The healing of the man born blind in John 9, was not meant by John to be separated from the stories associated with the Savior’s experience in Jerusalem during and after the Feast of Tabernacles recorded John 7-8. Indeed, this miracle was the “sign” that verifies the Savior’s admonitions to come unto him for living water (John 7:37-39) and that He is the light of the world (John 8:12).
Review of John 7-8
John 7:14 says that Jesus arrived midway through the Feast of the Tabernacles. To the Jews at the time of Christ, the Feast of the Tabernacles was a messianic feast citing their minds forward to the time when the Messiah would come and bring perpetual living water and eternal light to the world. This was demonstrated through two outstanding features of the feast: the water-drawing ceremony and the lighting ceremony. (1)
The Savior’s first few days at the temple were filled with confrontations concerning the authority of his teachings (7:15-36). Then on “the last day, that great day of the feast” Jesus stood and issued this challenge: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water”(7:37-38).
The impact of the Savior’s challenge is lost unless one recalls the water-drawing ceremony. For seven days the priests had drawn water from the pool of Siloam and then poured that water into the silver bowl on the altar while pilgrims chanted “Lord, save now, we beseech thee.” On the last day of the feast, the procession marched around the altar seven times dramatizing the importance of the rite.
The Savior’s challenge to come unto him to receive the living waters was a clear statement of His claim that he was the promised awaited messiah. Of this event, R. E. Brown writes: “It was at this solemn moment in the ceremonies on the seventh day that the teacher from Galilee stood up in the temple court to proclaim solemnly that he was the source of living water. Their prayers for water had been answered in a way they did not expect; the feast that contained within itself the promise of the Messiah had been fulfilled. Zech. xiv 8 had predicted that living waters would flow out of Jerusalem, and Ezek xivii 1 had seen a river flow from the rock underneath the Temple. But now Jesus says that these rivers of living water will flow from his own body, that body which is the new Temple.” (2)
To dramatize this point even further, John, alone, records the piercing of the Savior’s side while upon the cross. In that account it is said the when the soldiers were breaking the legs of the three who were crucified, they saw that the Savior was already dead “and they brake not his legs: but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:33-34, emphasis added). John’s point is clear. The living waters do come from the belly of the Savior. (3)
The day following the Savior’s invitation to come to Him for living water, while Jesus was teaching in the Court of Women (John 8:20) (4), he said: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Could there be any doubt in the minds of his listeners as to what Jesus was claiming? In the very place where, as part of the lighting ceremony of the Feast, the huge candelabra were lit giving light to “every courtyard in Jerusalem” symbolizing the continuous light of the messianic age, Jesus proclaims that he is that light. Not only the light of Jerusalem, but of all the world.
The Miracle of the Man Born Blind
To give credence to His claim, the Savior demonstrated His power to give light to the world through a miracle. In John 9, the story of the man born blind follows on the heels of the Feast of the Tabernacles. The story begins when Jesus “saw a man which was blind from his birth” (vs. 1). When asked why the man was born this way, the Savior responded “that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (vs. 3). Then he said, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (vss. 4,5). Upon that “he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (vs. 6). The man did exactly what he was told. After he had washed his eyes in the same pool that the priest had drawn water as part of the water drawing ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles, he came out seeing.
Two major symbols of the Feast of Tabernacles, water and light, were present in the miracle. By spitting onto the ground, Jesus demonstrated that indeed the living waters or the Spirit of the Holy Ghost which can cause a man to see does indeed come from Him, for “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). This is further emphasized by the washing of the waters in the pool of Siloam which the Jews looked upon as a symbol of the Holy Ghost. (5) Because of the “water from the belly” or the Holy Ghost, the man could see.
The Light Shineth in Darkness
This miracle was performed on the Sabbath day (9:14). The Pharisees considered such action as a violation of the law of the Sabbath. They were so consumed in living the letter of the law that they could not see the miracle for what it was. Indeed, the light had shown “in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5).
The man born blind was taken to the Pharisees by some Jewish onlookers who questioned how he had overcome his blindness. He told them about the miracle. Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the Sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them” (9:16).
Some began to question whether he had truly been blind. So they brought his parents to the Pharisees. “Is this your son, who ye say was born blind?” they asked, “how then doth he now see?”
They answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself” (9:20-21).
The parents were afraid to defend their son because it was agreed by the leaders of the Pharisees that any who confessed that Jesus was the Messiah would be excommunicated from their synagogue (9:22).
