The Feast of Tabernacles is a time to rejoice.
For the Jews of the first century, there was no bigger celebration than Simchat Beit Hashoeivah—literally, “the rejoicing of the place of the water-drawing.” The Talmud goes so far as to say, “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life” (Tractate Sukkah, Chapter 51).
Here’s how it works: Unless it fell during a holy day, every night of the feast was marked by a huge, 15-hour celebration. Priests-in-training would ignite huge golden candelabra, lighting up all of Jerusalem as if it were daytime. Levites would gather to play all manner of instruments, while pious wise men would dance, perform acrobatic displays, and even juggle flaming torches. At dawn, the crowd proceeded to the pool of Siloam.
There, a priest would fill a golden decanter with water from the spring—”living,” running, water—after which the assembly would continue on to the temple, where the water would be poured out with the morning sacrifice.
It’s not clear where this custom began. Many Jews maintain it was an oral instruction given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai, while others schools of thought link it to the rain rituals of other religions. Others still tie it to Isaiah 12:3: “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” All we can know for sure is that, one, the ceremony never made it into the written text of the Bible, and two, it was very, very important to the Jews. One year, about a century before the events of the New Testament, a high priest who took issue with the ritual poured the water at his feet instead of down the altar, and the enraged crowd began to pelt him with fruit. By the first century, Simchat Beit Hashoeivah had become an irrefutable staple of Jewish celebrations during the Feast of Tabernacles.
Fast forward to the beginning of Christ’s ministry. The Jews had been pouring out this water for an entire week when, “on the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37-38).
I bet you could have heard a pin drop.
A whole week of celebrating the living water poured out from the pool of Siloam, and Jesus stands up to say, “You’re missing the point. If you want living water, you need to come to Me.”
* * *
I always know when I’m hungry.
It’s not something my stomach tends to be subtle about. If it’s been a little while since I last ate something (like, I don’t know, 15 minutes), my stomach starts to tug at my brain like a toddler might tug at the hem of a parent’s shirt when he wants something.
hey. hey. hey. hey. food. hey. hey. food.
The longer I ignore it, the more intense the tugging becomes, until eventually we transition from the minor inconvenience of a tug all the way to the blaring klaxons of a battleship under enemy fire.
EMERGENCY REPEAT THIS IS AN EMERGENCY WE HAVE BEEN WITHOUT FOOD FOR MULTIPLE IF NOT SEVERAL HOURS; ALL SENSES ON HIGH ALERT UNTIL FOOD IS ACQUIRED; INITIATE HEADACHE PROTOCOL; THIS IS NOT A DRILL REPEAT THIS IS NOT A DRILL
Thirst, though—thirst is funny.
I have gone entire workdays without taking a single sip of plain, non-caffeinated water, and my stomach never makes a fuss. What I get instead is a creeping, low-level crumminess sneaking up on me so gradually that I don’t always realize it’s even there. I’ll drive home feeling slightly off-kilter, but it’s not until I sit down for dinner and take a sip of water that my brain clicks on and goes, “Oh hey, this stuff. It’s… important, right? Oh wait, you’re like 70 percent water, aren’t you? What were you thinking avoiding this all day? CHUG THIS GLASS IF YOU WANT TO LIVE.”
I wish I could say that was a fairly isolated occurrence, but it happens all the time. Sure, I’ll go through phases where I make a concerted effort to keep a jug of water at my desk, but it’s an easy habit to fall out of, and I usually find myself back at square one before too long:
Thirsty. Feeling crummy. Not even realizing it.
* * *
John explained that Jesus “spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive” (John 7:39). When we come to Christ and drink, the Holy Spirit provides us with “rivers of living water” to quench our thirst.
But we have to make the effort to drink.
Funny thing, Bible study. Funny thing, prayer. You can miss a day and not really feel much different. Two days. Three days. A week. A month. You get busy. You forget. You’ll get to it later. You’re fine right now, at any rate.
You can even think you’re getting by with a few sips here, a few sips there. A couple proverbs on your phone. A quick check-in with God before you go to bed. You’re not not drinking water, so that has to count for something.
I’ve been there. I float in and out of that mindset, same as I do with drinking physical water. I think I must be okay; there are no immediate warning signs like there are with hunger.
But it’s not enough.
There’s a spiritual crumminess that comes with neglecting living water, and it too is a gradual, creeping thing. It happens in the background, under the radar, and when you finally realize how you’re feeling, the cause isn’t always immediately discernable. You have a headache. You feel distant from God. Your muscles are tense. You find yourself wrestling with negative, anxiety-inducing thoughts. You’re tired. Doing the right thing is getting harder and harder.
And then it hits you:
When’s the last time I had a glass of water?
* * *
The sons of Korah wrote,
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
They wrote those words during a time when appearing before God meant going “with the multitude … to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast” (Psalm 42:4). And while we still obey the incredible command to “rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40), living water for us is so much more than a once-a-year ceremony. We can come before our God any time, day or night, and slake our thirst by drinking deeply of His Word and spending time in communication with Him.
“Oh, that you had heeded My commandments!” God lamented of Israel. “Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea” (Isaiah 48:18).
We should always have a thirst for God’s Word, but none of us have to be parched. None of us have to experience spiritual dehydration. Our source of living water is not a closely guarded secret, nor is it only available during certain times or in certain places. The Holy Spirit God placed within you when you were baptized gives you access to all the water you could ever need to stay spiritually healthy.
When’s the last time you had a glass of water?
More importantly, when do you plan on having another?
Until next time,