Summary: Jesus still extends the invitation: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.”
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A SIGNIFICANT SETTING
The place, occasion, and time of Jesus’ words in vv. 37-38 are significant.
1. The Place – The TEMPLE in Jerusalem
2. The Occasion – The Feast of TABERNACLES
The purpose of the Feast was to remind the people how God had provided for their ancestors:
“‘Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendents will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God’” (Leviticus 23:41-43).
Water was an important symbol of the Feast of Tabernacles:
a. During the Feast there was a water drawing ceremony.
A tradition grew up in the few centuries before Jesus that on the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, a golden container filled with water from the pool of Siloam was carried in procession by the High Priest back to the temple. As the procession came to the Watergate on the south side of the inner temple court, three trumpet blasts were made to mark the joy of the occasion and the people recited Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” At the temple, while onlookers watched, the priests would march around the altar with the water container while the temple choir sang the Hallel (Pss. 113-118). The water was offered in sacrifice to God at the time of the morning sacrifice (The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1596).
b. During the Feast the people were reminded of God’s provision of water from the rock.
The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel (Exodus 17:5-7).
c. During the Feast the people prayed for rain.
The Feast was celebrated in autumn, which was a time of drought in Israel.
d. During the Feast the people anticipated a future day when water will flow from the temple.
The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar (Ezekiel 47:1).
On the day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter (Zechariah 14:8).
3. The Time – “The LAST and GREATEST day of the Feast”
An eighth day had been added to the Feast of Tabernacles, so the “last” day could have been either the seventh or eighth day. On the seventh day, the water drawing ceremony was repeated seven times. But on the eighth day, there was no water drawing ceremony. It was probably on this last day that Jesus announced, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (v. 37).