John 7:25-39, Tabernacles and Rivers of Living Water

[August 21, 2011] We continue where we left off last week. As we said then, the key to chapters 7—10, which is one continuous passage, is the meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth). The later part of chapter 10 takes place during the Feast of Dedication (Hanukah) which follows two months later. The two Feasts are connected, but we will leave our discussion of this for when it is appropriate.

A Review of the Feast of Tabernacles

As the Feast of Passover, Unleavened Bread and the Sheaf of the Firstfruits corresponds to the Exodus, and the Feast of Pentecost corresponds to the giving of the Covenant at Mount Sinai, so the Feast of the Blowing of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and Tabernacles corresponds to Israel’s entering and inheriting the Promised Land. During the week-long Feast of Tabernacles the Israelites live in tabernacles (tents or booths) and recall their wilderness journeying—the which is recorded in the Book of Numbers—and rejoice with thanksgiving in the bounty of the Promised Land and in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Since their exile began in the days of the Babylonian captivity, Israel looks back not only to their wandering in the wilderness but to the sojourning of their exile, and they look forward to the coming of the Messiah who will redeem them and restore them to the Land.

The significance of the exile—and all the literary prophets of Israel are connected to it in one way or another—is that it discloses the judgment of God not only on Israel but on the nations and not only since the days of Jeroboam and Rehoboam but from the beginning. It casts the entire past in this light and shows that the true significance of the past lies in the future, when the Messiah comes.

The Feasts correspond to the agricultural cycle. Passover, Unleavened Bread and the Sheaf of Firstfruits take place in the first month at the time of the Spring rains and the barley harvest. Pentecost takes place in the third month at the time of the wheat and corn harvest.  The Blowing of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and Tabernacles takes place in the seventh month, after three months of dryness, at the time of the latter rains and the wine and oil and fruit harvest. If Pentecost celebrates Israel at Mount Sinai and Tabernacles celebrates Israel’s entry into the Promised Land, then the three months of dryness correspond to their wandering in the wilderness. The rains in the seventh month on which the final harvest depends is points to the bounty of the Promised Land.

As Passover recalls the first half of the Book of Exodus, and Pentecost recalls the second half of Exodus and the Book of Leviticus, Tabernacles looks back on the Book of Numbers, recalls the Book of Deuteronomy and looks forward to the Book of Joshua.

Passover, Unleavened Bread and the Sheaf of Firstfruits look back and typify the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Pentecost is present and typifies the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. The Blowing of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and Tabernacles looks forward to the coming again of our Lord Jesus. These have a present fulfillment in the individual Christian who comes to maturity in this age, the faithful one, the overcomer in the first epistle of John and Book of the Revelation, who already enjoys some of the fullness of the age to come. They primarily typify the fulfillment of God’s promises at the manifestation of Christ and the coming of God’s Kingdom.

A Review of the Beginning of the Passage (John 7:1-24)

In the beginning of the present chapter (verses 1-13) we saw how Jesus kept Himself hidden at first, alluding in John’s peculiar way to the hiddenness of Christ in His first coming. He was manifested to Israel (John 1:31) but in a hidden way, for His divine glory was concealed except to those to whom it was revealed (1:14), and the glorification (and divinization) of His humanity in resurrection was only manifested to those who believed.

When He began to teach in the Temple (in the Porticoes of Solomon) in the middle of the Feast (perhaps on 18th of the month), He said that He could only be recognized by those who were resolved to do God’s will; only they could judge the righteous judgment. His reference to circumcision seems to be a veiled reminder that they needed to circumcise their hearts. Verses 14-24 should be read, then, in the light of the Day of Atonement which took place on the 10th day of the month, eight days earlier.

