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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
John 4



Other Authors
Verses 1-54

THE CLOSING PARAGRAPHS of the third chapter spring out of the intermeddling of the Jews in the matter of John’s baptism, and his reaction to it: this chapter opens with the Lord’s reaction to their interference. John gladly took the place of decreasing that his Master might increase. The Master withdrew Himself to Galilee lest rivalry should be instituted, which would be so hurtful to His servant. Such was His thoughtful care for John. Moreover the Lord himself would have been belittled if treated thus. It would have put Him beside John as a kind of party leader, akin in principle to the error of the Corinthian saints who coupled the name of Christ with Paul, Apollos and Cephas. This must never be.

The direct route to Galilee lay through the district of Samaria so “He must needs go” that way as a geographical necessity. But there was also a necessity connected with the grace of God which imposed upon Him a road which brought Him to a particular city of Samaria, called Sychar. Jesus, the Word made flesh, was wearied with His journey, a testimony this to the reality of His Manhood: and not weary only, but hungry and thirsty too. He sat on the well-side about midday, as the time of greatest heat approached. Nicodemus sought Him by night. He sought a Samaritan sinner at midday. John’s Gospel specializes in the record of His conversations and dealings with individuals. It also records His conversations—usually of a controversial nature—with groups of persons, but not once does it put on record His more formal preachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount or the parables of Matthew 13:1-58. Many of us would own that it takes more spiritual skill to deal rightly with an individual than to address a crowd, and makes a bigger demand upon our courage. A perfect example of personal dealing is presented to us here.

Jesus began by requesting a drink of cold water. The Word made flesh takes the place of a humble suppliant before a very sinful specimen of His creatures! A marvellous sight indeed! Regarding Him merely as a Jew, the woman felt He was belittling Himself; but in the light of the true situation we can see how truly He had made Himself of no reputation and emptied Himself. But this very lowly and humble approach to the woman gave a most advantageous start to the conversation. If we, who aim at serving the souls of men today, could always approach them with humility, we should be wise indeed.

The woman, awakened to astonishment and curiosity, could not resist asking how such a request came to be made. The answer of Jesus in verse John 4:10 set before her three things. First, the fact that God is a Giver. She had known a little of the law, but this set Him before her in a new light altogether. Second, He indicated the mysterious greatness of His own Person, since He was the Dispenser of God’s gift. She saw in Him but a Jew who asked for a drink of water. When she knew Him she would discover that He was really the Giver of a Gift of surpassing value. Third, He indicated the Gift to be “living water,” thus turning her thoughts from the natural to the spiritual. Both Nicodemus and this unnamed woman were alike in having at the outset no conception of the meaning of the Lord’s words, let alone the things of which He spoke. Yet here again, there had been some indication of these things in the Old Testament. Twice in the Book of Jeremiah, for instance, Jehovah had presented Himself as “the Fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 17:13).

The misunderstanding of the woman led to further unfoldings contained in verse John 4:14, which again seem to range themselves under three heads. First, the one who drinks of the living water as the gift of Christ will have it “in him,” abiding in his very being. Then, it will be in him as a “well,” or “fountain,” of water, “springing up into everlasting life.” A fountain of life within, which springs up to the level of its Source! Lastly, the drinking of such water and the possession of such a fountain will produce abiding satisfaction. The Lord used a very strong expression— “shall never thirst for ever.”

By “living water” the Lord indicated the Spirit of God as is quite evident when we reach chapter John 7:39. In the previous chapter the only begotten Son is God’s gift to the world but in this chapter, the Spirit of God is God’s gift to the believer, but a gift which is administered by the Son of God; who was the Speaker, seated on Sychar’s well. By the Spirit we have the life within—He is spoken of elsewhere as “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2)—and by Him the life within springs up to the Source of the life above. In this way did the Lord indicate the life of communion and worship and satisfaction which He was about to make available for the believer. As a result, the believer today may anticipate the millennial joy, set forth figuratively in the beginning of miracles at Cana of Galilee: and not only anticipate, but also know it in truer measure and a more spiritual way.

Before proceeding with our chapter let us note the remarkable sequence of the teaching since the record of that first miracle. We have had the work wrought in us—new birth by the Spirit and the word. Then the testimony rendered to us, receiving which, we set to our seal that God is true. Thirdly, the gift of the Spirit bestowed upon us, to be in us as an ever-flowing fountain, springing up to the eternal Source. Here we have presented to us in a germinal way great realities which find expansion in the Epistles.

Pursuing our chapter we notice that though the woman was still in the dark as to the significance of “living water,” the Lord’s further words had at least sufficiently stirred her desires to lead her to ask for it. Before He gave it, her conscience had to be reached and conviction of sin produced. In bidding her call her husband the Lord put His finger upon a specially sore spot in her life, and followed this by letting her see that her sad story lay like an open book before His eye. On her side she at once saw and confessed that He was a prophet; thus by implication pleading guilty to His indictment; yet as is so often the way when a wounded conscience exists, she endeavoured to sidetrack the conversation into a religious discussion, thus eliminating the personal element.

The place where worship was to be offered to Jehovah had long been a burning question. Had Gerizim displaced Moriah, as the Samaritans claimed? The Lord seized the opportunity to show the woman not only her personal sin but also the futility of the “worship” in which she and her people had engaged. In saying, “Ye worship ye know not what,” He disowned it; and in saying, “Salvation is of the Jews,” He convicted her of her unsaved condition. She stood amongst the Gentiles— “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). So even in discussing the question of worship she was not beyond the reach of rapier-like thrusts at her conscience.

