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The Water-to-Wine Cana Wedding Story

Early in the John chapter 2 gospel narrative, Yeshua had his eyes set on traveling into Israel’s ancient town of Canah in the Galilee (often pronounced in English as Cayna). There he would perform a miracle that astonished the locals. There, in the midst of a large wedding celebration and with the festive wine running out, he noticed six large stone jars holding water used for ritual washing and purification purposes. With the celebratory wine running out and six stone jars of water, Yeshua did something quite miraculous. He did and/or said something (what exactly, we are not told) causing the water in the containers to turn into wine, and not just any wine mind you. The result is what the master of the house called “better wine.” To this end we must ask the question, what was this lesson all about? To what purpose did Yeshua perform the miracle?

With a surface reading of the story, in what is called p’shat, essentially meaning what-you-see-is-what-you-get, the described event is pretty straightforward yet no less amazing in its own right. However, I want to take us through what Judaism refers to as remez, the hints of a biblical narrative. In other words, below the surface of the story, there is much more going on. With this said, let’s get started.

The Pattern of the Third Day

John 2:1. On the third day there was a wedding in Canah of Galilee.

Whenever you see any Bible statement speaking about the third day, never gloss over it, ever. Any third day mention in scripture is linked to a biblical hint about resurrection and new life. For example, in Joshua 2:15-16, Jericho’s Rahab helped some Israelite men who quietly came to that walled city to assess whether it could be taken or not. To help protect the men who were suspected of hiding in the city, Rahab warned them, saying:

Get to the mountain, lest the pursuers (of the city) meet you. Hide there three days, until the pursuers have returned. Afterward you may go your way.

In Luke 9:22, this third day pattern is further redacted for us when Yeshua spoke to his disciples about his approaching death and resurrection. He said to them:

The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.

Yeshua’s Arrival in the Galilee

John 2:1. On the third day there was a wedding in Canah of Galilee.

The John chapter 2 water-to-wine miracle is set in Canah of Galilee. This might beg the question: of all the towns and villages in Israel, why specifically did Yeshua choose Canah of Galilee? I think the answer is two-fold. Let us consider the first answer according to Isaiah 9:1-2:

By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Goyim (Gentiles). The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a Light has shined.

This geographic location for Canah of the Galilee sets the stage for the verses of Psalm 80, with the following statements that shine from the face of the Light of Messiah:

Verse 1: Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel (see Genesis 49:24), you who lead Joseph like a flock; you who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!

Verse 8: You have brought a Vine out of Egypt; you have cast out the nations, and planted him (see Matthew 2:14-15).

Verse 17: Let your hand be upon the Man of your Right (hand), upon the Son of Man whom you made strong for yourself (see Matthew 17:9).

Verse 19: Restore us, O Yehovah Elohim of Heaven’s armies (hosts); cause your Face to Shine, and we shall be saved!

The Canah Water-to-Wine Miracle

CANAH in biblical Hebrew is derived from the root KAF-NUN-HEH or in Aramaic, a dialect of biblical Hebrew – KAF-NUN-ALEF. One of the meanings for CANAH refers to the base of a plant which serves as an agricultural rootstock onto which may be grafted a cutting or bud from another plant. Here is a good example for the meaning of CANAH from the context of Romans 11:18-19:

…Remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in” (canah).

Canah As It Relates to Psalm 80

Psalm 80:15 (80:16 in Hebrew) is a Messianic Song. Verse 15 declares:

וְ֭כַנָּה אֲשֶׁר־נָטְעָ֣ה יְמִינֶ֑ךָ

v’canah asher nat’ah y’meenecha

and a grafted-in rootstock (a canah) that is planted, He is your Right (hand).”

This reference is to that of an agricultural rootstock, one that receives the cutting or bud of another plant; that which is joined or grafted-in to another. Thus, we must ask, What type of grafted-in rootstock is this? The previous verse tells us that it is a vineyard grapevine:

Psalm 80:14. O Elohim (God) of Heaven’s hosts; look down from Heaven and see, and visit this Vine (Hebrew: pakod, call and/or look after this Vine).

However, lest we assume that this vineyard grapevine, this “canah” is a mere symbol of the natural nation of Israel or perhaps even a symbol of the Jews of the Galilean village town of Cana, we must first recall how Yeshua related to the term canah in John 15:1:

I am the true Canah (the true Vine) and my Father is the vinedresser.

