Zechariah 14:16–19 contains God’s solemn promise that the nations who do not celebrate Sukkot — the Feast of Booths — will not receive rain. Given the purpose of the Feast of Booths in looking back at Israel’s redemption from Egypt and forward to the spring rains, Zechariah is clearly predicting a day when those who do not recall their salvation will not receive the blessing of God. Of course, to recall one’s salvation necessitates that one has actually experienced redemption; thus, Zechariah is saying that submitting to the Lord’s will for redemption and living in gratitude for it, no matter one’s ethnic heritage, is the prerequisite for His life-giving waters.
That this is Zechariah’s meaning is confirmed in the events of today’s passage, which took place during the Feast of Booths (see John 7:1–10). As we have seen, part of the celebration of this feast in Jesus’ day was a water-drawing ceremony, in which the priest would lead a procession to the pool of Siloam, take water from the pool using his golden laver, and then pour it out at the base of the altar. This was done to remember God’s provision of water from the rock in the wilderness (Ex. 17:1–7), to depict the hope for spring rains, and to look forward to the day when the Lord would supply a special kind of water — water that brings life to what is otherwise dead (Ezek. 47:1–12). Elsewhere, Scripture links this water not only to the physical reality of fresh, potable water but also to the outpouring of God’s Spirit (Isa. 44:3).
To remind Israel that the Spirit had not yet been given, the water-drawing ceremony occurred every day of Sukkot except the last day. Thus, it was inappropriate to perform the ceremony on this day of the feast since God’s plan had not yet reached its goal. On the last day, Isaiah 12:3 was read (“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”), and so Jesus deliberately called the people to drink of Him (John 7:37–39). He was thereby claiming to be the one who comes in the fullness of time as the water’s source, not because He is the Spirit to come, but because His life, death, and resurrection leads to the outpouring of the Spirit on His people (1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus fulfills the Feast of Booths — in Him we remember and celebrate our Father’s provision of salvation, and in so doing we receive the long-awaited blessing of living water — the Spirit of God who conforms us to the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).