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Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Commentary on John 4

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The Gospel According to John

Commentary by DAVID BROWN

CHAPTER 4

Jhn 4:1-42. CHRIST AND THE WOMAN OF SAMARIA--THE SAMARITANS OF SYCHAR.

      1-4. the Lord knew--not by report, but in the sense of Jhn 2:25, for which reason He is here styled "the Lord."

      2. Jesus baptized not--John being a servant baptized with his own hand; Christ as the Master, "baptizing with the Holy Ghost," administered the outward symbol only through His disciples.

      3. left Judea--to avoid persecution, which at that early stage would have marred His work.
      departed into Galilee--by which time John had been cast into prison ( Mar 1:14 ).

      4. must needs go through Samaria--for a geographical reason, no doubt, as it lay straight in his way, but certainly not without a higher design.

      5. cometh. . . to--that is, as far as: for He remained at some distance from it.
      Sychar--the "Shechem" of the Old Testament, about thirty-four miles from Jerusalem, afterwards called "Neapolis," and now "Nablous."

      6-8. wearied. . . sat thus--that is, "as you might fancy a weary man would"; an instance of the graphic style of St. John [WEBSTER and WILKINSON]. In fact, this is perhaps the most human of all the scenes of our Lord's earthly history. We seem to be beside Him, overhearing all that is here recorded, nor could any painting of the scene on canvas, however perfect, do other than lower the conception which this exquisite narrative conveys to the devout and intelligent reader. But with all that is human, how much also of the divine have we here, both blended in one glorious manifestation of the majesty, grace, pity, patience with which "the Lord" imparts light and life to this unlikeliest of strangers, standing midway between Jews and heathens.
      the sixth hour--noonday, reckoning from six A.M. From Sgs 1:7 we know, as from other sources, that the very flocks "rested at noon." But Jesus, whose maxim was, "I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day" ( Jhn 9:4 ), seems to have denied Himself that repose, at least on this occasion, probably that He might reach this well when He knew the woman would be there. Once there, however, He accepts. . . the grateful ease of a seat on the patriarchal stone. But what music is that which I hear from His lips, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" ( Mat 11:28 ).

      7. Give me to drink--for the heat of a noonday sun had parched His lips. But "in the last, that great day of the feast," Jesus stood and cried, saying, "If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink" ( Jhn 7:37 ).

      9-12. How is it that thou--not altogether refusing, yet wondering at so unusual a request from a Jew, as His dress and dialect would at once discover Him to be, to a Samaritan.
      for, &c.--It is this national antipathy that gives point to the parable of the good Samaritan ( Luk 10:30-37 ), and the thankfulness of the Samaritan leper ( Luk 17:16, 18 ).

      10. If thou knewest, &c.--that is, "In Me thou seest only a petitioner to thee but if thou knewest who that Petitioner is, and the Gift that God is giving to men, thou wouldst have changed places with Him, gladly suing of Him living water--nor shouldst thou have sued in vain" (gently reflecting on her for not immediately meeting His request).

      12. Art thou greater, &c.--already perceiving in this Stranger a claim to some mysterious greatness.
      our father Jacob--for when it went well with the Jews, they claimed kindred with them, as being descended from Joseph; but when misfortunes befell the Jews, they disowned all connection with them [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 9.14,3].

      13, 14. thirst again. . . never thirst, &c.--The contrast here is fundamental and all comprehensive. "This water" plainly means "this natural water and all satisfactions of a like earthly and perishable nature." Coming to us from without, and reaching only the superficial parts of our nature, they are soon spent, and need to be anew supplied as much as if we had never experienced them before, while the deeper wants of our being are not reached by them at all; whereas the "water" that Christ gives--spiritual life--is struck out of the very depths of our being, making the soul not a cistern, for holding water poured into it from without, but a fountain (the word had been better so rendered, to distinguish it from the word rendered "well" in Jhn 4:11 ), springing, gushing, bubbling up and flowing forth within us, ever fresh, ever living. The indwelling of the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of Christ is the secret of this life with all its enduring energies and satisfactions, as is expressly said ( Jhn 7:37-39 ). "Never thirsting," then, means simply that such souls have the supplies at home.
      into everlasting life--carrying the thoughts up from the eternal freshness and vitality of these waters to the great ocean in which they have their confluence. "Thither may I arrive!" [BENGEL].