In the miracle of turning water into wine at Canah, it is clear that Yeshua was speaking of his role as Heaven’s Vine – Heaven’s Canah, a grape Vine that would symbolically grow beautiful grape clusters to produce a most excellent wine; that in him, Heaven’s Canah, all could be grafted-in.

In being grafted-in to Yeshua, who is the true Vine of Messianic Israel – the true Canah of Heaven, he remains the carrier of Messiah’s “blood of grapes” (see Genesis 49:11). Symbolically drinking his “blood” is the action of drinking his “wine” of Heaven’s New Covenant as Yeshua said:

John 6:56. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him (see Genesis 49:11).

This is precisely why Yeshua spoke the words of John 15:5:

I am the Canah (the Vine) and you all are the banim (sons and branches of the Son). He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit (that is, the Fruit of the Vine); for without me you can do nothing.

Understandably, to a ready heart of someone who perhaps heard him speak of good wine, this would have been well-understood because according to Psalm 80:15 (80:16 in Hebrew), the verse finishes with the following words:

וְעַל־בֵּ֝֗ן אִמַּ֥צְתָּה לָּֽךְ

v’al ben eematztah lach

and upon (and for) the Son, he is your Strong One!”

With the water-to-wine miracle in Canah of Galilee, Yeshua had identified himself as the Good Vine of Heaven in the supply chain of a New Covenant better wine; a superior “blood of grapes” cultivated and grown in the Vineyard of the Kingdom of Heaven. Hence, the night before Yeshua was slaughtered as scripture’s Passover Lamb, he gave a command to his disciples in Matthew 26:27:

Drink from it (the wine), all of you. For this is (symbolically) my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Later, Paul wrote to remind us of something more that Yeshua said in 1 Corinthians 11:25:

“...This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Given the agricultural meaning for the Hebrew and Aramaic word “canah,” I think that we can better appreciate why Yeshua came to Canah of Galilee and there, performed his first public miracle to turn water into wine. As a side comment, I think this wedding celebration was at the home of a wealthy or priestly family. This said, let us continue on with the story.

Miriam’s Declaration: “They Have No Wine!”

At the event, Miriam, the mother of Yeshua came to him, saying, “They have no wine.” I think perhaps this should be understood in light of Genesis 3:6:

So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

My understanding of Miriam’s declarations as a link to Genesis 3:6 is based on how I am reading Yeshua’s response in John 2:4.

Woman! What does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.

Admittedly, I am not academically trained in Greek. Still, in looking at this as wisely as I could in Greek, I thoughtfully reordered the words according to my available Greek grammar tools, along with Greek word meanings and local context and then applied some of my known understanding of what I think might be driving the narrative from its underlying Hebrew and Aramaic ideas. Therefore, here is what I have considered as a possible alternative dialogue paraphrase, whether right or wrong:

Miriam: “They have no wine!”

Yeshua: “And indeed what would be my reason to do something?”

… [pauses to answer the question]

Yeshua: For you [because of or on account of] the woman! [referring back to the causative action of the woman in Genesis 3:6].

Yeshua: Yet not at this time is my hour [when the whole Genesis 3 situation can be fixed].

Yeshua appears to respond to the situation that began in the Garden of Eden and, thus, in Canah, he turns their water into his wine as a teaching parable to show what will soon happen in the realm of the spiritual Kingdom of Heaven, which cannot be fulfilled until after Yeshua’s Death and Resurrection. This would give me a good reason to understand why he says, “yet not at this time is my hour.” The Greek text seems to support that Yeshua is speaking to Miriam indirectly about a Hebraic causal action derived from its past event in Genesis 3:6. In this, he is not making it his problem that their wine ran out, nor is he scolding Miriam for even asking him to solve their real-world embarrassment. It appears that Yeshua was hinting to Miriam that the problem for why they had no wine is because of “the woman” in Genesis 3:6, who sadly drew Adam into a matter that resulted in her and Adam eating from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:

So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

(*If you are someone who is academically trained in Greek grammar, I would welcome your thoughts.) The dialogue between Yeshua and Miriam concludes in John 2:4. But then Miriam turns to the house servants in John 2:5 and the Greek seems to suggest the following:

Narrative: His mother was speaking about this to the servants.

