The Pool of Siloam—Connecting Sukkot and the Messiah

While enjoying the delightful movie, Ushpizin, I laughed out loud when the family’s uninvited guest sliced the expensive etrog—a citron reserved for Sukkot—and casually ate it. Clearly, he had no clue to its significance!

Although the movie’s English subtitles translate the Hebrew, the movie leaves the traditions of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, for the viewer to decode.

The Pool of Siloam—Connecting Sukkot and the Messiah

(Photo: Pool of Siloam excavations. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.)

How puzzling the holiday must seem to those unacquainted with its modern customs—much less its biblical foundations.

Of all places, an ancient pool in Jerusalem helps us connect Sukkot with its ultimate fulfillment.

A statement made by Jesus—really, an invitation—makes it clear.

Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles)

Sukkot marked the most joyful of the biblical feasts, because the harvest’s labor finally ceased. In gratitude to the Lord for His provision, the people would begin their hope for the latter rains.

In addition to the name Sukkot (translated “Booths” or “Tabernacles” in Deuteronomy 16:13 and Leviticus 23:34), the Bible also refers to the holiday as “the Feast of the Harvest” (Exodus 23:16), the “Feast of Ingathering” (Exodus 34:22), “the feast” (1 Kings 8:2; 2 Chronicles 7:8-9; John 7:37), and “the feast of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:39). At Sukkot, every seven years on the sabbatical year, the Law was read in the hearing of all Israel (Deuteronomy 31:10-11).

The original purpose of feast centered on an essential reminder:

“Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the LORD. . . . You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’”—Leviticus 23:34, 42-43)

Sukkot provided a time to remember how God had delivered His people from bondage and how He had provided for them in the wilderness.

(Can’t see slideshow in email or RSS? Click here. All pics courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.)

The “Four Species” of Sukkot

During the Second Temple period, the Sadducees understood the Bible’s command to take branches of “leafy trees and willows” (Leviticus 23:40) as the building materials for their booths. The Pharisees, on the other hand, interpreted the foliage as what the worshippers would carry in their hands. Jews observe both customs today, and the Mishna describes in exacting detail how they should construct their booths.

  • The rabbis identified the “fruit” of Leviticus 23:40 as the etrog—a citron which the worshipper would carry in the left hand.
  • The right hand would hold three species of branches—the palm, the willow, and the myrtle.
Western Wall at Sukkot.

(Photo: Western Wall at Sukkot. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.)

Every year in modern Jerusalem, Sukkot draws hundreds of thousands of worshippers to the Western Wall—all holding the Four Species in their hands.

Sukkot and the Pool of Siloam

In addition, the Feast of Tabernacles required sacrifices of sin offerings and burnt offerings. At the time of preparation for the morning sacrifice, a priest would descend to the Pool of Siloam—amidst great music, celebration, and singing of Isaiah 12:3—and fill a golden pitcher with water.

After dipping his pitcher in Siloam’s water, the priest would return to the Temple Mount and pour the water into one of the silver basins by the altar. “Raise your hand!” the people would shout to the priest so that they could see he indeed poured the water into the basin.

“He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Simchat Bet Hasheavah [the water drawing ceremony], has never seen rejoicing in his life” (The Mishna, Sukkah 5:1).

Around the year 95 BC, the Maccabean king and priest Alexander Jannaeus revealed his contempt for the Pharisees by pouring the water on the ground instead of into the basin. For this, the people hurled their etrogs at him!

The upper Pool of Siloam.

(Photo: The upper Pool of Siloam. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.)

For many years the Pool of Siloam was thought to be the upper pool beside the exit of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Discovered near the turn of the 20th century, this pool dates only to the fifth century AD. Workers accidentally discovered the true Pool of Siloam from the Second Temple period in 2004 while digging a sewer line. Archaeologists have uncovered only a portion of this lower pool, exposing the entire north side—more than 225 feet long. Tourists can visit there today.

Anybody who has ever gone camping knows that we forgo major conveniences to do so. The Feast of Tabernacles required similar sacrifices, and it remains a timeless reminder of the fact that everything we possess—both physically and spiritually—comes from God.

Devotional Thought for the Pool of Siloam and Sukkot

In addition to looking backward at God’s historical blessings on Israel, Sukkot looked ahead to the time when all nations will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem in honor of Israel’s reigning Messiah (Zechariah 14:16-21).

Perhaps for this reason, during the Second Temple period one year, on the last and greatest day of Sukkot, Jesus drew upon this tradition of pouring water to illustrate a point:

“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

Comparing physical thirst to spiritual thirst, Jesus offered the promised Holy Spirit to anyone who would believe in Him. The people had sung the words of Isaiah 12:3: “Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” Isaiah prophesied of what Israel would sing of the Lord “on that day”—during the Millennial Kingdom. Try reading Isaiah 12 in that context. Its 6 verses are powerful!

Jesus offers that same salvation today to anyone who will believe in Him for forgiveness of sins.