      15-18. give me this water, &c.--This is not obtuseness--that is giving way--it expresses a wondering desire after she scarce knew what from this mysterious Stranger.

      16. call thy husband--now proceeding to arouse her slumbering conscience by laying bare the guilty life she was leading, and by the minute details which that life furnished, not only bringing her sin vividly up before her, but preparing her to receive in His true character that wonderful Stranger to whom her whole life, in its minutest particulars, evidently lay open.

      19, 20. Sir, I perceive, &c.--Seeing herself all revealed, does she now break down and ask what hopes there might be for one so guilty? Nay, her convictions have not reached that point yet. She ingeniously shifts the subject from a personal to a public question. It is not, "Alas, what a wicked life am I leading!" but "Lo, what a wonderful prophet I got into conversation with! He will be able to settle that interminable dispute between us and the Jews. Sir, you must know all about such matters--our fathers hold to this mountain here," pointing to Gerizim in Samaria, "as the divinely consecrated place of worship, but ye Jews say that Jerusalem is the proper place--which of us is right?" How slowly does the human heart submit to thorough humiliation! (Compare the prodigal; see on JF & B for Lu 15:15). Doubtless our Lord saw through the fetch; but does He say, "That question is not the point just now, but have you been living in the way described, yea or nay? Till this is disposed of I cannot be drawn into theological controversies." The Prince of preachers takes another method: He humors the poor woman, letting her take her own way, allowing her to lead while He follows--but thus only the more effectually gaining His object. He answers her question, pours light into her mind on the spirituality of all true worship, as of its glorious Object, and so brings her insensibly to the point at which He could disclose to her wondering mind whom she was all the while speaking to.

      21-24. Woman, &c.--Here are three weighty pieces of information: (1) The point raised will very soon cease to be of any moment, for a total change of dispensation is about to come over the Church. (2) The Samaritans are wrong, not only as to the place, but the whole grounds and nature of their worship, while in all these respects the truth lies with the Jews. (3) As God is a Spirit, so He both invites and demands a spiritual worship, and already all is in preparation for a spiritual economy, more in harmony with the true nature of acceptable service than the ceremonial worship by consecrated persons, place, and times, which God for a time has seen meet to keep up till fulness of the time should come.
      neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem--that is, exclusively ( Mal 1:11 1Ti 2:8 ).
      worship the Father--She had talked simply of "worship"; our Lord brings up before her the great OBJECT of all acceptable worship--"THE FATHER."

      22. Ye worship ye know not what--without any revealed authority, and so very much in the dark. In this sense, the Jews knew what they were about. But the most glorious thing here is the reason assigned,
      for salvation is of the Jews--intimating to her that Salvation was not a thing left to be reached by any one who might vaguely desire it of a God of mercy, but something that had been revealed, prepared, deposited with a particular people, and must be sought in connection with, and as issuing from them; and that people, "the Jews."

      23. hour cometh, and now is--evidently meaning her to understand that this new economy was in some sense being set up while He was talking to her, a sense which would in a few minutes so far appear, when He told her plainly He was the Christ.

      25, 26. I know Messias cometh. . . when He is come, &c.--If we take our Lord's immediate disclosure of Himself, in answer to this, as the proper key to its meaning to His ear, we can hardly doubt that the woman was already all but prepared for even this startling announcement, which indeed she seems (from Jhn 4:29 ) to have already begun to suspect by His revealing her to herself. Thus quickly, under so matchless a Teacher, was she brought up from her sunken condition to a frame of mind and heart capable of the noblest revelations.
      tell us all things--an expectation founded probably on Deu 18:15.

      26. I that speak. . . am he--He scarce ever said anything like this to His own people, the Jews. He had magnified them to the woman, and yet to themselves He is to the last far more reserved than to her--proving rather than plainly telling them He was the Christ. But what would not have been safe among them was safe enough with her, whose simplicity at this stage of the conversation appears from the sequel to have become perfect. What now will the woman say? We listen, the scene has changed, a new party arrives, the disciples have been to Sychar, at some distance, to buy bread, and on their return are astonished at the company their Lord has been holding in their absence.