At the same time, the passage shows the confusion of the crowd, some seeing Him as a good man and others saying that He leads the crowd astray, and all of them afraid to speak of Him openly. Again, the allusion (in the way that John does this) is to the mixed reception that the Jews have had of Jesus, which John (writing around 90 AD) witnessed, and which has come to characterize the entire age until the Lord’s coming in glory. The people of God in the present age include both Israel among the nations and the church in the midst of the Diaspora and in solidarity with it (albeit a solidarity that has been resisted on both sides). If Israel refuses to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the church has failed to be faithful to Him whom they claim to recognize. When in the Feast of Tabernacles we look back at our wanderings, we need to consider the rebelliousness of both Israel and the church, and the faithfulness of God’s electing grace towards both. Both Israel and the church have historically rejected each other yet both continue through history as a sign to the other.

This ambivalence and confusion continues into the verses we are now considering, and indeed, it continues to the end of the chapter.

The Coming of Christ (7:25-29)

In verse 25, reference is made to the violent resistance of the Judeans to Jesus. This was still under the surface in 2:24-25 and 4:44 but it came out in 5:16-18. 7:1 says Jesus stayed in Galilee because the Judeans were seeking to kill Him. We must not set this up in our minds as “Jesus versus the Jews” as many commentators have. Jesus is a Jew and argues as a Jew with other Jews. Almost everyone who believes into Him in the Gospel according to John is a Jew. But there is a tension between the Galileans who receive Him and the Judeans who do not. The Galileans have their doubts, as we saw in chapter 6, and many Judeans wonder if Jesus might be the Messiah, as we see in this chapter.

The question that is raised in verse 27 is, where does Jesus come from? Jesus responds by saying, “You both know Me and know where I am from.” He means this literally: He agrees with the speaker in verse 27 who said, “We know where this man is from.” But then He says, “And I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.” This also agrees with the words of the speaker (“when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from”) but not with the speaker’s intention. They know that Jesus comes from Galilee (though as the Son of David His “own country” is Judea; see 1:11 and 4:44) but what matters is that He came from the Father and this they do not know, because they do not know the Father. “I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me.”

These words of Jesus refer to His coming in incarnation. The Word became flesh (1:14) and has manifested Himself to Israel—to His disciples. He was sent from the Father. This alludes to the first half of the Gospel according to John. 13:3 says “He had come forth from God and was going to God.” At that point in the gospel the direction changes. The first twelve chapters have Jesus coming forth from God and presenting Himself to people as the divine presence (“I am”) and as the divine life (eternal life) embodied. He called on people to believe into Him. In the latter part of the gospel He withdraws from them and takes His humanity on the journey through the cross into resurrection.

According to 9:7 the meaning of Siloam is “The Sent One,” and here Jesus refers to Himself as the One sent by His Father. At the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles and on each day afterwards was a ceremony that took place in the morning while the morning sacrifice was being prepared. A priest (accompanied by a procession of music) would go down to the Pool of Siloam and draw water into a golden pitcher. This water was brought to the altar. In symbolism it speaks of the incarnation of Christ, the Send One, who embodies the eternal life of God and who presented Himself as Life and as the Life-Giver in the days of His sojourn. That the water was taken to the altar speaks of Jesus’ path to the cross.

The Cross (7:30-36)

When Jesus said this, they attempted to seize Him but “His hour had not yet come” (an allusion to when they would seize Him in the Garden of Gethsemane across the brook Kedron, 18:1-12). His “hour” to which John refers is His crucifixion. Nevertheless, the confusion continues and some are impressed by His signs.

In view of their attempt to arrest Him, Jesus said, “I am still with you a little while, and then I am going to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come.” In 13:33 Jesus will say to His disciples, “I am still with you a little while; you will seek Me, and even as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ now I say to you also.” He was not referring to the present time when He is (supposedly) “away” in heaven, but to His going to the cross and afterwards to the Father on His Easter-Day ascension (“Go to My brothers and say to them, I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God,” 20:17). In the Gospel according to John the cross and resurrection are viewed together. His “hour” refers to His being lifted up on the cross. His glorification refers to His bringing His humanity through the cross to resurrection as one event.

