A Journey Through John – Ch 4

“One of the delightful facts about the Gospel of John is that many of its stories linger in the listener’s mind and generate implications for a lifetime. Such is the significance of the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4. It encourages reflection about presuppositions and prejudices, about the mission of Jesus and worship, and it offers a wonderful paradigm for considering the nature and strategy of evangelistic outreach.” Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 197.

I. The Setting and A Divine Appointment (4.1-6)

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 

  • v1-3 – John uses the earlier discussion concerning John the Baptist and Jesus baptizing from 3.22-26 in order to provide a transition.
  • In a broad scope, John is demonstrating the truth of John the Baptist’s claims (that he is not the Christ and that Jesus is above all). To say it another way, John is making it clear that Jesus isn’t just another prophet like John the Baptist. He is the Messiah/Christ (v. 25,26).
  • v1 -As Jesus’ ministry gained popularity, the Pharisees would naturally desire to affirm it’s credibility via their traditions. We can probably assume that Jesus didn’t want to enter into debate with the Pharisees at this point and he choses to move on to Galilee.
  • v2 – There are several comments from the narrator here in this section (usually set off by parentheses) (hope you see what I did there). These all add credibility that the author of this gospel was, indeed, a personal eye witness to these accounts (v. 2), that he was a disciple (v. 8), and that he was a Jew (v. 9).
  • v4 – Brings an interesting statement. Many Jews of the day would seek to avoid Samaria all together and travel an eastern route, which would’ve been a bit farther, but risked contact with Gentiles. Others may chose to take the quicker route through Samaria, which also risked defilement by contacting unclean Samaritans. Neither option would be appealing to a Jew who sought to maintain his traditions of cleanliness. The focus for the Jew would be to avoid contact with either group, yet John makes it clear in this narrative that Jesus purposefully seeks contact with both. This verse also carries the notion that Jesus has a “divine appointment” with this particular woman.
  • APP: What often looks like happenstance to us is often divinely orchestrated by God.
  • “Samaritans” – The Samaritans were regarded by the Jews as despised half-breeds, the offspring of the resettlement policies of the cruel Assyrians, who after sacking the Northern Kingdom in 722 b.c. transported large groups of conquered Jews to other conquered sites and repopulated the partially vacated sites with other conquered peoples (2 Kgs 17:5–6, 24). The result was an intermingling of peoples who in the mixing of the races lost much of their former national identities and were thus forced to develop new syncretistic identities (2 Kgs 17:25–41). The Jewish desire for a pure and loyal people of God, particularly after the return from the Babylonian exile, led Ezra to develop a segregation policy that excluded Samaritans and others of mixed backgrounds (Ezra 9–10). The Samaritans in response to their rejection developed counter restrictive policies such as adopting a canon containing only the Samaritan Pentateuch and promoting a competing temple cult on Mount Gerizim. The antagonism between the two groups periodically exploded into open hostility, such as when the Hasmoneans under John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple in 128 b.c. and when a fierce engagement between the two sides took place in a.d. 52. In the time of Jesus the climate of relations between the two was scarcely conducive to good communications or self-giving acceptance. Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 199–200.
  • v6 – Notice, not only Jesus’ divinity in verse 4, but also his humanity in verse 6. “wearied as he was from his journey”.
  • v6 – “It was about the sixth hour” – around noon. This was the hottest part of the day and not the normal time for this difficult of a task. Most women drew water in the a.m. and this served as a culturally social event for women at that time. Her absence from the normal schedule speaks volumes about how she was perceived in her village.
  • APP: No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. There is no sin un forgivable. There is no individual who is more undeserving of God’s grace than we all are. All of us are undeserving.
  • ILL: There was a dairy farmer in a church in which I ministered. His wife and two young daughters attended faithfully, but the man was no where to be found. I once inquired about him and a person said, “You’ll never see him in church. He’s got a severe drinking problem.” A year or two later, he came home one afternoon intoxicated, as was his norm. He fell through his glass shower door and severely injured himself. This resulted in a change in his life and him coming to trust in Christ for salvation.
  • APP: Change requires two things initially: 1) divine intervention, 2) the grace of God.

