John 7:37-39 – Feast of Booths and the Water Rite

We skipped Jesus’ words last week in order to continue our discussion on the Jews’ expectations and understanding of the coming Messiah.
• We looked at the guards and the Pharisees views of the Messiah specifically and dealt with the symbolism behind Nicodemus’ appearance.
• As we learned, discernment would be needed to identify Him.
• And in John 7 we saw numerous examples of this discernment in action (failed examples).
• This discernment would be done in (2) ways:
    o (1) Measuring Jesus against their understandings of the attributes of the Messiah
    o (2) Receiving a special “help” and “spiritual discernment” from God

Today we are going to deal with Jesus’ words in John 7:37-39.
• We are skipping His words in John 7:33-36 because similar words appear in John 8 and we will deal with them then.


John 7:37–39 (ESV) — 37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Why would Jesus stand up and cry out about water on the last day of the feast?
• As we learned a few weeks ago, the Feast of Booths was a 7 day feast ordained by God.
• But, interestingly, at Jesus’ time the feast had actually become more of an 8 day feast.
• This is because the eighth day became a joyful day of “sacrifices, the joyful dismantling of the booths, and the repeated singing of the Hallel (Pss. 113-118)” – D. A. Carson.
• However, it was most likely the 7th day that Jesus stood up and spoke about water.
• And this is because something called the water-pouring rite took place on the 7 days of the Feast and not the 8th.

Water-Pouring Rite
It was not part of the original command by God, but it is believed to have been in practice for a couple of hundred years before Christ.
• The rite specifically “symbolized the fertility and fruitfulness that only rain could bring” – D.A. Carson.
• Refer to pictures of the desert-like conditions that characterized Israel in order to demonstrate just how rare and important water was.
• In fact, God made it clear that the Jews would be completely reliant on Him to provide the water they so desperately needed.
    o Deuteronomy 11:13–14 (ESV) — 13 “And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil.
• And at a time of disobedience, Elijah had this to say:
    o 1 Kings 17:1 (ESV) — 1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”

Judean Desert

So, needless to say, the Jews relied on God to provide life giving water to a dry and parched land.

What exactly was the water-pouring rite?
• “On the seven days of the Feast, a golden flagon was filled with water from the pool of Siloam and was carried in a procession led by the High Priest back to the temple. As the procession approached the watergate on the south side of the inner court three blasts from the šôp̄ār—a trumpet connected with joyful occasions—were sounded. While the pilgrims watched, the priests processed around the altar with the flagon, the temple choir singing the Hallel (Pss. 113–118; cf. Mishnah Sukkah 4:9). When the choir reached Psalm 118, every male pilgrim shook a lûlāḇ (willow and myrtle twigs tied with palm) in his right hand, while his left raised a piece of citrus fruit (a sign of the ingathered harvest), and all cried ‘Give thanks to the LORD!)’ three times. The water was offered to God at the time of the morning sacrifice, along with the daily drink-offering (of wine). The wine and the water were poured into their respective silver bowls, and then poured out before the LORD” – D.A. Carson.

1st Century Flagon

So we see what the water-pouring rite is but why would Jesus stand up and cry out about water?
• This becomes plainly obvious when we understand the symbolism behind the water-pouring rite.
• (1) God’s provision of water.
• (2) A coming messianic age.
• “The Feast of Tabernacles [was] related in Jewish thought both to the LORD’s provision of water in the desert and to the LORD’s pouring out of the Spirit in the last days. Pouring at the Feast of Tabernacles refers symbolically to the messianic age in which a stream from the sacred rock would flow over the whole earth (cf. J. Jeremias, TDNT, 4. 277f.)” – D.A. Carson.

With this symbolism on display, we see why Jesus would have stood up and made His proclamation.

What about the Substance of Jesus’ Words?
If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’
• Clearly, Jesus is referring to the messianic age as symbolized by the water-pouring rite.
• But deeply layered in this symbolism, John inform us, is the Holy Spirit.
• Drinking is believing and with believing comes the water – the Holy Spirit.

John MacArthur puts it like this:
• (1) Thirsty – those who recognize their spiritual thirst and need.
• (2) Come – the thirsty see in Christ the satisfaction of their spiritual thirst and come to Him.
    o Many have realized their thirst and come to Jesus but have still been left wanting – the rich young ruler, e.g.
    o The reason is that they have not done the third thing Jesus speaks of.
• (2) Drink – trust in Christ.
    o And as John informs us, the “drinking” will be accompanied by the baptism of the Spirit at Pentecost.

We also have a direct parallel here to Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.
• John 4:10 (ESV) — 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

But what is the OT parallel Jesus is making, what verse is Jesus referring to in John 7:38 when He says “as the Scripture has said”?
• Kostenberger states that “reference is made here not to any particular passage of Scripture but to common prophetic teaching”.
• At a minimum, most think Jesus had in mind Isaiah 55:1.
• Isaiah 55:1 (ESV) — 1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
• And if this is the case then the substance of “Jesus’ pronouncement is clear: he is the fulfilment of all that the Feast of Tabernacles anticipated. If Isaiah could invite the thirsty to drink from the waters (Is. 55:1), Jesus announces that he is the one who can provide the waters” – D.A. Carson.

Yet, just as certain, the following verses were probably also in mind.
• Isaiah 12:3 (ESV) — 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
• Isaiah 44:3 (ESV) — 3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.
• Joel 3:18 (ESV) — 18 “And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Valley of Shittim.
• Zechariah 14:8 (ESV) — 8 On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.
• Ezekiel 36:25–27 (ESV) — 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

John’s commentary on the Jesus’ words:
John 7:39 (ESV) — 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
• Prior to Pentecost (Acts 2), those who had believed in Christ did not receive the Holy Spirit in full.
• At Pentecost, however, those who had believed, including the disciples, did.
• However, because Acts represented a transitional time between the old and new covenants we do find some curious things going on.
• For example, in Acts we have many who believed in Christ after Pentecost and did not receive the Holy Spirit until an encounter with the Apostles.
• But, “since the close of the transitional period in the book of Acts, however, all Christians receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation” – John MacArthur.

The Holy Spirit, however, has always been essential to salvation as we have learned so profoundly in John’s Gospel (regeneration).
• But John’s words in our text today point us to the fact that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit would be given in a “new fullness” to the believer – MacArthur.

Paul put’s it as follows:
• Romans 8:9 (ESV) — 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
    o This indwelling the “new fullness” and is permanent for the believer.
• Ephesians 1:13 (ESV) — 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,
    o Paul’s words here hearken back to Jesus’ proclamation - ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

Lesson for Us:
In John 7 we have seen that despite all of Jesus’ Messianic claims most of the Jews still rejected Him as the Christ.
• Curiously, even this rejection has a “water” parallel in the O.T.
• Jeremiah 2:13 (ESV) — 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.
• And as made clear by Jeremiah, to reject is not a neutral action.
• Rejecting “the fountain of living waters” is to make one’s own counterfeit water source – a broken cistern.

And as we have seen since we began John 7, most people would rather make their own “broken cisterns” than “drink” the living water of Jesus Christ.
What are some of the “broken cisterns” the Jews made with respect to the Messiah that didn’t hold water?
• I pray that we submit to the Father’s Jesus and not be guilty of making our own broken cistern of living water.