[6]     Signs and Discourses 3: the Water of Life (4:1-42)


[C4]    4:1-42............. SECOND Discourse - the water of life

From the point of view of the orthodox Jew, there were three things against her: she was a Samaritan, a woman, and a sexual sinner. But Jesus came to bring salvation for everyone.

The Samaritans was a mixed race of Jews and other ethnic groups. They acknowledged only the Pentateuch as Scripture. They refused to worship at Jerusalem, preferring their own temple built on Mt. Gerizim around 400 BC. When this temple was burnt by the Jews around 128 BC, the relations between the two groups worsened.

4:4       The Jews disliked the Samaritans so intensely that they avoided Samaria as much as possible. Jesus’ decided to pass through Samaria probably aimed at bringing salvation to Samaritans.

4:5       Sychar is near Shechem. There is a reference to Jacob’s buying of a piece of land near here (Gen 33:19). He gave some land to Joseph (Gen 48:22), and he was buried here (Jos 24:32).

4:6       The word “well” is not the usual word for wells; it may signify a spring or fountain. John’s use of this word is possibly linked with the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v.14).

John points to Jesus’ true humanity by speaking of His weariness.

The “sixth hour” is noon, an unusual time for a woman to be drawing water since sunset seems to be the favourite hour. Further, the well was outside of town, far away from her home (v.28). The woman probably tried to avoid other women as she had a bad reputation.

4:7-9    Jesus really was thirsty (again pointing to His true humanity) and he asked for a drink. But this request would involve using the Samaritan woman’s utensil but John’s footnote says that “Jews …do not use dishes Samaritans have used”. Thus the Samaritan woman was really surprised.

4:10     Jesus did not answer the question but turned immediately to speak about God’s gift which is the new life He brings. “Living water” normally meant water that flowed, such as a river, the preferred water for ritual purification. Yahweh is called “the spring of living water” (Jer 2:13; 17:13). Here, however, the living water that flows from within the believer is later explained in terms of the Holy Spirit (7:38-39), referring to the new life connected with the activity of the Holy Spirit. Jesus calls Himself “the bread of life” (6:35) but not “the living water”. Living water symbolizes the Spirit. It is also possible that it is also a reference to Jesus’ teaching.

4:12     “You” is emphatic; the question meant “You don’t claim to be greater than Jacob, do you?”

4:14     The living water that Jesus gives can satisfy thirst permanently. Moreover, it would “spring up” vigorously (similar to the word describing the leaping up of the lame man in Ac 3:8, more than just “welling up”) forever. It points to the abundant life within the believers and the “action” of this life in begetting life.

4:18     The woman probably had many divorces and her latest union was not really a marriage.

4:19     For the Samaritans, there were no prophets after Moses except the one in Dt 18:18 whom they regarded as the Messiah. The Samaritan woman was probably thinking about this Messiah.

4:20     The woman probably wanted to steer the conversation away from the unpleasant subject of her sin so she started to introduce a controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans with the intent to show that what Jesus (“you Jews”) said might not apply to her as a Samaritan.

While the Jews insisted that the only legitimate temple was in Jerusalem (2Ch 6:6; 7:12; Ps 78:68), the Samaritans claimed legitimacy for the temple on Mount Gerizim (see Dt 11:29; 27:12) where an altar was set up (Dt 27:4ff). They believed that this mountain was the location of Abraham’s offering of Isaac as well as the meeting place of Abraham and Melchizedek.

4:21     “Woman” in the Greek is an address of respect (see 2:4).

4:22     Jesus pointed out the inadequacy of the Samaritan worship; as they did not accept books of the OT except the Pentateuch, their knowledge of God and their system of worship were limited.

Salvation is from the Jewish nation (not from the Jewish people) because the Messiah is a Jew.

4:23     Disputes between the Jews and the Samaritans will fade away. People will worship on neither pattern. A new way had been inaugurated by Jesus.

True worshippers worship “in spirit and truth” - not simply outwardly in the right place or only with the right attitude, but in one’s spirit, with complete sincerity and from our inner being.

4:24     God’s essential nature is spirit and it is absolutely necessary that worshippers worship in spirit and in truth. Genuine worship is spiritual worship, not dependent on places and things.

4:25     The woman accepted the future coming of the Messiah who would teach them.

4:26     Jesus clearly disclosed that He was the Messiah. The literal translation is: “I that speak to you, I am.” The emphatic pronoun in this expression is in the style of deity.

4:27     “Just then” the disciples returned. They were astonished because one of their sayings ran, “A man shall not talk with a woman in the street, not even with his own wife, and especially not with another woman, on account of what men may say.” Nevertheless, they did not question because they must have learned that Jesus did not always respect the conventions of the ribbis.

4:28     The woman completely abandoned the business in hand.

4:30     Based on the impression from the verse, a large group of people came.

4:34     Jesus’ food was to do the divine will. The thought of “finishing” God’s work was repeated on the cross when Jesus cried, “It is finished”. Jesus’ life was motivated by a sense of mission.

4:35     Since there are four months between the end of seedtime and the beginning of harvest, the proverb probably says since growth cannot be hurried, there is no hurry for any work.

In spiritual things, however, Jesus told the disciples not to lazily relax but to acquire a sense of urgency in their task as the fields were already for spiritual harvest.

Very few crops are white at harvest. However, Jesus was speaking of heavenly harvest, possibly pointing to the white robes of the Samaritans who were coming to hear His words.

4:36     Already the man who is keen and active in his reaping is receiving his wage. This points to the urgency of the task confronting the disciples.

4:38     “Others” may mean John the Baptist or the prophets of the OT.

4:40     “Urged” (continuous tense) meant they kept on asking and the persistence was paid off.

4:42     Faith must be personal knowledge of Christ if there is to be an authentic Christian experience.

The word “Saviour” contains the idea of deliverance, of saving from serious disaster.


§         After meeting Jesus, the Samaritan woman immediately shared her experience with others. Do we have the same urge to share our experience?

§         In evangelism, the sower and the reaper are to share the joy of reaping together (v.36-37). Sowers may not see the results but they should be satisfied that they complete their responsibility.


Hymns of Life no.190 “Rock of Ages, cleft for me”

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee;

Let the water and the blood,

From Thy wounded side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure,

Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

When I draw this fleeting breath,

When my eyelids close in death,

When I soar to worlds unknown,

See Thee on Thy judgment throne,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee.