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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

John 4

 

 

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Verses 1-3

John 4:1-3. When the Lord knew — Without receiving information from any one; how the Pharisees — Whose interest in the sanhedrim was very great; had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John — To shun the effects of their envy and malice, which were hereby excited; he left Judea — After having continued there, it seems, about eight months; and departed again into Galilee — His former place of abode, where the influence and power of the council were not so great, and where his presence was necessary, as the ministry of his forerunner in that country was now brought to a period. It seems the testimony which the Baptist had given to Christ, together with the miracles which he himself had wrought at Jerusalem during the passover, had greatly impressed the minds of the people; so that vast numbers, during his abode in those parts, were continually flocking around him, and many attached themselves to him as his followers; a circumstance which gave great umbrage to the Pharisees. For these men claimed it as the privilege of their sect to direct the consciences of the people, and were therefore enraged to find such numbers of them acknowledging, as the Messiah, one whose birth and fortune so little suited the notions which they had taught concerning the great deliverer of the nation. The evangelist informs us, that Jesus himself baptized not — Perhaps because it was not proper to baptize in his own name, and because it was of more importance to preach than to baptize, 1 Corinthians 1:17. Besides, it might have given those who were baptized by him occasion to value themselves above others, as happened in the church of Corinth, where the brethren valued themselves upon the character of the persons who had baptized them. Indeed the baptism properly Christ’s was that of the Holy Ghost, with which Spirit John had foretold he should baptize his followers. See Macknight.


Verses 4-6

John 4:4-6. And he must needs go through Samaria — The road from Judea to Galilee lying directly through it. Then cometh he — In the progress of his journey; to a city of Samaria, called Sychar — The original name of the place was Sichem, or Shechem, but now the Jews called it Sychar, which name they used as a term of reproach, intimating thereby that it was the seat of drunkards, see Isaiah 28:1; near to the parcel of ground that Jacob — Having purchased it of the children of Hamor, Genesis 33:19; gave to his son Joseph — By a particular grant. See Genesis 48:22; Joshua 24:32. The word χωριον, here rendered parcel, is translated by Dr. Campbell, heritage, as meaning, he observes, an estate in land; and that, since the estate here spoken of was given by the patriarch to his son Joseph, to be possessed by him and his posterity, it may be properly denominated heritage. Now Jacob’s well was there — A well so called, as having been used by Jacob and his family, while he dwelt in those parts. See Genesis 33:18; Genesis 35:4. Jesus, being wearied with his journey — For he was subject to all the innocent infirmities of human nature; sat thus — Weary as he was, on the side of the well; and it was about the sixth hour — Or just high noon: so that the heat co-operated with the fatigue of the journey to increase both his thirst and faintness. It must be observed, that in the latitude in which Judea lies, the weather is sometimes exceeding hot at noon, even in December, and on days when the cold has been very severe in the morning.


Verse 7-8

John 4:7-8. There cometh — At the very juncture of time; a woman of Samaria to draw water — The providence of God so ordering it, that she might have an opportunity of hearing the truth, in order to her salvation. Jesus — With a view to introduce a discourse which he graciously intended should be the means of her conversion; saith to her, Give me to drink — And it is remarkable, that in this one conversation he brought her to that knowledge which the apostles were so long in attaining. For his disciples were gone unto the city — Otherwise they might have assisted him to get water, and he would not have needed to have asked her.


Verse 9

John 4:9. Then saith the woman, How is it that thou, being a Jew — As it appears by thy habit and dialect thou art; askest drink of me, &c., for the Jews have no dealings — Or rather, no friendly intercourse; with the Samaritans — They would receive no kind of favour from them. That the expression, no dealings, as Dr. Campbell justly observes, “implies too much to suit the sense of this passage, is manifest from the preceding verse, where we are told, that the disciples were gone into the Samaritan city Sychar to buy food. The verb συγχραομαι, is one of those called απαξ λεγομενα, once used: it does not occur in any other place of the New Testament, or in the Septuagint. The Pharisees were in their traditions nice distinguishers. Buying and selling with the Samaritans were permitted, because that was considered as an intercourse merely of interest or convenience; borrowing and lending, much more asking or accepting any favour, was prohibited; because that was regarded as an intercourse of friendship, which they thought it impious to maintain with those whom they looked upon as the enemies of God.”


