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.
(John 7:37-39 ESV)
It's a text most would be familiar with and yet we may not see how Jesus' statement related to what was going on.
A study of the context reveals that Jesus makes this proclamation during the Feast of Booths, a feast that has several names but that particular name is my favourite. It is probably best known as the Feast of Tabernacles. This was one of the three annual feast but was the most popular.
This feast came at a joyful time of the year (around this very time actually, September into October, the seventh month on the Jewish calendar, the 15 day) when the last items to be harvested came in. It took just over a week and was lots of fun especially for children, I would imagine. During this time all the men journeyed to Jerusalem where they presented a portion of their harvest to thank God for the harvest and pray for the 'latter rain' that would prepare the earth for the next farming season. During the eight day feast, the families left their houses and set up tents or booths where they stayed, and that's why I say the children must have loved it. This was done to remember the way their ancestors lived in tents during their 40 year journey to the promised land from Egypt.
During the eight days, one of the daily highlights would be the time that the Priest would get a golden jug and walk down to the pool of Siloam and fetch water followed by a large procession. He would then return through the same entrance, called the 'water gate' whose name was taken from this very ritual, and go to the alter where another Priest would be waiting with another golden jug holding some wine from the harvest. Together they would pour out the contents of the jugs into basins that would drain to the base of the altar. As they did this the audience would begin singing Psalm 118:25-26 which was a song related to the Messiah.
Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
(Psalm 118:25-26 ESV)
It is at this point on the last day of the feast, when all the people are gathered to see this spectacle for that last time till the passing of another year that Christ stands up and in a loud voice shouts that great proclamation. Jesus was trying to communicate something and he got his point across.
Jesus was saying that he was the salvation of which they sang. Salvation had indeed come to Israel at last! Jesus was declaring that He was Messiah and that everyone who would believe in Him would receive the gift or indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the "living water," and would never be empty again. I am the reality that the water in this ceremony symbolizes-the true life giver through whom the Holy Spirit is also given as John interprets in the text.
What a beautiful picture.
The end of chapter 7 from the point of Jesus' proclamation shows that the people got the point. Even the officers who should have pounced on Jesus for interrupting such a solemn and beautiful occasion were stunned by Jesus' statement and had to come to grips with the thought that maybe this really was the Christ.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, ‘I am the LORD's,’
another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, ‘The LORD's,’
and name himself by the name of Israel.”
(Isaiah 44:3-5 ESV)