The Agora
Bible Commentary

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John 4

Joh 4:1

Vv 1-3: Jesus was "afraid", not for himself, but for his new followers -- as yet untested.

WAS GAINING AND BAPTIZING: Note the tense: the work of Christ and of John was at this time simultaneous, yet Christ was excelling John (Joh 3:26,30). Christ knew this would antagonize the Pharisees, and he did not trust these Judeans (Joh 2:23).

Joh 4:3

LEFT: "Aphiemi" = strongest poss word in Greek: to forsake or abandon.

Joh 4:4

HE HAD TO GO...: Not for geographical, but rather for typical reasons: to foreshadow preaching to Gentiles. Or, poss, he considered this route safer than to risk being arrested by Herod's men at southern end of Gennesaret (WGos 102). ("Had to", Gr "dei", often refs to will of God: Joh 3:7,14,30; 4:4,20,24; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9).

SAMARIA: The Samaritan race, and their temple: Neh 13:28n. (Even today, some few hundred Samaritans live in Nablus, the modern Shechem: LB 477; HVM 159-165.) Many Judeans circled through Perea (the long way around), rather than simply travel through Samaria -- so great was their hatred of the Samaritans. "May I never set eyes on a Samaritan... May I never be thrown into company with one" (Rabbis). To partake of their bread was like "eating swine's flesh" (Eder 1:401).

Joh 4:5

SYCHAR: Or Shechem: a city of refuge (Jos 21:21), symbolic of Christ (Heb 6:18-20). The first Joshua was in Shechem (Jos 24:1; cp Joh 4:38n).

Joh 4:6

THE SIXTH HOUR: Women carried water in cool of morning or evening. By Heb time, 6th hour = approx noon. Why did she choose such a time? Perhaps to avoid contact with other women? (But in Joh 19:14, John uses Roman time.)

Joh 4:7

Blessings given in the path of home duty: shepherds at night (Luk 2:8-20), Moses keeping flock (Exo 3:1,2), David in sheepfolds (Psa 78:70), Gideon threshing (Jdg 6:11,12), Abraham in tent-door (Gen 18:1), and a woman coming to draw water (Joh 4:7,26).

Christ met woman at well, as other faithful men before him had met their future wives at wells: Eleazar (for Isaac) in Gen 24:10,62; Jacob in Gen 29:2,9,10; Moses in Exo 2:15-21.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman: "At the beginning of the conversation he did not make himself known to her... but first she caught sight of a thirsty man [v 7], then a Jew [v 9], then a rabbi [vv 13,14], afterwards a prophet [vv 17-19], last of all the Messiah [vv 25,26]. She tried to get the better of the thirsty man, she showed her dislike of the Jew, she heckled the rabbi, she was swept off her feet by the prophet, and finally she adored the Messiah" (Tatian). See Lesson, How to tell a woman she's wrong.

"This strange conversation (Joh 4:7-26) is more than a passing incident in Christ's journey through Samaria. It discloses the nature of the intercourse which takes place between God and every true seeker after Him. Our relationship begins with a demand from our Father to do something for Him. Our natural feeling is that there is nothing we can possibly do. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, we are puny creatures of His handiwork utterly dependent and unworthy. Yet the demand persists, and with it comes the understanding that our service conceals a far greater gift from Him. As the nature of that gift is unfolded in His word, so our desire for it grows, and although we can never appreciate it in its fullness, we plead for it. But it has its own demands. It requires us to expose all those things that are unworthy and demands that we share the gift with those around us. We cannot effectively accomplish the second without deliberately facing anything in our life which will impede our communion with God ... This is all brought to a focus in the person of Jesus Christ, and our surrender is complete when we truly believe his saying: 'I that speak unto thee am he' " (MP 79,80).

WILL YOU GIVE ME A DRINK?: The Good Shepherd asks drink from a "black sheep"!

Joh 4:9

YOU ARE A JEW: Jesus is clearly recognized as a Jew. Why? (1) His speech; (2) his general appearance; or (3) the fringe or border of blue on his garment (Num 15:38)?

JEWS DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH SAMARITANS: John's explanation. Nor do they associate with women of any nation (cp v 27)!

Joh 4:10

THE GIFT OF GOD: Christ is the gift of God (Joh 3:16) -- his life (Joh 10:11), example (Joh 13:15), Spirit of truth (Joh 14:16), word (Joh 17:8,14).

LIVING WATER: God's Word (Jer 2:13; Isa 55:1-3; 49:10). Running water, used to cleanse leprosy (Lev 14:5).

See Lesson, John's figurative language.

Joh 4:11

Both the learned Jew (Nicodemus) and the ignorant woman of Samaria had much to learn from Jesus!

