The Water Pouring Ceremony

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What was the water pouring ceremony at Jerusalem's temple? What took place when it occurred? When was this tradition carried out? What did it mean or symbolize in both the Old and New Testaments?

A unique tradition took place each day of the Feast of Tabernacles and on the Last Great Day. At Jerusalem's temple, a ritual known as the water pouring (libation) ceremony occurred each morning. It is unclear when the tradition was adopted or who began it. What is known is that this practice existed when Alexander Jannaeus served as the High Priest from 103 to 76 B.C.

Making a statement

Alexander Jannaeus, a Sadducee, hated the water pouring ceremony since it was based merely on tradition and not found in the Law of Moses. On one occasion, while carrying out this ritual, he refused to pour the water into a proscribed basin that allowed it to be properly offered through the temple's brazen altar. He instead, to show his contempt for the practice, poured the liquid on the ground. The people responded by rioting and threatening his life (The Feasts of the Lord, page 138 - 139).

Sometime after Alexander's actions, the libation ceremony was expanded by the Pharisees (Rabbis) in their own show of contempt toward the Sadducees. The expansion caused the tradition to become one of the high points of the two greatest Feasts of God.

"To express their contempt of the Sadducees on the one hand and to strengthen their own position on the other, the Rabbis embellished the libation of water with so much ceremony that it became a favorite and distinctive rite on these occasions" (Feast of Water-Drawing, 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia).

The full tradition

The water pouring ceremony began each morning at the temple as the daily sacrifices were being prepared. The High Priest, accompanied by a large procession of worshippers, would first walk from the temple (from its true location in the city of David) to the pool of Siloam, a distance of roughly 300 meters (944 feet).

Arriving at the pool, the priest would fill a golden vessel with its water. He would then, with the worshippers in tow, trek back to the temple. Once at the temple the group would enter the inner court through a southern-facing entrance called the Water Gate (which got its name from this ritual, Temple at the Time of Christ by Edersheim, Chapter 14). The priest would then walk up the Kebesh (a ramp made of planks) in order to access the brazen altar.

When the High Priest reached the altar he turned to the left where there were two basins, one dedicated to receiving offerings of wine (Leviticus 23:13, 23:37, etc.) and the other dedicated to water. Both basins drained to the base of the altar. The excited crowd, just before the priest was to pour the water, would shout, "Raise your hand!" The priest then raised his hand higher before emptying the vessel into the basin.

Old Testament symbolism

The Jews believed the libation ceremony primarily represented the pouring out of God's Holy Spirit (Isaiah 12:3).

New Testament meaning

The Lord was among the crowd on the morning of October 18 in 29 A.D. to witness the water pouring ceremony carried out by the High Priest. When the liquid was being offered at the altar (or possibly after it was completed) Jesus, with a loud voice so all could hear, cried the following.

"If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. The one who believes in Me, as the scripture has said (see Isaiah 44:3 - 4, 58:11), out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:37 - 38, HBFV).

The water pouring ceremony symbolizes God offering his Holy Spirit to all in what is called the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11 - 13). At that time, which is after Jesus' 1,000-year reign (verses 4 to 6), all those from Adam to Jesus' Second Coming who never received a full opportunity to be saved will be brought back to life. They will then have their minds opened to the truth and given a chance to repent. All those willing to "drink in" God ways and obey him will ultimately be offered eternal life!

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