John 2 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

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(Read all of John 2)
1. And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:

[And the third day there was a marriage, &c.] A virgin marries on the fourth day of the week, and a widow on the fifth. "This custom came not in but from the decree of Ezra, and so onward: for the Sanhedrim doth not sit but on the second and the fifth days; but before the decree of Ezra, when the Sanhedrim assembled every day, then was it lawful to take a wife on any day." There is a twofold reason given for this restraint:

I. The virgin was to be married on the fourth day of the week because the assembly of the twenty-three met on the fifth: so that if the husband should find his wife to be no virgin, but already violated, he might have recourse to the consistory in the heat of his displeasure, and procure just punishment for her according to law. But why then might they not as well marry on the first day of the week, seeing the Beth Din met on the second as well as the fifth?

II. Lest the sabbath should be polluted by preparations for the nuptials: for the first, second, and third days of the week are allowed for those kind of preparations. And the reason why the widow was to be married on the fifth day was, that her husband might rejoice with her for three days together, viz. fifth, sixth, and the sabbath day.

If therefore our bride in this place was a virgin, then the nuptials were celebrated on the fourth day of the week, which is our Wednesday: if she was a widow, then she was married on the fifth day of the week, which is our Thursday. Let us therefore number our days according to our evangelist, and let it be but granted that that was the sabbath in which it is said, "They abode with him all that day," chapter 1, verse 39; then on the first day of the week Christ went into Galilee and met with Nathanael. So that the third day from thence is the fourth day of the week; but as to that, let every one reckon as he himself shall think fit.

[A marriage.] I. The virgin to be married cometh forth from her father's house to that of her husband, "in some veil, but with her hair dishevelled, or her head uncovered."

II. If any person meets her upon that day, he gives her the way; which once was done by king Agrippa himself.

III. They carry before her a cup of wine, which they were wont to call the cup of Trumah, which denoted that she, for her unspotted virginity, might have married a priest, and eaten of the Trumah.

IV. Skipping and dancing, they were wont to sing the praises of the bride. In Palestine they used these words "She needs no paint nor stibium, no plaiting of the hair, or any such thing; for she is of herself most beautiful."

V. They scattered some kind of grain or corn amongst the children; that they, if occasion should serve, might bear witness hereafter that they saw that woman a married virgin.

VI. They sprinkled also or sowed barley before them, by that ceremony denoting their fruitfulness. Whether these sports were used at the wedding where our Saviour was present, let others inquire.

VII. In Sotah there is mention of crowns which the bride and bridegroom wore; as also what fashion they were of, and of what materials they were made.

VIII. Because of the mirth that was expected at nuptial solemnities, they forbade all weddings celebrating within the feasts of the Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, "because there were great rejoicings at nuptials, and they must not intermingle one joy with another"; that is, the joy of nuptials with the joy of a festival.

IX. The nuptial festivity was continued for the whole seven days; which we also see of old, Judges 19:12.

[And the mother of Jesus was there.] The mother of Jesus was there, not invited (as it should seem) with Christ and his disciples, but had been there before the invitation made to them.

You may conceive who were the usual nuptial guests by those words of Maimonides: "The bridegroom and his companions, the children of the bridechamber, are not bound to make a tabernacle."

I. In a more general sense, denotes a friend or companion, as in the Targum, Judges 14:2; 2 Samuel 13:3: but it is more particularly applied to those friends that are the nuptial guests.

II. But in a most strict sense to those two mentioned Chetubb. fol. 12. 1: "Of old they appointed two Shoshbenin, one for the bridegroom, the other for the bride, that they should minister to them especially at their entry into the bridal chamber." They were especially instituted for this end, that they should take care and provide that there should be no fraud nor deceit as to the tokens of the bride's virginity. So Gloss upon the place. The Rabbins very ridiculously (as they almost always do) tell a trifling story, that Michael and Gabriel were the two Shoshbenin at Adam and Eve's wedding.

III. But as to the signification of this nuptial term in a more large sense, we may see farther: "If any amongst the brethren make a Shoshbenuth while the father is yet alive, when the Shoshbenuth returns, that also is returned too; for the Shoshbenuth is required even before the Beth Din; but if any one send to his friend any measures of wine, those are not required before the Beth Din; for this was a deed of gift? or work of charity."

