B.W. Johnson Commentary on John 4:1-42
From The People's New Testament, B.W. Johnson, 1891.
1-3. When therefore the Lord knew, etc. These verses tell why Jesus ended his ministry in Judea, for the present, and departed into Galilee. The Pharisees were becoming jealous of his increasing influence and the time had not come for an open conflict.
4. He must needs go through Samaria. Because it lay right between Judea and Galilee.
5. Then cometh he to a city of Samaria. Samaria was the district, embracing the ancient city of Samaria, which lay between Judea and Galilee. The district of Samaria comprised the country formerly occupied by the tribe of Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh. When the Ten Tribes were carried to Babylon, the Assyrian king sent in other tribes to occupy the country. These mingled with the Jews left in the country, partly adopted the Jewish worship, but were contemptuously rejected by the Jews when the latter returned from the Captivity. From this time the enmity between the two races was almost bitter, and they had no dealings (see verse 9). Sychar. This place was the ancient Shechem, so famous in the early history. It was forty miles north of Jerusalem, and was situated between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, the Mounts of Blessing and Cursing (Joshua 8:30-35). Here Jacob built his first altar (Gen. 33:18); here Joseph was buried in the land given him by his father (Joshua 24:32); and here also the covenant of Israel was renewed with amens to the blessings and curses, after Joshua had conquered Canaan. It was afterwards called Neapolis, and at present a village called Nablous exists with a population of two thousand, about two hundred of whom are Samaritans and preserve their ancient worship. Near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. In this parcel Joseph was buried when Israel came up out of Egypt, his bones having been carried with them in accordance with his dying wish. His tomb is still shown and it can hardly be doubted that his bones really rest in the place pointed out.
6. Now Jacob's well was there. It is still seen by the traveler, cut through the solid rock, between eight and nine feet in diameter, and about seventy-five feet deep, though partly filled with rubbish. Jesus . . . wearied . . . sat thus on the well. The wells were usually curbed around with stone and covered. On this curb the Savior sat sheltered from the sun at noon, the sixth hour being twelve o'clock.
7, 8. There cometh a woman of Samaria. A Samaritan woman of the city of Sychar. Why she should come so far from the city for water is a matter of conjecture.
9. How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me? She saw by his dress, appearance,  and the direction whence he came that he was of the Jewish race. The antipathy between the Jews and Samaritans was so bitter that they were never wont to ask any hospitable rite. The woman's reply is not a refusal of the Lord's request, but an expression of astonishment that a Jew should ask a favor of a Samaritan.
10. If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink. The great gift of God is not water, not even peace of soul, but Christ himself, God's "unspeakable gift," "God gave his only begotten Son." Had she known, the Savior declares, Thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. Observe: (1) That Christ asks a favor in order to confer a greater one. (2) The well and the water suggest the thirst of the soul and the waters of life. Living water. Water of life. The woman thought he meant running water.
11. Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, . . . whence then hast thou that living water? She was deeply impressed by his manner and his words, but she fails to rise above the material meaning of his words.
12. Art thou greater than our father Jacob? The question indicates still further her dawning conviction of the greatness of the stranger. It was from Joseph, the son of Jacob, that the Samaritans claimed descent. Jesus spoke of giving living water; Jacob, their great ancestor, had given this well.
13. Whoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again. Her own experience would confirm his words. Nothing earthly satisfies long.
14. Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst. The water of which he speaks is a gift which he gives to humanity. It is not given to him, but is his own gift. His language is always that of the Son of God. He says, "I am the life;" "Come to me, ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;" "I am the bread of life;" "He that believeth on me shall never thirst."
15. Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not. The mysterious words of the Jewish stranger she cannot yet understand, but she is deeply stirred, and one thing seemed plain--if she could have this water she would thirst no more.
16. Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman has asked for the water; before she  can receive it she must be fully conscious of her sinfulness. Hence Jesus makes a demand that will recall her past life.
17. I have no husband. The words have their designed effect. She has a man, but not a husband.
18. Thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband. She had been married five times; the easy divorce laws of the age, permitting a "divorce for any cause," would allow many changes without the death of either party. Some of her husbands may have died; a part were almost certainly divorced. Her sixth alliance did not have even the apology of such a marriage.
19. Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Every word that Jesus had uttered had excited her wonder more and more, and when he lifted the curtain off her life, she was convinced at once of his superhuman knowledge.
20. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Partly to turn attention from her sinful life, and partly to have him settle a great controversy, she appeals to him to say where men ought to worship God. The Jews went up to Jerusalem to the temple. The Samaritans built their temples on "this mountain," Mt. Gerizim. Note that the woman worshiped there because "our fathers" did. The "fathers" were wrong. Many now keep up infant sprinkling and other corruptions because their "fathers" practiced them.
21. The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor yet in Jerusalem. Now comes the announcement of one of the grandest truths revealed by Christ, that the place is immaterial; that true, spiritual worship is essential.
22. Salvation is of the Jews. In the controversy between the Jews and Samaritans, the former were right on the great issue. The Samaritans worshiped, but knew not what they worshiped, because they rejected the prophets who would have directed them.
23. The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The time is at hand, says the Lord, when a worship of forms, or at holy places, will not meet the demands of the Father. He must be worshiped with the heart, in spirit and in truth. Spiritual worship can be offered in any land, wherever the soul can humble itself before God.
24. God is a Spirit. Rather, "God is Spirit." This declaration is fundamental. Since he is Spirit, he must receive spiritual worship, and is everywhere present.
25, 26. I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ. Her heart had been made lighter with the great hope of the world. The words of Jesus Christ carried her thoughts to that hope. He had  told her much; the Messiah would tell her all things, and give light on every dark question. She perhaps began to suspect that Jesus was the Messiah. The admission that Jesus makes, I am he, is the first recorded.
27. Upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman. His disciples had left him alone at the well, while they went to the village of Sychar to buy food. They wondered that he should talk with a woman, and especially with a Samaritan woman. It was considered by the Jews indecorous to talk with a woman in public, and the rabbins held that to talk with such an inferior creature was beneath the dignity of a doctor of the law. This illustrates the state from which woman has been lifted by the Gospel.
29. Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did. He told her some things about her own life, and conscience had told her more. She felt that all was known to him, and naturally exaggerates by saying, "He told me all my life."
32. I have meat to eat that ye know not of. "Man shall not live by bread alone." The Lord who could go forty days in the wilderness without food, in the exaltation of the soul caused by his baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit, would forget the hunger of the body also, when he was pouring out the water of life to a poor, thirsty soul.
33. Hath any man brought him aught to eat? They cannot think of spiritual food, heavenly manna, bread of life. Yet, long before, the prophet had spoken of this food and had said, "Ye that have no money, come, buy bread, and eat."
34. My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. "Meat" in the Scripture means, not only flesh, but any kind of food. The Savior declares that to do the will of God is food to him. It is enjoyment and strength. It does not weary, but refreshes.
35. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh the harvest? Harvest began about the middle of April in Palestine. The time when the Savior spoke would then be about the middle of December. But the harvest of souls was ripe already. Lift up your eyes. No doubt he pointed to the Samaritans now flocking out to see him (verse 39). 
36. He that reapeth receiveth wages. The figure is kept up. The reaper in the harvest fields receives wages, and so shall those who reap the harvest of souls; not earthly pay in money, or fame, or position, but the happiness of doing the noblest work, and beyond, the crown of life shining with stars.
37. One soweth, and another reapeth. This was a common proverb, growing out of constant human experience, true of worldly and spiritual things. How often has the patient pastor sowed, and then the evangelist has reaped in a meeting the results!
38. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour. The verb "sent" is past, and refers to some event before the present incident. The disciples had baptized multitudes, "more disciples than John" (chap. 4:1); so many that John's disciples reported "all men come unto him" (chap. 3:26). They had baptized these (4:2), reaping the fruit of John's labors.
40. So when the Samaritans were come. They insisted that he should tarry with them. A strange invitation for a Samaritan village to give to a Jew. It was also a strange thing for a Jewish teacher to accept the invitation.
41. Many more believed because of his own word. They saw and heard for themselves.
42. Know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world. To the woman Jesus had said that he was the Christ. Now, by his teachings, many months before Peter's confession, the Samaritans pronounce him the Christ, the Savior, not of Jews only, or Jews and Samaritans, but of the world.
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