[(3) JESUS MANIFESTS HIMSELF PUBLICLY (continued):
(d)In Samaria (John 4:1-42). The woman of Samaria, and the living water (John 4:1-16). The people of Samaria, and the fields white unto harvest (John 4:17-42);
(e)In Galilee (John 4:43-54). Received by the people. The courtier’s faith.]
The report which reached John (John 3:26) had come to them also, and the inference from His retirement is that it had excited their hostility. The hour to meet this has not yet come, and He withdraws to make, in a wider circle, the announcement which He has made in the Temple, in Jerusalem, in Judæa, and is about to make in Samaria and in Galilee.
Sychar involves questions of greater uncertainty. The reading may be regarded as beyond doubt, the attempts to substitute “Sychem,” or “Sichem” being obviously made to avoid the topographical difficulty. The older geographers, followed by many modern commentators, suppose the word to be an intentional variation of the word Sychem, by which the Jews expressed their contempt for the city of the Samaritans, the sound being very nearly that of the Hebrew words for “lie” and “drunken.” Others suppose the change of termination is a natural dialectic variation. (Comp. Ben, the Hebrew for son, as in Benjamin, Genesis 35:18, which in the later language became Bar, as in Simon Bar-Jona, Matthew 16:17.) These explanations assume that Sychar is the same place as Shechem; but it is very improbable that St. John would have spoken of a city so well known as Shechem with the prefix “which is called,” or would have thought it necessary to define it as “near to the parcel of ground. . . .” The only other places with the same prefix are Ephraim (John 11:54), the Pavement (John 19:13), and Golgotha (John 19:17), but in the latter instances, as in the mention of Thomas called Didymus (John 11:16; John 20:24), the words do not imply a soubriquet (comp. Farrar, Life of Christ, i. 206, note, and Grove in Smith’s Dictionary of Bible, “Sychar”), but are a citation of the names in Hebrew and Greek, for the benefit of Greek readers. To assert that Sychar is meant to convey a double meaning is to imply that this would be understood by readers for whom it is necessary to translate Gabbatha and Golgotha, Thomas and Cephas (John 1:42), for whom Messias has been rendered in Greek in John 1:41, and is to be again in this very discourse (John 4:25). Shechem, moreover, was then known by the Greek name Neapolis, which has become the present Naplûs (see Ewald in loc., and comp. Jos. Wars, iv.), and this name would have been as natural in this Gospel as, e.g., Tiberias, which is found in it only (John 6:1; John 6:23; John 21:1). Nor can it be said that Shechem was near to Jacob’s well, for admitting that the old city extended considerably “farther eastward than at present,” it must still have been more than a mile distant.
As early as the fourth century, Sychar was distinguished from Shechem by Eusebius, Jerome, and the Bordeaux Pilgrim, and the name also occurs in the Talmud. (See quotations in Wieseler’s Synopsis, p. 231 of the Eng. Trans.) It is still found in the modern village Askar, about half a mile north from Jacob’s well. A plan and description of the neighbourhood, by Dr. Rosen, Prussian Consul at Jerusalem, appeared in the Journal of the German Oriental Society (xiv. 634), and the results of this are now accessible to the English reader in the translation of Caspari’s Introduction (p. 124). (Comp. Dr. Thomson’s The Land and the Book, John 31) The identification is accepted by Ewald, Godet, and Luthardt, among modern writers. Mr. Grove (Art. “Sychar,” as above), inclines to it, but, as he says, “there is an etymological difficulty . . . ‘Askar begins with the letter ‘Ain, which Sychar does not appear to have contained; a letter too stubborn and enduring to be easily either dropped or assumed in a name.” One is tempted to think it possible that this ‘Ain is the first letter of the word for Spring or Fountain, the plural of which occurs in Ænon, in John 3:23, and that ‘A-Sychar (well of Sychar) = ‘Askar.
The parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.—The reference is to the blessing of Joseph in Genesis 48:22, which is translated by Kalisch, “And I give to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I take out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.” The patriarch is confident that he will, in his posterity, drive out the Amorite and possess the land promised him by God (John 4:4; John 4:21). In that land there is a portion where Abraham had raised his first altar, and received the first promise that his seed should possess that land (Genesis 12:6-7). That portion had been his own first halting-place on his return from Padan-aram; and he, too, had erected an altar there, in a parcel of a field where his tent rested, which he bought for a hundred pieces of money, and made it sacred to El, the God of Israel (Genesis 33:18-20). It comes to his mind now, when in the last days of his life he looks on to the future and back to the past, and he gives it to his own and Rachel’s son. The Hebrew word here used for portion is “Shechem” (Shekhem), and this, as the proper names in the following chapter, has, and is meant to have, a double meaning. The Greek of the LXX. could not preserve this play upon the words, and rendered it by the proper name Sikima, understanding that the portion referred to was that at Shechem. This the children of Israel understood too, for they gave this region to Ephraim (Joshua 16), and the parcel of ground became the resting-place for the bones of Joseph (Joshua 24:32-33).
