Jesus at the Feast of Booths: John 7-8 - Part 3

04.15.2012 by Kevin Hale


This post is part of the jesus at the feast of booths series (click to view the other posts in this series).

John 7-8 records Jesus’ interactions at the Feast of Booths. During the feast, Jesus made several important and, in some people’s minds, inflammatory claims regarding himself. Failing to interpret Jesus’ remarks in light of the Old Testament will lead to failing to understand the full weight of Jesus’ claims. The current series of articles aims to show how an understanding the Old Testament background surrounding the Feast of Booths helps one to understand the Feast of Booths narrative found in John 7-8. The first two articles in this series dealt with some of the more pressing text critical considerations in John 7-8 and the Old Testament background of the Feast of Booths. The next four articles in the series will focus on the Johannine text. In particular, these four articles will interpret four statements made by or about Jesus attempting to give the proper weight to the Old Testament background. The four statements to be considered are: 1) John 7.37-38, “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’” (ESV); 2) John 7.40, “This really is the Prophet” (ESV); 3) John 8.33, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone” (ESV); 4) John 8.58, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’” (ESV). These four articles will contribute to the series thesis by showing that Jesus was speaking to his audience and being understood by his audience in light of the Old Testament background in general and in light of the Feast of Booths setting in particular.

John 7:37-38 - 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’” (ESV).

There are several layers of Old Testament background at work in John 7.37-38 that shed light on Jesus’ claim; each layer gives more weight to Jesus’ claim. The current article will briefly consider: the protological, prophetic, and eschatological imagery of living water flowing from a single source; the use of thirst/water imagery as a metaphor for salvation; and the particular significance of water and thirst in the context of the Feast of Booths.

First, living water flowing from a single source to all the world is not only gospel imagery but also protological, prophetic, and eschatological imagery. The tree of life and water are important in the first Eden. Genesis 2.9b-10 gives the following description of the Garden of Eden, “The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers” (ESV). To say the least, a river becoming four separate rivers is a geological oddity; the picture here is that water is flowing out of Eden to the rest of the land. Is it too much to say that life is being given to all the land from a common source? Certainly, it is not. The twin elements of the tree of life and a river flowing out of the dwelling place of God are also employed as prophetic and eschatological imagery. The consistent biblical use of the tree and river imagery as life giving, requires that the same understanding be applied to the tree and river in the garden of Eden.

Ezekiel 47 records Ezekiel’s vision of a growing river flowing from the temple of God. He writes,

As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing (Ezekiel 47.7-12, ESV).

Indeed, this is the same scenario one finds in the return to Eden, the New Jerusalem recorded in Revelation 22.1-2,

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (ESV).

Christ subtly uses the protological, prophetic, and eschatological imagery of life-giving water increasing, without tributary, as it goes out in his statement at the Feast of Booths. Jesus is the single source from which many drink resulting in rivers of living water flowing from their hearts. In this statement, subtle as it may be, Jesus establishes himself as the source of life and the temple from which the living water issues forth.

Second, water, thirst, and the associated imagery are metaphors for the man’s need and God’s salvation throughout Scripture. Two clear examples of thirst and water being used as a metaphor for salvation are Isaiah 55.1,

Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price (ESV),


and John 4.7-15,

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” (ESV).


When we have these passages, and others like them, in mind, we see clearly that Jesus is not simply concerned for the physical need of his audience. Jesus is drawing on Old Testament imagery in order to offer salvation.