Miriam to the Servants: All of what he says to you, hear!

Hebraically, I would connect this word to Exodus 23:21 and to Hebrews 10:38-39.

Exodus 23:21. Beware of him and obey his voice; do not provoke him, for he will not pardon your transgressions (if you do not hear and do as he tells you); for my name is in him.

Hebrews 10:38-39. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.

You Have Kept the Better Wine Until Now!

Again, according to the narrative, that festive occasion in Canah apparently had no wine (at least, as the partygoers might have understood the term). Consequently, this led to a robust statement made by the master of the celebration (who perhaps might have had a little too much to drink). After he had tasted Yeshua’s miracle wine, he emphatically blurts out:

John 2:10. Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the better wine until now!

The Greek text seems to say that it was not merely “good wine” that Yeshua made but rather “better wine.” Considering this, it does suggest something noteworthy from a Hebrew scripture perspective. Let’s have a look at the spiritual context of the master’s statement by first looking at the words of Isaiah 5:1-2:

My beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones,

and planted it with the choicest vine (a hint towards the term “canah” in Psalm 80:15). He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; So, he expected it (the vineyard) to bring forth good grapes (for the production of good wine) but it brought forth wild grapes.

The English translation “wild grapes” is derived from the Hebrew term בְּאֻשִֽׁים behushim meaning sour, nasty, unripe, stunted, retarded grapes, which, of course, would produce a sour and bitter tasting wine. At the wedding of Canah (recall that “canah” is an agricultural term for a plant rootstock for grafting-in as well as carrying the meaning of a reed and/or a vine). This gives us some fresh insight into the reason why Yeshua was offered “sour wine” on the execution tree:

Matthew 27:48. Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed (a canah) and offered it to him to drink.

This also gives us an enhanced assessment of Yehovah’s declaration to all Israel through Ezekiel 18:2:

The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

This now said, let us return to the statement made to Yeshua by the master of the Canah wedding celebration:

John 2:10. You have kept the better wine until now!

Again, the term “better wine” actually appears as a more accurate reading from Greek. Nonetheless, I see this as a hint back to Genesis 2:9 where we learn about The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, suggesting a linkage to some literary folklore of Judaism. Woven into some Jewish midrashim (stories and spiritual lessons transmitted downline to us from the rabbis of bygone days), there is a known legend that addresses the question, What kind of tree was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:9 and Genesis 2:17)?

In Judaism, it is clear that the forbidden fruit was not an apple. Rather, one interesting piece of folklore gives us this from Genesis Midrash Rabbah 15:7 (XV.7):

R. Judah b. R. Ila’I said: it was grapes, for it says, “their grapes are grapes of gall, they have clusters of bitterness (from Deuteronomy 32:32, which has a similar reading from Hebrew). Those clusters brought bitterness (sorrow) into the world.

Here, an old Jewish tradition tells us that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil might have been a mixed vine of good and bad clusters of grapes. Therefore, this vine produced grape clusters of bitterness and grapes of gall (Sin and Death), or if you will, “Grapes of Wrath.” At the wedding celebration of Canah, they evidently had been drinking a lesser quality beverage, perhaps watered down and mixed with a lesser quality fruit of the vine, at least metaphorically.

The Kiddush of Jewish Tradition

Jewish tradition regularly remembers kiddush (a special sanctification prayer) which is articulated whenever the Jewish people gather together for an occasion to eat bread. Thus, before eating, kiddush is initiated by reciting the following prayer:

ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם, בורא פרי הגפן

Blessed are you Yehovah Elohim (“Lord God”)

King of the world, who makes the Fruit of the Vine

In repeating this sanctification prayer over and over again at every Jewish gathering where there is food to eat, it continually recalls the day when the redeemed of Yehovah will gather for a marriage celebration which includes eating and drinking with the celebratory wine of the Olam Haba – the World to Come. Of course, keep in mind that the night before Yeshua was crucified, the Master expressed it this way:

Matthew 26:29. “…I will not drink of this Fruit of the Vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Again, Judaism refers to this event as the Olam Haba (the world to come). But New Covenant Israel calls it the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. In taking kiddush, it is a reminder of the resurrection life that will bring us into the Wedding Supper of the Lamb and into the Olam Haba (the World to Come). This was Yeshua’s living metaphor performed at the Wedding of Canah. So, the purpose of the parable at Canah of Galilee was to draw everyone’s attention to the promise of the Olam Haba and the New Covenant of the Kingdom of Heaven. Fittingly, Paul reminded us of this in 1 Corinthians 11:25:

“…he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

The Six Large Stone Water Purification Jars

John 2:10. Now there were set there six waterpots (water jars) of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing about twenty or thirty gallons apiece (close to about 80 liters of water each).