Sat thus on the well.—Better, was sitting thus at the well. The words are one of the instances of exact knowledge which meet us in this Gospel. The tense is the descriptive imperfect. He was thus sitting when the woman came. He thus recalls the picture as it was impressed and remained fixed in the writer’s mind. He saw Him, wearied by the noontide journey, sitting thus by the well, while they went on to the city to procure food. The reality of this fatigue, as one of the instances witnessing to the reality of His human nature, is important.
About the sixth hour—i.e., as elsewhere in St. John, following the ordinary mode of counting, about 12 o’clock. (Comp. Note on John 1:39.) It is contended, on the other hand, that this was not the usual time for women to resort to the wells to draw water, but the narrative perhaps implies an unusual hour, as it speaks of only one woman there.
Give me to drink is the almost always asked and almost never refused favour as the traveller meets the native by the well-side. He was wearied by the heat of the journey, and seeks the ordinary refreshment.
Meat.—Better, food, as the former word is misleading in modern English. See Genesis 1:29-30, and Deuteronomy 20:20, where herbs and fruits are termed “meat.” It will be remembered that the meat-offering did not consist of flesh, but of flour and oil and ears of corn (Leviticus 2).
Being a Jew.—This she would know from dress and language. It has been noted that the Hebrew for “Give me to drink,” “Teni lishekoth,” contains the letter Sin, or Shin, which was one of the distinctive points in the Ephraimite pronunciation. They did not say Shibboleth, but Sibboleth (Judges 12:5-6). They would not say “Teni lishekoth,” but “Teni lisekoth.”
For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.—The original has not the articles, For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. This is a remark made by the writer to explain the point of the woman’s question. She wondered that a Jew, weary and thirsty though he might be, should speak to her. For the origin of the Samaritans, see 2 Kings 17:24-41, and Note on Luke 9:52. The later Jewish authors abound in terms of reproach for them—e.g., “He who eats the bread of a Samaritan is as he who eats swine’s flesh;” “No Samaritan shall be made a proselyte;” “They have no share in the resurrection of the dead” (Pirke, Rabbi Elieser, 38; comp. Farrar, Life of Christ, i. 209, note). Jesus Himself speaks of a Samaritan as an alien (Luke 17:16; Luke 17:18; comp. Luke 10:33), and is called a Samaritan and possessed of a devil (comp. John 8:48). But the strictest Jews allowed exceptions to the forbidden intercourse. If bread was interdicted, fruit and vegetables were not; if boiled eggs were forbidden, fresh ones were not. At no time probably did the Galileans follow the practice of the Judæans in this matter, and hence they go to the city to buy food, while the woman asks this question of a Jew whom she met on the road from Jerusalem. Later, it was only “because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem “that the Samaritan village did not receive Him; and it is the Evangelist of the Jerusalem ministry, who would have called down fire from heaven then, who adds this note of explanation for his Greek readers now (Luke 9:52-53).
The woman understands the words in their physical sense. How many a toilsome hour, how many a weary journey would she be saved!
In this mountain.—Sychar was between Ebal and Gerizim, and she would point out the holy mountain with the ruins of the temple then in sight.
The contrast between “our fathers” and the emphatic “ye” carries back the thoughts to the rival temple and worship on Mount Gerizim from the time of Nehemiah. The enmity took its rise in the refusal to accept the help of the Samaritans in the restoration of the temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 4:2; comp. 2 Kings 17:24 et seq.). The next step is recorded in Nehemiah 13:28. Manasseh, the son of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, had married a daughter of Sanballat, and was chased from Jerusalem. Sanballat thereupon supported his son-in-law in establishing a rival worship, but it is not clear that the temple was built until a century later, in the time of Alexander the Great. The authority for the details of the history is Josephus (Ant. xi. 8, § 2), but he seems to confuse Sanballat the Persian satrap, with Sanballat the Horonite. In any case, from the erection of the temple on Mount Gerizim, the schism was complete. The temple was destroyed by John Hyrcanus, about B.C. 129 (Ant. xiii. 9, § 1), but the mountain on which it stood continued to be, and is to this day, the holy place of the Samaritans. All travellers in the Holy Land describe their Passover, still eaten on this mountain in accordance with the ritual of the Pentateuch. They claimed that this mountain, and not Jerusalem, was the true scene of the sacrifice of Isaac, and Gentile tradition marked it out as the meeting-place with Melchizedek (Euseb. Prœp. Evang. ix. 22). In accordance with their claim, they had changed in every instance the reading of the Pentateuch, “God will choose a spot” (Deuteronomy 12:14; Deuteronomy 18:6, &c.), into “He has chosen,” i.e., Gerizim. “Ebal,” in Deuteronomy 27:5, had become “Gerizim,” and the Ten Commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy are followed by an interpolated command to erect an altar in Mount Gerizim. Jerusalem, on the other hand, had never once been named in the Pentateuch, which was the only part of the Jewish canon which they accepted. It was but a modern city in comparison with the claim that Gerizin was a holy place from the time of Abraham downwards.