Finally, the setting in which Jesus speaks is important. Jesus’ proclamation recorded in John 7.37-38 is made, “On the last day of the feast, the great day.” The Mishnah outlines a water ceremony involved with the Feast of Booths wherein water was carried from the Pool of Siloam to the altar where the water was poured out. If this ceremony, which Mishnah Sukkah 4.9 associates with Isaiah 12.3 (and may also be a development of imagery from Zechariah 14), had been developed by the time of Christ, then a call to the thirsty would have been somewhat ironic. Water would have been everywhere; quenching one’s thirst would not have been a great challenge. While the the Feast of Booths traditions outlined in the Mishnah might or might not have been in practice in Jesus’ day, thirst is still an interesting place for Jesus to begin his statements. The very fact that they were in Jerusalem, a city in which water was plentiful, means finding something to drink would not have been so difficult that one needed a special person to provide water. The physical setting, not to mention the thirst/water theme that is developed throughout the gospel of John, gives a clear clue that Jesus’ goal was not simply quenching physical thirst. What then was Jesus’ point?

The Feast of Booths was a time of remembrance. The Jews were looking back to their wilderness wanderings. A central part of the wilderness wandering was the constant fight for water. Two very similar confrontations between the people and Moses are recorded in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. The Exodus account is as follows,

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not” (Exodus 17:1-7, ESV)?


If Israel’s wilderness wanderings were in fact marked by longing, in particular a longing for water, and the Feast of Booths was a commemoration of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, then Jesus proclamation, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink,” would have been a bold invitation indeed. In the Exodus confrontation narrative, God stands on the rock that Moses strikes in order to receive water. Understanding Jesus’ statement against the backdrop of Israel’s thirst and God’s miraculous provision of water, through his being struck with the rock, lends much weight to Jesus’ statement. Jesus is claiming that he was the one struck in order that Israel could have water. Indeed this is Paul’s interpretation of the confrontation narrative, he writes, 

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, ESV).


Jesus was not simply making a clever statement, but he was speaking into the particular setting of the Feast of Booths. Jesus’ invitation to come to him and drink is only fully understood after peeling back the many layers of Old Testament background. It is reasonable to assume that Jesus’ audience would have been well versed in the Old Testament and the wilderness wanderings of Israel. It is reasonable to assume that the wilderness wanderings of Israel would have been on the forefront of the minds of Jesus’ audience as they celebrated the Feast of Booths. If we are to begin to grasp the full weight of Jesus’ claims at the Feast of Booths, then we must let the Old Testament background have its full influence. Interpreting the Feasts of Booths narrative shows us, from what may have seemed like a simple metaphorical statement to some, that Jesus claimed to be the source of the eschatological living water, the source of salvation, and the Rock that was struck with God’s wrath in order to provide this living water for his people.

This post is part of the jesus at the feast of booths series (click to view the other posts in this series).


Jesus at the Feast of Booths: John 7-8 - Part 2

02.10.2012 by Kevin Hale


This post is part of the jesus at the feast of booths series (click to view the other posts in this series).

John’s record of Jesus’ ministry at the Feast of Booths brings to a definite point who Jesus is and what he came to do; however, John’s point is severely blunted if we do not understand this part of the story against the background of the broader story of Scripture. In order that we may better know our Savior and therefore more rightly believe in him, rest in him, and worship him, this series of articles seeks to understand John 7-8 against the background of the Old Testament. In the first article, in this series we dealt with the nuts and bolts of defining the passage with which we would work. In this article, we will work through the Old Testament background necessary to properly understanding John’s record of Jesus at the Feast of Booths.

John 7-8 records Jesus’ actions and claims at the Feast of Booths. If we are to properly understand the significance of his claims, then we must have some understanding of the Feast of Booths and its development throughout Israel’s history. Further, in as much as the Feast of Booths is concerned with Israel’s time in the wilderness, we must also have some knowledge of this period in Israel’s history. In this article, I aim to show 1) that the Feast of Booths was a feast designed and maintained as a remembrance of Israel’s time in the wilderness and 2) that Israel’s time in the wilderness was a time of expectation and longing.

