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John 4

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Verse 1



Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:14-15.

1. Lord knew… Pharisees had heard Jesus may have heard of the question between the disciples of John and the Jew, (John 3:25,) who was evidently of the party of the Pharisees. The Phari sees are the unbelieving ruling class, who at first rejected John; and then when Jesus appeared, and announced himself by the purifying of the temple at the Passover, grew jealous of him. They saw that his claims were bolder than those of John; and following him with their eyes as he retired to baptize, they learned that the popularity of his baptism flung John’s into the shade. The intelligence which Jesus now receives decides two things; 1. He, more than John, is now the prominent object of the ruling odium, although even John was about to be cast into prison. 2. His baptism is decisively rejected by the Jewish representative government. Correspondently he does two things: he withdraws himself from their jurisdiction and view by departing to Galilee; and he henceforth entirely withholds baptism until its renovation after his resurrection. See note on John 3:23.

Verse 2

2. Jesus… baptized not As baptism was a lower and external ministry, Jesus (as Paul subsequently) reserved himself for preaching and teaching. John does not say this to show that what the Pharisees heard was false, but to inform us that Jesus baptized by agents, according to the maxim Qui facit per alium facit per se, Whoso does by another does by himself. It was the office of Jesus to baptize with the Spirit; of his ministers to baptize with water. His was the real, theirs the symbolical baptism.

Verse 3

3. Departed again into Galilee Where he remained until his second Passover. See Synopsis.

Again Because he had journeyed to Galilee before, immediately after his temptation and baptism. See Synopsis, §§ 18, 19.

Verse 4

4. Needs go through Samaria As the province of Samaria spread its broad territories from Jordan to the Mediterranean sea, between Judea and Galilee, it was necessary to cross it, (see map, and note on Matthew 2:1,) unless he would take a circuit around through Peraea on the east side of Jordan. It was, therefore, purely a geographical necessity.

Starting from Jerusalem, (at the present day he would pass through the Damascus gate,) our Lord, with his disciples, proceeds northward, and after a journey of nearly forty miles arrives near the very ancient city of Sychar, Shechem, or Nablous. “Well mounted Europeans,” says Tristam, “ride in one day from Nablous to Jerusalem; but their muleteers and baggage often occupy two days.” Our Lord’s route lay through historic ground. He passed doubtless through Gibeah, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Saul; through Bethel, where Jacob had his dream of the ladder and the angels; near Shiloh, the first dwelling-place of the tabernacle and the ark in Canaan, and the scene of the downfall of the house of Eli. At the terminus of this journey three objects of special interest occur in succession: Jacob’s well, Joseph’s tomb, and the ancient city of Shechem, between the mountains Gerizim and Ebal. (See cut of Shechem and Jacob’s Well.)

Verse 5

5. Sychar Some think that the Jews, after their custom, (see note on Matthew 10:25,) changed the name Shechem into Sychar, derived from sheker, a lie, in contemptuous allusion to the falsity of Samaritanism. Others derive it from s hikkor, drunken. At the time of John’s using the word it may have lost the vulgarity of its original meaning. A third more respectable derivation makes it signify a town of the sepulchre, referring to Joseph’s tomb. When, in the time of Adrian, Shechem was rebuilt, it received the name Neapolis or New-city; whence the modern corruption Nablous.

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Shechem stands in a vale between the mountain ranges of Ebal on the north, and Gerizim on the south. On Gerizim was the Samaritan temple. It was on these two mountains that the tribes, after their entrance into Canaan, (six tribes on one mountain and six on the other,) pronounced, responsively, the twelve solemn blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 27:11-26. That the two parties could hear and respond to each other from the opposite mountains, has, indeed, been hastily pronounced impossible. Yet such is the acoustic quality of the place that it could easily be done. Mr. Tristam, in his Palestine, (p. 150,) says: “In the early morning we could not only see from Gerizim a man driving his ass down a path on Mount Ebal, but could hear every word he uttered as he urged it on.” To fully test the matter his “party stationed themselves on opposite sides of the valley, and with perfect ease recited the commandments responsively.” Shechem is striking for both its position and history. It is the centre of Palestine; it is the pass through which the central thoroughfare, like an artery, runs between north and south. It was the spot where Abraham fixed when he first came from Chaldea. It was the first capital of the tribes, when Jerusalem was but Salem, a Jebusite stronghold. It is now, compared with other towns of Palestine, a flourishing and beautiful place. It is singular for its manufacture of cotton; and in fact its growth in this respect was for a time stimulated by our late American civil war.

Ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph This is traditional. Jacob bought the ground of Shechem, (Genesis 33:18-20;) and the bones of Joseph were brought by the tribes and buried there, (Joshua 24:32;) and the whole region was included in the tribal inheritance of Ephraim son of Joseph. The structure shown, within sight of the well, as Joseph’s tomb, if not really that patriarch’s, is of unknown antiquity.

Verse 6

6. Jacob’s well Whether the well is Jacob’s or not, a well which no one doubts to be the one here described, still exists in the plain of Mukhnah, [see cut,] about two miles from Shechem. Says Dr. Newman: “Measuring seventy-five feet deep and nine in diameter, this patriarchal well is excavated in the solid rock, with regular and smoothly-hewn sides. Originally a vaulted chamber,” (like a curb sunk even with the ground,)

“ten feet square and as many deep below the surface of the ground, formed the entrance to the well, the walls of which have fallen in, rendering access difficult. Leaping down into the ruined vault, I found two openings into the well through heaps of limestone blocks. Attaching a cord to a small tin bottle, I lowered it to the depth of sixty-five feet, but found no water. On lowering it, however, through the other aperture to the depth of seventy-five feet, I reached the water, which was from three to five feet deep.” Dr. Newman describes the water as clear and pleasant. “The week I spent at Nablous I never wearied in my journeyings to drink of these delicious waters.” Mr. Tristam at one visit found no water, but merely moist mud at the bottom. Mr. Wilson (1841) found the bottom so dry that by letting down combustibles and fire he lighted up a flame at the bottom completely illuminating its utmost depth.

Sat thus Thus wearied, as he was.

Sixth hour Noon of an autumn day; an hour at which there would seldom be any person at the well.

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Verse 7

7. Of Samaria Not of the city of Samaria, the ancient capital, which lay upon a mountain-top eight miles distant, but of the province and race of Samaria.

To draw water Bringing her own cord and pitcher “to draw with.” As Shechem is two miles distant she probably came from the field of labour, probably the flourishing grain field of Mukhnah. The town may, however, have then stretched nearer to the well.

Give me to drink Making a request from which the whole revelations that follow could be gradually drawn.

Verses 7-26

Conversation of Jesus with the woman of Samaria, John 4:7-26.

Upon this memorable narrative we may remark: 1. It stands in striking comparison with the Lord’s discourse with Nicodemus. The one was indeed with a leading metropolitan Doctor of the Jews, the latter with a poor country woman, and a Samaritan at that. The former shows our Lord’s dealing with, and mastery over, and development of, the higher minds of the day, in bringing them from their proud half-scepticism to the deepest and most humbling heart-truths of his Gospel. The latter shows how he would take a rude mind of humble rank, and raise it to a knowledge of himself, and in himself to a grasp of the sublimest truths of eternity and God. 2. Modern rationalists have expressed much contempt at the want of dignity of Jesus’s holding this converse with a garrulous female at a country well. Still greater was the contempt of the Jewish rabbis for woman. “No man salutes a woman,” says one doctor. “He plays the fool who instructs his daughter in the law,” says another. This condescension of the Saviour, therefore, crosses alike the pride of the rationalist and of the rabbi. Doubtless it was Jesus’s intention to cross the pride of both. Those sublime truths which the philosophers of Greece could impart only to the schools, Christianity brings down to the masses of society; to its humblest ranks; to women and to children. 3. This female, however, evidently possessed great strength of womanly character; a strength of passion which had exposed her to the extraordinary guilt of her past life; strength, nevertheless, of religious conviction powerfully struggling with her guilty nature; and strength of intellect, exhibited not only in the keenness of her insight into his remarks in the dialogue, but displayed in the powerful effect of her report upon the action of her townsmen. 4. The successive steps by which the Lord reveals himself furnish a beautiful study into the operations of mind. He presents himself first as a man and a Jew, 7-9; he proposes himself to her faith as a spiritual life-giver, 10-15; he confirms the faith in his offer by proving himself a holy prophet, 16-19; he so unfolds the truths of God as to be accepted as Messias, 20-26. Through all this progress he carries also the thought of her sin and his salvation.