The “we” of this verse is in answer to the “ye” of John 4:20. She identifies Him with those who claim Jerusalem as the place of worship. That “ye” contained its own answer. In using it she had said that the Messiah was of the Jews.
The true worshippers.—Her distinction of place was of the accident, but the essence was the nature of the worship. What could any worship be to a God who saw the impurity of the heart, and the contradiction of thought and word? What could she know of the worship of which she speaks? Yes; and the temple at Jerusalem was a house of merchandise, instead of one of prayer; what did priest and Levite, scribe and Pharisee, know of true worship?
In spirit and in truth.—The link between human nature and the divine is in the human spirit, which is the shrine of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). All true approach to God must therefore be in spirit. (Comp. Romans 1:9, and Ephesians 6:18.) Place, and time, and words, and postures, and sounds, and all things from without, are important only in so far as they aid in abstraction from the sensible world, and in elevation of the spirit within. The moment they distract they hinder true worship. Ritual cannot be discussed without risk of spiritual loss. The words “in truth,” already expressed in true worshippers, and repeated in the following verse, are more than “truly.” Sincerity is not a test of acceptable worship, though it is a requisite. Bigots sincerely think they do God’s service. Worship which is “in truth” is in harmony with the nature of the God whom we worship. To think of God in hearing His truth, to kindle the soul by hymns of praise, to realise the earlier portions of collects and prayers which utter His attributes, are necessary to the truth of the petitions, and thanksgivings, and adorations of worship. The model prayer of Christianity brings home to the heart the Fatherhood of God in its first words.
For the Father seeketh such to worship him.—Better, for such the Father also seeketh His worshippers to be. The word “such,” i.e., of this character, is emphatic. The “also” expresses that the worship, on the part of the true worshippers, is in accordance with the divine will: “the Father also (on His part) . . .” The reader will not fail to note the emphasis in this reply on the word “Father” (John 4:21 and twice in this verse). This name of God, which we teach children to lisp in earliest years, came to her, it may be, now for the first time. He is not Vengeance to be appeased, nor Power to be dreaded, but Love to be received. (Comp. Note on John 3:16.) It is when men learn to think of God as Father that merely local and material worship must cease. The universal desire and practice of worship is the witness to a universal object of worship. The yearning of the human spirit is that of a child seeking the author of his being. The seeking is not human only. The Father also seeketh His child, and seeth him when he is a great way off (Luke 15:20).
The second “Him” (“they that worship Him”) should be omitted, as the italics show.
Am he—i.e., the Messiah. (Comp. especially Notes on John 8:24; John 8:58.)
They had left Him weary by the side of the well (John 4:6), and had gone to the town. They now return with the food they had obtained, and ask Him to partake of it.
To do the will. . . . to finish.—Better, that I may do the will, . . . that I may finish. These verbs point out the end which He ever kept in view. In some of the best MSS., and in the received text, the tenses are different. That. I may be constantly doing the will of Him that sent Me, and may then at last complete His work. (Comp. John 17:4.)
This work He speaks of here, and in John 4:32, as actual food, as the supply of the truest needs, and the satisfaction of the truest desires of His nature. (Comp. Note on Matthew 4:4.) Analogies to this are within the limits of every man’s experience, and, faint as they are, help us to learn something of what this spiritual sustenance was. The command of duty, the cheering power of hope, the stimulus of success, are forces that supply to weak and weary nerves and muscles, the vigour of a new life. Under them the soldier can forget his wounds, the martyr smile at the lion or the flame, the worn-out traveller still plod onward at the thought of home. We cannot analyse this power, but it exists. They have food to eat that those without know not of.
Four months.—This gives us probably a note on time. There is no evidence that it was a proverbial saying, and the form of the sentence is against the supposition. The legal beginning of harvest was fixed (Leviticus 23:10; Deuteronomy 16:9) for the 16th of Nisan (April). This would give us in that year, which was a Jewish leap-year, with a month added (Wieseler’s Synopsis, Eng. Trans., p. 187), some time about the middle of the month Tebeth (January) as the date of this conversation. (Comp. John 5:1.) For the idea of the harvest, comp. Matthew 9:36-38, and the parable of the Sower, Matthew 13:3 et seq.
Other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.—Or, others have laboured. In the immediate application to the present case, the “others” is to be interpreted of Christ Himself, who had been sowing during their absence, and it may be of the woman who has sown this seed by her testimony to the Samaritans. Or the plural may be chosen as in contrast with the plural ye, and as pointing to the general truth, while the immediate reference is to Christ only.
