Last week we discussed Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles (Feast of Booths) in John 7. This feast was one of the seven feasts appointed by the Lord in Leviticus. It took place in Jerusalem in October, right after the harvest, for seven days. The purpose was to remember and celebrate God’s protection and providence in the desert; it was a feast of rejoicing in the abundance of God’s goodness. In the midst of all the rejoicing, there were a multitude of sacrifices offered each day to draw the mind to atonement and forgiveness.
A libation (drink offering) of water followed the daily sacrifices. This was to ask God to pour out his blessing of rain upon the earth. The water for this offering was drawn the evening before from the Pool of Siloam. The ceremony of water drawing was a jubilant occasion. Instruments were played, people danced and sang songs. Isaiah 12:3 says, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The next morning a priest would pour water that had been drawn from Siloam into the bronze altar in the Temple Court.
On the last day of the feast, the water libation rite reached its climax. The shofar blew, the people waved branches, and the priests sang the Hallel (the psalms of praise, Psalms 113-118). The actual Hebrew of Psalm 118:25 is transliterated as, “Save us now, we beseech thee, O Lord.” They are reciting Scripture begging for a Saviour! What a climax! The priests circled the altar seven times and then poured out the water with great ceremony. This last day of the feast was called Hoshana Rabbah (Hebrew, “hosanna in the highest”).
Then, John 7:37-39: “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”
On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stands up and loudly proclaims that he is the source of living water. He was declaring who He was in the most public, most bold possible manner. Imagine the uproar His statement must have caused! The priest poured out the water libation as an appeal to God to provide water for the people, and Jesus tells them that He is the living water. Radical.
(Remember, also, the woman at the well in John 4: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”)
The Feast of the Tabernacles is mentioned in Zechariah 14:16-19. This chapter discusses the coming and reign of the Lord. Verse 8 says, “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem…” and then verses 16-19 discuss the Feast of the Tabernacles, that people must go. The commentaries say that this is the only feast still appropriate during the Messiah’s reign: The Passover was fulfilled in Christ’s death; the Day of Atonement fulfilled in acceptance in Christ’s salvation; the Feast of Firstfruits, in his resurrection; and Pentecost, with the arrival of the Holy Spirit. But the Feast of Tabernacles, a festival of thanksgiving, celebrates the harvest of souls for the Lord.
In addition to Zechariah and Isaiah 12, there is also Isaiah 44:3, which says, “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” The people would have known these Scriptures. Did they recognize their source of living water?
In light of all the symbolic and prophetic aspects of this feast, Jesus’ words and actions in John 7 take on profound significance. There couldn’t have been a more beautiful and symbolic way to tell us that He is the Spring of Eternal Life.