F = A Fountain of Blood and Water

“On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” (Zech. 13:1)

Red-wine stains are removed by first sprinkling salt, wax by ironing with brown paper, and oil necessitates a surfactant detergent. For every domestic disaster, there is a unique cure.

The Old Testament Levitical system prescribes more than one remedy, implying that there were multiple problems, or that the problem affecting humanity has many dimensions.

In the most basic terms, there were two symbolic liquids splashed everywhere in ceremonial rituals. Blood was spilt and parts of the body washed with water. Both altar and basin stood before the entrance to the Holy Place, barriers and conduits, showing that the way to God was only through blood and water. But the visual aid was always limited, temporary and had to be repeated. How do we see this fulfilled in Christ?

Zechariah 13:1

The prophet Zechariah envisioned a spring (or fountain) opening up, continual and complete in its cleansing power (Zechariah 13:1). As one of the prophets who directed the rebuilding of the temple after the return from the Babylonian exile, Zechariah casts this vision into a later age. The restored sacrificial system proved to be less of a final denouement, and more of a pointer to greater things.

“On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” (Zech. 13:1)

The final seven words in the ESV are translations of two words in Hebrew. This fountain will be “for sin” (le-hatta’th) “and for uncleanness” (u-le-nidah). Here we return to the blood and water.

The symbolic liquid that deals with sin (hatta’th) 

Daily offerings, Passover and the day of atonement all include the slaughter of an animal in place of humanity. The consistent voice of the Old and New Testament is that blood is essential.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.  (Lev. 17:11)

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Heb. 9:22)

While hatta’th is translated sin, the expression le-hatta’th (for sin), acquires an almost technical meaning of a sin-offering and is translated that way (Lev. 4:32-33; 5:6-8,11; 7:37; 9:2 etc..)  An unblemished lamb, bird, goat or bull, is slaughtered, and its blood sprinkled and poured at the sides and base of the altar (Lev. 4:32-35; 5:7; 8:2).

Zechariah’s spring in Jerusalem that deals with sin, as a sin offering does, is most assuredly a fountain of blood.

The symbolic liquid that deals with uncleanness (nidah) 

Tame’ is the more common Hebrew word for uncleanness, but nidah has a more limited use, as both the word for the stain and its cure. Here are all its uses in the Old Testament.

Eleven times nidah is used for menstruation (Lev. 12:5; 15:19-20, 24-26, 33; 18:19 cf. Eze. 18:6; 22:10). In chapter 15, the solution, as with all other forms of uncleanness (tame’)—touching a dead body; an emission of semen; or other bodily discharge—is sometimes a sacrifice, but always involves washing with water. Bodily corruption and death, keeping people from God, is to be washed away with water. Then they can worship him.

The other major use of nidah is also intrinsically connected to water. Numbers 19 describes the “water for impurity (nidah)” (ESV) or “water of cleansing (nidah)” (NIV), normal H20 mixed with the ashes of a heifer. This water can be splashed on people who would otherwise be ceremonial unclean if, for instance, they have touched a dead body (Numbers 19:13).

There is one other use of nidah in the Law of Moses. Incest is likened to the impurity of nidah (Lev. 20:21). But hundreds of years later, in and around the destruction and restoration of Jerusalem, that is, around the ministry of Zechariah, nidah is used far more often for the spiritual state of people and their corrupt, dead religion.

  • The holy place in Hezekiah’s time was full of filth (nidah). (2 Chr. 29:5)
  • Jerusalem herself had become filthy (nidah) (Lam. 1:17)
  • Their idols are like an unclean thing (nidah) (Eze. 7:19-20)
  • Their ways were like the uncleanness of menstruation (nidah) (Eze. 36:17)

When Zechariah speaks of a fountain for uncleanness (nidah), it would make sense to be a fountain of water. He probably primary has in mind the “water for impurity (nidah)” (Num. 19:13) and the method of ceremonial cleansing – washing with water. Given the depth of the religious uncleanness of his own people, affecting far more than their own decaying bodies, this fountain was more needed than ever so that God’s people can serve him.

In the same location that Abram learned that “the Lord will provide”, Zechariah says that a fountain will be opened to deal with Israel’s greatest problems: their sinful rebellion and human corruption (Gen. 22:14; 2 Chron. 3:1; Zech. 13:1). This would be a spring of blood and water. Is this just a poetic way of saying that the daily offerings and washings will be restored, blood and water will again flow in Jerusalem, or is this pointing us to something far greater?

When will the fountain be opened?

The promise in Zechariah 13:1 is contained within a cluster of other claims:

  • God will pour out a prayerful spirit of his people (12:10)
  • They will look on God, the one they pierced (12:10)
  • They will mourn like the Egyptians did in the Passover and like Judah at the demise of the last great king, Josiah (12:10-11)
  • Idols and unclean spirits will be banished in the land (13:2)

When we come to the New Testament we see Jesus, as a far greater King, driving out demons, being God-himself who was pierced and ultimately pouring out his Spirit on people so they come back to God in repentance. The crucifixion story is replete with Scriptural fulfilment. John’s Gospel even quotes Zechariah 12:10, “they will look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37).  While the water and the blood may have medical meanings as well, “these things took place so that the Scripture might be fulfilled”. (John 19:36) There is an expectation that many prophecies are being fulfilled.

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” (John 19:34-37)

Strangely the commentaries on John, that I have read, do not make reference to Zechariah 13:1, as referring to the blood and the water, and their effects. Here is a fountain in Jerusalem, and for her, and in the representative of the house of David himself, the blood and the water flowing for sin (hatta’th) and uncleanness (nidah)

What does the cure tell us of the problem?

We often use the short-hand expression that Jesus died for our sins. He certainly took the punishment on himself, but how can we take more seriously that Christ also died to deal with our uncleanness? He opened a spring to cleanse us from our impurity too.

Our human bodies of corruption and death, made even worse through sin’s decaying power, by themselves cannot stand before the living God, let alone serve him. The writer of Hebrews describes the blood (goats and bulls) and the water of cleansing (made with ashes of the heifer). He shows how Christ gives us so much more.

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)

It’s only when sin and uncleanness are dealt with, that we can serve God with a clean conscience. The Old Testament cleaned people from corrupt bodies, the New way from corrupt and dead works.

Drawing near in the Old Testament meant going through the altar and the basin, before coming to the Holy Place. In the New Covenant, we go the same way in Christ Jesus. Notice the blood and the water as we approach God.

 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  (Hebrews 10:19-22)

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Andrew Barry

Andrew Barry serves Christ with his people at Menai Anglican Church. He is married to Ruth. They live with five of their children and eagerly wait to see their other son when Jesus returns.

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