As a result of this “processing” of His incarnate humanity and becoming “corporate” in many grains of wheat (12:24), He will indeed go to the Diaspora among the Greeks and teach not only Greek-speaking Jews and the god-fearing Gentiles (who attend the synagogues), but even the pagan Greeks (and other Gentiles). This is another example of John’s allusions.

   At the same time that the water was being drawn from the Pool of Siloam and brought to the altar each morning of the Feast, another procession went to the Kedron valley from which they took willow branches and amidst the blast of trumpets processed to the altar. The procession through the gate of the city with branches reminds us of Jesus’ procession on Palm Sunday. That John mentions that the Garden of Gethsemane was across the Kedron Valley causes us to remember that the procession on Palm Sunday was a procession to the cross, which, of course, is what the altar signifies.

The willow branches from the Kedron Valley were stuck on either side of the altar of burnt offering, leaning over it to form a leafy canopy. Then, when just as the pieces of the sacrifice was laid out on the altar, the procession with the water of Siloam arrived (they being timed to coincide). The water was brought up to the altar together with the wine of the drink-offering and at the same time they were poured into silver basins—one for the water and one for the wine—which funneled the liquids to the base of the altar.

As soon as the water and wine were poured, music began and the choir began singing the Hallel Psalms (Psalms 113—118). As they came to Psalm 118 the people shook palm branches towards the altar. When all the festive sacrifices were completed for the day, the priests would form a process and circle the altar, singing, “O LORD, hosanna (do save, we pray)! O LORD, do send prosperity, we pray! Blessed is He who comes in the name of THE LORD; we bless you from the house of THE LORD.” (See Alfred Eldersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services As They Were at the Time of Jesus, 1874).

It would be very hard for a Christian to miss the connection of this ceremony to the cross of Christ. As the priests poured water and wine on the altar, so when the soldier pierced the side of Jesus, “immediately there came out blood and water.” The pouring out of His blood speaks of His death and the pouring out of the water speaks of the release of His life, the divine life of the Sent One.

The Pouring Out of the Holy Spirit (7:37-39)

On the seventh or last day of the Feast, the priests circled the altar seven times to commemorate the fall of the walls of Jericho (when Israel entered the land) after Israel marched around the city seven times. On this day, after the water of Siloam and the wine was poured on the base of the altar for the last time, and the choir finished singing the Hallel to the sound of the flute as the people shook all the leaves off their willow branches and the palm branches were beaten to pieces against the side of the altar, and the priests drew three long blasts from their silver trumpets, Jesus raised His voice above the crowd and said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes into Me, as the Scripture said, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.”

His voice must have startled the multitude. Some said, “This is truly the Prophet,” and others said, “This is the Christ!” Others were not impressed.  Not surprisingly, the temple authorities sent to have Him arrested. The officers, however, were not willing.

The “outpouring of the waters,” as the ceremony was called, symbolized the coming of the latter rains which would usher in the final harvest of oil and wine, the fruit harvest. The Feast of Tabernacles thus celebrated the blessing of the Lord on the Land that caused it to yield its “fatness,” its bounty. It was for this reason also called “the Feast of Ingathering.”

It also looked forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit when Israel turns to the Lord at the end of days. Hosea 6:1-3 says “He will come to us as the rain, as the latter rain which waters the earth.” Joel 2:18-32 says, “I am about to send you the grain and the new wine and the fresh oil, and you will be satisfied with it … He makes the rain come down for you … the wine vats will overflow with new wine and fresh oil …. I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh …”

John explains to us that the rivers of living water flowing from the innermost being of the believer is the Holy Spirit, which those who believed into Jesus were about to receive. The Holy Spirit would be given when Jesus was glorified in death and resurrection. This refers to when Jesus, in His divinized humanity, breathed the Holy Spirit into His disciples in John 20:22, and thus into every person who believes into Him afterwards.

