by Lois Tverberg
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. ‘He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, `From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” By this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7:37-39
This story about Jesus and living water is amazingly rich when we see it in its context – when we learn more about the biblical festivals and even the weather of Israel.
The feast that Jesus attended was Sukkot, the great harvest feast of the year. It takes place in September/October, after Rosh Hashana and the fast of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement for the sins of the nation. It had not rained in six months, since about the time of Passover in March. Their very lives depended on the coming of the fall rains, something that wasn’t certain in that arid land. The rabbis believed that during the 10 “days of awe” before Yom Kipper, God was deciding whether to grant them favor and send rain the next year. Only if God had forgiven their sin at Yom Kippur would he send the living water of rain.
On this last day and greatest day of Sukkot, millions of people prayed fervently for the rain to begin. Many of the prophets saw this living water God sent after atonement as a picture of forgiveness and redemption. It was described by Joel many years before:
Blow a trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly…
Then the LORD will be zealous for His land
And will have pity on His people.
So rejoice, O sons of Zion,
For He has given you the early rain for your vindication.
And He has poured down for you the rain,
The early and latter rain as before….
It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
(Joel 2:15, 18, 23, 28)
It is fascinating to see how this describes the mission of Jesus – that he came to atone for sin and pour out God’s Spirit in the world. But in order to receive this new life, they had to come to him and drink, from the true source of Living Water.