The Feast of Booths is discussed at length in the Old Testament in Leviticus 23.33-43, Numbers 29.12-38, Deuteronomy 16.13-17, and Nehemiah 8.13-18. From the given passages we find that that Feast of Booths was to be a perpetual feast for Israel. It was the final feast on the Jewish calendar, being celebrated in the seventh month of the Jewish Calendar. There were numerous daily sacrifices that were to be made during the Feast of Booths. The name of the feast derives from the fact that during the celebration all of Israel was to dwell in booths, or tents. The purpose of dwelling in booths was, “that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23.43, ESV). The booths served as a constant reminder that God had delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery and been with them as they wandered about the wilderness. Nehemiah 8.13-18 teaches us that while the Feast of Booths had not been entirely forgotten (see 1 Kings 8.65) in Israel’s history, the Israelites had apparently not properly celebrated the feast since the time of Joshua. It was upon the return from exile that the Israelites began to celebrate the feast again.

The Mishnah is a record of the Jewish oral tradition that developed as Israel worked to live faithfully in light of God’s Law. It is divided into six orders (chapters) which are further divided into tractates (sections). Mishnah Moed (festival) Sukkah (booth) helps us to understand how the Feast of Booths developed over the years. The Mishnah did not reach its final form until much later, but it gives us insight into what was happening with Judaism around the time of Christ. Most of Mishnah Sukkah is given to minute details such as the construction of the booth, how much light the roof of the booth must let in, how much time one was required to spend in the booth throughout the feast, and the particulars of the condition of the various foods used in the offerings. These details were not developments in the celebration of the Feast of Booths as much as they were clarifications on the requirements of the Old Testament laws pertaining to the celebration of the feast. However, in addition to these details, we find that at some point a water ceremony had been developed. During the feast water was taken from the pool of Siloam and carried to the altar where it was poured out. While little is said regarding the meaning of the water ceremony, Mishnah Sukkah 4.9 associates this practice with Isaiah 12.3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (ESV).

When all things are considered, we cannot escape the conclusion that the focus of the Feast of Booths in the early stages of Israel’s history and in the time of Christ was a remembrance of Israel’s deliverance for Egypt and their time in the wilderness. The scope of this article does not allow us to consider every detail of Israel’s wilderness journey; therefore, we will consider four aspects of the Israel’s deliverance and time in the wilderness, which are important to our interpretation of John 7-8, in order to show that Israel’s wilderness period was a time of expectation and longing.

The origins of the wilderness period can be thought of in terms of the distant and immediate origins. The distant origins are found in the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant recorded in Genesis 12, 15, and 17. God first told Abraham, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12.7, ESV), and he later promised, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess” (Genesis 15.7, ESV). Following the preparations for a covenant ratification ceremony, God again spoke saying, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15.13-16, ESV). While covenant theologians rightly emphasize the ultimate fulfillment of these promises in Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3.15-29), we cannot overlook the reality of the physical fulfillment of these promises. For our purposes, four points must be noted from the promises made to Abraham: 1) God promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham and his offspring, 2) along the way, Abraham’s offspring would be afflicted servants outside of the land, 3) God would bring Abraham’s offspring out of servitude, and 4) Abraham’s offspring would be brought back to the land. From these four points we can see that Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, while a necessary part of God’s program, was not their ultimate destination. Based on these distant origins of Israel’s wilderness journey, we can conclude that this period in Israel’s history was in fact a time of expectation of and longing for the rest of God’s promises to Abraham to be fulfilled.

The immediate origins of Israel’s wilderness journey also show this time in Israel’s history to be a period of expectation and longing. After fleeing Egypt following an unrecognized act of redemption (see Acts 7.23-25 for this understanding of Moses killing the Egyptian slave master), Moses came upon a burning bush from which God spoke to him saying, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob... I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites...” (Exodus 3.6-8, ESV). In response to God’s directives, Moses asks God who he should say sent him, to which God responds, “I am who I am... Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3.14, ESV). In these immediate origins we see that there is reason for the Israelites to live in the wilderness with expectation of and longing for something more. God has revealed himself and his covenant name, I am (Yahweh or Lord), reasserting his promise to fulfill what he had promised to Abraham long ago.

