The Gospel of John, Jesus' first sign, part 12
Oct 22, 2019
The Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob was interested in receiving this “living water” that Jesus offered, but Jesus discerned that others were to be included. John 4:16-18 says,
16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”
We take for granted that Jesus was a prophet who would know or discern things beyond natural knowledge. In this case He knew that she had five husbands, all of whom were prophetic types and signs of something bigger than any others could have understood. But Jesus knew, because He knew the Scriptures and had spiritual insight and revelation.
When we view this story in the context of the first sign whereby Jesus manifested His glory, we ought to understand that the overall intent is to show us that our transformation is from water to new wine (mortal to immortal).
The wedding feast shows that Jesus is the One who transforms us into new creatures. The cleansing of the temple shows His zeal (determination) to cleanse the real temples (our bodies). Then the discussion of baptism and purification supports this further. The story of Nicodemus provides us with an occasion for teaching the principles behind our transformation from natural children of Adam to spiritual children of God.
The Samaritan woman continues to unpack Jesus’ first sign by showing that this transformation is not limited to Jews or to any particular ethnic group but is available to all.
The Five Samaritan Husbands
The origin of the Samaritans was well known to both Samaritans and Jews in Jesus’ day. When the northern House of Israel was exiled to Assyria (745-721 B.C.), the king of Assyria replaced them with people from five different cities. These five, then, represent the five husbands of the woman at the well.
2 Kings 17:22, 23, 24 tells us,
22 The sons of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, 23 until the Lord removed Israel from His sight, as He spoke through all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away into exile from their own land to Assyria until this day. 24 And the king of Assyria brought men from (1) Babylon and from (2) Cuthah and from (3) Avva and from (4) Hamath and (5) Sephar-vaim and settled them in place of the sons of Israel. So they possessed Samaria and lived in its cities.
The meanings of their names are as follows:
1. Babylon means “confusion.”
2. Cuthah means “crushing.”
3. Avva means “ruin.”
4. Hamath means “a fortress” (from khoma, “a wall”).
5. Sephar-vaim means “double enumeration.” (Sephar is also to cipher, “to compute; to use figures in a mathematical process.”)
The people from these cities replaced Israel, suggesting that Israel’s idolatry in worshiping the golden calves had caused Israel (“God rules”) to degenerate first into “confusion,” then into a time of “crushing,” until the nation had come into total “ruin.” In their exile, God built a wall so that they were unable to return, for Hosea 2:6 says,
6 Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths.
God built this wall so that she could not find the path to return to the old land. The theme is Hosea shows that God had divorced the House of Israel and had sent her out of His house, according to the instructions in the law (Deuteronomy 24:1 KJV). Once divorced, He could not allow her to return (Deuteronomy 24:4 KJV), unless certain provisions in the law were met. Briefly, she had to become a new creature, so that the law would no longer recognize her as being her old self. As a new “woman,” she could remarry Him.
When God divorced Israel, she was given the status equal to that of the other nations. In other words, none of the nations were married to God, including Israel. This leveled the playing field, making all nations equal. The New Covenant was the basis for the great remarriage, and as it turned out, this would benefit all the nations. Isaiah 56:8 says,
8 The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”
The regathering of Israel back to God (to Jesus Christ) would include all other nations. So John included the story of the Samaritan woman at the well to show that they were not excluded from the promises of God. They too could believe in Him. They too could be transformed by the power of living water. They too could be changed from water to wine.
The Fifth “Husband”
It takes little imagination to see the progression in these names. After building the “wall” to prevent the natural Israelites from returning to the old land, the Old Covenant was no longer the solution to their problem. A New Covenant was the only way for Israel—and all nations—to be gathered to Him under the “one Leader” (Hosea 1:11), Jesus Christ.
The fifth husband, then, who was not her husband but was the one she was living with, represented the Samaritans who had come from Sepharvaim. No doubt he was one of the “men” (John 4:28) who came to believe in Jesus and was counted among the stars of heaven. In Genesis 15:5, 6 God gave a promise to Abraham, for we read,
5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count [sephar] the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So will your descendants be. 6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
The woman’s fifth husband was distinct from the others in that he was not actually her husband. While this might have been seen as cause for shame, it provides us with a prophetic change of direction. In this case, the fifth husband actually represents those who are counted (sephar) as the seed of Abraham by faith in Christ. Galatians 3:7, 8, 9 and 29 says,
7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”] by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer…. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Hence, the Samaritans, who originally pictured the degeneration of Israel into their state of absolute ruin, also became a prophetic picture of hope—not only for Israel but for themselves as well. The story of the woman at the well shows that Jesus Christ brought salvation to the Samaritans as well.
The Spirit of Denominationalism
John 4:19, 20 says,
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”
This was the classic dispute of the day between Jews and Samaritans. Each had a holy mountain where they worshiped in a temple. Each had its own denomination. Once she discovered that Jesus was a prophet, she wanted to know which was the true temple. John 4:21 says,
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father.”
Under the Old Covenant, men were required to worship in temples made of wood and stone located in specific “holy places.” But under the New Covenant, of which Jesus was the Mediator, the glory and presence of God was to reside in temples made of living stones (1 Peter 2:5). So Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:16,
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
It is peculiar, then, that so many Christians now believe that Jesus’ words will soon be reversed, that men will build another temple in Jerusalem, where men will again worship God as in days gone by. If that were the case, then “Ichabod” would have to be pronounced a third time—this time upon the Church itself. The first time “Ichabod” was pronounced on Shiloh (1 Samuel 4:21). The second time “Ichabod” was pronounced on Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:14), and shortly thereafter the glory of God left that city (Ezekiel 10:18; 11:23).
From there, the presence of God came into the church on the day of Pentecost, and God began to build a new temple with Jesus Christ as the Foundation (Ephesians 2:20, 21). Thus, His name is now in our foreheads (Revelation 22:4).
The strange new Christian belief is that God will declare “Ichabod” upon the church and move one more time back to a temple in Jerusalem. Such a view misinterprets prophecies through Old Covenant eyes and rejects Jesus’ own words to the woman of Samaria.
Jesus further explains Himself in John 4:22,
22 You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
In other words, the Samaritans did not really know the God that they worshiped. The reason given is that “salvation is from the Jews.” Jesus’ Hebrew name, Yeshua, literally means “salvation,” so He was telling her that Yeshua is from Judah. This was a setup for the forthcoming revelation in John 4:26 that He was the Messiah.
John 4:23, 24 continues,
23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
To worship God in spirit and in truth stands in contrast to the requirement that men had to worship God in a particular mountain or denomination. God is spirit, not material, and so God’s requirement is that men worship Him in spirit, rather than in a material temple. Those who think they must go to a particular location or building, built on “holy ground,” are in need of truth. The building is not the church. We are the church. We are the temple of God. Only those who do not truly see themselves as the temple of God see the building or organization as the true church. Such people have not understood the story of the woman of Samaria.
This is part 12 of a series titled "Jesus' First Sign" To view all parts, click the link below.