Post Series: John 7:37–39
- “If Anyone Thirsts…”: How the Fall Left us Thirsty (John 7:37)
- “Rivers of Living Water”: Why Jesus Gives Us the Holy Spirit (John 7:38–39)
John 7 narrates the story of Jesus’ interaction at the Feast of Booths, one of the high feasts of the old covenant where Israel would remember their days of wandering in the wilderness by gather in Jerusalem and living in booths—that is, in temporary shelters as their ancestors would have done during the days of Moses, following Yahweh in his pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.
When Jesus went to the feast, he taught the people the people in the temple, causing significant debate among the people about his identity and prompting them to ask whether he might be the Christ. The debate became so disruptive that the Pharisees even sent officers who tried (but failed) to arrest Jesus (John 7:32).
It is in this context that we find the story we will be looking at today from John 7:37–44:
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. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 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.
When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. (John 7:37-44)
The Feast of Booths and Water
To understand why Jesus made this particular statement, we need to know a little more about the Feast of Booths. Because of the fact that the Feast of Booths commemorated Israel’s time in the wilderness, it was a feast that placed a significant focus on water in two ways.
First, the Feast of Booths celebrated the fact that Yahweh had miraculously given Israel water to drink in the wilderness. One of the repeated concerns in the stories we find in the books of Exodus and Numbers is whether Israel will have enough water to drink (Ex. 15:22–27, 17:1–7; Num. 20:2–13). Time and time again, however, Yahweh gives his people water, satisfying their thirst.
Second, the Feast of Booths remembered Yahweh’s promise to give rain to the land of his people. The terms of the covenant that Yahweh made with Israel promised rain as a blessing for obedience, and the lack of rain as a curse for disobedience:
“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today….the LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands.” (Deut. 28:1, 12)
“But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you….And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. The LORD will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.” (Deut. 28:15, 23–24)
But even more than the general covenantal promises of blessings and curses, the Feast of Booths had been specifically tied to the promise of rain during the prophetic ministry of Zechariah:
Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the LORD afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. (Zech. 14:16-19)
For this reason, the Feast of Booths involved a special rite of water-pouring:
Each morning during the seven days of the feast, at the time of the sacrifice, a priest proceeded to the fountain of Siloah with a golden pitcher, filled it with water, and, accompanied by a solemn procession, bore it to the altar of burnt sacrifice, pouring the water, together with the contents of a pitcher of wine from the drink offering, into two perforated flat bowls. The trumpets sounded, and the people sang Isa. 12:3, “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, 574)
The Fall Has Left Us Thirsty
All of this water at the Feast of Booths symbolism underscores two principles: (1) that we are a thirsty people who yearn for water, and (2) that Yahweh has faithfully provided water for his people to drink and to rain upon their land. And as is typical of the metaphors that Jesus employs, the physical element of thirst points to a deeper spiritual reality: our separation from God because of the Fall has left us thirsty.
We yearn to have our thirst quenched—which is to say that we long to have our deepest desires satisfied. We are the sailor lost at sea in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner who looks upon the ocean’s saltwater with dismay:
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
Or better, to use a biblical image, we find a perfect description of our condition in Psalm 42:1–2: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
Are you thirsty? Is there a deep dissatisfaction in your soul that cannot be quenched no matter what you drink?—even when you desperately throw at relationships, entertainment, money, power, popularity, toys, or anything else?
For all who are thirsty, hear the good news of the gospel: Jesus announces, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”[sc:endcta]