II. Thirsty? (4.7-15)

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

  • v. 7 -“Jesus said to her” – several social taboos are crossed with this statement. 1) Jew and Samaritan relationships, 2) Man and woman relationships. The woman clearly understands this by her response in verse 9, “How is it that you, A JEW, ask for a drink from me, a WOMAN OF SAMARIA?”
  • But Jesus was different. He spoke to her as God spoke to Hagar and as Abraham’s servant spoke to Rebekah in ancient times. This woman was really being treated like a person. Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 202.
  • v. 7 – “Give me a drink” – Jesus initiates and concludes this conversation. Jesus essentially moves the conversation to talk about the woman’s spiritual thirst.
  • Much like he did with Nicodemus in chapter 3, Jesus uses a subject of common knowledge to bring her to see her spiritual need (water). Water was a frequent metaphor used in the Old Testament to speak of God’s relationship with His people. See Isa. 55.1-3. Just as with Nicodemus, the woman thinks Jesus is speaking using the common or physical sense of the word, but Jesus is using it to point to the spiritual or eternal.
  • “living water” – could be understood as moving, or fresh water, as compared to the stagnant water found in this well, hence the woman’s misunderstanding. We have the advantage of knowing the whole encounter and even we can see that Jesus’ reference to living water can mean that he 1) can rescue her from being stuck in sin, 2) he can eternally satisfy what she had been seeking in so many frequent companions.
  • After her shock that Jesus was daring to engage her in conversation (v. 9). Jesus turns the topic from his thirst to hers. in verse 10. You could almost paraphrase Jesus here. “You know, I’m not the one who’s really thirsty here. You are. And if you knew who I was, you’d be asking me for a drink.”
  • v 10 – If the woman was listening, she’d understand Jesus’ reference to himself as “the gift” would refer to him as being the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Messiah.
  • v. 11 – her confusion is evident, just as with Nicodemus.
  • v. 12 – provides an opportunity for Jesus to further explain himself. In the Greek, this question is phrased by the woman to elicit a negative response. In other words, “You don’t have anything to get water with, how do you suppose you’re going to access better water? You’re not better than Jacob, who dug this well are you?” Jesus responds, “Well actually…”
  • v. 13, 14 – Jesus clarifies for the sake of the woman’s confusion. This physical water is temporary. What I offer is eternal. What I provide is, in fact, better than what Jacob provided.” Although the woman may have been thinking about well water (4:13), Jesus was interested in internal or spiritual water. Such water would become in a person (en autō̧) not stale cistern water but a free-flowing fountain or spring (pēgē) of water leaping or bubbling (hallomenou) into life eternal (4:14).” Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 205.
  • v. 15 – The woman is intrigued, but still confused. How convenient would it be to lock herself in her home and not have to face the daily reminder that her broken relationships have caused her to be an outcast. The next verse requires that the woman face her brokenness head on.

III. Worship in Spirit and Truth (4.16-26)

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 

  • In verse 16, Jesus leaves all the metaphors behind and now speaks plainly.
  • “In order to make it possible for the woman to receive the living water about which Jesus spoke, it would be necessary for her to deal with the tragic nature of her sinful life. Therefore Jesus confronted the woman with her life. When she tried to avoid the issue of a husband (4:17), just as she apparently sought to avoid coming for water along with the other women, Jesus spelled out clearly her ethical problem. After experimenting with five husbands (which should not be allegorized), she no longer found the marriage ritual necessary (4:18). Jewish tradition permitted three husbands, but she obviously had long passed that more lenient rule.171 When she said she had no husband at that time, she had in fact stumbled onto an important idea with Jesus—the idea of truth (alēthes, 4:18). Jesus therefore noted this fact clearly.” Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 205–206.
  • APP: To receive eternal life, we too must recognize our sin and know that God sees us for what we are. Consider John 3:16 and Romans 5:8.
  • v 18 – a string of this many broken relationships may be accepted, but is rarely heard of in our day, certainly in her day, this would have been unthinkable. Where we just saw Jesus’ humanity through his weariness, we now see his divinity through his omniscience.
  • v 19 – The woman notices this too and begins to understand that this is no common man she is conversing with.
  • v20 – In one last attempt, the woman tries to turn the conversation away from her own brokenness. However, in contrast to the Jews, who recognized many prophets, the Samaritans recognized no one past Moses, except the prophet Moses predicted would come after him in Deuteronomy 18.18. It may be possible that the woman has made this connection. At any rate, the woman attempts to discuss the proper place of worship.
  • APP: Confronting our brokenness can be quite difficult.
  • v. 21-23 – Jesus responds that the place of worship no longer matters, but it is how we worship.” We learn immediately that place is irrelevant and that worship is not primarily in body—through physical motions and activities—but in spirit. The text does not refer to the Holy Spirit but an attitude of heart which acknowledges God and his sovereignty over our lives. Furthermore, worship must be done in truth—honestly, biblically, centered on Christ. This paragraph shows the difference between religion and the gospel: religion describes humankind’s search for God; the gospel describes the way God reached down to humanity.” Kenneth O. Gangel, John, vol. 4, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 77.
  • APP: Live focused on heart-felt worship. Don’t loose the big thing for smaller things.
  • v. 22 – “we know” – Jesus takes a moment to correct the Samaritans rejection of the majority of the Old Testament and confirms that the Jews have a more correct view. But Jesus is establishing something new and the focus now will be upon the attitude of the worshipper, not where he worships.
  • v. 25 – “I know” – gives us a peek into the woman’s true faith. She did believe in a coming Messiah. She no longer skirts the issue. She believes the Christ is coming, and that he will end this bickering over worship.
  • v. 25 – “he will tell us all things” – ironically, she is probably referring to the Messiah correcting these opposing views of worship, and he has already told this woman all things by discussing the issue with her relationships.
  • v. 26 – This is the only place Jesus plainly identifies himself as the Messiah, other than his crucifixion. Literally, “I, the one speaking to you, I AM.” The reference “I am” would automatically cue the woman to Moses’ conversation with God in Exodus 3.14. “You are waiting for the Messiah? Then you should be interested in this conversation because I have come and am speaking personally to you.”