Verse 8

8. Unto the city Of Shechem, by the shorter route, for his midday refreshment.

To buy In Samaria they would find no hospitable entertainer; and they must purchase from the common purse, of which Judas was sooner or later the carrier.

Verse 9

9. Being a Jew Jesus presents himself to her first as a Jew. If he shows himself by needing drink to be a man, doubtless, in his dress, his dialect, and his physiognomy, this Lord of all was

a Jew. Askest drink of me Some feeling of gratification there doubtless was in the woman’s mind, that a Jew should be obliged to ask a favour of a Samaritan. Yet this very fact both called attention to their religious differences and prepared her mind to listen with complacency. Moreover, his bland voice, serene aspect, and calm dignity, even in petitioning, present to her insight something of divine, and prepare her heart for faith.

Jews have no dealings It was the Jew who was the most positively hostile, and with some justice; for it was the Samaritan who was the mean and mendacious offender. See notes on Matthew 10:5; Luke 9:52-54. His religious system was an imitation and a mockery of Judaism, and yet claiming to be the genuine reality. He first plagiarized the Jew, and then audaciously boasted of being the true original. This woman has her misgivings that the Jew may be right, (John 4:20;) and this, joined to the impression which the Lord’s appearance has made upon her, induces her to ask, not without surprise, the reason of his condescension.

Verse 10

10. If thou knewest Lange unworthily makes our Lord say this as a sort of contest or issue with her. On the contrary, here commences a train of suggestion and query by which the Lord directly leads her mind to the perception that he is not merely a soothsayer or clairvoyant, but a holy prophet of the true Jehovah. John 4:19. He does this, first, by (10-15) raising her thoughts from the material to the supernatural; and, second, by leading her, through a route which discloses to herself her sin, to himself as the prophetic searcher of guilt, 16-19.

The gift of God The divine gift of the draught of eternal life through the Messiah.

Living water By a suggestive double sense, living water may mean pure running water, or it may mean the water of divine life, thus forming a transition from the physical to the spiritual.

Verse 11

11. Woman saith She perceives the double meaning, and queries which is the true sense. If it be the material water of this present well he means, he must make a deep draught with neither rope nor bucket. If it be some kind of transcendental, mystical, or immortalizing water he means, he must be greater than the father of the tribes himself who dug this wonderful well!

Verse 12

12. Greater than… Jacob For Jacob could furnish his water only by digging a well, and no better water could he furnish for self and household.

Our father Jacob She ostentatiously claims to be in the true line of descent from the great father.

Verse 13

13. Whosoever drinketh Jesus raises his words to their higher meaning. She has made the double supposition of the waters of this well or some transcendent water, and he finishes the parallel. This is but a temporal water; his is the perennial spring of eternal life. And he can furnish it, even though he is to be supposed, thereby, immeasurably greater than our father Jacob.

Verse 14

14. Shall never thirst Will never thirst; the simple future.

In him a well The supply will not be, like the material water from an external and distant spring, but within. And while the well is there the ever-living water will incessantly spring up. The water can never die or dry; but the well may, by sin and apostacy, be removed. See notes on John 5:24; John 6:40. By eating of the Tree of Life our first parents were made deathless, and so God, separated it from them for sin, and they became mortal.

Springing up Like a fountain jetting upwards.

Into everlasting life It is a water of spiritual life, but it jets up into an immortal life; the water of spiritual life, as it ascends, crystallizes into an eternal life.

Verse 15

15. Sir, give me this water Her reverent Sir, or Lord, indicates that this is no feigned or sarcastic supplication. Yet there is scarce anything truly spiritual in her request. She asks only a divine draught that shall give exemption from bodily thirst, and from this labour of coming, drawing, and carrying. She is reluctant to rise to the full spirituality of his words or of his character. Jesus will now so direct the conversation as to furnish her proof that he is a prophet of God, and that his words express divine spiritual truth.