Verses 10-12

John 4:10-12. Jesus answered — And in his answer shows her that he was not under the power of such common prejudices; If thou knewest the gift of God — Which he is now bestowing on mankind by his Son; meaning the Holy Spirit and its fruits, styled, as here, δωρεα του θεου, the gift of God, Acts 8:20, and η δωρεα, the gift, Acts 11:17; and who it is that saith unto thee, Give me to drink — How great a person he is who is now conversing with thee. Instead of scrupling to grant him so small a favour, thou wouldest have asked συ αν ητησας, thou surely wouldest have asked; of him, and he — Without objecting to thee on account of the people unto whom thou belongest; would readily have given thee living water — Water incomparably better than that which thou art drawing. By this our Lord intended to signify his ability and readiness to communicate those influences and graces of the Holy Spirit, which refresh the soul that earnestly desires them, as water refreshes a thirsty person. The influences of the Holy Spirit are termed living water also, John 8:38; and water of life, Revelation 21:6; and Revelation 22:1; Revelation 22:17; and clean water, Ezekiel 36:26-27. The phrase, living water, frequently signifying, in the language of Judea, only springing water, or running water, in opposition to that which stagnates, the woman mistook his meaning and replied, Thou hast nothing to draw with ουτε αντλημα εχεις, thou hast not a bucket, nor any other instrument wherewith thou canst draw the water; and this well — The only spring hereabout; is deep: from whence then hast thou — Whence canst thou obtain; that living water — Of which thou speakest? Or, what is the extraordinary supply which thou declarest may be had from thee? Mr. Maundrell tells us, that the well, now shown as Jacob’s, is thirty- five yards deep. Art thou greater — “Art thou a person of greater power, or more in favour with God; than our father Jacob — That thou canst procure water by supernatural means? He was obliged to dig this well, in order to provide drink for himself and his family: canst thou create water?” Although this woman speaks of Jacob as the father, or progenitor of the Samaritans, they were in truth not his progeny, but the descendants of those nations which the king of Assyria placed there in the room of the Israelites, whom he carried away captive, 2 Kings 17:24; who gave us the well — In Joseph their supposed father; and drank thereof himself — So even he, great and holy as he was, had no better water than this. Observe here, reader, the reason why men are indifferent about the inestimable gift of God here spoken of, the Holy Spirit, and either do not sincerely and earnestly apply to God in prayer for it, or apply without success, is not their knowledge, and their preservation thereby from enthusiasm, but their ignorance, and their being destitute of all true religion through that ignorance. If, as Jesus says of this woman, they knew this gift of God, knew its nature, excellence, necessity, and attainableness, and together therewith the way of attaining it; and that Christ has received it for them, and how willing, as well as able, he is to bestow it, they surely would ask it of him, and he would not fail to give them this living water.


Verses 13-15

John 4:13-15. Jesus said, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again — How much soever this water may be esteemed, and though it may refresh the body, and allay its thirst for a little while, yet the appetite will soon return, even if it be drunk ever so plentifully. But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him — Will find it so reviving and satisfying to his soul; that he will never thirst — Be without refreshment, dissatisfied, or unhappy; that is, provided he continue to drink thereof. If ever his thirst, or his dissatisfaction and uneasiness return, it will be the fault of the man, not of the water. But the water that I shall give him — The Spirit of faith and love, hope and joy, of holiness and happiness; shall be in him — An inward, living principle; a well of water — A fountain, as πηγη signifies. A well is soon exhausted. Springing — αλλομενου, bubbling up, and flowing on into everlasting life, which is a continence, or rather an ocean of streams arising from this fountain. “Some would render the original expression, ου μη διψηση εις τον αιωνα, (instead of shall never thirst,) shall not thirst for ever: but not to urge how much this spoils the antithesis, the expression used, John 6:35, ου μη διψηση πωποτε, is not liable to any such ambiguity. The force and truth of our Lord’s assertion seems to lie in this, that the most impatient and restless desires of the soul being satisfied, when it is fixed on God as its supreme happiness, other thirst was not worth being mentioned.” — Doddridge. The woman — Still ignorant of our Lord’s meaning, and understanding him as speaking only of natural water; saith unto him, Sir, give me this water — Extraordinary as it is, according to thy declaration; that I thirst not — Any more for ever, and may be saved the trouble of coming every day so far for water. She seems to have had a mind to turn Christ’s words into ridicule. It therefore became necessary that he should open to her a new scene, and, by bringing her besetting sin to remembrance, touch her in a tender part, as he does in the next words.


