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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 47

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Restoration—Chapters 40-48

FOURTEEN years after the conquest of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, the desolation of the land, the deportation of its inhabitants, Ezekiel describes in this section the restoration of all that was lost, and gives at the same time, in ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12, a glance into the distant future, in which from the restored Israel salvation for the whole world goes forth in fulfilment of the ancient prediction, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”

After the introduction (ch. Ezekiel 40:1-4) follows the description of the temple of the future, its enclosing walls and its gates, ch. Ezekiel 40:5-16; the outer court, Ezekiel 40:17-27; the inner, Ezekiel 40:28-47; the proper temple, chEze 40:48-4:4. In ch. Ezekiel 41:5-11, the proportion of the lateral buildings to the temple; in Ezekiel 41:12-14, that of the rear buildings; in Ezekiel 41:15-26, whatever else is to be said of these structures. In ch. Ezekiel 42:1-14, the offices for the priests. In Ezekiel 42:15-20, after the description of the several parts of the sanctuary, the proportions of the whole. In ch. Ezekiel 43:1-9, the entrance of the Lord into the finished temple. In Ezekiel 43:10-12, why the revelation of the second temple is given. In Ezekiel 43:13-17, the proportions of the altar of burnt-offering; in Ezekiel 43:18-27, its consecration. In ch. Ezekiel 44 the prophet turns from the temple to the priests of the future, to whom the description of the place leads, which formed the central point of their ministry, the altar of burnt-offering. In ch. Ezekiel 45:1-17, the environs of the temple, the glebe land for the priests, the Levites, and the princes of the future. In ch. Ezekiel 45:18 to Ezekiel 46:15, the sacred seasons and the sacred actions of the future. In ch. Ezekiel 46:16-24, supplements to the foregoing. In ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12, an entirely new subject: the waters of the Dead Sea are made wholesome, and filled with life by the stream from the sanctuary. At the close the prophet returns from the distant to the nearer future. After the temple here follow the land and the city of the future. The prophet describes, in ch. Ezekiel 47:13-23, the borders of the land; then in ch. Ezekiel 48 the distribution among the several tribes, and how they are grouped around the temple, and the city adjoining it. Thus all that was lost is restored, and a broad foundation for the hopes of the future is given to the people languishing in misery, to the worm Jacob creeping on the ground.

This great picture of the future belongs to the end of the literary activity of the prophet. The only prediction of a later date to be found in the collection, that in ch. Ezekiel 29:17 to Ezekiel 30:19, which belongs to the twenty-seventh year of Jehoiachin, while the present belongs to the twenty-fifth, bears no independent character, but is only the resumption of an earlier one at a time when its fulfilment was approaching. It was probably inserted in the collection of prophecies occasioned by the circumstances of those times. Our prophecy simply forms the conclusion of the second consolatory part of ch. Ezekiel 33:21. But, at the same time, it forms the counterpart to the first great description of the destruction in ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 7:27, as it is introduced by the majestic vision of the cherubim in ch. Ezekiel 1. The cherubim and the new temple, the introduction and conclusion,—this is what every one thinks of when the name of Ezekiel is mentioned.

When our prophecy is usually designated as Ezekiel’s vision of the second temple, there is nothing to find fault with, if it is only understood that the designation refers to its most prominent part. Along with the temple, Ezekiel is concerned in everything else that seemed to be for ever lost in the Chaldean catastrophe.

With the exception of the Messianic section in ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12, the fulfilment of all the rest of the prophecy belongs to the times immediately after the return from the Chaldean exile. So must every one of its first hearers and readers have understood it. Jeremiah the prophet, whom Ezekiel follows throughout, with whom the very and with which he begins the collection of his prophecies connects him, had prophesied that the city and temple should be restored seventy years after the date of the Chaldean servitude, falling in the fourth year of Jehoiakim. Of these seventy years, thirty-two had already elapsed at the time when our prophecy was delivered. Ezekiel himself had announced, in ch. Ezekiel 29:13, that forty years after the desolation of Egypt, the nations visited by the Chaldeans would return to their former state. And what is more obvious, according to Ezekiel 11:16, the restoration is to follow in a brief space after the destruction of the temple. Accordingly the first hearers and readers could not but expect that, with respect to the restoration of the temple and city, the word holds good which Habakkuk once uttered (ch. Ezekiel 1:5) with regard to the destruction, “I do a deed in your days;” and we enter upon the interpretation with the presupposition that here also the word of the Lord applies, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.”