The Pharisees urged the man born blind to praise God for new-found sight. But they insisted that Jesus was a sinner for violating the Sabbath.
The man responded, “Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” Frustrated at the man’s integrity, they once again questioned him as to how he was cured of his blindness. He countered, “I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?”
Angered at this response, the Pharisees asserted, “Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.”
The man rebutted, “Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.” Then becoming the teacher instead of the pupil, the man articulated, “Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.” Angered at the man, the Pharisees said, “Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?” They then excommunicated the man (9:24-34).
Somehow Jesus was aware of these proceedings. When “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.” The man’s new faith was expressed simply but profoundly in these words: “Lord, I believe.” John says, “And he worshipped him” (vss. 35-38).
This was a day full of irony. Those who had eyes and could see the visual sights of this world could not see the light Christ had brought. But he who was born blind was given power by Christ to see both the things of this world and the things of God. Observing the absurdity of the events of this day, the Savior said, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.” Overhearing this statement, a few self-righteous Pharisees sarcastically retorted, “Are we blind also?” Sadly, the Savior answered, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (vss 39-41).
“I Am the Door of the Sheepfold“
The Jewish leaders the Savior addressed had become like the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem before the Babylonian destruction in 586 B.C. Those leaders utterly failed the people. Of them, the Lord said to Ezekiel: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” Continuing His castigation, the Lord declared: “Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.” Therefore, the Jews, like sheep “were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them” (Ezekiel 34:2-6).
The Jewish leaders in the time of Christ were no better. In John 10, the Savior reproached the negligence of the Jewish leaders. He began by offering a parable: ” Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
“But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
“To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
“And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
“And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”
He then said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheepfold” (JST John10:1-7).
In ancient Israel, as it is today, sheep are kept within a sheepfold. Often dens or caves were utilized by shepherds as sheep folds. The shepherds would take rocks and enclose the front of the den or cave so that there is an opening about the size of a door. Then after corralling the sheep within the fold, the shepherd would sleep in the door way. In this way, the shepherd could protect his sheep from an enemy, whether predator or thief..
In the interrogation of the man born blind, the Pharisees claimed to be the teachers and rulers of the people (John 9:34). Yet their true concern was not the sheep but their own pride. They were not good doors for the sheep. But the Savior is the epitome of the door of the sheepfold. He is a sure and steady shepherd. He is the gate of His sheep. Through Him the sheep find both safety and redemption from the adversary. Indeed, as the Savior later taught, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:5-6).
“I Am the Good Shepherd”
Continuing the analogy of the shepherd, the Savior said, “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:8-11). The interests of thieves and robbers are purely selfish. They steal and kill for food and other self-interests. But the Savior’s motives are not selfish. Rather, His only concern is the welfare of the sheep. His motivation is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” (Moses 1:39) of the sheep.
The Savior viewed those leaders of his sheep whose interest was not in their eternal life as hirelings. “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
” But the Savior’s concern is for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:12-14). Indeed, to demonstrate the love He has for His sheep, the Savior declared that He would lay down his life for the sheep (10:15).
He then boldly declared, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (10:17-18). The Jews had not power to take his life. The Savior’s life would be forfeit only at His own choosing.
These teaching bothered many of the Jewish leaders. “There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” (10:19-21).
Know the Voice of the Shepherd
An important point in all of this is the necessity of the sheep knowing the voice of the Shepherd. The Savior said of His sheep, “they know [my] voice” (John 10:4). In a world of competing voices, it can be difficult for us to hear the voice of the Shepherd. King Benjamin taught, “I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you.” He then explained how one can distinguish between the voices of the world and the voice of God, “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:12-13).
