ‘feast’ is no doubt the Passover of which we read in chap. 2 ; and the faith of these Galileans is precisely similar to that of the ‘many’ spoken of in John 4:23 of that chapter, real, but not of the highest kind.
John 4:46. He came therefore again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. His coming revives the fame of that first miracle, and the report of His arrival quickly spreads.
And there was a certain king’s officer, whose son was sick at Capernaum. This officer was probably in the (civil or military) service of Herod Antipas, a Tetrarch, but often styled a king (see Matthew 14:1; Matthew 14:9; Mark 6:14, etc.). The officer himself may have been in attendance on the court in Tiberias, but his son (probably an only son, as the Greek literally means ‘of whom the son . . .’) was lying ill at Capernaum.
John 4:47. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. The faith of this father rested’ on the miracles of which he had heard. Would Jesus but come down from Cana to Capernaum, his son also might be healed. But Jesus must always reprove the spirit which requires ‘signs and wonders’ before yielding faith; and He does it now.
John 4:48. Jesus therefore said unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.
The charge against the father is that his apparent faith is only thinly-veiled unbelief. The words seem most suitably addressed to a Jew (comp. Matthew 12:39; Matthew 16:1; 1 Corinthians 1:22): on the other hand, the officer’s connection with the court leads rather to belief that he was a Gentile. As to ‘signs,’ see the notes on chap. John 2:11; John 2:23. As a ‘sign’ is the highest, so a ‘wonder’ is the least noble name for a miracle. In so far as the miracle is a prodigy and excites amazement, it is a ‘wonder.’
John 4:49. The king’s officer saith unto him, Lord, come down ere my child die. The answer of Jesus, which had seemed perhaps to imply cold neglect, calls forth an impassioned appeal for pity and help; there were no moments to be lost, even now the help may come too late. Jesus was but educating refining and deepening his faith.
John 4:50. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way ; thy son liveth. The man believed the word that Jesus spake unto him, and he went his way. Jesus does not need the passionate appeal: the prayer has been already granted. ‘Thy son liveth’ does not mean, ‘is made to live now after thy second petition’; but, ‘even while the word is in thy mouth, or before it was so, thy son liveth.’ The meaning, in short, is not , I perform the cure at this instant; but rather, I have performed it, the work is done, thy son is recovered. He will not come to heal the child; there is no need that He should do so, the child is already whole. Will the father believe the word? He will, for his faith is purified and changed: it is now faith in the word of Jesus, though no sign or wonder has been seen.
John 4:51. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, saying that his son lived. The word ‘now’ (or ‘already’) may appear superfluous, but it may possibly imply that some time had elapsed since the words of John 4:50 were spoken, ‘when he had now begun the journey.’ Business may have detained him for a few hours in Cana; and if it did so, it would be a testimony to the firmness of that faith with which he had now believed in Jesus. ‘Going down,’ because Cana is situated in the hilly district, several hundred feet above the level of the Sea of Galilee.
John 4:52. He enquired of them therefore the hour when he began to amend. They said therefore unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. As the distance between Cana and Capernaum is not above five-and-twenty miles, it may seem strange that the officer should not have reached his home the same day. If the ‘seventh hour’ were reckoned from sunrise, the time of the cure would be a little later than noon; in that case it would be necessary to suppose that the servants were following the familiar Jewish reckoning of time, and regarding sunset as the commencement of a new day. It seems, however, much more probable (see the note on John 4:6) that by the ‘seventh hour’ we must understand 6 to 7 P.M. Even without the supposition that the father had been detained in Cana, this will suit all the circumstances of the narrative. The words ‘began to amend’ do not suggest any hesitation on the father’s part as to the completeness of the cure. He had believed the word ‘thy son liveth’ (John 4:50), and what he asks now is as to the hour at which his child had been stopped upon the road to death, and turned back upon that to full health and strength.
John 4:53. So the father perceived that it was at the same hour in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. Believed that is, with a faith increased and confirmed: true faith he had manifested before.
Many have supposed that this king’s officer may have been Chuza, ‘Herod’s steward (Luke 8:3), whose wife Joanna was amongst those women who ministered of their substance to the wants of Jesus and His disciples.
John 4:54. This Jesus again did, as a second sign, having come out of Judea into Galilee. The order of the original is remarkable, and we endeavour to represent it by a translation which, if literal, is yet sufficiently idiomatical. ‘This’ stands alone; ‘a second sign’ is in apposition with it. There is thus by means of ‘again’ and ‘second’ a double statement as to the position of the miracle; and as we know that other miracles, not numbered, were wrought in Galilee (chap. 6 ), and that there had already been ‘signs’ also in Judea (chap. John 2:23), the two points upon which our attention is fixed seem to be ( 1 ) that this miracle was wrought in Galilee; ( 2 ) that it was a second miracle there. The first of these points receives importance from the fact that the ‘sign’ now related was done after Jesus had left ‘His own country,’ rejected by ‘His own’ to be accepted by Galileans: the second magnifies the sign itself, for the mention of it as a ‘second’ appears to flow from the tendency of the Evangelist to give double pictures of any truth which possesses in his eyes peculiar weight. This is the case here. From the first Jesus showed that His mission was not confined to Judea. It included Galilee, a province representative not of Jews only but of Gentiles, out of which the Jews thought that no prophet could come (John 7:52): it was not a local but a universal mission.
It is not necessary to discuss the question whether this miracle is identical with that related in Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:2-10. We may wonder that such a question was ever raised. One point of similarity exists, in that in each case the cure was performed at a distance: in all other respects the narratives are wholly different, agreeing neither in time, nor in place, nor in the station of the persons concerned, nor in the character of the faith evinced.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18