Where in the Old Testament is this scripture to which Jesus refers?
By taking a look at some other other translations and considering their input this passage can be sorted out quite well.
- In verse 38 the word "belly" is used but it really means "out of him" (NIV) or "from within him" (ASV, CEB, NET, The Voice, WEB) or "out from his inmost being" (LB, NASB) or "from deep inside you" (CEV, ) or "out of his heart" (ESV, NKJV, NLF, RSV), "from deep within him" (HCSB), etc.
- The word translated "drink" at the end of verse 37 means "let him drink." (ASV, ESV, LB, NIRV, NIV, NLT, NLV, WEB, etc.)
- The beginning of verse 38 should connect with the ending of verse 37.
Making these adjustments the two verses put together would read:
"If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and he that believeth on me, let him drink. As the scripture hath said: Out of him shall flow rivers of living water."
This makes more sense out of Jesus' message and is consistent with other passages where He invites all men to come unto Him to believe in Him and obtain eternal life through Him.
- Matthew 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
- Mark 8:34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
- Luke 18:16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
- John 4:14-15 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.
- John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
- John 6:35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
- John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
- Matthew 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
- John 6:32-35 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
"Out of his belly" - does it refer to the believer or to the Messiah?
To whom then does "out of his belly shall flow" or the better form "out of him shall flow" refer? Should it refer to the believer or to the Messiah? Certainly the above quoted verses would explain that it comes from Jesus the Christ who gives life to every one who believes. Most commentators apply "out of him" to the believer but we should carefully note the next verse, John 7:39, which says, "(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)" Certainly Apostle John was guided to include this explanation because he knew of the philosophies which emphasised man's attainment that competed with the Gospel message of God's free gift of salvation to man.
Now that we know that the correct translation is "As the scripture hath said: Out of him shall flow rivers of living water" we can see that the "him" refered to is not the believer. The source of this 'water of life' must come from the giver and not proceed from the receiver. For the Messiah is now and will ever continue to be the source of all spiritual blessing "as the scripture hath said" in the Old Testament. Here are some of the many places: Isa. 32:2; 55:1, 4; 58:11; Jer 17:13; Zech. 12:10; 13:1; 14:8. Then compare the Old Testament to the verses in John 4:10-14 and Rev. 7:17; 22:1.
A graphic portrayal of the Messiah as the source of living water is given in the account in Exodus 17:1-7. This was applied to Jesus Christ for us by Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4. Then we note that Ezekiel 47:1-12 promises a growing river proceeding from the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem "and every thing shall live whither the river cometh." When this river comes to bless all mankind the scripture in Revelation 22:1-6 will be fulfilled. This is the time when the chaste virgin church joined as a bride to Christ in heaven will issue this invitation: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Likewise the prophecy in Isaiah 55:1 will be fulfilled which says, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."
Jesus promised that "whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:14; Song of Solomon 4:12) But it is the Spirit that wells up 'in him' (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:18; Eph 5:18; Col 1:9) prompting believers to be "witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." (Acts 1:8) Then others also believe, have a new life and do the same that even more may no longer 'thirst.' (Psalm 42:2; 63:1-2; 143:6)
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.