John 4:20
Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
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(20) Our fathers worshipped.—She gives a sudden turn to the conversation. It is not that the question of worship is the all-engrossing problem of her mind, for which she seeks solution at this prophet’s hands. Such questions hardly came then within the circle of a Samaritan woman’s thoughts, and this woman’s life had not been such as to make her an exception to the rule; but the heart, quivering before the eye that reads it as it never before had read itself, shrinks from the light that is let in upon it. She will speak of anything rather than of self. There is the mountain overhanging them, the theme of many a discussion between Samaritan and Jew; she will ask the prophet to decide that question.

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.Our fathers - The Samaritans; perhaps also meaning to intimate that the patriarchs had done it also. See Genesis 12:6; Genesis 33:20.

Worshipped - Had a place of worship.

In this mountain - Mount Gerizim, only a little way from Sychar. On this mountain they had built a temple somewhat similar to the one in Jerusalem. This was one of the main subjects of controversy between them and the Jews. The old Samaritan Pentateuch, or five books of Moses, has the word "Gerizim" instead of "Ebal" in Deuteronomy 27:4. On this account, as well as because the patriarchs are mentioned as having worshipped in Shechem, they supposed that that was the proper place on which to erect the temple.

Ye say - Ye Jews.

In Jerusalem - The place where the temple was built. This was built in accordance with the promise and command of God, Deuteronomy 12:5, Deuteronomy 12:11. In building this, David and Solomon were under the divine direction, 2 Samuel 7:2-3, 2 Samuel 7:13; 1 Kings 5:5, 1 Kings 5:12; 1 Kings 8:15-22. As it was contemplated in the law of Moses that there should be but one place to offer sacrifice and to hold the great feasts, so it followed that the Samaritans were in error in supposing that their temple was the place. Accordingly, our Saviour decided in favor of the Jews, yet in such a manner as to show the woman that the question was of much less consequence than they supposed it to be.

19, 20. Sir, I perceive, &c.—Seeing herself all revealed, does she now break down and ask what hopes there might be for one so guilty? Nay, her convictions have not reached that point yet. She ingeniously shifts the subject from a personal to a public question. It is not, "Alas, what a wicked life am I leading!" but "Lo, what a wonderful prophet I got into conversation with! He will be able to settle that interminable dispute between us and the Jews. Sir, you must know all about such matters—our fathers hold to this mountain here," pointing to Gerizim in Samaria, "as the divinely consecrated place of worship, but ye Jews say that Jerusalem is the proper place—which of us is right?" How slowly does the human heart submit to thorough humiliation! (Compare the prodigal; see on [1779]Lu 15:15). Doubtless our Lord saw through the fetch; but does He say, "That question is not the point just now, but have you been living in the way described, yea or nay? Till this is disposed of I cannot be drawn into theological controversies." The Prince of preachers takes another method: He humors the poor woman, letting her take her own way, allowing her to lead while He follows—but thus only the more effectually gaining His object. He answers her question, pours light into her mind on the spirituality of all true worship, as of its glorious Object, and so brings her insensibly to the point at which He could disclose to her wondering mind whom she was all the while speaking to. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; the mount Gerizim, which was an exceeding high mountain, and near unto Sichem. Jacob made an altar thereabouts, which he called El-elohe-Israel, Genesis 33:20. Some say that it was upon this, mountain that Abraham should have offered up Isaac, Genesis 22:1-18, but that had another name. Certain it is, that from that mountain Moses pronounced the blessings, Deu 27:12. But it is very probable that the woman had respect to none of these, but to the common usage of the Samaritans, to worship in a temple built upon this mountain, in opposition to that at Jerusalem: the story of which will be very proper here to relate, for the full understanding of this text. Sanballat was governor of Samaria, constituted by Darius; of this Sanballat we read in Nehemiah, who tells us that one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son-in-law to this Sanballat the Horonite; therefore I chased him from me, Nehemiah 13:28. This son-in-law’s name (as Josephus tells us) was Manasses. He was driven out of Jerusalem upon the account of the covenant made, Ezra 10:3, that those who had married strange wives would turn them away. The sacred story here leaving us, we must supply it out of Josephus, who (Antiq. 1. 11. cap. 8.) tells us, that he being thus driven from the sacrifice, applied himself to Sanballat, and would have put his wife away, who was Sanballat’s daughter; but Sanballat promised him, that if he would keep his daughter as his wife, he would not only continue him in the priesthood, but make him a high priest, and build him a temple like that at Jerusalem, upon Mount Gerizim, with the leave of Darius; upon this Manasses staid with Sanballat, and there also resorted many to him whom Nehemiah had turned out of the priesthood at Jerusalem for marrying strange wives. Sanballat was very near losing his opportunity through the favour of Darius, by the conquest of Darius by Alexander the Great. But it was regained by his brother Jaddus’s stubbornness, who was high priest in Jerusalem, and refused to own the new conqueror; which advantage Sanballat took, and offered Alexander the surrender of all places in his trust to him; and being by that means ingratiated with Alexander the Great, he thereby obtained leave of him to build a temple in Mount Gerizim, where his son-in-law Manasses should be the high priest, promising Alexander that by this means the force of the Jews would be broken, so as there would be no danger of their conspiring. Accordingly he presently built this temple, and soon after died, leaving his son-in-law Manasses, brother to Jaddus the high priest in Jerusalem, high priest in this new temple, which afterwards proved an asylum or sanctuary for any who were accused amongst the Jews at Jerusalem. Thus these two temples stood for about two hundred and twenty years; then Hircanus, a high priest of the Jews at Jerusalem, destroyed it; but still they looked upon the ground as holy, and came thither to perform their devotions. With reference to this superstitious practice, the woman of Samaria saith, Our fathers worshipped (that is, have used time out of mind to worship) in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship; and the Jews hold, that none might worship God by sacrifice any where but at Jerusalem, according to the law, Deu 12:14,26.

