Five Husbands?

04 Oct

In John chapter 4 we find the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus has come to rest in the town of Sychar on his way back to Galilee from Jerusalem.  His resting spot was by a well that Jacob had provided.

Once again water enters into the story found in John.  Previously we had the water baptism by John, the miracle of changing water into wine and in the conversation with Nicodemus how individuals must be born by water and Spirit in order to enter the Kingdom of God.

Jesus makes reference to the “living water” that He has to offer and the Samaritan lady begins to talk about how great the well is they are at and how great of a leader Jacob was for providing the people with such a well.  In fact, she even asks Jesus, “are you greater than our father Jacob?”  In those days great leaders would dig wells for their people to provide for them.  Jesus states that anyone that drinks from Jacob’s well will thirst again but He does offer a “greater well” for he is greater than Jacob.  He speaks of the water He has will be “a spring of water welling up” inside of them, a well of eternal life.

To the reader of John, this “eternal life” wasn’t something that they needed to wait for, but was a present day reality.  It’s a life of everyday being in the full presence of God, not waiting for ones death to experience it. The spiritually thirsty Samaritan lady wanted that present day reality – “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty…”  She was experiencing a drought with in.

At this point in the story I’ve heard many begin to speculate about the lady’s private life because of the command Jesus gives the lady, “Go, call your husband and come back.”  Let’s remember that the prophet Hosea spoke of the relationship of between God and Israel as a marriage relationship – God as the husband and Israel the bride.

The Samaritan lady shares that she has no husband, at which time Jesus says that she has had five husbands and the man she is with now isn’t her husband.  Numbers in the Text usually have significance, is there anything significant to the number five in reference to Samaria?

2 Kings 17 speaks to some of the history of Samaria.  In verse 5-6 we see that the king of Assyria overtakes the land of Samaria and deports the Israelites to Assyria. A few verses later (v. 24) we see that the king brought into the land of Samaria different people groups those from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim (5 different groups).

The custom of the day was that each geographical area had a specific god which was to be worshiped.  The God of Israel was to be worshiped in the geographical area of Samaria. In the passage found in chapter 17 of 2 Kings tells us that because of some bad experiences (attacks from lions) the people didn’t feel they knew how to worship the God of Israel correctly. The king ordered that a priest be brought back from Babylon to help teach them.  Even with the priest coming back, it’s interesting to learn in verses 30-31 that these five different people groups each made idols to worship as well. Verse 33 and 41 show us that those in the land of Samaria attempted to worship the Lord as well as these five other idols.

Who are the five husbands of the Samaritan lady?  The five idols/gods made by the five people groups brought into the land of Samaria by the Assyrian king.  Who is the man the Samaritan lady is with now? I believe it is her confused faith in God because of the years of experiencing the mixture of worship of the five other gods with the worship of the God of Israel. Her perspective of the God of Israel has been distorted over time because of the outside influences. Even though she wants to truly worship the God of Israel, she is unable to because of the her personal confusion and lack of understanding bout who He is.

What does this mean for you and me?  What about our culture distorts our view of God? What are some “idols” that maybe we, knowingly/unknowingly, worship and distracts our true worship of our Creator and God? What’s something about God that is confusing to you and is impacting your worship, your love for Him?


Posted by on October 4, 2010 in Bible


2 responses to “Five Husbands?

  1. Mat Thomas

    October 5, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Great words. I hadn’t made the connection between the 5 husbands representing idols of pagan influence. I did know the aspect about each particular culture/region had their own God. What made the Israelites so radical was that they proclaimed that their God was God of the entire Universe. And another thing that made them unique was their belief that their God was not just for them, but of a god for all of creation. In Genesis 12 God promises to bless Abraham so that all nations will be blessed through him.

    In thinking about ancient views of gods, different gods were assigned different ranks based on their influence and importance. In Babylonian mythology they had God’s representing the heavens, air, water, and the earth. For Caanites, their chief God was El. But they also had subordinate gods as well. In smaller towns within Mesopotamina and Egypt, there were gods for each city. In addition, each craft, vocation, and most homes had their own god as well. There were altars built in homes for worshipping hosehold gods. These were often very smaller lesser gods.

    It makes sense that if the Israelites descended from nomadic shepherds (as most scholars suggest) that they would worship a God who goes with them. God’s of homes and crafts would not be of much use to tribes who were nomadic shepherds. They did not need protection from the gods of the blacksmiths and potters or gods of specific towns, cities, and landmarks. Therefore, their traveling nomadic way of life probably had alot to do with the recognition of a single god who journeyed with them. This is the God of the Old Testament! Wherever they went, God would go before them. God would fight the battles for God’s people.

    To shift away from the ancient view of Gods, I would like to think a bit more about John 4. This woman is often viewed as a prostitue, a sinner, a sketchy woman who selpt around with everyone. Let’s interpret Jesus’ statement about the 5 husbands a literal for a moment. To place that statement in its cultural context would not mean that she was a notorious sinner. You see in the ancient Samarian culture, as with many ancient cultures, women did not have rights. They could not choose to be divorced. They could not work to provide for themselves or their children. If she had five husbands, more than likely she had been abandoned by them. Some may have died. Some may have chosen to divorce her. Rather than viewing this as a story about Jesus redeeming a notorious sinner, maybe it’s a story about God’s love going to one who has been abandoned and broken.

    Sorry for writing so much, but my brain was just flying today. I know this is your blog, I just got excited about responding.


    • chrismeek32

      October 5, 2010 at 8:27 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and adding to the discussion. If we are to look at this part of John 4 literally, I appreciate your perspective of seeing it as a “story about God’s love going to one who has been abandoned and broken.” I wonder why so many jump to make her a sinful woman? Perhaps she very well could have found herself in the same situation as Tamar. (Gen. 38). Her husband died and the next brother married her to fulfill the law that requires the brother of a man who dies to marry his brother’s wife in order to provide an heir for his brother. If that was the case, it would be a little scary after the first two or three past. Judah certainly was worried about giving Shelah to Tamar after the first two.

      Don’t worry about writing too much…write all you want. Keep adding to the discussion.


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