Verse 16

16. Go, call thy husband Jesus knew that she had no living husband, just as God knew that Cain had no living brother. Genesis 4:9. A catechiser or teacher puts questions to his pupil, not because he cannot furnish the answer, but because, perhaps, his pupil cannot. See note on Matthew 5:31. Jesus by giving this order to her does not for a moment deceive her, making her think he does not know. She sees at the instant that he knows and is touching her guilty point of character.

Verse 17

17. I have no husband How must she have shrunk from the glance of that pure eye with shame as she faltered forth these words!

Verse 18

18. Five… not thy husband The Evangelist does not state the emotions of the woman now. But her own language, (John 4:29,) “he told me all things that ever I did,” shows that at Jesus’s words her whole life’s history of guilt rises up so vividly to her view, that she verily believes that it was he who told her the whole! So it is said that men in the instant of drowning have seen at a glance, as in a picture, the whole of their lives, coexisting, as it were, before the mind at once.

Verse 19

19. Sir… art a prophet Confessing thereby her own sins, and acknowledging him as a divine guide.

Verse 20

20. Our fathers worshipped It is a great mistake to suppose that she now, by “a womanly dexterity,” changes the discussion to avoid a disagreeable topic. Thou art a prophet, are her thoughts; and if a prophet truly sent from God, thou canst solve this great question between Moriah and Gerizim, of which I, with all Samaritans, have heard from our childhood up. Is salvation of the Jews or of the Samaritans? No expression of deep penitent emotion is indeed recorded; but her testimony in John 4:29, and her intense action, 28-30, are full proof that the words of this verse are an earnest inquiry, Is salvation from Samaria or from the Jews ?

In this mountain Pointing doubtless to Gerizim, rising in grandeur before them, and crowned with its ancient temple.

Ye say Here is then the great debate between Our fathers and Ye say; between this mountain and Jerusalem. But if even in this age, when prophecy has long ceased, a true prophet has appeared, then we may get at last some light. Jesus will show her (next verse) that the great debate is coming to an end. Neither Gerizim nor Moriah is the place.

Verse 21

21. Neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem That is, in neither exclusively. Locality shall have nothing to do with religion. A universal God shall receive a universal worship. And so the hearts of Jew and Samaritan may blend together, and acceptable worship may ascend alike from either Jerusalem or Gerizim.

Verse 22

22. Ye worship ye know not what Ye worship; ye, in fact, worship God; but ye know not what is the true character of the God ye worship. It is a factitious, narrow, Samaritan deity you adore, standing in supposed special covenant relations to you, which relations are historically and really untrue. So that even if, through its ignorant sincerity, your prayer reaches through the mists and darkness to the true God, that true God which you thus successfully worship, ye do not truly know.

We know what we worship The God worshipped by the Jews was the God of the Pentateuch and the prophets, standing truly in the historical relations in which the true Jews believed.

Salvation is of Rather from the Jews. For theirs was the covenanted and prophesied Christ, in whom salvation is embodied. And even if that salvation went forth to save the pious Samaritan in his twilight, it truly went forth from the Jews.

Verse 23

23. And now is It cometh in greater fulness; it now is in many a heart.

In spirit As opposed to mere bodily motions or ritual ceremonies and objects.

In truth As opposed to all unreality or insincerity.

Verse 24

24. God is a Spirit Herein God and incorporeal man agree that both are mind, personality, or spirit. And being of the same nature, they are able to blend and commune, spirit with spirit, the inferior in worship of the Superior.

In spirit and in truth No bodily kneelings are sufficient; no ritual, no praying by machinery; nothing suffices unless our soul by strong grasp apprehends God; unless our inmost spirit commune with the divine Spirit.

Father seeketh such As the spirit of the devout worshipper thirsteth after God, so God’s Spirit thirsteth after, and seeks through all the earth for, the true devout spirit.

Verse 25

25. Messias The Greek form of the Hebrew word Messiah. See note on Matthew 1:1.

Messias cometh The Samaritans drew their conceptions of the Messiah not from the prophets or Psalms, but from the Pentateuch. Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; Deuteronomy 18:15. It is certain that anciently they expected a Restorer under the title of the Converter. And even at this day, they expect him under the epithet el-Mudy, the Guide. So full and authoritative seemed to be the revelations Jesus makes to her, that her query arises, Is not this the great Revealer?

