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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
John 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-54

A SAMARITAN WOMAN GIVEN THE WATER OF LIFE

(vs.1-26)

The Lord now leaves Judea because He knew the Pharisees' thoughts as to His baptizing more disciples than John. Not that the Lord Himself did the baptizing: this was left to His disciples: they could bury the dead, whereas He is the life-giver. No doubt the Pharisees would, in malicious ignorance, contend that He and John were rivals: the Lord would leave them no excuse for evil contentions.

He goes to Galilee. Observe here a dispensational picture. Galilee is the place of the despised Jewish remnant, in contrast to the proud claims of Judean orthodoxy. Rejected by Judea, He leaves them to their desolate house, and goes toward Galilee, in view of the restoration of a godly remnant of Israel for blessing in the millennium. On the way He goes through Samaria, and here there is wonderful grace to a sinful woman, the lovely revealing of the gift of the living Spirit of God, and of worship to the Father. Thus the dispensation of grace intervenes before He comes in blessing to restored Israel (Galilee). The woman (whatever mixture of Jewish blood may have been among the Samaritans) had no claim to Jewish privileges, though she knew of the Messiah. At this time many of the Samaritans believed, so that He remained there two days (possibly picturing the two thousand years of the dispensation of grace).

The parcel of ground in verse 5 is referred to in Joshua 24:32, Joseph's burying place purchased by his father Jacob. Joseph's death is typical of that of the Lord Jesus, which is the very basis of the water of life being given to guilty sinners. Jacob's well, a source of living refreshment, is in the same location. Here the Lord, being wearied from His journey (indicating the reality of His Manhood), reclined on the well.

A woman of Samaria comes alone to the well, for it was not the usual time for women to draw water, and she was likely not welcome among others. She is surprised that this solitary Stranger, manifestly Jewish, should ask her for a drink, for she had expected Him to totally ignore her, as Jews did generally. How little she knew His heart of infinite grace! Does not the Lord of glory seek refreshment from all His intelligent creatures? His answer to her puzzled question is lovely. If only she knew God as the giving God He is, and if she knew who was speaking to her in such gentle grace, she would have asked of Him the answer to the need of her lonely, thirsty soul, and He would have given her living water.

Still, her thoughts rise no higher than the well. How could He draw water without rope and container? Or was He greater than Jacob, to accomplish this in some unheard-of way? Did not Jacob use the same means as she? Also, was he not dependent upon the water of the well, and his children also, and his animals?

But the Lord does not tell her how much greater than Jacob He is: He knows rather how to lead her to find this out for herself. He then tells her what she herself knew, that, though drinking of the water of the well, she would thirst again; and from this He proceeds to tell her what she had never heard, that if she would drink of the water that He freely gave, she would never thirst again forever, that water being a well within the receiver, springing up into everlasting life.

Today we are privileged to understand that this living water is the Spirit of God in living reality working in the soul, to give a refreshment and satisfaction unknown except by His divine power (cf.ch.7:37-39). The fullness of this was not to be known until the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47), but the woman is encouraged in this blessed direction.

She does not yet understand, but her heart is awakened, and evidently also a genuine confidence in this unusual Stranger, so that she does just what He had suggested to her: she asked for this living water. She was indeed a thirsting soul, and weary of her very existence, weary of coming to draw water.

However, it is not only her heart that must be reached. This having been done, now the Lord gently and wisely probes her conscience, telling her to call her husband. To this she replies that she has no husband. But He does not allow her to slip out of her responsibility by these words. He simply and pointedly lays bare her whole past. He knows she had had five husbands, and was now living with a man who was not her husband. How devastating an exposure! Yet He says no more: He does not condemn her

How deeply she is affected only He Himself knows; but she does not excuse or defend herself: the light has manifested her, and her words acknowledge it: she perceived that He was a prophet, therefore that He was speaking for God. This turns her thoughts to the solemn question of her relationship with God. However, she does not mention God, for her conscience is not at peace with Him, and rather than speak of her own needs, she speaks of her fathers' traditional worship, in opposition to the Jews' worship at Jerusalem. How formidable such barriers seemed to both Samaritans and Jews! The place of worship was to them so vital that they forgot the Object worship!