Our fathers worshipped in this mountain,.... Mount Gerizim, which was just by, and within sight; so that the woman could point to it; it was so near to Shechem, or Sychar, that Jotham's voice was heard from the top of it thither, Judges 9:6. By the "fathers", this woman claims as theirs, are meant, not the immediate ancestors of the Samaritans, or those only of some few generations past; but the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose descendants they would be thought to be; and they improved every instance of their worshipping in these parts, in favour of this mountain, being a sacred place. And Abraham did indeed build an altar to the Lord, in the plain of Moreh, Genesis 12:6 and which the Jews themselves (z) own, is the same with Sichem; but their tradition which Theophylact reports, that Isaac was offered upon the Mount of Gerizim, is entirely false: Jacob, it is true, came to Shalem, a city of Shechem; and upon this very spot of ground, the parcel of a field, he bought of the children of Hammor, and gave to his son Joseph, he built an altar, and called it Elelohe-Israel, Genesis 33:18. And also upon this very mountain, the tribe of Joseph, with others stood, when they were come over Jordan, and blessed the people; all which circumstances, the Samaritans failed not to make use of in vindication of themselves, and their worship in this mountain; and which this woman might be acquainted with, and might refer unto: but as for any temple, or place of worship on this mount, there was none till of late years, even after the second temple was built. The occasion of it, as Josephus (a) relates, was this; Manasseh, brother to Jaddua the high priest, having married Nicasso, daughter of Sanballat, governor of Samaria, was on that account driven from the priesthood; he fled to his father-in-law, and related the case to him, expressing great love to his daughter, and yet a regard to his office; upon which Sanballat proposed to build him a temple on Mount Gerizim, for which he did not doubt of obtaining leave of Darius the Persian monarch, and make him an high priest. Darius being overcome by Alexander the Great, Sanballat made his court to him, and petitioned him for the building of this temple, who granted him his request; and accordingly he built one, and Manasseh became the high priest; and many of the profligate Jews, that had married strange wives, or violated the sabbath, or had eaten forbidden meat, came over and joined him. This temple, we are told (b), was built about forty years after the second temple at Jerusalem: and stood two hundred years, and then was destroyed by Jochanan, the son of Simeon, the son of Mattathiah, who was called Hyrcanus, and so says Josephus (c); it might now be rebuilt: however, this did not put a stop to worship in this place, about which there were great contentions, between the Jews and the Samaritans; of which we have some instances, in the writings of the former: it is said (d), that