      27. marvelled that he talked with the woman--It never probably occurred to them to marvel that He talked with themselves; yet in His eye, as the sequel shows, He was quite as nobly employed. How poor, if not false, are many of our most plausible estimates!
      no man said. . . What?. . . Why?--awed by the spectacle, and thinking there must be something under it.

      28-30. left her water-pot--How exquisitely natural! The presence of strangers made her feel that it was time for her to withdraw, and He who knew what was in her heart, and what she was going to the city to do, let her go without exchanging a word with her in the hearing of others. Their interview was too sacred, and the effect on the woman too overpowering (not to speak of His own deep emotion) to allow of its being continued. But this one artless touch--that she "left her water-pot"--speaks volumes. The living water was already beginning to spring up within her; she found that man doth not live by bread nor by water only, and that there was a water of wondrous virtue that raised people above meat and drink, and the vessels that held them, and all human things. In short, she was transported, forgot everything but One, and her heart running over with the tale she had to tell, she hastens home and pours it out.

      29. is not this the Christ--The form of the question (in the Greek) is a distant, modest way of only half insinuating what it seemed hardly fitting for her to affirm; nor does she refer to what He said of Himself, but solely to His disclosure to her of the particulars of her own life.

      30. Then they went out, &c.--How different from the Jews! and richly was their openness to conviction rewarded.

      31-38. meantime--that is, while the woman was away.
      Master, eat--Fatigue and thirst we saw He felt; here is revealed another of our common infirmities to which the Lord was subject--hunger.

      32. meat ye know not of--What spirituality of mind! "I have been eating all the while, and such food as ye dream not of." What can that be? they ask each other; have any supplies been brought Him in our absence? He knows what they are saying though He hears it not.

      34. My meat is, &c.--"A Servant here to fulfil a prescribed work, to do and to finish, that is 'meat' to Me; and of this, while you were away, I have had My fill." And of what does He speak thus? Of the condescension, pity, patience, wisdom He had been laying out upon one soul--a very humble woman, and in some respects repulsive too! But He had gained her, and through her was going to gain more, and lay perhaps the foundations of a great work in the country of Samaria; and this filled His whole soul and raised Him above the sense of natural hunger ( Mat 4:4 ).

      35. yet four months, and then harvest--that is, "In current speech, ye say thus at this season; but lift up your eyes and look upon those fields in the light of another husbandry, for lo! in that sense, they are even now white to harvest, ready for the sickle." The simple beauty of this language is only surpassed by the glow of holy emotion in the Redeemer's own soul which it expresses. It refers to the ripeness of these Sycharites for accession to Him, and the joy of this great Lord of the reapers over the anticipated ingathering. Oh, could we but so, "lift up our eyes and look" upon many fields abroad and at home, which to dull sense appear unpromising, as He beheld those of Samaria, what movements, as yet scarce in embryo, and accessions to Christ, as yet seemingly far distant, might we not discern as quite near at hand, and thus, amidst difficulties and discouragements too much for nature to sustain, be cheered--as our Lord Himself was in circumstances far more overwhelming--with "songs in the night!"

      36. he that reapeth, &c.--As our Lord could not mean that the reaper only, and not the sower, received "wages," in the sense of personal reward for his work, the "wages" here can be no other than the joy of having such a harvest to gather in--the joy of "gathering fruit unto life eternal."
      rejoice together--The blessed issue of the whole ingathering is the interest alike of the sower as of the reaper; it is no more the fruit of the last operation than of the first; and just as there can be no reaping without previous sowing, so have those servants of Christ, to whom is assigned the pleasant task of merely reaping the spiritual harvest, no work to do, and no joy to taste, that has not been prepared to their hand by the toilsome and often thankless work of their predecessors in the field. The joy, therefore, of the great harvest festivity will be the common joy of all who have taken any part in the work from the first operation to the last. (See Deu 16:11, 14 Psa 126:6 Isa 9:3 ). What encouragement is here for those "fishers of men" who "have toiled all the night" of their official life, and, to human appearance, "have taken nothing!"