In April 1891 General Conference, President George Q. Cannon, stated, “Each one of us should have the light of the Spirit of God shining in his heart so that he may know for himself that which is right, that when we hear the voice of the true Shepherd we will recognize it. We may not be able to tell all the details, but we will know by the testimony of the Spirit of God within us that which is right. This is the testimony which it gives to the Latter-day Saints. They know when they hear the voice of a servant of God, and they understand it. They may not be able to explain all of the reasons connected with this, but they have a living testimony of the truth within them.” (6)
Again, in another conference, he cautioned, “We warn you to be on your guard, to watch carefully, to pray earnestly, to live in purity, so that you shall have constantly the light of the Spirit of God to be with you. Do not be carried away by every wind of doctrine, nor by deceivers; but listen to the voice of the Spirit of God, which bears testimony to you in your hearts concerning the truths which you hear. You ought to be able to tell the voice of the true Shepherd from all other voices, so that no one assuming sheep’s clothing and professing to be what he is not can deceive you. It is your privilege to recognize the voice of the true Shepherd, and to know by the testimony of Jesus whether that which you are taught is true or not.” (7)
It is imperative in distinguishing between the various voices of the world that may lead honest seekers of the truth into “forbidden paths,” we understand the Lord’s process for learning. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has given this instruction on how to seek knowledge:
“As Latter-day Saints consider their personal relationship to various alternate voices, they will be helped by considering the ways we acquire knowledge, especially knowledge of sacred things.
“In modern revelation the Lord has told us to ‘seek learning … by study and also by faith.’ (D&C 109:7.)
“We seek learning by studying the accumulated wisdom of various disciplines and by using the powers of reasoning placed in us by our Creator.
“We should also seek learning by faith in God, the giver of revelation. I believe that many of the great discoveries and achievements in science and the arts have resulted from a God-given revelation. Seekers who have paid the price in perspiration have been magnified by inspiration.
“The acquisition of knowledge by revelation is an extra bonus to seekers in the sciences and the arts, but it is the fundamental method for those who seek to know God and the doctrines of his gospel. In this area of knowledge, scholarship and reason are insufficient.
“A seeker of truth about God must rely on revelation. I believe this is what the Book of Mormon prophet meant when he said, ‘To be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.’ (2 Ne. 9:29.) It is surely what the Savior taught when he said, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.’ (Matt. 16:17.) . . . .
“In the scriptures, the Lord has specified how we learn by faith. We must be humble, cultivate faith, repent of our sins, serve our fellowmen, and keep the commandments of God. (See Ether 12:27; D&C 1:28; D&C 12:8; D&C 50:28; D&C 63:23; D&C 136:32-33.) As the Book of Mormon says, ‘Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing–unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God.'(Alma 26:22.) . . . .
“The early leaders of the restored church had to learn that same truth. In several revelations the Lord rebuked Joseph Smith, David Whitmer, and others for not having their minds on the things of God, for yielding to “the persuasions of men” (D&C 3:6; D&C 5:21), and for being “persuaded by those whom I have not commanded” (D&C 30:2).
“The correct relationship between study and faith in the receipt of sacred knowledge is illustrated in Oliver Cowdery’s attempt to translate ancient records. He failed because he ‘took no thought,’ but only asked God. (D&C 9:7.) The Lord told him he should have ‘stud[ied] it out in [his] mind’ and then asked if it was right. (D&C 9:8.) Only then would the Lord reveal whether the translation was correct or not. And only on receiving that revelation could the text be written, because ‘you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.’ (D&C 9:9.) In the acquisition of sacred knowledge, scholarship and reason are not alternatives to revelation. They are a means to an end, and the end is revelation from God.” (8)
As we use the light of Christ, the teachings of the prophets, and revelation, we can be assured that we will know the voice of the Shepherd. We then will not be led into diverse paths but instead will come unto Christ and the protection of his sheepfold.
1. See Breck Englands recent review of the Feast of Tabernacle on Meridian Magazine, Gospel Doctrine Lesson 15: “I Am the Light of the World” John 7-8.
2. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John. Anchor Bible Series Vol. 29 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), p. 327.
3. Of this, Brown writes: “We think it most probable that in this flow of water from the side of Jesus (from within him) John sees the fulfillment of Jesus’ own prophecy, taking place in the hour of Jesus’ glorification (cf. xii 23). The parenthetical vs. 35 triumphantly insists that this really happened just as Jesus had predicted and that there was an eyewitness to affirm it. Thus, for John the flowing of the water is another proleptic symbol of the giving of the Spirit” (The Gospel According to John, pp. 949-950.
4. The treasury is the same as the Court of Women.
5. Regarding the water-drawing ceremony, the Jerusalem Talmud Sukkah 55a states: “Why is the name of it called, The drawing out of the water? Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.”
6. George Q. Cannon, Collected Discourses, Vol.2, April 6th, 1891.
7. George Q. Cannon, Collected Discourses, Vol.4, April 8, 1894.
8. Dallin H. Oaks, “Alternate Voices,” Ensign, May 1989, pp.29-30.