Verses 16-18

John 4:16-18. Jesus saith, Go call thy husband — What Christ had said to her concerning his grace and eternal life, he found had made little impression upon her, because she had not been convinced of sin; therefore, waiving the discourse about the living water, he sets himself to awaken her conscience, and proceeds to open the wounds of her depravity and guilt, that she might better understand, and more readily receive, the remedy provided by grace. The woman — Conscious of the sinfulness of the way in which she had lived, but desirous to evade conviction, and thinking to conceal her shame; said, I have no husband — She wished to be thought a maid or a widow; whereas, though she had no husband, she was neither. Jesus said, Thou hast well said — That is, thou hast spoken the truth, in saying, I have no husband; for, I well know, thou hast had five husbands — Doubtless it was not her affliction, the burying of so many husbands, but her sin, that Christ intended to upbraid her with. Either she had forsaken some of her husbands and married others, or by her undutiful, unchaste, or otherwise improper conduct, had provoked them to divorce her; or by indirect means, and contrary to the law, she had divorced them. He whom thou now hast is not thy husband — Either she was never married to him at all; or, which is more probable, one or more of her former husbands were living, so that, in fact, she lived in adultery.


Verse 19-20

John 4:19-20. The woman saith, Sir, I perceive thou art a prophet — “To find a person who was a perfect stranger, and who, on account of the national animosity, could not be suspected of having any intercourse with her townsmen, or with the Samaritans in general, discovering, nevertheless, the most secret particulars of her life, made so sensible an impression on her mind, that she could not but confess such a degree of knowledge more than natural; and consequently, that the person possessed of it was a prophet, and had it communicated to him by divine inspiration.” Our fathers worshipped, &c. — The instant she perceived that the person conversing with her was a prophet, being glad of the opportunity, and perhaps, also, desiring to shift the discourse to a subject less disagreeable to her, she proposes what she thought the most important of all questions; Our fathers worshipped on this mountain — As if she had said, True, I have been a sinful woman, and have not worshipped and served God as I ought, but if I wished to worship and serve him, I know not where I ought to do it, whether on this mountain, (pointing, probably, to mount Gerizim, at the foot of which Sychar was built,) as the Samaritans say, or in Jerusalem, which you Jews affirm to be the only place where God can be acceptably worshipped. It is well known, and necessary to be recollected here, that Sanballat, by the permission of Alexander the Great, had built a temple upon mount Gerizim, for Manasseh his son-in-law, who, for marrying Sanballat’s daughter, had been expelled from the priesthood and from Jerusalem, Nehemiah 13:28. This was the place where the Samaritans used to worship, in opposition to Jerusalem. The woman, in saying, Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, plainly refers to Abraham and Jacob, (from whom the Samaritans pretended to deduce their genealogy,) who erected altars in this place, Genesis 12:6-7; and Genesis 33:18; Genesis 33:20; and possibly to the whole congregation, who were directed, when they came into the land of Canaan, to put the blessing upon mount Gerizim, Deuteronomy 11:29. And though Hyrcanus, the son of Simon, who succeeded his father as high-priest, and prince of the Jews, had long ago destroyed the temple which Sanballat built here, (Jos. Antiq., John 13:9,) yet it is plain that the Samaritans still resorted thither to worship, having, doubtless, rebuilt it, though probably in a meaner manner.


Verse 21

John 4:21. Jesus saith to her — In answer to this case of conscience; Believe me — Our Lord uses this expression only once, and that to a Samaritan. To his own people, the Jews, his usual language is, I say unto you. The hour cometh — Which will put an entire end to this controversy; when ye — Both Jews and Samaritans; shall neither worship in this mountain, nor at Jerusalem — As preferable to any other place: nay, when an end will be put to the worship at both places; and the true worship shall be no longer confined to any one place or nation. As if our Lord had said, Thou art expecting the hour to come, when either by some divine revelation, or some signal providence, this matter shall be decided in favour of Jerusalem or mount Gerizim; but I tell thee, the hour is at hand when it shall be no more a question: that which thou hast been taught to lay so much stress on, shall be set aside as a thing indifferent. Our Lord meant that the approaching dissolution of the Jewish economy, and the erection of the evangelical dispensation, should set this matter at rest, and lay all things respecting it in common, so that it should be perfectly indifferent whether in either of those places, or any other, men should worship God. Observe, reader, the worship of God is not now, under the gospel, appropriated to any place, as it was under the law: but it is his will that men should pray, give thanks, and worship and serve him everywhere. Our reason teaches us, indeed, to consult decency and convenience with respect to the places of our worship; but our religion enjoins that we give no preference to one place above another, in respect of holiness and acceptableness to God. They who prefer any act of worship merely for the sake of the house or building in which it is performed, (though it were as magnificent, and as solemnly consecrated as ever Solomon’s temple was,) forget that the hour is come when there should be no difference put in God’s account; no, not between Jerusalem, which had been so famous for sanctity, and the mount of Samaria, which had been so infamous for impiety.


