A Provision Which Satisfies, John 7. 37-44.
Bernard Osborne, Dinas Powys, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
It was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Leviticus chapter 23 refers to it as one of the feasts of Jehovah. They were holy convocations, for their God was holy, vv. 2, 4. They were feasts, for they were seasons of thanksgiving and joy, and their God was a joyous God, cf. 'the gospel of the glory of the happy God'. They were seasons of fellowship for their God was a God of fellowship. They were His feasts, the feasts of Jehovah. Sad that such had now degenerated into 'the Jews' feast of Tabernacles', John 7. 2. How we need to be careful lest the most sacred things degenerate in our hands into mere lifeless ritual.
What happened at this feast was that for seven days the pilgrims dwelt in leafy booths, commemorating the days in the wilderness when the Israelites lived in tents waiting to enter the promised land. The week of celebrations was dominated by two temple ceremonies, the water pouring and the illumination of the temple courts. Each morning water was brought in a golden vessel from the Pool of Siloam and poured before the altar of sacrifice. As this was being done the great Hallel, that is, Psalms 113 to 118, was sung, as were also the words of Isaiah 12. 3-'Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation'. That water recalled to the people the supply drawn from the rock at Meribah, cf. 1 Cor. 10. 4; 12. 13. On the last day of the feast the ceremony was closed by an impressive event, for they walked around the altar seven times in memory of the sevenfold circuit of the walls of Jericho.
Then again every evening two great lamps were lighted in one of the courts of the temple which were said to cast their light over every quarter of Jerusalem. These recalled the pillar of fire which had been at all times the sure token of divine leadership. Against this backcloth the Lord Jesus proclaimed '1 Am the light of the world', John 8. 12, and went on to demonstrate that fact by giving sight to a man congenitally blind, see chapter 9.
It is not entirely certain what the phrase 'the last day ... of the feast' refers to. It could refer, as some maintain, to the seventh day of this seven-day feast, Lev. 23, 34. In that case, whilst they were performing this ritual, and the water was being poured, the Lord Jesus drew attention to Himself as the True Well of Salvation, the real Fountain of Life. An eighth day, however, had been added to the feast by the Jews, and on that day the water was not brought from the Pool of Siloam and poured before the altar. In that case the Lord Jesus was calling attention to Himself as the One who fulfilled the omission, who really was the fulfilment of those scriptures previously sung.
What is certain is that the Lord Jesus used this dramatic moment to turn men's thoughts to the thirst of men of God for eternal things. So He stood and cried 'If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink'.
Many Jews expected the coming Messiah to manifest Himself at the feast. Therefore Jesus caused a great stir on this occasion, vv. 40-43. It may have been that there were those present, thinking men and thirsty souls, as there are now, to whom it seemed significant that in the temple itself, with all its ceremonies and grandeur, there was yet no living fountain to quench the thirst of men, and to whom it may have been significant that to find water the priest had to go outside the temple to the modest Pool of Siloam.
'Jesus stood', v. 37. The original word is singularly vivid. The teacher sat as he taught, so the Lord was not the teacher in this case. He was taking the place of a herald-He cried. Four times in this Gospel the Lord Jesus is said to have cried out in this fashion, see 7. 28, 37; 11. 43; 12. 44. It was a voice mighty with the power at once of authority and promise. Standing before the crowds with a solemn and authoritative dignity, and with a kindly summons that rang out over the whole scene, the Lord Jesus cried 'If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink'.
We do not read of any prophet or apostle who ever used such language as this. None surely could use it but the One who knew that He was very Cod. 'Let him come unto me', He said, and, again, 'he that believeth on me'. On no one else, for the Lord Jesus is all-sufficient. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him, and He is the effulgence of God's glory. He is the true Fountain of Life, the supplier of all spiritual necessities, the reliever of all spiritual needs.
What did He mean by 'thirst'? The word has a spiritual meaning, the thirst is of a spiritual kind. It means anxiety of soul, conviction of sin, desire for pardon, longing after peace of conscience. When a man feels his sin and wants forgiveness, is deeply conscious of his own soul's need and earnestly desires help, then he is in that state of mind which the Lord had in mind when He said 'If any man thirst'.
