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The New Testament Commentary Vol Iii John by B.W. Johnson

Jesus at the Well.

After the Savior's Passover and the conversation with Nicodemus, he tarried in the land of Judea, probably until the late fall of the year (chapter 4:35). He had not yet called his apostles nor ordained his baptism, but he co-operated with John in administering his baptism, through his disciples (chapter 3:22). A question concerning this baptismal rite was raised with John's disciples by the Jews, evidently to provoke jealousy of Christ, which led these disciples to come to John with a complaint. This gave him another opportunity to give a noble testimony to Christ. The jealousy of the Pharisees and the arrest of John, caused the Lord in the fall to return to Galilee. On the route occurred the memorable conversation with the woman of Sychar.

The Jews, whose discussion had thus deeply moved the followers of John, may well have been of the prominent Pharisees, and our Lord soon became aware that they were watching his proceedings with an unfriendly eye. Their hostility to John was a still deeper hostility against him, for the very reason that his teaching was already more successful. Perhaps in consequence of this determined rejection of the earliest steps of his teaching -- perhaps also out of regard for the wounded feelings of John's followers -- but most of all because at this very time the news reached him that John had been seized by Herod Antipas and thrown into prison -- Jesus left Judea and again departed into Galilee. Being already in the north of Judea, he chose the route which led through Samaria. The fanaticism of Jewish hatred, the fastidiousness of Jewish Pharisaism, which led his countrymen when traveling alone to avoid that route, could have no existence for him, and were things rather to be discouraged than approved. -- Farrar.

The historic setting of the visit to Sychar is so entirely harmonized with the facts, that the account must have been penned by an eye-witness. |We are confronted with the historic antagonism of the Jews and Samaritans, which still survives in Nablus, the modern Shechem, where the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Samaritan synagogue are still shown to the stranger; here we see the genuine humanity of Jesus, as he sat 'wearied with his journey,' though not weary of his work of saving souls, his elevation above rabbinical prejudices which forbade conversing with any woman out of doors, his superhuman knowledge and dignity, and his surpassing wisdom of parabolic teaching; here the life-like sketch of a sinful, yet quick-witted woman, full of curiosity and interest in the religious question of the day, and running to tell her neighbors her great discovery of the prophet who had touched her conscience, excited her thirst for the water of life, and led her from Jacob's well to the fountain of salvation, and from the dispute about the place of worship to the highest conception of God as an omnipotent Spirit to be worshiped in spirit and truth. Truly, no poet could have invented such a story. (Joh 4:1)

1. When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John. These verses explain why Christ left Judea and returned to Galilee. Evidently the controversy noted in the last chapter (3:22-27) had stirred up no little excitement. |The Jew| who disputed with John's disciples was probably a Pharisee. This bitter sect was noting the increasing influence of Christ. There were, therefore, two reasons for departure; first, to avoid arousing the jealousy of John's disciples, and secondly, to prevent a premature conflict with the Pharisees. (Joh 4:2)

2. Though the Lord did not himself baptize, but his disciples. Christ's message at this time was John's: |Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,| and his baptism was that of John. Hence it was needful that it be administered by servants, rather than the Master. His own baptism could not be observed until after the death, burial and resurrection, since it is a planting in the likeness of his death. (Joh 4:3) (Joh 4:4)

3, 4. He must needs go through Samaria. Samaria was between Judea and Galilee, and hence the route led through it. It seems probable from John 4:35, that it was in the latter part of the fall that he departed from Judea. See comment on verse 35.

The scene at Jacob's well presents a most graphic, and yet most unartificial picture of nature and human life, as it still remains, though in decay, at the foot of Gerizim and Ebal, the most beautiful section of Palestine. There is still the well of Jacob, recognized as such by Samaritans, Jews, Mohammedans and Christians alike; there is the sanctuary on the top of Gerizim, where the Passover is annually celebrated by the remnant of the Samaritan sect, according to the prescription of Moses; there are the waving grain-fields, ripening for the harvest in the well-watered, fertile valley. -- Schaff. (Joh 4:5)

5. Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar. Samaria was the district, embracing the ancient city of Samaria, which lay between Judea and Galilee. As it was interposed between, when our Lord would go from Judea to Galilee |he must needs go through Samaria,| unless he would take a very circuitous route east of the Jordan. The district of Samaria comprised the country formerly occupied by the tribe of Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh. When the Ten Tribes were carried to Babylon the Assyrian king sent in other tribes to occupy the country. These, on account of calamities, and probably influenced by Israelites who had been left in the country, requested of the Assyrian king a Hebrew priest, and one was sent. Henceforth they had a religion partly Jewish and partly pagan. When the Jews returned from Captivity and began to rebuild the temple the Samaritans offered to aid them, but were sternly repulsed. Henceforth a bitter feeling existed between the two peoples. When Manasseh, a priest, was expelled from Jerusalem by Nehemiah, for an unlawful marriage, he fled to Samaria, took charge of their worship, and a temple was erected on Mt. Gerizim, in opposition to the one at Jerusalem. Henceforth the Samaritans, claiming to be the children of Israel (Jacob), insisted that Gerizim, the Mount of Blessing, was the place chosen by God for worship. As the later Jewish Scriptures recognized Jerusalem as the seat of divine worship, they were rejected by the Samaritans, who received the five books of Moses alone. Sychar. This place was the ancient Shechem, so famous in the early history. It was forty miles, north of Jerusalem, and was situated between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, the Mounts of Blessing and Cursing (Joshua 8:30-35). Here Jacob built his first altar (Gen.33:18); here Joseph was buried in the land given him by his father (Joshua 24:32); and here also the covenant of Israel was renewed with amens to the blessings and curses, after Joshua had conquered Canaan. Few spots in all Israel had a more interesting history. The word Sychar signifies a drunkard and a liar, and was, doubtless, first applied by the Jews in derision. It was afterwards called Neapolis, and at present a village called Nablous exists with a population of two thousand, about two hundred of whom are Samaritans and preserve their ancient worship. Near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. In this parcel Joseph was buried when Israel came up out of Egypt, his bones having been carried with them in accordance with his dying wish. His tomb is still shown and it can hardly be doubted that his bones really rest in the place pointed out. (Joh 4:6)

6. Now Jacob's well was there. It is still seen by the traveller, cut through the solid rock, between eight and nine feet in diameter, and about seventy-five feet deep. When visited by Maundrel, two hundred years ago, it was over a hundred feet deep. The accumulation of rubbish at the bottom has lessened its depth and there is now no water visible. It is about two miles from Nablous. There is no account of Jacob digging the well, and it has been asked why he should have dug it when there was an abundance of springs within two miles. Probably because the springs belonged to others and were occupied. At any rate, some one did dig the well, and a tradition that Christ did not reject and which John seems to admit, ascribed it to the patriarch. Jesus . . wearied . . sat thus on the well. The wells were usually curbed around with stone and covered. On this curb the Savior sat sheltered from the sun at noon, the sixth hour being twelve o'clock. His body was human and subject to all the infirmities of ours. The morning journey had wearied him; he could hunger; he sank under the weight of the cross. (Joh 4:7) (Joh 4:8)

7, 8. There cometh a woman of Samaria. A Samaritan woman of the city of Sychar. Why she should come so far from the city for water is a matter of conjecture. It was the custom for women to work in the fields, and she was probably employed near, and came at the noon hour, the hour of rest and refreshment, to the well for water. She had lived a checkered and, in part, disreputable life, and this might account for her not being accompanied by any of her sex. The Savior had been left alone by his disciples, who had gone to the village to buy food, and he opened a conversation by asking the woman to give him a drink of water, a request that the children of the East regard it an obligation to comply with most cheerfully, even to strangers and enemies. In that parched land water is the chiefest of blessings; Jesus pronounced a blessing upon him who should give a cup of cold water; Mahomet enjoined that it should never be refused; the servant of Abraham had asked it of the daughter of Nahor; the request of Jesus, even to a strange woman, was the custom of the East. (Joh 4:9)

9. How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me? She saw by his dress, appearance, and the direction whence he came that he was of the Jewish race. The antipathy between the Jews and Samaritans was so bitter that, although there might be some trade and they could buy food of each other on a journey, they were never wont to ask any hospitable rite. The woman's reply is not a refusal of the Lord's request, but an expression of astonishment that a Jew should ask a favor of a Samaritan. |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 the period with which we are here concerned. One precept in the Talmud approves their mode of preparing the flesh of animals, others commend their unleavened bread, their cheese, their food. Elsewhere, however, we find restrictions; and the wine, vinegar, etc., of the Samaritans were forbidden to every Israelite, their country with its roads and other products only being regarded clean. This narrative shows that it was held lawful to buy food in a Samaritan town, so that the words of this verse must be understood to mean that the Jews had no hospitable intercourse with the Samaritans.| -- Milligan. Dr. Robinson says: |If of old the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, the latter at the present day reciprocate the feeling, and neither eat, nor drink, nor marry with the Jews, but only trade with them.| (Joh 4:10)

10. If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink. The gift of God is not water, nor even peace of soul, but Christ himself, God's |unspeakable gift.| |God gave his only begotten Son.| She neither knew of God's unspeakable gift, nor that the Son given was at that moment speaking to her. Had she known, the Savior declares: Thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. Observe: 1. That Christ asks a favor in order to confer a greater one; makes a request in order to open up a conversation that will give access to a heart.2. The well and the water suggest the thirst of the soul and the waters of life. With him natural objects, the sparrows, the lilies, the storm, the harvest, the water, the sower, the seed, etc., were constantly made texts for teaching spiritual truth. Living water meant, literally, |running| water, the water from a fountain or stream. It is known from the term used for well in the Greek of verse 6 (pege) that it was a fountain fed by subterranean springs, not a deep cistern supplied with rainwater. The |living water,| water that fails not while it quenches thirst, but flows right on perennially, is taken by the Savior as a symbol of himself, the one who quenches the thirst of the soul. Elsewhere he says: |The Spirit and the Bride say come; and let him that is athirst come and partake of the waters of life freely.| (Joh 4:11)

11. Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with . . . whence then hast thou that living water? She was deeply impressed by his manner and his words. This is shown by her calling him Sir (Kurie, Lord), but she fails to rise above the material meaning of his words. The well is a hundred feet deep; it, like the wells of the country usually, has no bucket; he has brought no vessel with him as, she has done; how then can he furnish her this water from the fountain? She cannot understand. (Joh 4:12)

12. Art thou greater than our father Jacob? The question indicates still further her dawning conviction of the greatness of the stranger. It was from Joseph, the son of Jacob, that the Samaritans claimed descent. Jesus spoke of giving living water; Jacob, their great ancestor, had given this well; he, his flocks, his children and his servants had drunk of it; it was a sacred object of reverence; was Jesus greater than the giver of the well? Perhaps it was because the well was deemed holy that she had come there to obtain water. Often those least truly religious in life have most faith in relics. (Joh 4:13)

13. Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again. Her own experience would confirm his words. Nothing earthly satisfies long. Raiment, food, drink, all have to be supplied again. (Joh 4:14)

14. Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst. The water of which he speaks is a gift which he gives to humanity. It is not given to him but is his own gift. No prophet ever spoke thus, no man, only Jesus Christ. His language is always that of the Son of God. He says, |I am the life;| |Come to me ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest;| |I am the bread of life;| |He that believeth on me shall never thirst;| |If any man thirst let him come and drink * * * from him shall flow rivers of living water.| Such words could not fall from human lips. |The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.| Springing up into everlasting life. The water that Christ bestows, the living water, the water of life, not only satisfied the longings of the soul, but is the real |elixir vitae,| and quickens it into a new life that never ends. (Joh 4:15)

15. Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not. The mysterious words of the Jewish stranger she cannot yet understand, but she is deeply stirred, and one thing seemed plain -- if she could have this water she would thirst no more, and would not be compelled to come to the well. She is bewildered, but eager to comprehend the nature of the gift. The tenor of the whole narrative shows that she was neither flippant, nor sluggish. (Joh 4:16)

16. Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman has asked for the water; before she can receive it she must be fully conscious of her need, of her soul's thirst, of her sinfulness and wretchedness. Hence Jesus makes a demand that will awake her to a sense of her condition. His abrupt words are designed to recall her past life. (Joh 4:17)