Verse 22

John 4:22. Ye worship ye know not what — Or rather, as the original words, υμεις προσκυνειτε ο ουκ οιδατε, ye worship what ye know not, that is, ye Samaritans are ignorant, not only of the place, but, in a great measure, also of the very object of worship. They believed indeed, in a sense, in the one living and true God, as the Jews did; drawing their knowledge of him from the five books of Moses, the authority of which they acknowledged. But as they did not receive the writings of the prophets as canonical, or of divine inspiration, it is not to be supposed that they were, in general, so well acquainted with God, and the service he required, as the Jews were. On the contrary, it is probable that they were sunk into a state of gross ignorance in these respects. For, if the writings of the prophets were of importance for conveying to mankind the knowledge of the perfections and will of God, the Samaritans, who rejected all those writings, must, on this head, have been more ignorant than the Jews. Doubtless, many of them were like their progenitors, of whom we read, (2 Kings 17:32,) that they feared the Lord, namely, after a fashion; but, at the same time, served their own gods, that is, they joined the worship of idols with his worship: or worshipped him merely as a local deity, as is plainly intimated, John 4:26-27 of that chapter, where they twice term him, the God of the land. We know what we worship — Or rather, as the Greek is, we worship what we know, or, we know the God we worship. Our Lord and his disciples, and such Jews as were pious, certainly knew the God they worshipped; and the Jews in general had much more correct ideas of the nature and attributes of God than the Samaritans had. Christ elsewhere condemns the corruptions of the Jewish worship; yet here defends their worship with regard to its object: for we may be right with respect to the object of our worship, even when there is much that is faulty and corrupt in the manner of it. For salvation is of the Jews — All the prophets spoke of the Saviour as one that should come out of the Jewish nation, and that through him the knowledge of the true God, and of the true way of worshipping and serving him, should be communicated to the rest of mankind. For, as the author of salvation came of the Jews, appeared among them, and was sent first to bless them, affording them, in an extraordinary way, the means of salvation; so the word of salvation was of them, and was delivered to them, to be derived from them to other nations. This was a sure guide to them in their worship, and they who followed it knew what they worshipped. As they, therefore, were thus privileged and advanced, it was presumption for the Samaritans to vie with them.


Verse 23

John 4:23. But the hour cometh and now is — The fixed and stated time, concerning which it was of old determined when it should come, even the accepted time and day of salvation. And when our Lord thus spoke, it was coming in its full strength, lustre, and perfection. As if he had said, The thing you are chiefly concerned to know is, that a dispensation of religion is now beginning, under which all languages, countries, and places being sanctified, men are to worship God, not in Jerusalem, but in their hearts, and by their lives; by offering the sacrifice, not of beasts, but of themselves; the thing signified by every sacrifice and service enjoined in the law, and what alone was acceptable to the Father, even under the legal dispensation; when the true worshippers — And what does it avail to be a false worshipper? shall worship the Father — Shall worship God as a Father, even as a reconciled Father in Christ, who hath made them his children through faith in him, (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26,) by adoption and regeneration, see note on Matthew 6:9; in spirit and truth — In spirit, and therefore in truth: that Isaiah , 1 st, In our spirit, or inwardly in our minds and hearts, adoring his majesty, revering his power, humbled before his purity, confiding in his mercy, praising him for his benefits, loving him for his unspeakable love to us; being subject to his sway, obedient to his will, resigned under his dispensations, devoted to his glory, and aspiring after a closer union with him, and a more full conformity to him. And all this, 2d, Through the illuminating, quickening, and comforting influences of his Spirit; without which our worship is but a shadow without substance, a form without power, a body without a soul: the lifeless image of worship, without truth and reality: nay, a mere lie. For when we ask blessings, which we do not sincerely desire and expect to receive; thank God for favours for which we feel no gratitude; sit down to hear that word of which we neither intend nor desire to be doers, our worship is hypocrisy and a lie: as it is also when we have not within us, during our pretended worship, affections and dispositions suited to his divine attributes, and the relations in which he is pleased to stand to us. For to worship him without reverence and humility, is to say, in effect, that he is not great and glorious, just and holy; to do it without confidence and gratitude, is saying in our spirit that he is not merciful, kind, and beneficent; to worship him without love and obedience, subjection and resignation, is to deny his love to us, and his authority over us, as our Creator, Preserver, Benefactor, Redeemer, Saviour, Friend, and Father; and the wisdom, justice, and goodness of his dispensations: that is, it is to worship him in a lie. For whether we say, by our spirit and conduct, that he possesses these perfections or not, it is certain he does possess them, and our not acknowledging it, and being properly influenced thereby, is, in effect, to deny it, and to affirm he is not the being that he is, and does not possess the attributes that he does possess. For the Father seeketh such to worship him — Desires and approves of such worshippers, and sends his word and Spirit, his gospel and his grace, to form such. The expression implies, 1st, That such worshippers are very rare, and seldom found. The gate of spiritual worship is strait. 2d, That such worship is necessary, and what the God of heaven requires and insists upon. When God comes to inquire for worshippers, the question will not be, Who worshipped at Jerusalem? but, who worshipped in spirit and truth? That will be the touchstone, or test, whereby men’s religion will be tried, and whereby they will stand or fall in the day of final accounts.


