It seems that one of the happiest days in Israel occurred during the annual Feast of Tabernacles, when it was about to come to an end for the year. On the final day of the feast one of the Jewish priests collected some water from the stream of Siloam and poured it on the altar. While he did so, the joyful crowd sang from Isaiah 12:3 the words, ‘With joy shall you draw water from the wells of salvation.’
If we look at Isaiah 12:1, we will see that the prophet says that people will sing that song during a particular period. That period is described in the previous chapter, Isaiah 11, and when we read it we will see that it describes the period when the Messiah will be active in blessing needy sinners.
This suggests the question: ‘what would Jesus do should he be present when people sang that verse?’ Because if he did do something or say something, he would show what the verse meant. We are told in John 7:37-39 about one such occasion. John speaks about what he calls the great day of the Feast of Tabernacles – it was regarded as great because of the celebration that was connected to the activity of the priest described earlier.
Jesus said to those singing the verse on that occasion that instead of going to the pool of Siloam for water they should come to him for living water. If they did that, they would not merely watch water being poured out on the altar by a priest. Instead they would experience water being poured out in their inner lives by Jesus. Did any of them pay heed to what he was offering?
How would Jesus do this? John tells his readers that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus would commence doing this amazing activity after he was glorified. His glorification took place at his ascension to heaven, forty days after he rose from the dead. One of the activities in which he has been engaged since then is giving the Holy Spirit as the provider of satisfaction, of living water.
Obviously the worshippers at the Feast of Tabernacles were very happy. Yet we can say that their joy was connected to an external ritual which may, or may not, have been a spiritual experience with the living God. Some might have been happy because there was a big crowd participating in the event; others might have been happy because they had just spent a week holidaying in Jerusalem and had seen family and old friends; some others might have been happy because the traditions of the fathers were being continued (there was no command in the Old Testament for this ritual); and others might have liked to sing the song that Isaiah wrote but did so without any understanding of its connection to Jesus and what he could do for them.
Given that Jesus asks all of them to come to him, his invitation suggests that none of them were getting spiritual benefit from taking part in the ritual that brought so much happiness. They were happy without Jesus! But the gracious Saviour offered to them real happiness when he urged them to come for living water. What was the qualification for receiving a drink from him? The mere fact that they were thirsty. Of course, knowing one is thirsty is pointless knowledge unless one also accepts the refreshing water that is offered.
Drawing water from a well points to fresh water. Drawing water from the wells of salvation points to fresh experiences of the Holy Spirit as he pours his blessings into our souls from the exalted Jesus in heaven. Is that what we enjoy as we gather in church to engage in religious rituals? Jesus is willing to give us heavenly blessings that will transform our religious activities into joyful experiences of his rich and amazing grace.
What can we enjoy? We can know something far more wonderful than the happiest day in Israel. And we can know that joy in our souls every day, not just once a year or even once a week. When we do, it will not be the little amount of water that can be held in a jar. Instead there will be rivers saturating our souls. That is what Jesus has promised.