And there was a certain nobleman.—The margin shows the difference of opinion among-our translators as to what English word gives the true idea of the position of the person who is in the text called “nobleman.” The Greek word is an adjective formed from the word for “king,” and as a substantive occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is frequent in Josephus, who uses it in our sense of courtier, or for a civil or military officer, but not for one of the royal family. The king, whose “king’s man” is here spoken of, was almost certainly Herod Antipas, who was left the kingdom in his father’s first will, and is called “king” by St. Matthew (Matthew 14:9) and by St. Mark (Mark 6:14). The person here named may therefore be a “royalist” or “Herodian” (comp. Matthew 22:16; Mark 3:6), but in a domestic incident like this the reference would be to his social position rather than to his political opinions. Perhaps “king’s officer” represents the vagueness of the original better than any other English term. It is not improbable that the person was Chuza, and that his wife’s presence in the band of women who followed Christ (Luke 8:3) is to be traced to the restoration of her child. For the position of Capernaum, see Note on Matthew 4:13.
Ye will not believe.—The negative is in its strongest form, Ye will by no means believe.
Had spoken unto him.—Better, spake unto him. The word he believed was that spoken then.
Yesterday at the seventh hour.—We have seen (John 1:39) that there is no sufficient reason for thinking that St. John uses the western method of counting the hours of the day. Still less is it likely that Galilean servants, who are here the speakers, should have done so. To believe, moreover, that it was seven o’clock in the morning or evening adds to, and does not remove, the difficulty of the length of time implied in “yesterday.” To say that the father remained some time with Jesus, and that “the believer doth not make haste,” is to pervert both the spirit and the words of the text. He clearly went at once (John 4:50), and his anxiety naturally quickened his speed. The distance was not more than twenty-five English miles, and he had not travelled the whole of it, for the servants had gone to meet him. The supposed explanation cannot therefore be explained. But the words, if taken in their simple meaning, involve no such difficulty. These Jews, as all Jews, meant by the “seventh hour” the seventh from sunrise, what we should call one o’clock. After sunset the same evening they would have commenced a new day (comp. Excursus F.), and this seventh hour would be to them as one o’clock the day before, or the seventh hour yesterday. We have thus an interval of five or six hours between the words spoken by our Lord and their confirmation by the servants.
Himself believed.—This is a yet higher faith. He believed the report before he went to Cana. He believed personally when he pleaded, “Lord, come down.” He believed the word that Jesus spake when told to go his way, and every step of that road going away from the power to the sufferer was an act of faith; but still there is place for a fuller faith, and he and his household became believers. St. John traces here, as before, in the case of the Samaritans (John 4:41-42), and of the disciples themselves (John 2:11), the successive development of faith.
This miracle of healing naturally brings to the thoughts the healing of the centurion’s servant. See Notes on Matthew 8:5 et seq., and Luke 7:2 et seq. To some minds, from Irenæus downwards, the resemblance has seemed so striking that nothing short of identification could explain it. But there is no a priori reason why two miracles should not be performed under circumstances in some respects analogous, and the knowledge of the healing in this case may well have led to the faith in that. If we bear in mind that the miracle is ever to be regarded as the parable in act, it is probable that the acts of Christ would be repeated. Repetition is a part of the method of every great teacher, and formed a large part in the Rabbinic systems Jesus Christ was, it is true, infinitely above .all human teachers, but His hearers were ordinary men, and His teaching and working must have adapted itself to the constitution of the human mind. A comparison of the present narratives will establish the following points of difference, which in their totality amount, it is believed, to little short of proof, that St. John has added the history of a sign which is not recorded in the earlier Gospels.
(1) It is here a nobleman who pleads for his son; there a centurion for his servant (Matthew 8:6; Luke 7:2).
(2) Here the pleading is in person; there the elders of the Jews intercede (Luke 7:3).
(3) Here the nobleman is almost certainly a Jew; there the centurion is certainly a Gentile (Matthew 8:10 et seq.; Luke 7:9).
(4) Here the words of miracle are spoken at Cana; there at Capernaum (Matthew 8:5; Luke 7:1).
(5) Here the illness is a fever; there paralysis (Matthew 8:6).
(6) Here the father pleads that Jesus will go down with him; there the centurion deprecates His going, and asks Him to command with a word only (Matthew 8:7; Luke 7:7).
(7) Here the Lord speaks the word only, and does not go down; there apparently He does both (Matthew 8:13; Luke 7:6).
(8) Here the Lord blames the half-faith which demands signs and wonders; there He marvels at the fulness of faith, and, it may be in reference to this very nobleman, says, “In no one have I found so great faith in Israel” (Matthew 8:10).