The words are very obscure, but they seem to bear this sense, viz.: This was the manner of the Shoshbenuth: some bachelor or single person, for joy of his friend's marriage, takes something along with him to eat and be merry with the bridegroom: when it comes to the turn of this single person to marry, this bridegroom, to whom he had brought this portion, is bound to return the same kindness again. Nay, if the father should make a wedding for his son, and his friends should bring gifts along with them in honour of the nuptials, and give them to his son [the bridegroom], the father was bound to return the same kindness whenever any of those friends should think fit to marry themselves. But if any one should send the bridegroom to congratulate his nuptials, either wine or oil, or any such gift, and not come himself to eat and make merry with them, this was not of the nature of the Shoshbenuth, nor could be required back again before the tribunal, because that was a free gift.

IV. Christ therefore, and five of his disciples, were not of these voluntary Shoshbenin at this wedding, for they were invited guests, and so of the number of those that were called the children of the bridechamber, distinguished from the Shoshbenin. But whether our Saviour's mother was to be accounted either the one or the other is a vain and needless question. Perhaps she had the care of preparing and managing the necessaries for the wedding, as having some relation either with the bridegroom or the bride.

6. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

[Six waterpots.] Gloss, "If any one have water fit to drink, and that water by chance contract any uncleanness, let him fill the stone vessel with it."

The number of the six waterpots, I suppose, needs not be ascribed to any custom of the nation, but rather to the multitude then present. It is true indeed that at nuptials and other feasts, there were waterpots always set for the guests to wash their hands at; but the number of the vessels and the quantity of water was always proportioned according to the number of the guests; for both the hands and vessels, and perhaps the feet of some of them, were wont to be washed.

Mashicala mashi culla, the greater vessel out of which all wash; maschilta mashia callatha, the lesser vessel in which the bride washes, and (saith the Gloss) the better sort of the guests.

[Firkins.] The Greek version thus expresseth the measure of a bath, 2 Chronicles 4:5: so Haggai 2:16, where the same measure of a bath is to be understood. Now if every one of these waterpots in our story contained two or three baths apiece, how great a quantity of wine must that be which all that water was changed into!

The waterpots of Lydda and Bethlehem: where the Gloss, "They were wont to make pots in Lydda from the measure of the seah to that of the log; and in Bethlehem from the measure of two seahs to that of one." How big were these pots that contained six or nine seahs: for every bath contained three seahs.

As to the washing of the hands, we have this in Jadaim; "they allot a fourth part of a log for the washing of one person's hands, it may be of two; half a log for three or four; a whole log to five or ten, nay, to a hundred; with this provision, saith R. Jose, that the last that washeth hath no less than a fourth part of a log for himself."

7. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

[Jesus said, Fill, &c.] I. It is probable that the discourse betwixt Jesus and his mother was not public and before the whole company, but privately and betwixt themselves: which if we suppose, the words of the son towards the mother, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" will not seem so harsh as we might apprehend them if spoken in the hearing of all the guests. And although the son did seem by his first answer to give a plain denial to what was propounded to him, yet perhaps by something which he afterward said to her, (though not expressed by the evangelist,) or some other token, the mother understood his mind so far, that when they came into company again she could intimate to them, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."

II. He answered his mother, "Mine hour is not yet come": for it might be justly expected that the first miracle he would exert should be done in Jerusalem, the metropolis of that nation.

8. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

[The governor of the feast.] This governor of the feast I would understand to have been in the place of chaplain, to give thanks, and pronounce blessings in such kind of feasts as these were. There was the bridegroom's blessing, recited every day for the whole space of the seven days, besides other benedictions during the whole festival time, requisite upon a cup of wine (for over a cup of wine there used to be a blessing pronounced;) especially that which was called the cup of good news, when the virginity of the bride is declared and certified. He, therefore, who gave the blessing for the whole company, I presume, might be called the governor of the feast. Hence to him it is that our Saviour directs the wine that was made of water, as he who, after some blessing pronounced over the cup, should first drink of it to the whole company, and after him the guests pledging and partaking of it.

As to what is contained in verses 14, 15, and 16 of this chapter, I have already discussed that in Matthew 21:12.

18. Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?

[What sign showest thou unto us?] "Noah, Hezekiah, &c., require a sign; much more the wicked and ungodly."

Since there had been so many, no less than four hundred years past, from the time that the Holy Spirit had departed from that nation, and prophecies had ceased, in which space there had not appeared any one person that pretended to the gift either of prophesying or working miracles, it is no wonder if they were suspicious of one that now claimed the character, and required a sign of him.

19. Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

[Destroy this Temple.] I. Christ showeth them no sign that was a mere sign, Matthew 12:39. The turning of Moses' rod into a serpent, and returning the serpent into a rod again; the hand becoming leprous, and restored to its proper temperament again; these were mere signs; but those wonders which Moses afterward wrought in Egypt were not mere signs, but beneficent miracles; and whoever would not believe upon those infinite miracles which he wrought, would much less have believed upon mere signs. And, indeed, it was unbecoming our blessed Lord so far to indulge to their obstinate incredulity, to be showing new signs still at every beck of theirs, who would not believe upon those infinite numbers he put forth upon every proper occasion.

