Jesus used the symbols of Sukkot to make some unique claims about himself. We read about one of these symbols, light, in the lead article. Jesus also used water, another main element of Sukkot, to show that he was the fulfillment of the feast.
In Jesus' day, special observances and traditions were developed to mark the seventh day of Sukkot, known as Hoshana Rabba, the Great Day." The most notable of these was the Simchat Beit Hashoevah, or water-drawing ceremony, which went as follows:
Imagine a whole parade of worshipers and flutists led by the Temple priest to the pool of Siloam. The priest had two golden pitchers, one of which was for wine. He filled the other with water from the pool. As the musicians played, a choir of Levites chanted Psalm 118: "Open to me the gates of righteousness; I shall enter through them. I shall give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous will enter through it. I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me, and You have become my salvation." (v. 19-21) Psalm 118 is a prophetic psalm, which contains the words: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This was the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes." (v. 22,23)
After the Scriptures were chanted, the whole procession headed back to the Temple and a silver trumpet sounded three times. The priest approached the altar, where two beautiful golden basins were waiting. He poured wine into one basin as a drink offering to the Lord. And he poured water from the pool of Siloam into the other. The whole ceremony, with the parade and the flutes and the singing was so wonderful that one ancient rabbi wrote: "Anyone who has not seen this water ceremony has never seen rejoicing in his life."
The ceremony was to thank God for his bounty, and to ask him to provide rain for the crops in the coming year. It is said that this ceremony developed from a reading of Isaiah 12:3-4, which says of a future time:
Therefore you will joyously draw water
From the springs of salvation.
And in that day you will say,
"Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name.
Make known His deeds among the peoples;
Make them remember that His name is exalted."
So on the last day, that great day of the feast, it is recorded that Jesus stood up and cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37-38).1 This was astonishing; nobody had ever dared speak like this. Jesus was saying that he was the wellspring of salvation of whom the prophet Isaiah wrote. He was the Messiah, the Lord's anointed one. It is no wonder that Jesus chose the day of the water-pouring ceremony to invite everyone to come to him. If only the people would believe in him, he would quench their spiritual thirst.
And how did people respond? "Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, 'This certainly is the Prophet.' Others were saying, 'This is the [Messiah].' Still otherswere saying, 'Surely the [Messiah] is not going to come from Galilee, is he?'" (John 7:40, 41) The crowd was divided among those who believed Jesus' claims and those who didn't. And in the middle stood Jesus, who knew that ultimately he was the very corner stone that the builderswere about to reject.
1. See also Isaiah 44:3; 55:1; 58:11.