Isaiah 55 says, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and the result of your labor for what does not satisfy? Hear Me attentively, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear and come to Me; hear, so that your soul may live; and I will make an eternal covenant with you, even the sure mercies shown to David.” Paul, in Acts 13:33-35, understood this passage to be referring to the resurrection of Christ, for David had prayed, “You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption”

Jesus calls us to come to the waters and drink to satisfy our thirst. By implication He is all the fatness of the Promised Land; the blessing that God has promised on the Land if the people would be faithful to Him. Jesus is the faithful One and the blessedness of God is upon Him. As we eat and drink of His own Person, He is the fulfillment of the Promised Land to us, of the Land and God’s blessing upon it.

Isaiah also said in chapter 12, “God is now my salvation; I will trust and not dread; for Yah YHWH is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation. Therefore you will draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation, and you will say in that day, ‘Give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name!’” etc.

It is not just that Jesus will become the Holy Spirit in resurrection so that—through His atoning death—we can receive the Holy Spirit into our spirits, and in receiving the Holy Spirit we can receive the fullness of His own humanity and divinity. This is enough! But Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” We remember the woman at the well who was thirsty. Jesus offered her living water. “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall by no means thirst forever; but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water gushing up into eternal life.” The Holy Spirit within us would “gush up” with life from within us, from within our own spirit. We would find flowing forth and gushing up of eternal life, the life of God, within our own innermost being, not as something we need to see outside of us. And this inner source of life would satisfy our thirst.

Our lives in the world are parched. We thirst and are taught to satisfy our thirst with every new product and form of entertainment. The world overwhelms us with its offerings, always appealing to our thirst, always promising to satisfy it, always, always lying to us. Our thirst is deeper than the restlessness of our souls. The restlessness of our souls is because we are detached and insulated from the ground of reality. Unless our spirits are satisfied, our souls can never find rest. Our spirits can never be satisfied until they find union with God. Only then can our souls rest, for they will rest in God.

It is the revelation of Jesus, as presented in the Gospel according to John (and in all the Scriptures), that heals our spirits, regenerating them and making them fit to receive the divine life of the divinized humanity of the Lord Jesus. It is only by passing through death that His humanity became communicable with the divine life, for His humanity now contained the cure that we need to be receptive of God (otherwise, the manifestation of God would be toxic to us). The divine life is a fire that will consume the falseness of our souls—the false identity to which it is attached. Our insular souls (insular in relation to God) are inextricably involved and identified with the world that rejects and rebels against God. The world is a massive delusion that is under the judgment of the divine nature. By faith in Jesus, by believing into Him, we can begin the process of liberation. When we believe, God redeems us, forgiving our sins and our condition of sin, and makes us His own, dwelling in us by the Holy Spirit. This is the indelible beginning, a beginning which carries with it tremendous assurance, but only the beginning.

Summary

There are several significances to this passage with respect to the Feast of Tabernacles.

We have heard in verses 28-29 Jesus speak of His incarnation (His being sent), in verses 33-34 Him speak of His death, and in verses 37-38 Him speak of His resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is the plain meaning.

The history of the Jews is alluded to as well, in John’s peculiar way of alluding. Verses 28-29 speak of the coming of the Messiah. Verses 33-34 speak of Jews no longer finding Him. Then verses 37-38 allude to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Israel at the end of days.

The questioning back and forth of the Judeans, reminding us of the wilderness wandering in the Book of Numbers, also allude to the situation among the Jews with respect to Jesus in the days since His coming. The receiving of Jesus by those who believe into Him alludes to the existence of the church among the nations in the midst of world Jewry.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the end (to which the Feast of Tabernacles alludes) speaks of the blessing of the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey and the final ingathering of Christians and Jews.

Those who believe into Jesus now to satisfy their thirst experience the age to come, that is, they know the indwelling Christ Himself as the Promise Land. Those who are not satisfied with the life of an ordinary Christian but who knows Christ deeply in this way, who becomes a mature and spiritual Christian, these are the Joshua and Caleb who enter the Promised Land.

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