In Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman, he tells her, “Salvation (σωτηρία; sotería) is from the Jews” (4:22). This Jewish-Samaritan exchange also contains a veiled reference to the number seven, which symbolizes perfection or completeness in Hebrew thought. In Israel’s Scriptures, the number appears in the context of healing and salvation, and John also uses “seven” to highlight the salvation of the world through Jesus.
Immediately after Yeshua speaks of giving the Samaritan woman “living water,” he tells her, “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (4:18). Scholars tend to focus on the possible symbolism of the woman’s “five” prior husbands—perhaps as a reference to the five Books of Moses or the five pagan deities that Samaritans worshiped in the time of Israel’s kings (see 1 Kgs 17:30-31). However, many have missed that the ultimate number is not five, but seven: the woman has five husbands, is living with another man presently, and the seventh man in her life is Jesus! John’s numerical allusion positions Yeshua as the perfect source of the Samaritan woman’s salvation. In fact, John underscores this relationship between “seven” and “salvation” when, just after Jesus leaves Samaria, he heals a Galilean’s son “in the seventh hour” (4:52). The Gospel includes these references to “seven,” the Hebrew number of completeness, to emphasize Jesus’ ability to completely save humanity.
John’s reference to seven coheres with Jesus’ gift of living water, since Israel’s priests used “living water” alongside a seven-fold blood ritual for healing skin ailments: “The priest… shall take… the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the living water (מים חיים; mayim hayim). And he shall sprinkle it seven times (שׁבע פעמים; sheva pa’amim) on him who is to be cleansed” (Lev 14:6-7). In John, “living water” (ὕδωρ τὸ ζῶν; hudor to zon) comes through a Jewish Messiah whose appearance marks the seventh time that a man has come into the Samaritan woman’s life—this time to offer her the “salvation” that is “from the Jews” (4:22).
John’s association between “seven” and salvation” also recalls Israel’s victory the days of Saul. Before the Ammonites engage them in battle, the elders of Israel ask, ‘Give us seven days’ (שׁבעת ימים; shivat yamim) respite that we might send messengers throughout all Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves to you’” (1 Sam 11:3). Within this seven-day period, the messengers find Saul and he defeats the Ammonites, declaring, “Today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel” (תשׁועה בישׂראל; teshuah b’Yisrael; 11:13). Israel’s Scriptures link “seven” with “salvation,” and John’s Gospel follows the biblical precedent in presenting Jesus as the Savior of the world.