John 4:4-42 Samaritan Woman

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

In the previous chapter John described the Messiah's encounter with the most famous rabbi of the day. He now turns our attention to a woman of Samaria who was about as different from Nicodemus as one could imagine.

She was a Samaritan from a despised mixed race with whom good Jews had no dealings (4:9). She was also a woman. Every day male Jews would say "Blessed be thou, O God, for not making me a woman," and they would certainly not speak to a strange woman at a well. In the story we also discover she was promiscuous, having lived with five different men, and she was now committing adultery with a married man (4:18). Nicodemus came to question Jesus, but she would never have thought of asking questions of a Jewish man.

John introduces this event to make clear that for the Messiah no one is beyond the pale. Although most of his ministry before the resurrection was among Jewish people, he made significant exceptions (Matthew 15:21-28) which foreshadowed the world-wide spread of the good news. "Many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 8:11, 28:19-20).

4:4 Devout Jews avoided the direct route to Galilee through the despised region of Samaria. They would go down the road to Jericho, travel up the Jordan valley, and cut up around the sea of Gennesaret.

4:5 Jacob's well is nine foot in diameter and used to go down a hundred feet to water level. Over the centuries debris have partly filled it, but it is still a tourist site after 3,800 years.

4:6 John had begun his Gospel with the eternal divinity of the Son of God. But now he indicates the full humanity the Messiah had adopted when he took birth among us. "He was tired from his journey."

The well was half an hour's walk from the town, and the time is carefully recorded. "It was about noon." Normally the women would come in a group together to draw water early in the morning. or evening (Genesis 24:11).This woman is obviously excluded as an undesirable person by the others, and she has to come alone carrying an earthenware water jar (4:28) in the middle of the day.

4:7-9 To her surprise a Jewish man asked her for a drink from the water she had drawn from the deep well. How could he talk to a strange woman (see 4:27) and drink water from a hated Samaritan? In our day many missionaries have discovered that a willingness to ask for help from outcast people is the very best way to gain acceptance among them. Better ask for a favor than put people down by behaving like Lady Bountiful.

She did not know he was a well known teacher accompanied on his journey by a group of disciples. The disciples had gone in to the town to buy the provisions they needed for the journey. From God's point of view it was obviously no accident that Jesus was able to talk very personally to the woman alone. And the woman's question indicates her total astonishment and curiosity.

4:10 The woman knew nothing of the love of God or the gracious character of the Messiah. If she had known what was invisible to her, she might have been bold enough to ask him for a favor. And the favor is defined as "living water." The metaphorical water does not come from a well but from a fountain that gives water from an underground stream. John will later go on to explain that this is a metaphor for the fountain of eternal life (4:14), which is the work of the Holy Spirit in our life (7:37-39).

4:11-12 The woman is not yet ready to grasp the metaphor. "How can you give water to another person if you have no bucket?" And could anyone claim to do better than Jacob, the ancestor of all Jewish people, who eighteen hundred years before had given the people of that area the hundred foot well that still gave them the water they needed every day?

4:13 -14 Now the metaphor is clarified. There is ordinary well water that you draw to satisfy your own and your family's thirst every day. But the metaphorical water will be "gushing up to eternal life." This had already been hinted at in the message to John the Baptist. "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit" (1:33). And in the words to Nicodemus, : "So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (3:5-8). It was further explained in the previous chapter as "He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure" (3:34, see the comments on 6:63, 14:26).

4:15-16 The woman still hasn't grasped the full implications of the metaphor, but she wants what Jesus has to offer her. She hopes it will save her from the daily chore of coming alone to draw water from this ancient well. For her to grasp what the Spirit can do in her life she has to come to terms with all that has gone wrong in her life. "Go, call your husband." Jesus knew by the Spirit that things were not right in her family life, but an invitation to call her husband is much gentler than confronting her with her promiscuous lifestyle.

4:17-18 Not only does the woman have no husband, but she has previously lived with five different men, and she is now having an adulterous affair with a married man in the town.

4:19-20 The woman now realizes she is talking to a prophet, and there is no place to hide. As people still do in our day, she hopes to deflect the conversation into a discussion about denominations. Going right back to the time of Jeroboam, when the Jewish kingdom was divided, that area of Samaria had a place of worship that functioned as a rival to the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26-32). What does this prophet have to say about the proper denomination to belong to?

4:21 Jesus' answer is that very soon Samaritan people would be gathering to worship in the Spirit. This began with those who gathered in the next two days as Jesus taught them (4:39-40). After the resurrection and ascension Philip the evangelist went to preach in Samaria, and "baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:12). The apostles Peter and John quickly came down to organize these disciples into a functioning church, and they "laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:17).

4:22-23 In one sense the Jewish people "were entrusted with the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2) and "to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah" (Romans 9:4). But that preparatory period among the Jewish people is soon to end. All over the world "the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him."

4:24 "Spirit and truth" are the two essentials of genuine Christian worship. Without the work of the Holy Spirit in a congregation, it is lifeless and soon will be dead. But spiritual excitement without the teaching of the Word of God can be very dangerous. Prophetic ministry needs to be evaluated (1 Corinthians 14:29-33). False teaching needs to be correct by the truth (Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1-5, Colossians 2:8-9, 1 Timothy 4:1-6).

4:25-26 Together with other Samaritans the woman had believed that the Messiah would come one day. Jesus now tells her it is the Messiah himself who has met her (for Messiah see 1:17, 24, 41, 49).

4:27 As with many other cultural traditions that Jesus ignored, the disciples were "astonished." In this case because he went against Jewish custom (still common in the Middle East) that men do not talk to women who are not part of their immediate family. But they knew better than to question his freedom to do this.

4:28-30 Normally a woman would not leave her water jar at the well, but she was so excited she went and told people of her strange encounter. Could this be the Messiah? And out of curiosity people walked out to the well.

4:31-34 Now it is the disciples turn to miss the point of a metaphor. Jesus has been so moved by the woman's response that he feels inwardly invigorated. They had left him tired and sitting on the well, and now they wonder if someone has brought him food. His comment expresses the satisfaction of anyone who knows there is special work to do for God. "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work."

4:35-36 Jesus then uses another metaphor that pictures the work of goodnewsing as harvesting. The woman's response suggests that a huge harvest is ready to be reaped, and the Messiah is already rejoicing at the "fruit for eternal life" (see comments on 3:16, 36, 4:14).

4:37-38 There was apparently a saying that "One sows and another reaps." And Jesus applies this to the work of his apostles. They had already been sent on preaching missions (Matthew 10:5-8), and he reminds them that their harvesting had been preceded by the labors of others. Although much of what had been taught in the synagogues needed correcting (as was done in the Sermon on the Mount) much of the teaching about the God of Abraham and the Exodus, the prayers in the Psalms, and the work of the Old Testament prophets had prepared the Jewish people for the preaching of the Kingdom.

4:39-41 Although the Messiah was committed to working first among "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6, 15:24), he was willing to be persuaded to do the unthinkable and stay two more days among those first Samaritan disciples. As a result "many more believed" which suggests they were baptized and began learning by the Spirit (see 4:14, 23-24, 7:38-39).

4:42 Hearing the story of the woman was sufficient to get the people interested. Later the faith of disciples beginning to learn changed to the certainty of "we know." Similarly Peter and other disciples moved from the faith to begin learning to the assurance of faith (Matthew 16:13-16, see Colossians 2:2). The same sequence of interest because of someone's personal testimony, that is later followed by the assurance that gives solid certainty, occurs again and again wherever churches have been established.

4:43-5:15 Other Signs