Most folks of the Second Temple period used clay jars because clay was common and inexpensive. From a Jewish legal perspective, the interior of all clay vessels (those already oven-fired) are subject to ritual impurity, in the event that something unclean comes into contact with the exposed clay interior. When clay objects became ritually impure, they were deemed unusable and thus broken. At numerous archaeological sites of ancient Israel today, you will always notice thousands of shards and pieces of broken clay from vessels, jars, plates, bowls, cups, etc.

In the Second Temple period, however, Stone vessels, were also used but were not subject to ritual impurity. Due to their high cost, they were used by the wealthy and within priestly family circles. The Canah wedding celebration was obviously a local high-society party, perhaps even involving a priestly family because they had six very large stone containers for their water purification rituals. Again, to have six very large stone jars for water purification was not something that came cheap. Nonetheless, we have here a metaphor; a lesson much deeper than what appears to be from a surface reading of the narrative. The underlying hint is presented to us with two biblical references in mind:

Revelation 3:17-20. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked — I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me.

Ezekiel 36:24-26. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Through Yeshua’s redemptive actions, these six themes are fulfilled to match each of the six Canah stone water jars; themes showing us mankind’s efforts to satisfy a purification from self-works, self-justification, self-salvation; that is, everything about “self.” However, the truth is this: Yehovah cleanses us by what he accomplishes in us; we do not, nor can we purify or accomplish anything for or by our own works of righteousness and justification. This, of course, goes against every manmade ritual on earth that has its own rulings to supposedly become purified from this body of flesh and from the corruption that is in the world. In Judaism, one such purification rule is called “tevilah” (water immersion), which was taught as a ritual that could spiritually cleanse impurity:

Mark 7:1-9. Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”

The Dead Sea community outside of Jerusalem was very big into this type of ritual purification, in fact, many times a day. The symbolic action of tevilah or water immersion can do nothing for a person unless there is first a confession and then repentance (see 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 and 1 John 1:9). Then, we are Spirit-led into the mikveh of Israel:

Jeremiah 17:13. O Yehovah, the mikveh (the hope and gathering of waters) of Israel. All who forsake you shall be ashamed. “Those who depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken Yehovah, the source of Living Waters.”

The Manifestation of Yeshua’s Glory

John 2:11. This beginning of signs Yeshua did in Canah of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples trusted in him.

The miracle wedding story of Cana was a deliberate parable teaching on the part of Yeshua to give testimony to the true mikveh experience (a water immersion into a gathering of waters below) and that it is only beneficial when we also are drawn in and grafted-in to the Kingdom of Heaven’s Canah or Vine above. This one was sent to us as the sign of Heaven’s New Covenant Vineyard from above. Into him who is the rootstock of our grafting-in, he remains our only hope for eternal life through his Death and Third Day Resurrection. This is precisely why Paul referred to Yeshua as Israel’s “hope of glory” (see Colossians 1:27), our Messianic metaphor of Death and Resurrection. Following our resurrection in him, he will then draw us near into the Kingdom of Heaven of the Olam Haba and there, we will celebrate eternal life in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and drink from the better New Covenant wine that he has, for nearly 2,000 years, kept for us unto That Day.

John 2:10 (the master of the celebration on better wine): You have kept the better wine until now!

Luke 5:39 (Yeshua on old wine and new wine): And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, “The old is better.”

Matthew 26:29 (Yeshua on the coming Kingdom of Heaven): But I say to you, I will not drink of this Fruit of the Vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

Revelation 19:9 (The Word on the Marriage Supper of the Lamb): Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”


Avi ben Mordechai

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1 Comment

Dallas McDermott
Dallas McDermott
Dec 29, 2019

Great teaching once again. This explains a lot of the mystery. I always wondered the significance of six water jars.

Thanks again

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