There are a number of realities we could talk about that would characterize various aspects of the Isrealites’ wilderness wanderings; the Israelites general attitude could be characterized by such words as discontent and grumbling. Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 record two episodes of the Israelites quarrelling with Moses, and ultimately God, because they were thirsty. Similar complaints were made over hunger. While it was faithlessness in God’s provision that led the Israelites to grumble, the Israelites’ thirst was a reality; they were wandering around in a desert. However, they were wandering around in a desert with the promise that God would bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey, a land where thirst would not be an issue. It is true that God provided the Israelites with all they needed while in the desert, but it is also true that the wilderness provision was not the abundant, edenic provision promised to Abraham. The constant need for miraculous provision set up the wilderness as a land of expectation and longing.

Deuteronomy 18.15 says, “The Lord you God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers - it is to him you shall listen...” (ESV). These words, spoken to Israel by Moses, clue us in to the fact that there is more to come. Indeed, a new prophet, a new mediator, a new Moses was going to come. Moses was not simply a prophet for Israel; he was the mediator between Israel and God. Moses went up on the mountain to intercede between the Lord and Israel, and another like him was to come. The promise of a new, and we can say greater, mediator points us again to the conclusion that Israel’s wilderness journey was one of expectation and longing.

The Feast of Booths was the final feast of the year, and it called the people of Israel to look back and to remember both God’s faithfulness to bring them out of Egypt and their time in the wilderness. When we consider Israel’s time in the wilderness, we can only conclude that the situation in the wilderness, regardless of the angle from which we consider it, was a situation of expectation and longing. Jesus’ ministry at the Feast of Booths and the weight of his claims  as recorded in John 7-8 cannot be fully understood apart from letting the Old Testament background shed a great deal of light on this passage. We will give our attention to several of Jesus’ statements at this Feast of Booths in the third article.

This post is part of the jesus at the feast of booths series (click to view the other posts in this series).


Jesus at the Feast of Booths: John 7-8 - Part 1

01.25.2012 by Kevin Hale


This post is part of the jesus at the feast of booths series (click to view the other posts in this series).

In chapters 7 and 8 of his gospel, John gives us an account of Jesus at the Feast of Booths. Even a cursory reading of this text alerts one to the tension that existed between Jesus and many of the Jews - the passage ends with a group of Jews picking of stones to throw at Jesus (John 8.59), presumably to kill him. Jesus makes several, bold claims throughout the passage that lead to this intense response; however, the boldness of Jesus’ claims is easily missed if the claims are not understood in light of the broader story of Israel. In this series of articles I aim to show how an understanding of the Old Testament, in particular the Feast of Booths and Israel’s wilderness wanderings, helps us to rightly understand the Feast of Booths passage in John 7-8 and therefore gain a better understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is not my goal to offer a technical commentary on the entire passage, but to gain a better understanding of this story by reading it in light of the larger story of Scripture.

Defining the pericope is always an important step in exegesis, and John 7-8 presents a unique challenge in this regard. A definite scene change occurs at beginning of John 7, which sets the stage for the story. John gives a very particular and important time marker in 7.2 when he writes, “Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand.” Verses 1-13 record a confrontation between Jesus and his brothers regarding his plans to attend the Feast of Booths. Eventually, Jesus goes to the feast. John gives a second time marker in verse 14, “About the middle of the feast...” Verses 14-36 record Jesus’ first confrontation with the Jews at the Feast of Booths. John gives a third time marker in 7.37, “On the last day of the feast, the great day...” Again time has advanced, but the scene has not changed. Jesus is still at Feast of Booths, which is in its final day.