Joh 4:12


AND HIS FLOCKS AND HERDS: If cattle may drink of Jacob's well, may not Samaritans and Gentiles drink of the "well of living water"?

Joh 4:13

Fleshly pursuits satisfy, but we thirst again... and soon this creates thirst.

Joh 4:14

WHOEVER DRINKS THE WATER I GIVE HIM WILL NEVER THIRST: "He who is a believer in Jesus finds enough in his Lord to satisfy him now, and to content him for evermore. The believer is not the man whose days are weary for want of comfort, and whose nights are long from absence of heart-cheering thought, for he finds in religion such a spring of joy, such a fountain of consolation, that he is content and happy. Put him in a dungeon and he will find good company; place him in a barren wilderness, he will eat the bread of heaven; drive him away from friendship, he will meet the 'friend that sticketh closer than a brother.' Blast all his gourds, and he will find shadow beneath the Rock of Ages; sap the foundation of his earthly hopes, but his heart will still be fixed, trusting in the Lord. The heart is as insatiable as the grave till Jesus enters it, and then it is a cup full to overflowing. There is such a fulness in Christ that he alone is the believer's all. The true saint is so completely satisfied with the all-sufficiency of Jesus that he thirsts no more -- except it be for deeper draughts of the living fountain" (CHS).

A SPRING OF WATER WELLING UP: Cp also John 7:37,38; 19:34: References to "springs" of living waters invokes such passages as Psa 36:9; 46:4; 87:7. Also, Isa 12:1; Zech 13:1; Ezek 47:1-5; Rev 22:1. (The latter two Psalms passages probably referred, in the first instance, to Hezekiah's Conduit, and the Gihon spring.)

Joh 4:15

// Joh 7:37-39.

Joh 4:16

Jesus takes the most direct course to convince this rather simple woman of his Messiahship.

YOUR HUSBAND: Irony: Jesus IS her "husband", IF she will accept it!

Joh 4:17

I HAVE NO HUSBAND: An immoral suggestion? 'I am unattached at the moment!'

Joh 4:18

YOU HAVE HAD FIVE HUSBANDS: The Pentateuch were the only holy books accepted by the Samaritans. Yet, even now, they had not been led to the true "husband", the Messiah.

Joh 4:19

A PROPHET: Or "the prophet", of Deu 18:15-19.

Joh 4:21

A TIME IS COMING: Notice Jesus does not add, "and has now come", as he does in v 23. It was even then poss for men to worship in spirit and truth, but until Christ's sacrifice Jerusalem remained the only true place to worship God formally.

ON THIS MOUNTAIN: Mt Gerizim, and Mt Ebal: cp Deu 27:11-26; Jos 8:33. (All Samaritan texts had been altered to substitute "Gerizim" in Gen 14:18; 22:2: WGos 104. The Samaritan texts made no mention of Jerusalem.)

Joh 4:22

YOU SAMARITANS: The NIV adds "Samaritans" (not in orig), but added to indicate that the verb is plural -- ref more than the single woman.

SALVATION IS FROM THE JEWS: Or "comes from the Jews" (ISV). Everyone sees the world through the lens of his own experience. We perceive our world from a particular time and cultural background. It is easy to assume that Jesus and his disciples were much like ourselves. In our movies about Jesus he is often portrayed as a "hippie" with blonde hair and blue eyes. It is not as easy to see Jesus as a homely, middle eastern Jewish rabbi who spoke Hebrew and went by the name "Yashua Ben Yoseph". If we want to understand Jesus and his message in its original context we have to try to understand the world from his point of view. The most natural assumption in the world is that we put ourselves in the mindset of a first century Jew. If we read the Gospel from this perspective, does the message change? An intellectualized Gospel of the 20th century North American or a Social Justice Gospel which resonates so well in Third World today may miss the message found in a 1st century story of a Jewish Messiah.

Long ago, God chose a special people for Himself. He promised Abraham and his descendants that through them would come a redeemer who would bless all nations. So it was that Israel looked forward to the coming Messiah (anointed one). Jesus was very clear in regard to the spiritual authority God had bestowed upon the Jews. We see this in his remark to the Samaritan woman. The Samaritans worshipped the God of Abraham too, but they worshipped him according to their own standards.