II. Matthew 12:39,40. When they had required a sign, Christ remits them to the sign of the prophet Jonah; and he points at the very same sense in these words, Destroy this Temple, &c.: that is, "My resurrection from the dead will be a sign beyond all denial, proving and affirming, that what I do I act upon divine authority, and that I am he who is to come (Rom 1:4). Further than this you must expect no other sign from me. If you believe me not while I do such works, at least believe me when I arise from the dead."

He acted here, while he is purging the Temple, under that notion as he was the authorized Messiah, Malachi 3:1,3, and expressly calls it "his Father's house," verse 16. Show us therefore some sign, (say the Jews,) by which it may appear that thou art the Messiah the Son of God; at least, that thou art a prophet. I will show you a sufficient sign, saith Christ: destroy this temple, viz. of my body, and I will raise it from the dead again; a thing which was never yet done, nor could be done by any of the prophets.

20. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?

[Forty-and-six years.] I. That this was spoken of the Temple as beautified and repaired by Herod, not as built by Zorobabel, these reasons seem to sway with me:

1. That these things were done and discoursed betwixt Christ and the Jews in Herod's Temple.

2. That the account, if meant of the Temple of Zorobabel, will not fall in either with the years of the kings of Persia; or those seven weeks mentioned Daniel 9:25, in which Jerusalem was to be built, "even in troublous times." For whoever reckons by the kings of Persia, he must necessarily attribute at least thirty years to Cyrus; which they willingly do that are fond of this account: which thirty years too, if they do not reckon to him after the time that he had taken Babylon, and subverted that monarchy, they prove nothing as to this computation at all.

"Cyrus destroyed the empire of the Medes, and reigned over Persia, having overthrown Astyages, the king of the Medes": and from thence Eusebius reckons to Cyrus thirty years. But by what authority he ascribes the Jews' being set at liberty from their captivity to that very same year, I cannot tell. For Cyrus could not release the Jews from their captivity in Babylon before he had conquered Babylon for himself; and this was a great while after he had subdued the Medes, as appears from all that have treated upon the subversion of that empire: which how they agree with Xenophon, I shall not inquire at this time: content at present with this, that it doth not appear amongst any historians that have committed the acts of Cyrus to memory, that they have given thirty or twenty, no, not ten years to him after he had taken Babylon. Leunclavius gives him but eight years; and Xenophon himself seems to have given him but seven. So that this account of forty-and-six years falls plainly to the ground, as not being able to stand, but with the whole thirty years of Cyrus included into the number.

Their opinion is more probable who make these forty-and-six years parallel with the seven weeks in Daniel 9:25. But the building of the Temple ceased for more years than wherein it was built; and, in truth, if we compute the times wherein any work was done upon the Temple, it was really built within the space of ten years.

II. This number of forty-six years fits well enough with Herod's Temple; for Josephus tells us, that Herod began the work in the eighteenth year of his reign; nor does he contradict himself when he tells us, in the fifteenth year of his reign he repaired the Temple; because the fifteenth year of his reign alone, after he had conquered Antigonus, was the eighteenth year from the time wherein he had been declared king by the Romans. Now Herod (as the same Josephus relates) lived thirty-seven years from the time that the Romans had declared him king; and in his thirty-fifth year Christ was born; and he was now thirty years old when he had this discourse with the Jews. So that between the eighteenth of Herod and the thirtieth of Christ exclusively there were just forty-six years complete.

III. The words of our evangelist therefore may be thus rendered in English: "Forty-and-six years hath this Temple been in building": and this version seems warranted by Josephus, who, beginning the history of G. Florus, the procurator of Judea, about the 11th of Nero, hath this passage; From that time particularly our city began to languish, all things growing worse and worse. He tells us further, that Albinus, when he went off from his government, set open all the gaols and dismissed the prisoners, and so filled the whole province with thieves and robberies. He tells withal, that king Agrippa permitted the Levite singing-men to go about as they pleased in their linen garments: and at length concludes, "And now was the Temple finished [note that]; wherefore the people, seeing the workmen, to the number of eighteen thousand, were at a stand, having nothing to do...besought the king that he would repair the porch upon the east," &c. If therefore the Temple was not finished till that time, then much less was it so when Christ was in it. Whence we may properly enough render those words of the Jews into such a kind of sense as this: "It is forty-and-six years since the repairing of the Temple was first undertook, and indeed to this day is not quite perfected; and wilt thou pretend to build a new one in three days?"