Now we come to a great difficulty. If we take John 7.53-8.11 in stride, we have a fourth time marker. The Feast of Booths is over and it is the following morning when Jesus again visits the temple, a scene which would run through the end of John 8. However, if we reject 7.53-8.11 as a later addition, as the footnotes in several modern translations seem to suggest is appropriate, then John 8.12 would be a continuance of the record of the last day of the Feast of Booths. So we have the question before us, “Should 7.53-8.11 be treated as original or as a later addition?” There are a number of commentaries that deal with this issue in great detail (two modern commentaries that are quite helpful are D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John from the Pillar New Testament Commentary series and Andreas Kostenberger, John from the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series), so I will let a summary of the pertinent section of Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (pages 187-89 2nd ed.)  suffice. Metzger concludes, “The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adultress is overwhelming,” offering the following lines of evidence.

- The passage is absent from numerous early manuscripts across several traditions.
- “No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it” (Metzger).
- There are syntactical and lexical reasons to question the Johannine authenticity of the passage.
- Many ancient witnesses, in which the text is found, employ some editorial mark or note to indicate that questions of authenticity existed regarding the passage.

As noted above, the implications of our decision to consider John 7.53-8.11 as non-Johannine come into play when discussing John 8.12-59. Without the fourth time marker noted in John 8.2, John 8.12-59 read as a continuation of the very bold claims that Jesus has been making on the last and great day of the Feast of Booths. While it is true that claims such as, “before Abraham was, I am,” are bold whether made at the Feast of Booths or not, there is a certain pointedness added to them in such a context.

The closing of the pericope is clearly John 8.59. Somewhat of an inclusio is brought to completion in John 8.59 setting of Jesus’ teaching at the Feast of Booths as one unit. John 7.14 states that Jesus, “went up into the temple and began teaching.” While it is most likely that Jesus’ teaching ended each evening, it is worth noting that there is not a clear break in his teaching until the section closes with the words in John 8.59, “So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” Of course, it is logical to see two main sections to Jesus’ teaching defined according to the time markers in John 7.14 & 37, nonetheless John seems to have framed the story around Jesus coming into and out of the temple in order to highlight that Jesus’ claims were made during the feast.

In the second article in this series, we will consider the Feast of Booths, in the context of both the Old Testament and the first century, as well as Israel’s time in the wilderness in order to more fully understand the significance of Jesus’ claims.

This post is part of the jesus at the feast of booths series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Impressionist Theology

01.21.2012 by Kevin Hale


In the early and middle 19th century the Academie des Beaux Arts served as the gatekeeper for the art world in Paris. Preferring more classical works of art focused on historical figures and scenes, religious episodes, and portraits,the Academie repeatedly excluded the looser, brighter works of the artists who came to be known as the Impressionists. While the impressionists were highly concerned with the composition of their works, they traded recording the minute details of a subject for seeking to capture the “impression” of a scene. Whereas many of the works preferred by the Academie appear as encapsulated, frozen scenes ofhistory communicated via perfectly ordered detail with little insight into what had happened before or what was yet to come, many of the Impressionists’ works appear as brief, changing moments quickly and loosely captured by the artist as scenes from a larger, ongoing story.

While the analogy can certainly be overstated, similar trends in theology can be traced out. One could say that what Impressionism is to art, Biblical Theology is to theology. It is not the case that the Impressionists were better artists or more truly painting than the artists of the Academie, rather their focus was different.  In many ways, to understand art, one must be able and willing to hear from both schools. Similarly, it is not the case that biblical theologians are more truly speaking of God than systematicians, rather, their focus is different. Whereas systematicians communicate wonderful truths about God via carefully worked out theological detail, biblical theologians seek to explain the particular scenes and themes of Scripture in relation to the larger contexts in which they are found. As with art, if one is to understand theology, one must be able and willing to hear from both the systematic and the biblical theologian.

The subject of this blog, as you may now be guessing from the title, is Biblical Theology. My desire is to tell the story of Scripture again and again, showing how the different scenes work together to tell the one overarching story and showing how this Bible story defines and interprets our own stories. Along the way, I will have to wrestle with questions of hermeneutics, and I will take full advantage of systematic language and categories where they are helpful. However, if you are looking for a scholastic defense of some particular orthodoxy, you will be dissatisfied. I have a story to tell.