The Gospel has become many things in the name of "spirit and truth" (Joh 4:23), yet God chose to bring forth salvation from within a Jewish context. Jesus cannot be properly understood apart from OT Judaism. Despite this reality, the Christian world has generally abandoned the Jewish context in which the Gospel was born. Gentile believers, in a reaction against Jewish "traditionalism", commonly discard all things Jewish as obsolete. As a result, Christian traditions have replaced the old Jewish ones. Over the centuries, the Church developed a version of faith which accommodated its own cultural expressions. This is most readily illustrated by noting the many pagan practices that have been "christianized" and assimilated into our faith experience. It is just as revealing to note how little Jewish tradition was adopted. These "new" traditions are now so embedded we can hardly imagine Christianity without them. Imagine trying to live without Christmas or Easter, both pagan in origin, now fundamental centerpieces of the Christian experience. There has been a paradigm shift from a Middle Eastern Jewish Messiah to a Western Greco-Roman Christ. So much so, in fact, that Christianity today bears little resemblance to the religion Jesus participated in on the earth. In the minds of most Christians, Judaism may as well be a different religion altogether. But Judaism is not a "different" religion. Rather, Christianity and Judaism are two perspectives of One God. Christianity is no more complete without its Jewish heritage than Judaism is without the Messiah. It is good to remember that the foundation for "Jewish" culture was established directly by God Himself. Judaism is the original backdrop of the Gospel story. The Jewish Torah is our own beloved Christian OT. Our God is One, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Christians should take pride in the fact that this is Jewish heritage as it is ours as well. Even we Gentiles have a just spiritual claim to all things promised to the Jew through Jesus our Messiah.

Joh 4:23

"The Lord looked forward eagerly to the time when men would shed the swaddling clothes of Mosaic ritual for the true reconciliation and worship possible through him" (HAW).

AND HAS NOW COME: In ct v 21, this spiritual worship is already possible.

IN SPIRIT: Joh 6:35,63. Thus, spiritual worship, in ct ritual forms.

IN TRUTH: Sincerity and truth: Joshua's exhortation in Shechem: Jos 24:14. Thus, the "true" (ie real, substantial) sacrifice, in ct the "typical" or "figurative" sacrifices of Law.

Joh 4:24

GOD IS SPIRIT: God Himself is not immaterial; He has a Spirit-body (ie 1Co 15:44-54; Heb 1:3,7; Mat 28:2-4), a Being full of Spirit power, a body with parts.

IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH: The fruits of the Spirit-word, the qualities of righteousness and love (Gal 5), rather than the typical ordinances and rituals of either temple or system (cp Rom 2:26-29; 2Co 3:6; and Joshua's words in Jos 24:14).

Joh 4:25

HE WILL EXPLAIN EVERYTHING TO US: Cp Deu 18:18: " I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him."

Joh 4:26

I WHO SPEAK TO YOU AM HE: The first time Jesus directly proclaimed his Messiahship was to a woman, a Samaritan and a sinner! The devout Pharisee traditionally prayed, "I thank thee that thou didst not make me a Gentile, but a Jew... not a woman, but a man." But Paul proclaimed that in Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither male nor female (Gal 3:28)! All, whatever their social status or race or sex, may share equally in the blessings of the Messiahship of Jesus. Do we believe this?

Joh 4:27

See VL: Disciples, awe of Jesus.

To instruct a woman in the Law was forbidden by the rabbis (LTJM 1:418).

Joh 4:28

LEAVING HER WATER JAR: Because she had found the source of true and living water.

THE WOMAN WENT BACK TO THE TOWN: To tell the men there of the Messiah, whom she had found.

Joh 4:29

See //s in 1Co 14:24,25: the unbeliever, convinced of his (or her) sin, having his (or her) secrets laid bare, proclaims, "God is really among us!"

Joh 4:31

Vv 31-34: See VL, Disciples, slow comprehension.

Joh 4:32

See Lesson, John's figurative language.

Joh 4:33

See VL: Disciples, awe of Jesus. Other misunderstandings: Joh 14:5; Mat 15:15; 16:7,22. "Their blundering literalism, in sharp ct to the Samaritan woman's insight, does them little credit" (WGos 106).

Joh 4:34

AND TO FINISH HIS WORK: Christ's work is to finish his Father's work of creation, which is an ongoing work! Here is the beginning of the gospel's extension to the Samaritans (Act 1:8).

Joh 4:35

DO NOT SAY, 'FOUR MONTHS MORE': 'Do not be lulled into a false sense of security, as though there is nothing to do.'

OPEN YOUR EYES AND LOOK AT THE FIELDS: "Jesus uses words which recall Isaiah's language concerning the gathering of Zion's children in the day of her exaltation: 'Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee' (Isa 49:18). Even then the Lord himself was realizing the joy of sowing and reaping, and gathering fruit unto life eternal. He was the sower, and he called them to be fellow labourers with him. The work is one of toil and sometimes hardship. The clouds and the rain may discourage going out into the fields; but it has to be done at the cost of present advantage and comfort. It may even entail the suffering of present loss for future gain" (CJo 72,73).