"R. Jonathan went to pray in Jerusalem, and passed by that mountain (the gloss says, Mount Gerizim), and a certain Samaritan saw him, and said to him, whither art thou going? he replied, that he was going to pray at Jerusalem; he said to him, is it not better for thee to pray in this blessed mountain, and not in that dunghill house? he replied, why is it blessed? he answered, because it was not overflowed by the waters of the flood; the thing was hid from the eyes of R. Jonathan, and he could not return an answer.''

This story is told elsewhere (e), with a little variation, and more plainly as to the place, thus;

"it happened to R. Jonathan, that he went to Neapolis, of the Cuthites, or Samaritans, (i.e. to Sichem, for Sichem is now called Naplous,) and he was riding upon an ass, and an herdsman with him; a certain, Samaritan joined himself to them: when they came to Mount Gerizim, the Samaritan said to R. Jonathan, how came it to pass that we are come to this holy mountain? R. Jonathan replied, whence comes it to be holy? the Samaritan answered him, because it was not hurt by the waters of the flood.''

Much the same story is told of R. Ishmael bar R. Jose (f). It is to be observed in this account, that the Samaritans call this mountain the holy mountain, they imagined there was something sacred in it; and the blessed mountain, or the mountain of blessing; no doubt, because the blessings were pronounced upon it; though a very poor reason is given by them in the above passages. And they not only urged the above instances of the worship or the patriarchs at, or about this place, which this woman refers to; but even falsified a passage in the Pentateuch, as is generally thought, in favour of this mount; for in Deuteronomy 27:4, instead of Mount Ebal, in the Samaritan Pentateuch Mount Gerizim is inserted. So stood the ease on one side of the question; on the other hand, the Jews pleaded for the temple at Jerusalem.

And ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship; that is, in the temple, there; who urged, and very rightly, that God had chosen that place to put his name, and fix his worship there; and had ordered them to come thither, and bring their offerings and sacrifices, and to keep their passover and other feasts; see Deuteronomy 12:5. This was built by Solomon, according to the command and direction of God, some hundreds of years before Mount Gerizim was made use of for religious worship; and they had not only these things to plead, but also the worship which was here given to God in this place before the temple was built upon it, which they failed not to do. So the Targumist on 2 Chronicles 3:1 enlarges on this head;

"and Solomon began to build the sanctuary of the Lord in Jerusalem, on Mount Moriah, in the place where Abraham worshipped and prayed in the name of the Lord: , "this place is the land of worship"; for there all generations worshipped before the Lord; and there Abraham offered up his son Isaac, for a burnt offering, and the word of the Lord delivered him, and a ram was appointed in his stead; there Jacob prayed when he fled from Esau his brother; there the angel of the Lord appeared to David, when he disposed the sacrifice in the place he bought of Ornan, in the floor of Ornan the Jebusite.''

And since, now there were so many things to be said on each side of the question, this woman desires, that seeing Christ was a prophet, he would be pleased to give her his sense of the matter, and inform her which was the right place of worship.

(z) Misna Sota, c. 7. sect. 5. T. Bab. Sota, fol. 33. 2.((a) Antiqu. l. 12. c. 1. Vid. Juchasin, fol. 14. 2.((b) Juchasin, fol. 14. 2. & 15. 1.((c) Antiqu. l. 13. c. 17. (d) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 32. fol. 27. 4. & Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 16. 3.((e) Debarim Rabba, sect. 3. fol. 238. 2.((f) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 81. fol. 71. 1.