Verse 24

John 4:24. God is a Spirit. &c. — “As a further answer to the woman’s question, our Lord delivered a doctrine which may justly be called his own, as it exhibits an idea of God, and of the worship which is due to him, far more sublime than the best things said by the philosophers on that subject.” Christ came to declare God to us, and this he has declared concerning him, that he is a Spirit, and he declared it to this poor Samaritan woman, for the meanest are concerned to know God; and with this design, to rectify her mistakes concerning religious worship, to which nothing could contribute more than the right knowledge of God. 1st, God is a Spirit, for he is an infinite and eternal mind; an intelligent being, yea, the supreme Intelligence, who by one act sees the thoughts of all other intelligences whatever, and so may be worshipped in every place; he is incorporeal, immaterial, invisible, and incorruptible: for it is easier to say what he is not than what he is. If God were not a Spirit, he could not be perfect, nor infinite, nor eternal, nor independent, nor the Father of spirits. Now, 2d, on this spirituality of the divine nature is founded the necessity of the spirituality of divine worship; for the worship of God must partake of his nature: as his nature is spiritual, his worship, to be acceptable, must be so likewise. If we do not worship God, who is a Spirit, in spirit, we neither give him the glory due to his name, and so do not perform a real and proper act of worship, nor can we hope to attain his favour, and acceptance with him, and so we miss the end of worship. The exercise of faith and love, therefore, and of other graces, must constitute the true spiritual worship which we owe to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and which cannot but be acceptable to him, wherever it is offered, in whatever place, and by whatever person.


Verse 25-26

John 4:25-26. The woman saith, I know that Messias cometh — She probably meant from among the Jews. The Jews and Samaritans, though so much at variance in other things, agreed in the expectation of the Messiah and his kingdom. This the Samaritans probably grounded on the writings of Moses, which, as has been observed, they received as of divine authority. It was also, doubtless, strengthened by the slight acquaintance which they had with the writings of the prophets, and by the hopes which they knew were entertained by the Jewish nation, not to mention the general expectation which now prevailed in many parts of the East, that a great prince was soon to arise in Judea; which is called Christ — It would appear from the manner in which this clause is expressed, that it was spoken by the woman; and yet it is manifest that could not have been the case. “Our Lord and the woman spoke a dialect of the Chaldee, at that time the language of the country, and in the New Testament called Hebrew, wherein Messiah was the proper term, and consequently needed not to be explained to either of them into Greek, which they were not speaking, and which was a foreign language to both. But it was very proper for the evangelist, who wrote in Greek, and in the midst of those who did not understand Chaldee, when introducing an oriental term, to explain it for the sake of his Greek readers.” — Campbell. When he is come, he will tell us all things — Relating to the service of God, which it is necessary for us to know: he will supply our defects of knowledge, rectify our mistakes, and put an end to all our disputes, and will make us fully acquainted with the mind and will of God. The woman seems to have spoken this with joy for what she had already learned, and with a desire of fuller instruction. Jesus saith — Hasting to satisfy her desire before his disciples came; I that speak unto thee am he — Our Lord did not speak of himself thus plainly to the Jews, because, as they were full of expectation that the Messiah, when he came, would erect a glorious temporal kingdom, and constitute them a free, happy, and prosperous people, if Jesus had openly professed to be that expected deliverer of their nation, many of them would doubtless have taken up arms in his favour, and others have accused him to the Roman governor. Yet he did, in effect, declare what implied it, though he declined using and applying to himself the particular title. For in a multitude of places he represented himself both as the Son of man, and as the Son of God: both which expressions were generally understood by the Jews as peculiarly applicable to the Messiah.


Verse 27

John 4:27. Upon this came his disciples — Who, as was said before, were gone into the city to buy food; and marvelled that he talked with the woman — Or rather (as the word γυναικος is without the article) with a woman, which the Jewish rabbies reckoned it scandalous for a man of distinction to do. And that the disciples were not, in such things, superior to the prejudices of their countrymen, is manifest from the whole of their history. They marvelled likewise at his talking with a woman of that nation, which was so peculiarly hateful to the Jews. Yet no man said to the woman, What seekest thou? — Or to Christ, Why talkest thou with her?


