John 4:12
Are you greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?
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(12) Art thou greater . . .?—Again, the pronoun is the emphatic word, “Thou surely art not greater.” “The well used to satisfy the wants of the patriarch, and his household, and his flocks, and has come down from him to us. It is surely sufficient for all our wants.” This claim of Jacob as their father was through Ephraim and Joseph, and the well was part of “the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his .son Joseph” (John 4:5). There was abundance of water near to it, but a patriarchal household could not depend for a necessity of life upon neighbours who may be hostile, and Jacob had dug this well in his own purchased plot. It was sacred, then, as the very spot where their asserted ancestor had digged his well and built his altar. There was an unbroken continuity in the history of the place, and it was prized the more because it was not so in the history of the people.

4:4-26 There was great hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews. Christ's road from Judea to Galilee lay through Samaria. We should not go into places of temptation but when we needs must; and then must not dwell in them, but hasten through them. We have here our Lord Jesus under the common fatigue of travellers. Thus we see that he was truly a man. Toil came in with sin; therefore Christ, having made himself a curse for us, submitted to it. Also, he was a poor man, and went all his journeys on foot. Being wearied, he sat thus on the well; he had no couch to rest upon. He sat thus, as people wearied with travelling sit. Surely, we ought readily to submit to be like the Son of God in such things as these. Christ asked a woman for water. She was surprised because he did not show the anger of his own nation against the Samaritans. Moderate men of all sides are men wondered at. Christ took the occasion to teach her Divine things: he converted this woman, by showing her ignorance and sinfulness, and her need of a Saviour. By this living water is meant the Spirit. Under this comparison the blessing of the Messiah had been promised in the Old Testament. The graces of the Spirit, and his comforts, satisfy the thirsting soul, that knows its own nature and necessity. What Jesus spake figuratively, she took literally. Christ shows that the water of Jacob's well yielded a very short satisfaction. Of whatever waters of comfort we drink, we shall thirst again. But whoever partakes of the Spirit of grace, and the comforts of the gospel, shall never want that which will abundantly satisfy his soul. Carnal hearts look no higher than carnal ends. Give it me, saith she, not that I may have everlasting life, which Christ proposed, but that I come not hither to draw. The carnal mind is very ingenious in shifting off convictions, and keeping them from fastening. But how closely our Lord Jesus brings home the conviction to her conscience! He severely reproved her present state of life. The woman acknowledged Christ to be a prophet. The power of his word in searching the heart, and convincing the conscience of secret things, is a proof of Divine authority. It should cool our contests, to think that the things we are striving about are passing away. The object of worship will continue still the same, God, as a Father; but an end shall be put to all differences about the place of worship. Reason teaches us to consult decency and convenience in the places of our worship; but religion gives no preference to one place above another, in respect of holiness and approval with God. The Jews were certainly in the right. Those who by the Scriptures have obtained some knowledge of God, know whom they worship. The word of salvation was of the Jews. It came to other nations through them. Christ justly preferred the Jewish worship before the Samaritan, yet here he speaks of the former as soon to be done away. God was about to be revealed as the Father of all believers in every nation. The spirit or the soul of man, as influenced by the Holy Spirit, must worship God, and have communion with him. Spiritual affections, as shown in fervent prayers, supplications, and thanksgivings, form the worship of an upright heart, in which God delights and is glorified. The woman was disposed to leave the matter undecided, till the coming of the Messiah. But Christ told her, I that speak to thee, am He. She was an alien and a hostile Samaritan, merely speaking to her was thought to disgrace our Lord Jesus. Yet to this woman did our Lord reveal himself more fully than as yet he had done to any of his disciples. No past sins can bar our acceptance with him, if we humble ourselves before him, believing in him as the Christ, the Saviour of the world.Art thou greater? - Art thou wiser, or better able to find water, than Jacob was? It seems that she supposed that he meant that he could direct her to some living spring, or to some better well in that region, and that this implied more knowledge or skill than Jacob had. To find water and to furnish a good well was doubtless considered a matter of signal skill and success. It was a subject of great importance in that region. This shows how ready sinners are to misunderstand the words of Christ, and to pervert the doctrines of religion. If she had had any proper anxiety about her soul, she would at least have "suspected" that he meant to direct her thoughts to spiritual objects.