With a few pointed words the Lord Jesus discards all that is mere religious prejudice. Gently but firmly He asks her to believe Him: the hour was coming that neither in Jerusalem nor in Mt.Gerizim would the Father be worshiped. Certainly this prophecy has been fulfilled in all the history of the present dispensation.

Yet He will not by any means excuse the unholy worship of the Samaritans: they worshiped because religiously minded, with no sense of having to do with a living God, and no realization of a serious need of salvation. Jews knew what they worshiped, for God had set His name at Jerusalem, and they generally had some conscience toward God, which involved the acknowledgement that salvation was a dire necessity that would come only through Judah, for the Messiah must come from Judah.

Though verse 21 has not yet been fulfilled, yet verse 23 says that not only was the hour coming, but it had already arrived, when the true worshipers should worship the Father in spirit and in truth. This was true because the Lord Jesus had come, the One who fully reveals the Father, and through whom the Father was seeking worshipers. In Christ the formal worship of the law is done away: indeed such "carnal ordinances" could never satisfy the Father's heart. Worship "in spirit" is in contrast to fleshly worship, for it issues from the inner springs of one's being. Certainly worship must be "in spirit" if it is to be "in truth," for one might worship formally who has no heart in the matter at all, which is pretense rather than truth. But the Father's presenting His own Son before the eyes of mankind was the means of drawing out worship in spirit and in truth on the part of some at least.

To show the perfect suitableness of this, the Lord appeals to the fact that God is a Spirit. Since this is the essence of His being (not material at all), it surely follows that material forms of worship are nothing to Him: it is the spiritual reality that counts. Worship of the Father must be in spirit and in truth. Wonderful is the fact that the Son has revealed this.

These words of the Lord Jesus have very real effect upon the woman's heart. No longer does she speak merely of the well, or even of worship. When the Father personally is presented to her, then she is ready to speak of the Messiah, the Christ, He who was promised as coming. She knew He was the One who could answer every question as to God. However feebly she realizes it, yet she really voluntarily confesses that it is Him she needs.

Then the simple, marvelous answer is given her, "I who speak to you am He" (v.26). What a revelation to her burdened heart! She needed nothing more.

THE HARVEST READY FOR REAPING

(vs.27-38)

The wisdom of God ordered that the Lord's disciples should arrive back just at this time, and the woman is left with nothing more than to consider the wonder of the Lord's simple words. The disciples do not understand the Lord's speaking to a Samaritan woman, but they dare not criticize either Him or her. How could they?

She has forgotten the water from the well. She leaves her water pot and returns to the city, yet with a heart so affected that she must share this astonishing revelation with others, in this case the men. Nor is it a matter of merely telling them what she had heard, but of urging them to come and see Him, One who had opened her whole past history to her. Of course they would know that this could be no flattering exposure; and they would certainly be impressed that a true exposure should have such an effect on her that she was drawn to the Man who made it, rather than repelled. It is little wonder they came to Him. Of course, He had not told her every detail of her past, but He had said enough that she knew that her whole heart and life was laid bare before His eyes.

While she is gone, however, in answer to His disciples' urging Him to eat, the Lord speaks of having food to eat that was unknown to them. Surely His heart was full at the thought of the poor, sinful woman having found the answer to the crying need of her soul. They do not understand this, and He tells them that His doing of the Father's will was His real food, that which truly satisfied His appetite. The power of a spiritual joy often far transcends the cravings of natural appetite; and there is nothing like the joy of doing the Father's will. The Lord adds also, "and to finish His work." This lowly service of His would continue until its culmination in the atoning death of the cross. Only He could speak in this way.