Verses 28-30

John 4:28-30. The woman then — Seeing other company coming up to interrupt the discourse, immediately left her water-pot — Or pail, behind her, forgetting smaller things, while her thoughts were engrossed with matters of the greatest importance; and went her way with all haste into the city — Where she published the news in the streets, and said to all she met with, Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did — Even the most secret circumstances of my past life. Our Lord had told her but a few things, but his words awakened her conscience, which soon told her all the rest. Is not this the Christ? — She does not doubt of it herself, but speaks thus to excite them to make the inquiry. Then they went out of the city, &c. — The Samaritans, struck both with wonder and curiosity, did not delay, but accompanied her instantly, wishing, no doubt, that her news might prove true.


Verses 31-34

John 4:31-34. In the mean while — Before the people came; his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat — They set the meat, which they had brought, before him, and requested him to partake of it, knowing how much he needed refreshment. But he said, I have meat to eat that ye know not of — Meat which yields me much more refreshment than any food which you can have brought me. He refers to the conversation which he had just had with the woman, and to the expected conversion of the Samaritans. When he sat down upon the well, he was weary, and needed sustenance; but this opportunity of saving souls made him forget his weariness and hunger. Therefore said the disciples — Not understanding his words in that spiritual sense in which he had spoken them; one to another — With some surprise, considering where he was; Hath any man brought him aught to eat? — Has any one been with him while we have been absent, and supplied him with provisions? Jesus — Who knew the loss they were at to understand his meaning; saith unto them — With a view to explain it; My meat — My most refreshing and delightful food, and that which satisfies the strongest appetite of my soul; is to do the will of him that sent me, &c. — He made his work his meat and drink; namely, the work he had done, his instructing the woman, and the work he had to do among the Samaritans; the prospect he now had of doing good to many; this was to him the greatest pleasure and satisfaction imaginable. Observe here, reader, 1st, The salvation of sinners is the will of God, and the instruction of them in order thereunto, is his work, 1 Timothy 2:4. 2d, Christ was sent into the world for this purpose, to bring sinners to God, to bring them to know him, and to be happy in him. 3d, He made this work his business and delight. When his body needed food, his mind was so taken up with this, that he forgot both hunger and thirst, both meat and drink. 4th, He was not only ready, upon all occasions, to enter upon his work, but he was concerned and earnest to go through it, and finish it in all its parts. He resolved never to quit it, or lay it down till he could say, It is finished. Many have zeal to carry them out at first, and induce them to undertake the Lord’s work; but not zeal to carry them on to the last, and cause them to persevere till they have accomplished it. But our Master has herein left us an example, that we may learn to do the will of God as he did — with diligence and close application, as those that make it their business — with delight and pleasure in it, as persons in their element — with constancy and perseverance, not only inclining them to begin, but aiming at finishing their work.


Verse 35-36

John 4:35-36. Say not ye, There are yet four months, &c. — Dr. Whitby, Grotius, and many others, understand this, as if our Lord had said, It is a proverbial expression for the encouragement of husbandmen, that there are but four months between seed-time and harvest. “But I cannot acquiesce,” says Dr. Doddridge, “in this interpretation, 1st, Because none of the learned writers referred to above, nor Dr. Lightfoot, who is large on this text, could produce any such proverb. 2d, Because, indeed, there could be no foundation for it, since the distance between seed-time and harvest must differ according to the different kinds of grain in question. And, 3d, Because if there had been such a proverb, it would have been improper to apply it here, since our Lord was not speaking of the period of time between the prophets’ sowing, and the apostles’ reaping; (to which four months has no analogy;) but only means to tell them, that though they reckoned yet four months to the earthly harvest, the spiritual harvest was now ripe. So that I choose, as Sir Isaac Newton does, to take the words in their plainest sense, as an intimation that there were then four months to the beginning of harvest. And I take this passage to be of great importance for settling the chronology of Christ’s ministry.” Lift up your eyes, even now, and look on the fields round about you, for they are white already to harvest — Laden with a plentiful crop of ripe corn. He alluded to the disposition of the people in general to receive the gospel, and more particularly to the multitude of the Samaritans, who, struck with the report of the woman, were coming in such numbers as covered the ground, to inquire after him as the Messiah, and to hear his doctrine; and unto whom he pointed and directed his disciples to look, as being within their view. And, as they laboured together with him in this spiritual harvest, to encourage them, he puts them in mind of the reward, adding, And he that reapeth — The harvest of which I now speak; he that by labouring in the word and doctrine converts sinners, and turns them to God; receiveth wages — Infinitely more valuable than men can give; and gathereth fruit unto life eternal — Both saves himself and those that hear him, 1 Timothy 4:16. Christ compares the case of a faithful Christian minister to that of a considerate reaper, who is supported in his fatigue, not only by a regard to his own wages, but to the advantage which the public receives by the harvest he gathers in. This the original expression, συναγει καρπον εις ζωην αιωνιον, seems plainly to import, and so is parallel to James 5:20, He that converteth a sinner shall save a soul from death, &c., and suggests a most forcible consideration to diligence and zeal. If the spiritual reaper save his own soul, even that is fruit abounding to his account, fruit gathered to life eternal. And if, over and above this, he be instrumental in saving the souls of others too, there also is fruit gathered, good fruit, the fruit that Christ seeks for, Romans 1:13. This is the comfort of faithful ministers, that their work has a tendency to, and is instrumental of, the eternal salvation of precious souls.