{3} Our fathers worshipped in this {f} mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

(3) All the religion of superstitious people stands for the most part upon two pillars, but very weak, that is to say, upon the perverted examples of the fathers, and a foolish opinion of outward things: and to refute such errors we have to turn to the word and nature of God.

(f) The name of this mountain is Gerizim, upon which Sanabaletta the Cuthite built a temple with the permission of Alexander of Macedonia, after the victory of Issica: and he made high priest there Manasses his son in law; Josephus, book 11.

John 4:20. οἱ πατέρεςδεῖ προσκυνεῖν. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, Gerizim, at whose base we are standing, etc. On Gerizim were proclaimed the blessings recorded Deuteronomy 28. Sanballat erected on it a rival temple (but see the Bible Dict. and Josephus) which was rased by John Hyrcanus, B.C. 129. A broad flat surface of rock on the top of Gerizim is still held sacred by the few Samaritans who now represent the old race and customs. Especially consult G. A. Smith’s Hist. Geog., p. 334, who shows that Shechem is the natural centre of Palestine, and adds: “It was by this natural capital of the Holy Land, from which the outgoings to the world are so many and so open, that the religion of Israel rose once for all above every geographical limit, and the charter of a universal worship was given”. ἐν Ἱεροσολύμοις may either mean that the place of worship, the temple, is in Jerusalem, or that Jerusalem is itself the place—more probably the latter.

20. Convinced that He can read her life she shrinks from inspection and hastily turns the conversation from herself. In seeking a new subject she naturally catches at one of absorbing interest to every Samaritan. Mount Gerizim shorn of its temple suggests the great national religious question ever in dispute between them and the Jews. Here was One who could give an authoritative answer about it; she will ask Him. To urge that such a woman would care nothing about the matter is unsound reasoning. Are irreligious people never keen about religious questions now-a-days? Does an immoral life destroy all interest in Romanism, Ritualism, and the like?

in this mountain] Gerizim; her not naming it is very lifelike. The Samaritans contended that here Abraham offered up Isaac, and afterwards met Melchisedek. The former is more credible than the latter. A certain Manasseh, a man of priestly family, married the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite (Nehemiah 13:28), and was thereupon expelled from Jerusalem. He fled to Samaria and helped Sanballat to set up a rival worship on Gerizim. It is uncertain whether the temple on Gerizim was built then (about b. c. 410) or a century later; but it was destroyed by John Hyrcanus b. c. 130, after it had stood 200 years or more. Yet the Samaritans in no way receded from their claims, but continue their worship on Gerizim to the present day.

ye say] Unconsciously she admits that One, whom she has just confessed to be a Prophet, is against her in the controversy. Comp. Deuteronomy 12:13.

John 4:20. Οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν, our fathers) The woman forthwith brings forward on this occasion a difficulty, which she seems to have felt somewhile before on a religious point, and is eagerly desirous to be instructed by the prophet. The Lord meets such minds [with light and encouragement]. A desultory question is not always to be censured. By our fathers, the woman means not merely nearer ancestors, but even the patriarchs. For even against the Jews themselves the Samaritans relied on antiquity. Again in their turn the Jews were wont to appeal to the Fathers, ch. John 6:31, “our Fathers did eat manna in the desert.”—τούτῳ, in this) The woman [in saying this] was pointing to Mount Gerizim.—προσεκύνησαν, adored [worshipped]) The whole of religion can be reduced to adoration.