Question: Why do you think the Bible draws a connection between water and salvation? Please leave a comment.

The Pool of Siloam on the Map:

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  • Simon

    Dear Wayne,
    What are etrogs and why would people hurl them.  Is that like throwing shoes in the middle east today?
    Simon

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Hi, Simon. An etrog is a citron, like a lemon. See some examples here . Why they would hurl them? Not sure, except to show their extreme disapproval.

  • Richard

    Dear Wayne,
    Thank you so very much for all the effort you put into all of your posts!
     
    I have a question about the picture in the slide show where the elderly rabbi has his hands on his belly.  Do you happen to know whether this is an established practice or if it just happens to be how this individual behaves.  It makes me think of the verse you quote in this post, John 7:38, where our Lord says: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'”
    The word translated “innermost being” here in the NASB is the Greek “koilia”, which is translated as “belly” in other versions.  Putting this verse and this picture together, it makes me wonder if Jews in the first century had some kind of tradition that involved the “belly”, and whether our Lord was intentionally referring to this, showing that HE was the only way to experience what they were hoping to experience.  If there are any references to this that you are aware of, I would be grateful if you would share them with me.
     
    Also, I shared your photo in your recent post of the stop sign with “Ponder” and “Scripture” on it, and my friend asked me where this was taken.  Could you please tell me, 1) whether it is a real stop sign at an actual intersection, and if it is, 2) where it is?  Thanks.
     
    I thank our wonderful God for using you to minister to so many of us!
     
    Blessings,
    Richard

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Richard, you ask a great question.

      I’m unaware of a Jewish tradition of holding the belly, so perhaps someone else can comment on that. However, the term for “belly/stomach/womb” you mention could just be the Greek version for the Hebrew idiom often used in Old Testament. The Hebrew idiom usually refers to the “kidneys” for this idea. It basically represents what the English translators have paraphrased for us in their rendering: “from his innermost being.” Proverbs 23:16 is a great example.

      The Holman Bible Dictionary gives a nice summary:
      “The kidneys are often associated with the heart as constituting the center of human personality (Pss. 7:9; 26:2; Jer. 11:20; 17:10; 20:12; Rev. 2:23). Because the areas around the kidneys are sensitive, the Hebrews believed the kidneys were the seat of the emotions (Job 19:27; Ps. 73:21; Prov. 23:16). The kidneys were also used figuratively as the source of the knowledge and understanding of the moral life (Ps. 16:7; Jer. 12:2).”
      And yes! The photo is a real intersection in Denton, Texas. Here it is in Google Maps.

      • Richard

        Wayne,
        Thank you for the verses.
        May “rivers of living water” flow from your “innermost being”!
        Richard

        • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

          You are welcome!

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  • Gjohnsey

    2 years ago I prepared with extensive workout sessions so that I could properly visit Israel and enjoy my time. I had the joy of visiting many of your “blog” locations. At this time I am struggling with an illness, I drink quite a bit of water in hopes of : detoxing, cleansing, purifing and hydrating my body. Can not help but think how this applies to Christ. Water is life and salvation is eternal life. 

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      You really have a great metaphor in your weakness to illustrate the healing benefits of water/the spiritual life. The point you make is one the Bible repeats from cover to cover. Thanks for your comment, and may the Lord give you strength and healing for your illness.

  • Tom

    Jesus taking note of the Drink Offering to call all to him
    is a call for more than just satisfying even spiritual thirst. The Messanic
    Psalm 22:14 says: “I (The Messiah) am poured out like water,” referring to His
    sacrifice on the cross. Jacob, Genesis 35:14, poured out a sacrificial Drink Offering
    on a rock pillar because it was the most precious gift of life he had
    available. In Mark 14:24, Jesus said that His blood, the most precious gift of
    life He had, was being poured out for many. In one of Paul’s final statements
    before his death, he says in 2 Timothy 4:6, “I am already being poured out as a
    Drink Offering” indicating he had given his life for Christ and now his mission
    was coming to an end.

    Answering Jesus call
    to come to Him and drink is a sacrificial life changing event for all who
    believe. 

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Very interesting, Tom. Thanks for your comment. Sometimes I think we’ve only scratched the surface of the metaphorical messages represented in the sacrifices and feasts.

  • Frank

    Thanks for your post, I enjoyed it.  Why Salvation is compared to water? I think because water is essential to all life.  We are made up of 65% water and we cannot live without it.  Water comes to us in a never ending cycle – the rain falls, it’s used by the earth, then returns back to the atmosphere to fall again.  Finally, the Hebrew word for water ma’im is always a plural word like Elohim, or God.  Water, like God comes to us in three states: solid ice, gaseous steam and liquid water but the substance, H2O, never changes.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      These are great points, Frank—each one so true! Your note reminded me that the Hebrew word for “water,” ma’im, is part of the word for “heaven,” shama’im—implying the source of water (or life) comes from God alone.

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