IV. Sowing and Reaping (4.27-38)

27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 

  • v. 27 – although this woman was viewed as an outsider by the disciples, a woman with 3 strikes against her (woman, Samaritan, questionable morals) Jesus’ message was for everyone. There is never a person too far from God’s reach. Avoiding a sure lecture, the disciples kept these questions to themselves.
  • v. 28 – “the woman left her water jar” – a symbol that her greatest problem/need had become trivial after meeting Jesus. She can now only think about the implications of Jesus on her life.
  • “people” – may very well be rendered “men”. She knew where to find the men and her story probably intertwined with many of theirs.
  • v. 29 – “Can this be the Christ?” – Once again the question is formed to assume a negative or at least suggest some doubt. At this point, the woman seems to still be debating the issue in her head. This would surely be a typical human response. Regardless, her story is enough to peak the interest of others and they come to investigate.
  • v. 31 – We now turn full circle to the beginning of this story, Jesus and his disciples were traveling, tired and hungry, and Samaria, according to the disciples, was to be a quick stop to refuel themselves.
  • v. 32-33 – Now the disciples are confused by Jesus’ reference to “food”.
  • v. 34 – For Jesus, there were more pressing issue than a hungry belly. Accomplishing the work of God energized Jesus.
  • v. 35-38 – Jesus quotes what is probably a common colloquialism of the day, meaning that their was a period of time between sowing and reaping, but he says this is not the case with the work of the Spirit. The time for reaping is now. All the disciples had to do was look around and see the spiritual hunger of those coming to inquire about Jesus.

V. Many Believed (4.39-42)

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” 

  •  In these verses we see personal testimony combined with the message of Jesus to result in salvation. 
  • “We have heard for ourselves” – acceptance or rejection of Christ is always an individual and personal encounter.
  • “the Savior of the world” – meaning, Jesus offers an opportunity for all to be saved. In this context, it probably refers to his salvation has a broader scope than just the Jews.

VI. Transition (4.43-45)

43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast. 

VII. A Second Sign (4.46-54)

46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. 

  • The first and second signs are the only ones specifically numbered by John. Most think this is to draw emphasis upon these two. Perhaps because both of these signs focus upon believing on Christ – the main thrust of the gospels purpose.
  • v. 46 – “an official” – probably a royal official who served in the court of Herod Antipas. He may also have been a Gentile centurion.
  • Jesus is located in Cana and this official makes a 25 mile journey from Capernaum to request Jesus’ help.
  • v. 47 – “asked” – some argue that this could be better translated as “persistently begged”.
  • v. 48 – “Unless you see signs and wonders…” – Jesus uses the plural second person here. Obviously addressing more than just the official. He is correcting the notion that he is a wonder working magician of sorts.
  • v. 49 – “As indicated earlier, the man obeyed the word of Jesus without seeing the sign. In the ancient world miracles and acts of power were linked to the presence of the miracle worker, but here the healer refused to be present. Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 220.
  • John teaches us something about the nature of faith by the official’s actions. Seeing is not believing, but believing is seeing”Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Heb. 11:1.
  • “The time confirmation meant that the father/official “realized” or knew (4:53, a Johannine theme) the healing was directly connected with Jesus. This confirmation of the healing led the man to believe (4:53). The mention of a multistage believing pattern on the part of the man (“believed,” 4:50, and then “believed,” after confirmation of the time, 4:53) should not trouble western readers because the evangelist was fully aware of stages within the believing pattern of persons related to Jesus. Many Christians have developed single-dimension theories of believing that in fact contradict growth patterns of believing in personal experience as well as biblical perspectives. Theology must be related to actual life patterns if it is to be authentic. Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 221.