Verse 20. - Our fathers. The "our" refers here to the Samaritans, just as the "ye" does to the Jews. She may be going back once more to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who worshipped and laboured at Shechem - but the mountain itself was not the site of a temple until the days of Nehemiah, and the temple in which the apostate Manasseh, son of Jaddua, offered sacrifices had been destroyed for nearly a hundred and fifty years. A chronological, if not more serious, difference is apparent between Nehemiah and Josephus (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 11:08. 2; Nehemiah 13:28). According to the former, the Samaritan schism which led to the erection of the temple was a hundred years before the period assigned by Josephus. For whereas Nehemiah says that the apostate priest whom he chased away was son-in-law of Sanballat, the Persian satrap in Samaria, Josephus makes Sanballat contemporary with Alexander, and represents the establishment of the Samaritan temple as originating with his approval. Josephus further ('Ant.,' 13:09, 1) says that the temple was destroyed by Hyrcanus, about B.C. 129, and adds that it had stood two hundred years. The temple was destroyed, but "the mountain of blessing" remained for the Samaritans as a place of prayer ('Ant.,' 18:04. 1; 'Bell. Jud.,' 1:02, 6). This was conserved, on the ground that Abraham and Jacob had here built altars (Deuteronomy 11:26; Deuteronomy 27:4-13). In Deuteronomy 27:4, however, Mount Ebal in mentioned as the place where an altar had been first built to Jehovah. In the Samaritan Pentateuch the word "Gerizim" had in this place been substituted for "Ebal;" and so it came to pass that Gerizim had been a place of prayer throughout the long interval When Jesus was at Jacob's well, he could see the ruins of the edifice where sacrifice and praises were being offered. Indeed, these have continued to the present day. The oldest shrine in the world for local worship still holds its own, hard by the very spot where the most complete overthrow of the principle of sacred places fell in divinest words from the lips of the Holy One. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain - Gerizim, where the ruins of the temple still abide - and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men must worship. Jerusalem is not mentioned in their sacred books - Jerusalem, whose unity of sanctuary was recognized at length as the τόπος where the Lord would put his Name, and where alone the sacrifices could possess their historic and symbolic validity. Whensoever the Pentateuch may have been finally edited, all critics will allow that, at the time of the Lord, and in the Samaritan Version of the Pentateuch, the idea of such unity of sanctuary was a fixed principle. The Samaritans claimed Gerizim, and the Jews Moriah, as the place where Abraham offered his typical sacrifice, and both regarded the worship celebrated in their favourite shrine - the daily offering, the annual feasts (the Passover especially) - as giving worthiness to all the prayers and praises which they might be induced to offer in all places where they might sojourn. The woman does not submit to our Lord that he may settle this great question for her, but she makes it clear enough that she would like to know his verdict. The worship was the sacrificial worship where sin such as hers could alone be cleansed, and where her conscience could be set free for calm and continuous communion with God. John 4:20Our fathers

Probably meaning the ancestors of the Samaritans, as far back as the building of the temple on Mount Gerizim in the time of Nehemiah. This temple had been destroyed by John Hyrcanus, 129 b.c., but the place remained holy, and to this day the Samaritans yearly celebrate there the feast of the Passover. See the graphic description of Dean Stanley, who was present at the celebration ("Jewish Church," vol. 1, Appendix 3).

This mountain

Gerizim, at the foot of which lies the well. Here, according to the Samaritan tradition, Abraham sacrificed Isaac, and met Melchisedek. By some convulsion of nature, the central range of mountains running north and south, was cleft open to its base at right angles to its own line of extension, and the deep fissure thus made is the vale of Nablus, as it appears to one coming up the plain of El Mukhna from Jerusalem. The valley is at least eighteen hundred feet above the level of the sea, and the mountains on either hand tower to an elevation of about one thousand feet more. Mount Ebal is on the north, Gerizim on the south, and the city between. Near the eastern end the vale is not more than sixty rods wide; and there, I suppose, the tribes assembled to hear the "blessings and cursings" read by the Levites (Deuteronomy 27, 28). The panorama seen from the top of Gerizim is about the most extensive and imposing in all Palestine. The summit is a small level plateau. In the midst of the southern end is a sloping rock, said by the Samaritans to be the site of the altar of their temple, and on approaching which they remove their shoes. At the eastern edge of the plateau, a small cavity in the rock is shown as the place on which Abraham offered up Isaac. Ebal is three thousand and seventy-nine feet above the sea-level, and more than two hundred and thirty feet higher than Gerizim.

Ought to worship (δεῖ)

Better, must worship. She puts it as a divine obligation. It is the only true holy place. Compare John 4:24.

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