Our father Jacob - The Samaritans were composed partly of the remnant of the ten tribes, and partly of people sent from Chaldea; still, they considered themselves descendants of Jacob.

Which gave us - This was doubtless the tradition, though there is no evidence that it was true.

And drank thereof ... - This was added in commendation of the water of the well. A well from which Jacob, and his sons, and cattle had drank must be pure, and wholesome, and honored, and quite as valuable as any that Jesus could furnish. People like to commend that which their ancestors used as superior to anything else. The world over, people love to speak of that which their ancestors have done, and boast of titles and honors that have been handed down from them, even if it is nothing better than existed here - because Jacob's cattle had drunk of the water.

12. Art thou greater, &c.—already perceiving in this Stranger a claim to some mysterious greatness.

our father Jacob—for when it went well with the Jews, they claimed kindred with them, as being descended from Joseph; but when misfortunes befell the Jews, they disowned all connection with them [Josephus, Antiquities, 9.14,3].

She asks him if he judged himself wiser than Jacob, whom she calleth their father? It is often observed, that the Samaritans would ordinarily claim kindred with the Jews when the Jews were in prosperity; but in their adversity constantly disowned any relation to them. There were some Jews, (Ephraimites especially), mixed with a far greater number of Assyrians, which made up this body of people called the Samaritans. Now, saith the woman, Jacob, who was the father of Joseph, from whom we claim, was a wise man, and he could find no better water here abouts for himself and family than that of this well; art thou wiser than he? Art thou greater than our father Jacob,.... A person of greater worth and character than he, who was content to drink of this water; or wiser and more knowing than he, who could find out no better fountain of water in all these parts? she calls Jacob the father of them, according to the common notion and boasting of these people, when it served their turn; otherwise they were not the descendants of Jacob; for after the ten tribes were carried away captive by the king of Assyria, he placed in their room, in the cities of Samaria, men from Babylon, Cuthah Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, Heathenish and idolatrous people; see 2 Kings 17:24. And from these, the then Samaritans sprung; only upon Sanballat's building a temple on Mount Gerizzim, for Manasseh his son-in-law, when put away from the priesthood by the Jews, for his marriage of his daughter, several wicked persons of the like sort, came out of Judea, and joined themselves to the Samaritans: and such a mixed medley of people were they at this time, though they boasted of Jacob as their father, as this woman did; and so to this day, they draw their genealogy from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and particularly call Joseph their father, and say, from whence are we, but from the tribe of Joseph the just, from Ephraim (w)? as they formerly did (x);

"R. Meir saw a Samaritan, he said to him, from whence comest thou? (that is, from what family;) he answered, from the (tribe) of Joseph.''

Which gave us the well; Jacob gave it indeed to Joseph and his posterity, along with the parcel of ground in which it was; see John 4:5; but not to this mixed company:

and drank thereof himself and his children, and his cattle; which shows both the goodness and plenty of the water: though our Lord had spoken of living water, this woman understood him of no other water, but spring water; called living water, from its motion, because it is continually springing up, bubbling, and ever running: so carnal persons, when they hear of spiritual things under earthly metaphors, think of nothing but carnal things; as Nicodemus, when Christ talked of being born again; and the Jews at Capernaum, when he discoursed concerning eating his flesh, and drinking his blood; for spiritual things are neither known nor received by the natural man.

(w) Epist. Samar. ad Scaliger. in Antiqu. Eccl. Oriental. p. 123, 124, 126. (x) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 94. fol. 82. 1.

Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?
12. Art thou greater] ‘Thou’ is very emphatic; Surely Thou art not greater. Comp. John 8:53. The loquacity of the woman as contrasted with the sententiousness of Nicodemus is very natural, while on the other hand she shews a similar perverseness in misunderstanding spiritual metaphors.

our father Jacob] The Samaritans claimed to be descended from Joseph; with how much justice is a question very much debated. Some maintain that they were of purely heathen origin, although they were driven by calamity to unite the worship of Jehovah with their own idolatries: and this view seems to be in strict accordance with 2 Kings 17:23-41. Renegade Jews took refuge among them from time to time; but such immigrants would not affect the texture of the nation more than the French refugees among ourselves. Others hold that the Samaritans were from the first a mongrel nation, a mixture of heathen colonists with Jewish inhabitants, left behind by Shalmaneser. But there is nothing to shew that he did leave any behind (2 Kings 18:11); Josephus says (Ant. ix. xiv. 1) that ‘he transplanted all the people.’ When the Samaritans asked Alexander the Great to excuse them from tribute in the Sabbatical year, because as true sons of Joseph they did not till their land in the seventh year, he pronounced their claim an imposture, and destroyed Samaria. Our Lord calls a Samaritan a ‘stranger’ (Luke 17:18), literally ‘one of a different race.’

which gave us the well] This has no foundation in Scripture, but no doubt was a Samaritan tradition. She means, the well was good enough for him, and is good enough for us; hast Thou a better?John 4:12. Μείζων, greater) as being one, who demandest, or can make good greater things. Comp. ch. John 8:53 “Art Thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? Whom makest Thou Thyself?”—πατρὸς ἡμῶν ιἀκώβ, than our Father Jacob) So the Samaritans had persuaded themselves: but falsely, Matthew 10:5, “Into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”—Ἰακώβ, Jacob) who was most thoroughly skilled in the things of pastoral life and the procuring of water, and was most successful in the concerns of his household [in managing his property].—ἡμῖν, to us) in the person of Joseph; John 4:5, “the parcel of ground, that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.” She speaks thus on that false hypothesis [prevailing among the Samaritans] as to Jacob being their father.—ἔπιε, he drank) The patriarchs used water rather than wine. The woman means this: The patriarch himself was content with this water, nor did he ask for better water.—καὶ τὰ θρέμματα, and his cattle) oxen and sheep. Of course the men-servants and maid-servants, who generally feed the cattle, also drank of it. The well therefore was abundantly supplied and of ancient date.Verse 12. - Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his sons, and his cattle? We observe here the Samaritaness's claim to be a descendant of Ephraim, of Joseph, of Jacob himself who dug the well. By rising up behind the family of Ephraim to the father of Judah as well as of Joseph, the woman claims a kind of kinship with Jesus. The "our" in this case is not a monopoly of the honours of Jacob for herself and her people. Her national pride is softening under the glance of the great Son of David, and she has a growing sense of the claims and dignity of the Person she is addressing, though her thought is couched in words that may be ironical. This was the kind of challenge which our Lord never refused to honour. Just as on other occasions he claimed to be "greater than the temple," and "Lord of the sabbath," and "before Abraham," and "greater than Moses, Solomon," or "Jonas," so here he quietly admits that he is indeed greater than "our father Jacob." The lifelike reality of the scene is evidenced in the alertness and feminine loquacity of the final clause (θρέμματα are "cattle," not "servants," as seen in passages quoted by Meyer from Xenophon, Plato, Josephus, etc.). The nomadic condition of the first fathers of this race is brilliantly touched off by the sentence. Art thou greater (μὴ σὺ μείζων)

The interrogative particle indicates that a negative answer is expected: Surely thou art not. The σὺ, thou, first in the sentence, is emphatic, and possibly with a shade of contempt.

Our father Jacob

The Samaritans claimed descent from Joseph, as representing the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.

Children (υἰοὶ)

Rev., correctly, sons.

Cattle (θρέμματα)

Only here in the New Testament. From (τρέφω) to nourish. A general term for whatever is fed or nursed. When used of animals - mostly of tame ones - cattle, sheep, etc. It is applied to children, fowls, insects, and fish, also to domestic slaves, which, according to some, is the meaning here; but, as Meyer justly remarks, "there was no need specially to name the servants; the mention of the herds completes the picture of their nomadic progenitor."

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