Verse 37-38

John 4:37-38. Herein is that saying true — That common proverb; One soweth and another reapeth — He alludes to what often happens, namely, that after he has sown his field, a man dies before he gathers in the harvest, and so leaves it to another, who enjoys the advantage of his pains. But the application which our Lord makes of this proverb here, does not imply any discontent in the persons who sow without reaping, as it seems to do in common uses; for the sower and the reaper are represented as rejoicing together in the rewards of their spiritual husbandry. I sent you to reap that — The fruit of that; whereon ye bestowed no labour — No labour of tilling or sowing the ground. Other men laboured — Namely, the ancient prophets, in sowing the seeds of piety and virtue among the Jews, and thereby exposed themselves to great hardships, persecutions, and sufferings. And ye are entered into their labours — Ye are employed to reap the fruit of that seed which they with great difficulty sowed, for ye are gathering into the kingdom of God, into the gospel church here, and into the kingdom of glory hereafter, those who, by the writings of the prophets, having been endued with a sense of religion, are prepared for entering into it.


Verse 39-40

John 4:39-40. Many of the Samaritans believed on him — That is, believed him to be a divinely-commissioned teacher, and even the true Messiah, as appears from John 4:42; for the saying of the woman, who testified, He told me all that ever I did — A declaration which both struck and convinced them: so is God sometimes pleased to use very weak and unlikely instruments for the beginning and carrying on of a good work. And our Lord, by instructing one poor woman, here spread instruction through a whole town. Let not ministers, then, be either careless or discouraged in their preaching, because their hearers are few and mean; for by doing good to them, good may be conveyed to more, and to persons of greater influence. If believers teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, a great number may learn, and these again may teach others. Philip preached the gospel to a single person in his chariot upon the road, and he not only received it himself, but carried it into his country, and propagated it there. We see here also the good effect of speaking experimentally of Christ, and of the things of God. This woman could say little of them, but what she did say, she spake from the heart, and feelingly. Those are most likely to do good to others, who can tell what God has done for their own souls. When the Samaritans were come to him — Being greatly taken with the manner of his deportment, and the tenor of his discourse; they besought him to tarry with them — For some time at least, as being desirous of a further acquaintance with him, and of receiving further benefit from his instructions. For the meanness of his appearance, when they saw him, and the manifest poverty of his outward condition, did not lessen their esteem of him, and expectations from him. Observe, reader, we may entertain good hopes of those who have got over the vulgar prejudices that men have against true worth in a low estate. Blessed are they that are not offended in Christ at the first sight. The evangelist seems to lay an emphasis on their being Samaritans. See also Luke 10:33; Luke 17:16. The Samaritans had not that reputation for religion that the Jews had; yet the Jews, who saw Christ’s miracles, drove him from them, while the Samaritans, who saw not his miracles, nor had shared in his favours, invited him to them! The proof of the gospel’s success is not always according to probability, nor what is experienced according to what is expected. And he — Ever ready to lay hold on every opportunity of doing good, went with them to their city; and abode there two days — Which was a proper medium between entirely neglecting them, and giving them so much of his time and company as would have broken in upon the design of his journey into Galilee, or might have given umbrage to the Jews.


Verse 41-42

John 4:41-42. And many more believed — “This was the more extraordinary, as they not only had a national prejudice against him as a Jew, but, living near mount Gerizim, had a particular interest in maintaining the usual worship there; which must have been very advantageous to the neighbourhood. Perhaps on this they would no longer worship there, which might irritate the rest of the Samaritans, and in part provoke the ill usage that Christ afterward met with in this country. Luke 9:52.” — Doddridge. Because of his own word — Which commended itself to their reason and consciences, as certainly true, and infinitely important. And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying — Not chiefly on account of it; for we have heard him ourselves — Have heard such excellent and divine truths from him, accompanied with such commanding power and evidence, that we are abundantly satisfied, that this is indeed the Christ, the expected Messiah; the Saviour of the world — And not of the Jewish nation only. The Samaritans might probably collect, from what was prophesied by Jacob of the Messiah, Genesis 49:10, to him shall the gathering of the people be, that the Gentile nations were to receive some benefit by his coming, and one way or another to be subjected to him; and Christ’s discourse might confirm that apprehension. But there is no reason at all to believe they perfectly understood the doctrine of the calling of the idolatrous Gentiles, which was so long a mystery even to the apostles themselves. Thus was the seed of the gospel sown in Samaria. What effect there was of this afterward doth not appear; but we find that four or five years after, when Philip preached the gospel in Samaria, he found so much blessed remains of this good work now wrought, that the people, with one accord, gave heed to those things which Philip spoke, Acts 8:5-8; but as some were easily influenced to good now, so were others to evil afterward, when Simon Magus bewitched many with his sorceries, John 4:9-10.