17. I have no husband. The words have their designed effect. Probably with the deep blush and confusion of shame she admits that she has no husband. She has a man, but not a husband. The emphasis is on the word husband. (Joh 4:18)

18. Thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband. The Lord accepts her statement as true in words, but reveals to her his knowledge of the real facts. She had been married five times; the easy divorce laws of the age, permitting a |divorce for any cause,| would allow many changes without the death of either party. Some of her husbands may have died; a part were almost certainly divorced. Her sixth alliance did not even have the apology of such a marriage. It was illegal and condemned even by her unenlightened conscience as sinful. The Savior's words are like a probe, keen, severe, but gentle. (Joh 4:19)

19. Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Every word that Jesus had uttered had excited her wonder more and more, and when he lifted the curtain off her life, she was convinced at once of his superhuman knowledge. She had heard of the ancient prophets; he must be one. (Joh 4:20)

20. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Partly to turn attention from her sinful life, and partly to have him settle a great controversy, she appeals to him to say where men ought to worship God. The Jews went up to Jerusalem to the temple. From the time of Jeroboam the Ten Tribes had worshiped elsewhere. When the Israelites returned from the Captivity and repulsed the Samaritans, Manasseh, the renegade priest, conducted this worship on Mt. Gerizim, the |Mount of Blessing.| In the reign of Alexander the Great, according to Josephus, a temple was erected there. At a later period it was destroyed by John Hyrcanus, the Jewish prince, but still the altar was kept up, and the Samaritans made it their holy place. Note that the woman worshiped there because |our fathers| did. The |fathers| were wrong. Many now keep up infant sprinkling and other corruptions because their |fathers| practiced it. Fathers are no authority in such matters; only Christ and the word of God. (Joh 4:21)

21. The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem. Now comes the announcement of one of the grandest truths revealed by Christ. The Jews said that men must worship at Jerusalem to worship acceptably; the Samaritans contended for Mt. Gerizim as the true holy place; the Mahometan insists on a pilgrimage to Mecca; the Catholic on praying at some holy shrine, but Christ says that the time even then was at hand when no holy place need be sought for worship. A little later God emphasized this lesson by the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem. In verse 23d the reason is given. (Joh 4:22)

22. Salvation is of the Jews. In the controversy between the Jews and Samaritans, the former were right on the great issue. The Samaritans, worshiped, but knew not what they worshiped, because they rejected the prophets who would have directed them. In this the Jews had the advantage, and the salvation of the world was to come through the Jews, through Christ of the seed of David. |Ye| refers to the Samaritans; |we| to the Jews. (Joh 4:23)

23. The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth. This verse is linked with verse 21st. The time is at hand, says the Lord, when a worship of forms, or at holy places, will not meet the demands of the Father. He must be worshiped with the heart, in spirit and in truth. Spiritual worship can be offered in any land, wherever the soul can humble itself before God. God is seeking for such true, spiritual worshipers. (Joh 4:24)

24. God is a Spirit. Rather, |God is Spirit.| This declaration is fundamental.1. God is not material, according to the gross conception of the pagans.2. He is not a material force, nor an abstract force as some scientists urge.3. Nor is he a kind of blind, impersonal power, |that makes for righteousness,| as Matthew Arnold urges.4. He is Spirit, fills the universe, is omnipresent, and hence can be worshiped anywhere, because he is everywhere. Since he is Spirit, he must be worshiped in spirit. A material worship, a worship of forms, is not in harmony with his nature. The heart and spirit must be lifted up. (Joh 4:25)

25. I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ. Her heart had been made lighter with the great hope of the world. The words of Jesus carried her thoughts to that hope. He had told her much; the Messiah would tell her all things, and give light on every dark question. (Joh 4:26)

26. I that speak unto thee am he. This is the first recorded confession of Jesus that he was the Christ. His disciples learned to believe the truth, but until Peter's confession the last year of his ministry, there was no open admission. Perhaps we never can tell why he chose to make his first acknowledgment of his mission to a poor, wretched, Samaritan woman.

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