Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

John 4

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 Pharisees 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 shikkor, 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.


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 thusThus wearied, as he was.

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