Meditating on Great Themes in John: 13. The Water Dispenser (2)
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.
Back in chapter 4 we were presented by Jesus with the idea of living water – water that brings life, transforming water. We are about to see it again but this time in very significant circumstances that emphasise its importance even more.
Following his talk about his disciples needing to ‘eat him’ a number drew back. Their depth of commitment was not enough to support their lack of understanding. Indeed unbelief was common even around Jesus because when we move into chapter 7 we find Jesus’ brothers trying to encourage Jesus to go up to Jerusalem to the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn 7:2-4) and John concludes their comments with, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (v.5) So here we have this amazing state of affairs where Jesus performs incredible miracles and still, even some of those close to him don’t believe. Yet he goes to the Feast quietly and then part way through the Feast starts teaching and causing opposition. He is now clearly in the public eye.
And so let’s consider the Feast, one of the three big Feasts of Judaism (the others being Passover and Pentecost) when any Jewish male living within twenty miles was required to attend, and others further afield might go anyway. This Feast required everyone to construct and live in small booths (like tents or ‘tabernacles’) to remind them of the time in Israel’s history when they had wandered in tents in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (see Lev 23:33-43 & Num 29:12-39). It was to be a period of great feasting and celebration. But it was also harvest thanksgiving (Lev 23:39,40) once the harvest had been gathered, a great time of thankfulness, therefore, for God’s provision in the wilderness and in providing now.
Part of the ceremony each day required the worshippers to bring palm and willow cuttings to the Temple to form a kind of screen or roof while they marched around the great altar. At the same time a priest took a golden pitcher and went down to the Pool of Siloam and filled it with water which was carried up through the Water Gate while the people recited, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isa 12:3) The water was carried up to the Temple and poured out on the altar as an offering accompanied by other chants from the psalms. This was a means of thanksgiving for God’s provision of water which gave life to the land and enabled the harvest to come about, as well as historically remembering the water that had flowed from the rock during their time in the wilderness.
And so the Feast draws near an end and we find, almost certainly as the water pouring over the altar ritual was reaching its climax, “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.” (v.37,38) Suddenly the big emphasis that is being acted out before them is focused on Jesus. It is as if he is saying, “This water will never completely slake your thirst but if you are spiritually thirsty then come to me and drink of what I have to give and you will be satisfied because, just as the Scriptures say, streams of living water will flow from within you.”
Some have suggested this refers to “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail,” (Isa 58:11) and others, “A fountain will flow out of the LORD’s house and will water the valley of acacias.” (Joel 3:18) There are no verses to specifically tie to these words of Jesus but the idea of water (life) flowing from God is certainly there in the Old Testament.
John provides his own commentary: “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.” (v.39) In other words Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit welling up within the believer when he comes to Christ and is born again, a fountain of life from within.
Now to pick up on the various things said above, we may summarise Jesus’ challenge as follows:
- In the same way as God provided miraculous water supply in the desert, so I provide for you a miraculous supply that does not rely on natural means.
- In the same way as this feast (highlighted by the pouring out of water at the climax) reminds of God’s provision both in the wilderness and as a means of bringing a harvest today, so my provision will keep you in the dry places and enable you to be fruitful.
- This provision is conditional upon you believing in me (Jesus).
- This provision is not one-off but a life-long supply.
- This provision des not come by some outward activity or source, but from inside you, from my supply, from my Holy Spirit.
These are the things at the heart of this amazing challenge at this crucial time in Israel’s life. A big theme? Absolutely!