      38. I sent you, &c.--The I is emphatic--I, the Lord of the whole harvest: "sent you," points to their past appointment to the apostleship, though it has reference only to their future discharge of it, for they had nothing to do with the present ingathering of the Sycharites.
      ye bestowed no labour--meaning that much of their future success would arise from the preparation already made for them. (See on JF & B for Joh 4:42).
      others laboured--Referring to the Old Testament laborers, the Baptist, and by implication Himself, though He studiously keeps this in the background, that the line of distinction between Himself and all His servants might not be lost sight of. "Christ represents Himself as the Husbandman [rather the Lord of the laborers], who has the direction both of the sowing and of the harvest, who commissions all the agents--those of the Old Testament as well as of the New--and therefore does not stand on a level with either the sowers or the reapers" [OLSHAUSEN].

      39-42. many. . . believed, &c.--The truth of Jhn 4:35 begins to appear. These Samaritans were the foundation of the Church afterwards built up there. No miracle appears to have been wrought there (but unparalleled supernatural knowledge displayed): "we have heard Him ourselves" ( Jhn 4:42 ) sufficed to raise their faith to a point never attained by the Jews, and hardly as yet by the disciples--that He was "the Saviour of the world" [ALFORD]. "This incident is further remarkable as a rare instance of the Lord's ministry producing an awakening on a large scale" [OLSHAUSEN].

      40. abode two days--Two precious days, surely, to the Redeemer Himself! Unsought, He had come to His own, yet His own received Him not: now those who were not His own had come to Him, been won by Him, and invited Him to their town that others might share with them in the benefit of His wonderful ministry. Here, then, would He solace His already wounded spirit and have in this outfield village triumph of His grace, a sublime foretaste of the inbringing of the whole Gentile world into the Church.

      Jhn 4:43-54. SECOND GALILEAN MIRACLE--HEALING OF THE COURTIER'S SON.

      43, 44. after two days--literally, the two days of His stay at Sychar.

      44. For Jesus testified, &c.--This verse had occasioned much discussion. For it seems strange, if "His own country" here means Nazareth, which was in Galilee, that it should be said He came to Galilee because in one of its towns He expected no good reception. But all will be simple and natural if we fill up the statement thus: "He went into the region of Galilee, but not, as might have been expected, to that part of it called 'His own country,' Nazareth (see Mar 6:4 Luk 4:24 ), for He acted on the maxim which He oft repeated, that 'a prophet,'" &c.

      45. received--welcomed Him.
      having seen. . . at the feast--proud, perhaps, of their Countryman's wonderful works at Jerusalem, and possibly won by this circumstance to regard His claims as at least worthy of respectful investigation. Even this our Lord did not despise, for saving conversion often begins in less than this (so Zaccheus, Luk 19:3-10 ).
      for they also went--that is, it was their practice to go up to the feast.

      46, 47. nobleman--courtier, king's servant, or one connected with a royal household; such as Chuza ( Luk 8:3 ), or Manaen ( Act 13:1 ).
      heard that Jesus was come out of Judea--"where he had doubtless seen or heard what things Jesus had done at Jerusalem" ( Jhn 4:45 ), [BENGEL].
      come down--for Capernaum was down on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.

      48-54. Except ye see signs, &c.--He did believe, both as his coming and his urgent entreaty show; but how imperfectly we shall see; and our Lord would deepen his faith by such a blunt and seemingly rough answer as He made to Nicodemus.

      49. come down ere my child die--"While we talk, the case is at its crisis, and if Thou come not instantly, all is over." This was faith, but partial, and our Lord would perfect it. The man cannot believe the cure could be wrought without the Physician coming to the patient--the thought of such a thing evidently never occurred to him. But Jesus will in a moment bring him up to this.

      50. Go thy way; thy son liveth--Both effects instantaneously followed:--"The man believed the word," and the cure, shooting quicker than lightning from Cana to Capernaum, was felt by the dying youth. In token of faith, the father takes his leave of Christ--in the circumstances this evidenced full faith. The servants hasten to convey the joyful tidings to the anxious parents, whose faith now only wants one confirmation. "When began he to amend?. . . Yesterday, at the seventh hour, the fever left him"--the very hour in which was uttered that great word, "Thy son liveth!" So "himself believed and his whole house." He had believed before this, first very imperfectly; then with assured confidence of Christ's word; but now with a faith crowned by "sight." And the wave rolled from the head to the members of his household. "To-day is salvation come to this house" ( Luk 19:9 ); and no mean house this!
      second miracle Jesus did--that is, in Cana; done "after He came out of Judea," as the former before.

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