Verses 43-45

John 4:43-45. After two days, he went into Galilee — That is, into the country of Galilee: but not to Nazareth, where he had spent his childhood and youth. It was at that town only that he had no honour. And therefore he passed by it, and went to other towns. Luke, speaking of this journey, says, Luke 4:14, Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit unto Galilee. See also Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14-15. The Galileans received him — Treated him courteously, and attended his ministry with a disposition to believe, having conceived a favourable opinion of him by reason of the miracles they had seen him perform in Jerusalem during the passover.


Verses 46-53

John 4:46-53. There was a certain nobleman — One belonging to the king’s court, as the word βασιλικος, here used, properly signifies. The Syriac and Arabic versions render it, a minister, or servant of the king, namely, of Herod; who, though only tetrarch of Galilee, yet was commonly distinguished by the title of king. And, as Capernaum lay in his dominions, it is probable this was one of his courtiers. The English word nobleman conveys the notion of hereditary rank, and certain dignities, to which there was nothing in Palestine, or even in Syria, that corresponded. He besought him that he would come down and heal his son — It seems the nobleman thought it necessary that Jesus should be personally present in order to his performing the cure. Therefore, to reprove the weakness of his faith, Jesus said to him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe — Or, as the latter clause may be rendered, will ye not believe? although the Samaritans believed without them. The nobleman saith, Sir, come down ere my child die — Weak as his faith was, he determined, nevertheless, to urge the matter to the utmost; and therefore, without any explanation or apology on the point concerning which Christ had reproved him, he entreats him to come down immediately, the case being so extreme, that he thought a delay might be attended with the most fatal consequences. And shall we be less importunate when soliciting spiritual blessings in behalf of our dear offspring? Especially as their lives are so precarious, and we know not how soon these lovely flowers may be cut down, and all further petitions for them be for ever superseded. Jesus saith, Go thy way, thy son liveth — Thus showing that it was not necessary for him to go in person to perform the cure. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken — Though he had never seen or heard of a parallel case. He had, indeed, heard of Christ’s miracles, but this appears to have been the first, at least it is the first recorded, in which Christ cured the patient at a distance, and probably was hitherto in this respect unequalled. And has not Jesus still the same power? Can he not heal either our bodies or souls, though not visibly present? O, let not his bodily absence abate our faith, while either praying for others or for ourselves. And he went his way — Without any further importunity. And as he was going, his servants met him — Eager to bring him the agreeable news of his son’s recovery, and to prevent him from taking the trouble of bringing Jesus down. Then inquired he when he began to amend — Being desirous to know whether it happened at the very time when Jesus said, Thy son liveth. Observe, reader, the more exactly the works of God are considered, the more faith is increased. They said, Yesterday at the seventh hour — Or at one in the afternoon; the fever left him — All of a sudden, and he was restored to health immediately. So the father knew that it was at the same hour — Or at the very time when Jesus pronounced the healing word, and that his son therefore had been miraculously cured. And himself believed, and his whole house — Namely, that Jesus, by whom so convincing and beneficent a miracle had been wrought, must be, not only, as he before supposed, some great prophet, but even the Messiah himself. What a blessed change now took place in this family, occasioned by the sickness of the child, the cure of whose body was made the means of producing faith in the souls of all; whereby salvation came to this house, and blessings infinitely more valuable than noble blood, ample possessions, or royal favour could give! Considerations of this kind should reconcile us to afflictions; for we know not what great good may arise from them. Blessed Jesus! Thy power was no less employed in working faith in the souls of the members of this family, than in curing the body of the sick child. O may that power work in such a manner in us that we may be disposed cordially to believe in and love thee, and receive all the dispensations of thy adorable providence with the most perfect resignation to, and acquiescence in, thy wise, holy, and blessed will, knowing on thy own infallible testimony by thy inspired apostle, that all things shall work together for good to them that love and trust in thee!

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on John 4:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/john-4.html. 1857.

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