THEY ARE RIPE FOR HARVEST: The harvest, or ingathering of all God's children (Isa 49:18), even from Gentiles (cp Joh 4:25,28,29). Jesus is pointing out the approaching Samaritans (Joh 4:40).

Joh 4:37

ONE SOWS AND ANOTHER REAPS: This came true: Jesus sowed, and Philip reaped (Act 8:5-17)

Joh 4:38

OTHER MEN: Moses, Abraham, the prophets. Cp the words of Joshua at Shechem: Jos 24:13.

Joh 4:39

Many Samaritans drink of the living waters. Were they baptized?

Joh 4:40

Ct the Jewish attitudes in Mat 8:34; Luk 4:29; 13:31. See also Luk 9:52,53.

Joh 4:41

Later, when Samaria received the word, Peter no doubt visited Shechem (Act 8:14-25), and Sychar (v 5), a village nearby.

Joh 4:42

SAVIOR OF THE WORLD: Including Samaria!

Joh 4:43

Typical: 2 days (2,000 years) preaching to Gentiles, then a return to Israel.

Joh 4:44

A PROPHET HAS NO HONOR IN HIS OWN COUNTRY: Explaining why the Samaritans would listen so eagerly, in ct many Jews.

Joh 4:45

GALILEE: He did not go to Nazareth, but to Galilee in the narrower sense -- ie Capernaum and the area immediately around the Sea of Galilee (WGos 108). Perhaps he went to Nazareth first, and then removed permanently to Capernaum (Mat 4:12,13).

THE GALILEANS... HAD SEEN ALL THAT HE HAD DONE IN JERUSALEM: But the Samaritans had greater faith: they believed because of what they heard, not what they saw!

Joh 4:46

ROYAL OFFICIAL: "Basilikios" = either one of royal blood, or a sympathizer or a servant of Herod, tetrarch of Galilee (who in the NT is called a king, Mat 14:9, Mar 6:14-29). Capernaum was a border town, and prob there were many administrative officials living there.

Joh 4:47

TO COME AND HEAL HIS SON: That is, in the only way he thought possible, ie by actual physical presence. But Christ can heal at a distance; even now, he can bring life, by his word (Psa 119:93; 2Ti 1:1; Joh 6:6-8; 11:25)!

Joh 4:48

"UNLESS YOU PEOPLE SEE MIRACULOUS SIGNS AND WONDERS," JESUS TOLD HIM, "YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE": "Many nowadays must see signs and wonders, or they will not believe. Some have said in their heart, 'I must feel deep horror of soul, or I never will believe in Jesus.' But what if you never should feel it, as probably you never may? Will you go to the grave out of spite against God, because He will not treat you like another? One has said to himself, 'If I had a dream, or if I could feel a sudden shock of I know not what, then I would believe.' Thus you undeserving mortals dream that my Lord is to be dictated to by you! You are beggars at His gate, asking for mercy, and you must needs draw up rules and regulations as to how He shall give that mercy. Think you that He will submit to this? My Master is of a generous spirit, but he has a right royal heart, he spurns all dictation, and maintains His sovereignty of action. Why, if such be your case, do you crave for signs and wonders? Is not the gospel its own sign and wonder? Is not this a miracle of miracles, that 'God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish' [Joh 3:16]? Surely that precious word, 'Whosoever will, let him come and take the water of life freely' [Joh 7:37] and that solemn promise, 'Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out,'[Joh 6:37] are better than signs and wonders! A truthful Saviour ought to be believed. He is truth itself. Why will you ask proof of the veracity of One who cannot lie?" (CHS).

Joh 4:49

Power of faith and intercession of others: Mat 8:13; 9:32; 15:28; 17:14-18; Luk 8:50; Joh 4:49; Jos 6:17; Gen 7:1; 18:32; 19:12; Act 27:24.

Joh 4:50

YOUR SON WILL LIVE: Israel is the "son" of God (Mat 2:15), miraculously healed by word on third day (cp v 43): cp Eze 37; Mat 23:37-39; Joh 7:31; 16:27.

Joh 4:52

AS TO THE TIME WHEN HIS SON GOT BETTER: The father might have thought that Jesus was "merely" a prophet, who knew that his son had been healed, and not the agent which caused it!

THE SEVENTH HOUR: The millennial hour!

Joh 4:53

SO HE AND ALL HIS HOUSEHOLD BELIEVED: A measure of faith becoming a greater faith: cp Joh 1:14 with Joh 2:11; Exo 14:31; 1Ki 17:24.

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