21. But he spake of the temple of his body.

[But he spake of the temple of his body.] If we consider how much the second Temple came behind that of the first, it will the more easily appear why our blessed Saviour should call his body the Temple.

"In the second Temple there wanted the Fire from heaven, the Ark with the Propitiatory and Cherubims, Urim and Thummim, the Divine Glory, the Holy Ghost, and the anointing Oil."

These things were all in Solomon's Temple, which therefore was accounted a full and plenary type of the Messiah: but so long as the second Temple had them not, it wanted what more particularly shadowed and represented him.

I. There was indeed in the second Temple a certain ark in the Holy of Holies; but this was neither Moses' ark nor the ark of the covenant: which may not unfitly come to mind when we read that passage, Revelation 11:19, "The Temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his Temple the ark of his testament." It was not seen, nor indeed was it at all in the second Temple.

The Jews have a tradition, that Josias hid the ark before the Babylonish captivity, lest it should fall into the hands of the enemy, as once it did amongst the Philistines; but there is no mention that it was ever found and restored again.

II. In Moses' Tabernacle and Solomon's Temple the divine presence sat visibly over the Ark in the Propitiatory, in a cloud of glory: but when the destruction of that Temple drew near, it went up from the Propitiatory, Ezekiel 10:4, and never returned into the second Temple, where neither the Ark nor the Propitiatory was ever restored.

III. The high priest, indeed, ministered in the second Temple as in the first, in eight several garments. Amongst these was the pectoral, or breastplate, wherein the precious stones were put (out of which the jasper chanced to fall and was lost): but the oracle by Urim and Thummim was never restored: see Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:63. And if not restored in the days of Ezra or Nehemiah, much less certainly in the ages following, when the spirit of prophecy had forsaken and taken leave of that people. For that is a great truth amongst the Talmudists; "Things are not asked or inquired after now [by Urim and Thummim] by the high priest, because he doth not speak by the Holy Ghost, nor does there any divine afflatus breathe on him."

This, to omit other things, was the state of Zorobabel's Temple with respect to those things which were the peculiar glory of it. And these things being wanting, how much inferior must this needs be to that of Solomon's!

But there was one thing that degraded Herod's Temple still lower; and that was the person of Herod himself, to whom it is ascribed. It was not without scruple, even amongst the Jews themselves, that it was built and repaired by such a one: (and who knew not what Herod was?) and they dispute whether by right such a person ought to have meddled with it; and invent arguments for their own satisfaction as to the lawfulness of the thing.

They object first, It is not permitted to any one to demolish one synagogue till he hath built another: much less to demolish the Temple. But Herod demolished the Temple before he had built another. Ergo,

They answer, "Baba Ben Buta gave Herod that counsel, that he should pull it down." Now this Baba was reckoned amongst the great wise men, and he did not rashly move Herod to such a work; for he saw such clefts and breaches in the Temple that threatened its ruin.

They object, secondly, concerning the person of Herod, that he was a servant to the Asmonean family, that he rose up against his masters and killed them, and had killed the Sanhedrim.

They answer, We were under his power, and could not resist it. And if those hands stained with blood would be building, it was not in their power to hinder it.

These and other things they apologize for their Temple; adding this invention for the greater honour of the thing--that all that space of time wherein it was a building, it never once rained by day, that the work might not be interrupted.

The Rabbins take a great deal of pains, but to no purpose, upon those words, Haggai 2:9, "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former." "R. Jochanan and R. Eliezer say; one, that it was a greater for the fabric; the other, that it was greater for the duration." As if the glory of the Temple consisted in any mathematical reasons of space, dimension, or duration; as if it lay in walls, gilding, or ornament. The glory of the first Temple was the Ark, the divine cloud over the Ark, the Urim and the Thummim, &c. Now where or in what can consist the greater glory of the second Temple when these are gone?

Herein it is indeed that the Lord of the Temple was himself present in his Temple: he himself was present in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, Colossian 2:9; as the divine glory of old was over the ark typically, or by way of shadow only.

This is the glory, when he himself is present who is the great High Priest and the Prophet; who, answerably to the Urim and Thummim of old, reveals the counsels and will of God; he who is the true and living Temple, whom that Temple shadowed out. "This Temple of yours, O ye Jews, does not answer its first pattern and exemplar: there are wanting in that, what were the chief glory of the former; which very defect intimates that there is another Temple to be expected, that in all things may fall in with its first type, as it is necessary the antitype should do. And this is the Temple of my body." No further did he think fit to reply to them at that time.