The Lord, however, lifted the whole matter of worship on to a far higher plane. He spoke of worshipping Jehovah in the light of the revelation that He was bringing—even as “the Father.” This at once lifted it out of that ceremonial order of things which connected it with a holy place on earth. The law had tied people down very strictly to a holy place where Jehovah’s name was set; hence the prolonged dispute between Jew and Samaritan: He lifted her thoughts to God who is a Spirit, revealing Him as Father.

This new revelation was ushering in a new “hour,” which had indeed already begun. The worship which is to characterize that hour must be in keeping with the revelation that has formed it. God who is Spirit is seeking that worship as Father, so now worship to be acceptable must be “in spirit and in truth.” Notice this further “MUST.” Worship is not something optional, or to be varied as suits our tastes. God must be worshipped in the way He Himself prescribes. All else that may claim to be “worship” is no worship at all.

True worship is “in spirit”; that is, not in flesh, not in bodily posture. This word of our Lord negatives the ritualistic and ceremonial line of things which has been a snare to so many. Our capacity to offer worship in spirit lies in the possession of the Spirit of God—the Fountain of living water springing up into everlasting life—as is also indicated in Philippians 3:3. The Spirit of God may engage our spirits in true worship at any time and in any place; not merely in some sacred shrine as in Judaism.

Then again worship must be “in truth”; that is, in the light of all that God has revealed Himself to be in Christ. This negatives the rationalistic line of things, which is also so common. Men speak, for instance, of worshipping “the great First Cause” in the light of the beauties of nature, while ignoring or refusing the truth concerning Him, as made known in Christ. Only in Him do we know the Father who is to be worshipped. If we do know the Father thus, our hearts are bound to be filled with worship of that spiritual nature which is acceptable to Him.

The Father seeks worshippers of this sort. He has made Himself known in order to produce this response. The downward flow of His love, in the revelation made to us, produces the upward flow of responsive love in worship. This is acceptable to Him and He seeks it.

The Samaritan woman knew of the promise of the Messiah, and these wonderful words of the Lord, coupled with the inward conviction of sin that had reached her, turned her thoughts to His advent. Her response seems to indicate that she felt a Messiah-like character about the Lord’s utterances. The Lord at once and with the utmost plainness revealed Himself to her as the Christ. That revelation she evidently accepted at once; and going back to the city, in her words to the men, she divulged what lay behind her ready faith. He must be the Christ, for had He not told her all things that ever she did? Not in detail, of course, but rather He had shown to her as in a flash that all she had ever done was to be summed up in the one word—sin. It is just the same today. Faith in Christ goes hand in hand with true conviction of sin.

The beautiful paragraph, verses John 4:31-38, comes as a parenthesis in the story. The Lord’s words to the disciples, in verse John 4:32, have been rendered, “I have found food to eat which ye do not know.” He was labouring for “fruit unto life eternal,” as He indicates in verse John 4:36, and to see this end being reached in the bestowal of blessing on the Samaritan sinner was delectable food for Him. It was “the will of Him that sent Me,” said He, to do this. The light He brought was to shine for every man, as we learned at the beginning of this Gospel, so here we see it shining upon a sinner outside the bounds of Judaism. The will of God, the work of God, and life eternal for man go together here; and how blessed for us it is that they do. Further, the Lord indicated to His disciples that in their turn they were to have a share in this most blessed work, whether by sowing or reaping. In this case the Lord Himself was doing the sowing. When the reaping time came, recorded in Acts 8:1-40, the harvest was very great.

The paragraph, verses John 4:39-42, concludes the story. The men came to Christ as the result of the woman’s testimony, and reached for themselves the same conviction. Many believed because of what she said, and many more as the result of listening to Him. They believed and they greatly desired His company.

In their confession they went even further than the woman. He was not only the Christ but also “the Saviour of the world.” Mere religious pride might have made them boast that here was the Saviour of the Samaritan equally with the Jew; but only faith could have led them thus to seize God’s large thought for “the world,” according to John 3:16. They had heard, and they knew; and beneath both hearing and knowledge lay faith.

In relating all this the Evangelist has led us to the fact that Jesus is the Christ. The next chapter, as we shall see, conducts us to the fact that He is the Son. Putting both together, we are again brought to the point indicated in the last verse of his gospel (John 20:1-31).

In the last paragraph of this chapter, we find the Lord back again in Galilee, and it brings us to the second of the miraculous signs that John mentions. In Galilee He met with a reception that had not been accorded to Him in Jerusalem, and this second sign also had a connection with the town of Cana of Galilee.

The first sign prefigured the time predicted in Isaiah 62:4, Isaiah 62:5, when Israel’s marriage day shall have come, and from the purifying water the wine of gladness will be produced. The second sign presented the Lord as the One who can bring life and healing when death seems imminent. This Jewish nobleman did not exhibit the strong faith that marked the Gentile centurion of Matthew 8:1-34. His tendency as a Jew was to demand signs and wonders before believing; and belief of that sort is not genuine faith, as we saw at the end of John 2:1-25. Still, though feeble, faith was there in this man’s heart.

It manifested itself in two ways. First, it persisted in its appeal, when at first the Lord’s answer seemed unfavourable, fully exposing the desperate need of the son. Second, when the answer he received was a simple command to return because his son lived, he took Jesus at His word without any sign before his eyes. Here indeed are the marks of true faith; it persists, and it takes God at His word without signs or wonders or feelings.

The Lord verified His own word, and the next day the man saw that his confidence had not been misplaced. Jesus had said, “Thy son liveth;” the next day his servants met him saying “Thy son liveth,” though they had not heard Jesus speak. Life granted even at the point of death is evidently the leading thought. And this is just what man in general needs, and Israel in particular: not just healing but life. This was the second sign, and we shall find much instruction about life—about Jesus as its Fountain Head and Giver—in the chapters that follow.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 4:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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