Many thirst after everything but salvation. Money, pleasure, fame, self-indulgence-men try to slake their thirst with these, but they do not seek after salvation. Their careless indifference is one proof of the fall of man and the utter corruption of human nature.
There is a measureless breadth to this invitation. It is for 'any man'. No matter who or what he may have been, how sinful or wretched, the offer is made to him. To everyone who really knows his need, the source of living water is at hand. He has only to cast his soul on Christ, trust Him, lean on Him, believe on Him, commit his soul with all its burden to Him, and that is enough. To trust Christ is to 'come to' Christ.
The Lord promises a twofold source of refreshment and satisfaction. First of all He Himself satisfies the thirsty soul, and then, by the indwelling Spirit the one who believes on Him is to be the means of bringing refreshment to others, v. 38. All who come to Christ by faith find in Him abundant satisfaction, but the words teach that believers shall not only have enough for the wants of their own soul, but shall become fountains of blessing to others, 'Out of his belly shall flow fountains of living waters'. They who slake their spiritual thirst at that Spring, i.e. Christ, will become themselves fountains for the spiritual refreshment of others.
The living waters' were figurative of the Holy Spirit, v. 38, and the Lord was promising what would and did lake place at Pentecost and from that time onwards. The Spirit would not be given until after the glorification of the Lord Jesus. The phrase 'for the Holy Ghost was not yet given' expresses the sense, but the phrase literally is 'for the Holy Ghost was not yet', or, 'for as yet there was no Holy Spirit'. It is clear that the word 'was' cannot refer to the essential existence of the Holy Spirit, as this would no! only be a flat contradiction of L 32, 33; 3. 5, 8, 34, but of the whole Old Testament where the agency of the Spirit in the outward world is clearly recognized. The Spirit strove with men of Noah's day; David spoke by the Holy Ghost; Isaiah spoke by the Holy Ghost; John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb. So John is not saying that the Holy Spirit did not exist, but he is saying that it took the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus to lead up to Pentecost and to open the floodgates for the Spirit to become real and powerful to all men. The Holy Spirit has ever been, but men never really enjoyed the full power and presence of the Spirit until after Pentecost, and it is to His coming then that reference is being made. The Spirit of God is the successor of the Son of God in His official ministry on earth. Until Christ's earthly work for His church had been finished, the Spirit's work in this world could not properly begin. There could not be a spiritual presence until the presence in the flesh had been withdrawn, and until the work of the Son of Man had been crowned by His exaltation to the right hand of God.
There is an inseparable connection between faith in Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit, 'which they that believe on Him should receive', v. 39. If any man has faith in Christ he has the Spirit, if any man has not the Spirit he has not saving faith in Christ, Rom. 8. 9. The effectual work of the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity is never divided.
Until Pentecost the Spirit had come upon people for the accomplishment of some purpose. Now He who had previously come upon men would dwell with them, 'out of the Lord said, v. 38. So the Spirit would thereafter indwell every child of God, and faith would be the sole condition of that indwelling.
His presence would make possible fullness of life and blessing-the flowing of rivers of water, not simply the meagre contents of an ewer of water brought from the Pool of Siloam. Everyone in living communion with Christ becomes himself the centre of spiritual influence. The believer is to be a channel of the fullness of lifegiving ministry and enrichment to needy souls. How great the possibilities of a Spirit-filled life! God's people are not called to be stagnant pools, or reservoirs which only receive and never give forth. Our calling is to be the rivers which constantly give because they have in themselves the Fountain of living waters. A perpetual spring in a vessel must overflow its container, the smallness of which is no limit to the spring itself. When once the vessel is full, all the power of the spring will show itself in the overflow. Our experimental knowledge of this will depend indeed upon our personal subjection to the Spirit indwelling us. 'Filled to flow' is the objective. How important it is that we should not permit anything to clog the channel.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Bernard Osborne is retired from a career in education and is in fellowship in the assembly at Dinas Powis, Wales. He is a gifted Bible teacher and travels extensively in ministry throughout the UK and N. America.