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


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

·         Jesus’ departure for Galilee (4:1-3)
·         Living water (4:4-14)
·         The woman and her husbands (4:15-19)
·         True worship (4:20-26)
·         The woman’s witness (4:27-30)
·         Christ’s food (4:31-38)
·         Samaritan believers (4:39-42)


From the point of view of the orthodox Jew, there were three strikes against her: she was a Samaritan, a woman, and a sexual sinner. But it shows that Jesus came to bring salvation for people of all races.


The reason for the hostility of the Jews to the Samaritans goes back in history. When the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom, they deported large numbers of inhabitants and replaced them by people from all over their empire (2Ki 17:23-24). The Samaritans became a mixed race of Jews and other ethnic groups. Some newcomers brought their gods with them but eventually they worshipped Yahweh alone. However, their religion had its pecularities. They acknowledged only the Pentateuch as Scripture. When the Jews returned from exile, the Samaritans offered to help them rebuild the temple but were rejected (Ezra 4:2-3). Because of the bitterness between the two peoples, the Samaritans 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.

4:3       Jesus avoided a clash with the Jews until the right time. So he travelled back to Galilee.


4:4       The Jews disliked the Samaritans so intensely that they avoided their territory as much as possible. Their normal route from Jerusalem to Galilee would pass through the east bank of Jordan even though the route was longer. Here, the term “had to” may mean that they wished to shorten the route. But it is also possible that John may refer to Jesus’ decision of deliberately passing through Samaria in order to fulfil His purpose of bringing salvation to the Samaritans.

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

4:6       The word “well” is not the unusual word for wells; it may signify a spring or fountain. Some scholars think the John’s choice of this word is 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 usual 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 chose the time and the place to avoid other women as she had a bad reputation.

4:7-9    It was probably Jesus’ weariness that led the disciples to leave him alone at the well while they went into the village to buy food.

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. John’s comments “Jews do not associate with Samaritan” has a footnote “do not use dishes Samaritans have used” (not daily dealings as the disciples had to deal with Samaritans to get food). Thus the Samaritan woman was really surprised.

4:10     Jesus did not answer the question but turned immediately to speak about God’s gift.

The word “gift” stresses the freeness of it, referring to the new life He brings.

In ordinary usage of the time “living water” meant water that flowed, such as water in a river. It was the preferred water for ritual purification.

In the OT, living water is sometimes associated with Yahweh who 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.

4:11     The woman had no desire to talk about spiritual realities so she chose to understand Jesus’ words as referring to physical water.

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.


4:15     Still, she seemed to understand it as physical water. She asked Jesus to give her the water out of her concern with her own personal convenience.

4:16     Jesus again turned the conversation in a completely different direction not related to what had transpassed. The aim was to bring her sin into the open as He knew all about her marital misadventures.

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

4:19     A prophet was sometimes held to have a special insight into people (such as Lk 7:39). 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 a possible 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; these books were not accepted as Scripture by Samaritans), the Samaritans claimed legitimacy for the temple on Mount Gerizim. Mt. Gerizim was the scene of the blessing of the people when they came into the promised land (Dt 11:29; 27:12). An altar was commanded to be set up in this mountain (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).

While the woman appealed to the example of “our fathers”, Jesus pointed her to the one Father.

4:22     Jesus pointed out the inadequacy of the Samaritan worship. Since they did not accept books of the OT other than the Pentateuch, their knowledge of God and their system of worship were thus limited.

Salvation is from the Jewish nation (not from the Jewish people or by 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 (not Holy Spirit) and truth”. One must worship God 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 inadequacy of the Samaritans’ belief and accepted the future coming of the Messiah who would teach them.

4:26     Jesus clearly disclosed that He was the Messiah.

There is no “he” in the Greek. 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 either the woman (1st question) or Jesus’ action (2nd 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.

4:29     Her exaggeration of “everything I ever did” was pardonable considering her excitement.

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


4:32     Jesus had sustenance that the disciples had no knowledge of. Later, they found out it was meat and drink to Jesus to do the divine will.

4:33     The disciples misunderstood Jesus’ saying as material food.

4:34     “My” is emphatic. Jesus’ food was to do the divine will. The thought of “finishing” God’s work includes the word spoken on the cross when Jesus cried, “It is finished” (19:30). Jesus’ life was motivated by a sense of mission.

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

Jesus did not share this view when applied to spiritual things. 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.

It is puzzling for Jesus to use “white” colour to describe the crops as ripe for harvest as very few crops are white at harvest. However, Jesus was not speaking of earthly harvest but heavenly harvest. A possible explanation is that He was pointing to the white robes of the Samaritans who were assembling 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.

Those who wins souls for Christ is at work for eternity.

Both the sower and the reaper are to rejoice together when the harvest is in.

4:37     A proverb in agriculture can be equally applied to the field of Christian service. The sower and the reaper may be different people but those who reap precious souls are dependent for success on the labours of those who sow the seeds.

4:38     “Others” may mean John the Baptist and his followers. Anothe possibility is a reference to the prophets of the OT. Whatever those others were, Jesus expected His disciples to be reapers.


4:39     The woman’s testimony led many to come to Jesus.

4:40     The word “urged” is in continuous tense, meaning they kept on asking Him. The persistence was paid off with a short stay of Jesus.

4:42     Faith is not true faith if it rests only on the testimony of another. There 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. While the Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus, the Gentiles flock into the kingdom of God.