When he is come Jesus had said the hour now is; and the woman speaks also in the present tense, is come; as if she had a presentiment of the declaration about to follow.

Verse 26

26. I… am he The all-important point is now attained: Jesus has announced himself as Jew, prophet, MESSIAH. No words from her of acknowledgment or surprise are recorded; but how full her faith that the Teacher had arrived who can tell us all things, her energetic and successful mission to her countrymen shows. As the Samaritans did not, in a spirit of national ambition, expect a Messiah of a political character as did the Jews, it was both easier for Jesus on the present occasion to adjust his character to their expectations, and safer from awakening political jealousies, for him with perfect explicitness to avow his own true character and title. The reasons for reserve existing in Judea or Galilee, existed not here in the centre of Samaria. As the time of Jesus in Samaria was short, it was necessary when he found this hearing to reveal himself explicitly and briefly. The more so at this moment, as his disciples were close at hand to cut the opportunity short. These views explain the wonderful fact, that Christ so early and so clearly declared himself to Samaria!

Verse 27

27. Came his disciples They arrived at a striking instant of the conversation. Christ had had opportunity to make his first complete annunciation of himself as Messiah, and not a syllable more. But the work was done.

With the woman They seemed to feel, in a different way, much the same difficulties as our modern rationalists, at the want of dignity in Jesus in this free converse with a rustic woman at a well.

What seekest thou? Or, what do you want? addressed to the woman.

Verse 28

28. Left her waterpot Either because she brought it from the field with intent to carry water thither; or, more probably, because, in her haste, her mind rose above the water as Jesus’s did above the meat.

Verse 29

29. Told me all See note on John 4:19

Verse 30

30. They went out of the city There must have been power in the woman’s words and influence in her character, to send these men on their mission to this Messias.

Verse 31

31. Master, eat In this verse and in 33 there appears a reverential distance between the disciples and their Lord; arising, perhaps, from a sense of the present elevation of Jesus’s spirit.

Verse 32

32. Meat to eat that ye know not The spirit was so well fed that the body was sustained.

Verse 35

35. Say not ye As he spoke, the luxuriant grain fields of el-Mukhnah were probably full in view. The interval between sowing and harvest in Palestine is four months, and hence this saying is proverbial. But in this spiritual field the harvest is close upon the sowing. The coming forth of the Samaritans follows close upon his word to the woman. If there had been some interval of time between these words and the preceding verse, he may have pointed to the coming Samaritans. Otherwise, he may in spirit have seen them about to come.

Verse 36

36. Receiveth wages There is not only joy in the crop but wages for the labour. His disciples, as well as himself, are sowers and reapers, who have the delight of success in this world, and the reward of eternal life in the eternal world.

Verse 37

37. One soweth Many a sower does not see the harvest. Many a writer, preacher, advocate for truth, implants the doctrine, but never sees it spring up into glorious revival and salvation. Many a such revival has been prepared by a weeping and perhaps discouraged predecessor.

Verse 38

38. I The Lord of the harvest, sent you; as he truly had all their predecessors.

Other men laboured… ye… into their labours As Charles Wesley says, “God buries his workmen but carries on his work.” Moses, the holy priests, the prophets, and the Baptist had preceded, and Christ’s apostles and the ministry of these latter ages are all in the same line of succession. And, no doubt, this passage is a prophetic anticipation of the harvest afterward reaped in Samaria by his apostles. See note on John 4:42.

Verse 39

39. For the saying of the woman She was a type of the missionary Church; so holding forth the facts and carrying the spirit of the Church that men’s hearts receive it with faith.

Verse 40

40. Samaritans were come unto him How must the faces of Jesus and of these simple and ready Samaritans have mutually shone upon each other!

Of the divine converse he vouchsafed unto them, the Evangelist gives us no report. But the result was, they came to Jesus with the prayer that Jesus would come to them.

Two days In which he seems to have wrought no miracles, but to have been accepted as the true Messiah for the divinity of the truth he taught. Did he expand the declarations of John 4:21-24, proclaiming the approaching hour when Judaism and Samaritanism would be fused into one great dispensation of the Spirit?

Verse 42

42. We have heard… and know A preparatory faith comes by testimony, the fullness of faith by experience. These Samaritans did wisely; first they heard the truth, and then they tried it in practice. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

The Saviour of the world A sublime title, indicating that Jesus not only showed that Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile would come into one common dispensation of the Spirit, but that all alike could be saved by the Saviour and by the salvation that is from the Jews.

Was this beautiful commencement a failure? Did no future church exist in Samaria? Our Saviour did, indeed, for the same reasons as induced him (see note on Matthew 10:5) to direct his apostles to avoid (not the way, but) the cities of the Samaritans, pass rapidly on to Galilee. But the wayside seed was, perhaps, not lost. We find that the apostles had rare success there; the harvest, perhaps, of this wonderful sowing. Acts 8:5-25. In this town of Sichem arose Justin Martyr, one of the greatest Christian writers of the second century. Samaria became early the seat of an episcopate.

Verses 43-54


The following narrative has some external resemblance to the healing of the centurion’s servant, (Luke 7:10,) but their essence is very different. That relates an instance in which great faith and humility were honoured; this a case of weak faith reproved but confirmed.

Verse 44

44. Prophet… in his own country From foreign Samaria, where Jesus was honoured, he departs, after a brief sojourn, to his own country, Galilee, where he was, in the comparison, without honour; and he must go to win their honour, and convert, if possible, their hearts from contempt to adoration.

Verse 45

45. Galileans received him So that there seemed to be an opening for his attainment of the object of his mission, the gaining the people’s honour to their own prophet.

Having seen… things… at the feast Our Lord’s visit to his first Passover is detailed in John 2:13 to John 3:22. The class of half-believers, admirers of his miracles, to which these Galileans belonged, is described in John 2:23-25, on which see notes. From the capital these Galileans had carried their impressions of Jesus home, where he now finds them.

Verse 46

46. Again into Cana Perhaps to the residence of those at whose wedding he had performed his first miracle.

Nobleman One attached to the court of Herod Antipas. As we find the wife of Chusa, Herod’s steward, (see note on Luke 8:3,) among the followers of Jesus, it is a very plausible conjecture that the sick boy was her son. See note on Matthew 14:1-2.

Verse 47

47. Heard… Jesus… out of Judea So that he must have heard of Jesus’s deeds at the Passover. And now, learning that the wonder-worker is in Galilee, he hastens to meet him at Cana.

Verse 48

48. See signs How totally unlike the Samaritans, from whom our Lord had so freshly come; who embraced the divinity of his teachings without demanding wonders. This nobleman came, purely absorbed in his dying son, anxious for the bodily miracle, but thoughtless of the divine claims of the Saviour of sinners. It is this selfishness of spirit that Jesus now rebukes. The words of this verse are, as it were, an ejaculation, a thinking aloud of Jesus. He sees that to awaken this man he must more than heal his son; he must to that sign add an additional wonder. He must so heal him as to arouse the man to reflection, and then may come a true faith.

Verse 49

49. Ere my child die He cannot stop to answer the rebuke, to argue the case, or defend his character. It is his son alone that fills his thoughts. That deep affection will, however, prove a spring to his faith. He will acknowledge his child’s Saviour to be divine.

Verse 50

50. The man believed His very earnest desire prompted faith in the bodily healing.

Went his way From Cana to Capernaum.

Verse 52

52. At the seventh hour At one o’clock P.M. Jesus spake the word, and the man started for home. At one o’clock P.M. it was, as the servants declare, that the boy recovered. The nobleman had naturally imagined that Jesus must visit the son to heal. But Jesus, adding awakening wonder to the miracle, heals at a distance. The man can measure the sign by a timepiece.

Verse 53

53. Himself believed, and his whole house He becomes a believer; and his is a Christian family! What joy was theirs; a son spared from death, a whole house converted to Jesus! We can easily believe that the wife of that nobleman, the mother of that son, should be numbered among the noble women who ministered of their substance to Jesus’s wants. Luke 8:3.

Verse 54

54. This… the second miracle Twice did our blessed Saviour perform a miracle, coming at each time from Judea into Galilee. The first supplied the wedding wine, the second saved the nobleman’s son.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.