37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”
Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.
(John 7:37-44 NIV)
Jesus is at the Feast of the Tabernacles and has begun teaching publicly in the synagogue courtyard. In today’s passage, John notes that Jesus has been at the festival several days, and the event which John records in today’s reading is on the last day of the festival.
To understand what Jesus was saying, we need to understand the context of the Feast of the Tabernacles. John’s record of this event was likely self-evident to the average Jewish reader of John’s day; for us, it takes a little more investigation.
The Feast of the Tabernacles was held during fall harvest to celebrate the Lord’s blessing and the gathering of the crops. The feast lasted seven days and commemorated the Lord’s provision in the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey, the land of abundance.
One of the ceremonies of the Feast is called the Water Ceremony, where the high priest walks to the Pool of Siloam, dips a water pitcher into the water, walks back to the temple courtyard and pours out the water. As the high priest is pouring out the water, he and the parishioners recite a Messianic passage as a blessing to the Lord:
25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
(Psalm 118:25-26 NIV)
Again, John does not spell out every last detail here, but could it be that Jesus spoke up while the Water Ceremony was taking place?
I can imagine Jesus watching this Water Ceremony taking place and saying, “Hey folks, I’m right here – you are asking Messiah to save you. I offer you spiritual water that will save your souls. I’m right here!”
Isaiah 55:1 talks about God offering living water to Israel, and Isaiah 58:11 talks about Israel being a well-watered garden with a source of living water (a spring) that will never fail. Both of these passages refer to spiritual water, not literal water. John makes it clear that the “water” Jesus was offering was the Holy Spirit. Jesus never portrayed Himself as the water, but as the One who provides the water.
John records the mayhem in the crowd. Some thought Jesus was “the Prophet” (Moses) while others thought Jesus was Messiah. More misunderstanding and confusion around Jesus – who He is and what He is doing.
John records that some wanted to seized Jesus, but no one laid a hand on Him.
As I read and study this passage, I am reminded of God’s words through Jeremiah the prophet against Israel as they tried to do life on their own without God:
12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
(Jeremiah 2:12-13 ESV)
May we not forsake the source of life, the Living Water that God Himself provides to nourish and grow our hearts and souls. Jesus offers us this Living Water free of charge to any who will receive it.
Let Jesus quench your thirst as no one or nothing else can.