But He nevertheless uses the occasion to stir and encourage His disciples to the diligence of labor in His harvest. They may speak of harvest being four months away, and no doubt the great harvest of the coming kingdom can only come in God's time; but for those who have eyes to see, the fields were white already to harvest (v.35); thirsty souls were ready for the water of the word of God, and needed only to be found. So the Lord encourages His disciples in such work. Yet none of them seemed ready to respond, even after the Spirit of God had come at Pentecost; and Philip, a Hellenist (not an apostle), with a fervent gospel heart, goes to Samaria first to reap a bountiful harvest (Acts 8:1-40).

But the one who reaps will gain by it, in fact gathering fruit in view of the life that is eternal, in contrast to mere natural gain (v.36). Then when the reaping is done, both sower and reaper have cause to rejoice together. For the sowing is done generally long before the reaping, and in regard to the word of God planted in souls, it is very commonly done by a different worker than the reaper (v.37).

The sower may be a diligent worker, yet waiting long for results. Then the reaper may find wonderful results, not realizing how much labor has been expended by others before he ever arrived on the scene. Others had labored and he reaps the benefit of their labors (v.38). But both may rejoice together; for it is God who gives the increase. How good it is if we value such unity in the work of the Lord.

We do not know who might have sown the word in the hearts of the men of Sychar before this time; but many believed on the Lord Jesus because of the testimony of the woman. The Lord began a mighty harvest, but gave to her the privilege of entering into the labor of reaping. How lovely an encouragement for one who had been in such shameful debasement!

These Sarnaritans were a contrast to the men of Gadara, who, because of the great grace of the Lord Jesus, besought Him to leave them (Mark 5:17). The Samaritans rather besought Him to remain, which He did for two days (v.40). We should consider well here that it was not because of His miracles that they were attracted to Him, but because of His word, first His words to the woman, to which she bore witness, then His own direct word to them. No doubt this two days is symbolical of the present age of grace to sinners of every class, Jews and Gentiles. "And many more believed because of His own word" (v.41). The fruit of His word becomes abundant indeed. More than this, they tell the woman that, though her testimony had first influenced them, yet it was hearing Him themselves that was the real cause of their faith, faith that He is the Christ, the Savior of the world, not only of Israel (v.42).

IN GALILEE: THE NOBLEMAN'S SON HEALED

(vs.43-54)

Verse 43 records the Lord's going on to Galilee, not to Nazareth, but Cana. Galilee is connected with the remnant of Israel, rather than Israel in her first estate, of which Judah would speak. So after the blessing of the church in this present age, the Lord Jesus will appear to the godly in Israel at the end of the tribulation, and will be received (as the Galileans received Him) on the basis of what He had before done at Jerusalem. Then will Israel realize the infinite value of His blessed sacrifice long before accomplished for them at Jerusalem.

Yet again we see what is so characteristic of Israel. The ruler from Capernaum, whose son was sick, is most importunate that Christ should come and heal him (v.47). The Lord laments the man's slowness of heart to believe apart from signs and wonders. There had been none of these in Samaria. Yet in answer to the man's urgent plea, rather than go down, the Lord tells him that his son is healed (v.50). The answer is above all that he had asked or thought. So indeed the grievous wound of the nation Israel will be healed in the coming day, in spite of the slowness of their faith.

But the ruler did believe the Lord's word, and returning had his faith confirmed before reaching home (v.51). No doubt the servants were on their way to tell him there was no longer any need for the Lord to come, since the boy was well. When he found the fever had left the boy just at the time the Lord had spoken, then no question could remain: both he and his whole house believed (v.53).

The turning of water into wine at Cana was the Lord's "beginning miracles:" now this case is said to be His second miracle in Galilee. The first shows the ministry of divine grace supplying living, precious joy in Israel in contrast to the empty formalism of their whole existence up to the time of the manifestation of the Lord Jesus, as will be so clear in the future day of His being revealed. The second shows the effects of that blessed grace in connection with the nation itself, virtually reduced to a state of death, and given new life.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 4:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/john-4.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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