In the time of Jesus, there were many pools and aqueducts in good repair, which, together with the wells and cisterns gave a plentiful supply of water. A very interesting chapter in the Old Testament relates how King Hezekiah made a conduit through the rock to lead the waters into the city, so that when besieged by the Assyrians there might still be water there. It is still more interesting if you can visit the British Museum and see the stone which was cut an inscribed at the time to commemorate the completion of the work.
One of the most famous of these pools was called the Pool of Bethesda. Exactly where it was cannot be definitely located now, thought it is generally thought to be a pool near the north-west corner of the Temple enclosure.
Surrounding this pool were five porches, and leading from these to the water were flights of steps. Could we have visited it, we should have found that in these porches and on the steps lay many impotent folk, for these waters were famed for their healing qualities. This was particularly so when the waters appeared “troubled.” It was then thought that whoever stepped first into the water was healed of his disease.
Among this crowd of sufferers was one who had been ill for thirty-eight years. Continually he had been brought there or had laboriously toiled there each morning in the hope that when the waters were troubled he would be able to get into them. But his infirmity was such that others were always before him, and as evening fell he had to return home no better than he left it.
But there was one near, who had the power to heal in an instant. It was Jesus, who, because “there was a feast of the Jews”, had come up to Jerusalem. He was now passing by the infirm as they lay by the Pool.
Amongst those who lay there, none excited the compassion of Jesus so much as this infirm man, for Jesus knew “that he had been now a long time in that case.”
“Wilt thou be made whole? Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.”
And the man, who for thirty-eight years had not known what it was to walk, immediately rose, rolled up his sleeping mat and walked.
This happened on the Sabbath day. And as the man walked he was soon stopped by some Jews who said “It is the Sabbath day; it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.”
The Scribes and Pharisees had added many childish traditions to the law concerning the Sabbath, as they had done to almost all the Law of Moses. It was wrong, they said, to wear patched and mended sandals on the Sabbath, for the patch was added to the sandals, and the wearer would be carrying a burden, which was unlawful. They said that no one must go more than two thousand cubits from their home, yet they evaded the law themselves by carrying food that distance from their dwellings on a Friday evening and leaving it. Then on the Sabbath, they would walk the allowed distance until they reached the spot where their food lay. They then argued that since the food had lain there one day, the spot where it had lain had become their dwelling, and that they were at liberty to go forward another Sabbath day’s journey.
Now, Jesus knew this. No wonder he called them hypocrites!