What can be maintained against this assumption rests on mere appearance. We have before us not a foreboding, which represents the future in its accidental and indifferent circumstances, but a prophecy, for which it is essential to give truth and poetry, which contains a kernel of real thoughts, but does not present them naked—how would the holy Scripture shrivel up if we should reduce it to its matter of thought!—but clothed with flesh and blood, that they may be a counterpoise to the sad reality, because they fill the fancy, that fruitful workshop of despair, with bright images, and thus by the word alleviate life at a time when all that is visible cries aloud, Where is now thy God? If we mistake this characteristic of the prophecy, that comes out more strikingly in Ezekiel than in any other prophet; if we ascribe a real import to everything without discrimination, an incongruity will certainly appear between the prophecy and the state of things after the exile. But it vanishes at once, if we can distinguish between the thought and its clothing; and this distinction will be easy, if we place before our eyes the first hearers and readers of Ezekiel, figure to ourselves the wounds for which the remedy is here proposed, and at the same time the mental world of Ezekiel the priest, the circumstances in which he grew up, and the materials within him for clothing the divine verities which he had to announce to the people of God. But we must regard this distinction as the chief problem of the expositor in the present section. Exactly in proportion to the fitness of the solution will be the value of the exegetical result. A double danger here lies before us,—to ascribe to forms what belongs to thought, and to thought that which belongs to mere form.

Let us take a glance at the views deviating from that now given. According to some, we have here “a model, according to which, on the return of the people, the temple should have been rebuilt,”—a building specification by divine authority. But this opinion forgets that we have here to do not with an architect, but with a prophet—with one whose department is not the hands, but the hearts, which he has to awaken to faith and hope, and walking in the ways of God. It cannot produce a single analogy from the prophetic region: nowhere have the prophets intruded into the department of legislation, for which under the old covenant other organs were provided. Especially all the other prophecies of Ezekiel of the time after the destruction bear not a legislative, but a hortatory character. In particular, the adjoining prophecy concerning Gog and Magog leads us to expect that here also much will belong to mere pictorial description, which is excluded if we ascribe a legislative import to the section. To this is added the obvious impossibility of erecting a building according to the specifications given. These suffice only to give play to the imagination. For a practical end, the most necessary things are wanting. We have in particular almost nothing of materials, to which so much space is devoted in the description of Solomon’s temple. As a rule, the specifications are confined to the mere measures and distances; whence those who, like Villalpandus, have undertaken to give literal plans of Ezekiel’s temple, have been obliged to draw much from their own fancy. Lastly, in the building of the second temple, it is manifest that no reference is made to Ezekiel’s temple. As the reason of this cannot be sought in any doubt of the divine mission of Ezekiel, whose prophecies were admitted into the canon, it can only be found in this, that men saw in this prophecy something else than a building specification.

In the older theology, it was customary to regard not merely ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12, but the whole section (ch. Ezekiel 40:1 to Ezekiel 48:35), as a prophecy of the Christian church. [245] There is truth at the foundation of this view. Although the restoration of the city and the temple is first predicted, as it took place on the return from the Chaldean exile, yet this special announcement rests on the general ground of the firm conviction of the living power and indestructibility of the kingdom of God, the symbol of which was the temple, according to a view pervading the whole of the Old and New Testament. And as the prophecy reaches beyond its first fulfilment, it guarantees that within the kingdom of God life shall arise out of every death,—that the old covenant cannot go down without rising again gloriously in the new. But the fault in the older exposition, as it has been lately revived by Dr. Kliefoth, with the addition that the prophecy here describes not merely the development and operation of the Christian church in this world, but its consummation in the next, was this, that it referred the prophecy directly and exclusively to the Christian church, and excluded the fulfilment in the time of Zerubbabel. It is against this opinion so stated, that it is unnatural to suppose that the prophet has left out all consideration of the nearer deliverance; that, with the exception of ch. Ezekiel 47, there is not the slightest reference to the peculiarities of the church of the New Testament, and all that is advanced as such is only imported; that the statement, “The new theocracy which he depicts is more intellectual and spiritual than the old,” is nowhere verified; and that in this way we lose the whole substance of the prophecy, and are compelled to fill up the vacuum thus occasioned with our own thoughts. It is, for ex., obviously to import and not to expound, if we are to find in the close of the prophecy, from, Ezekiel 47:13 onwards, “the introduction of the people of God, gathered by Christ from Jew and Gentile, as a new manhood, into the perpetual Canaan of the new earth at the consummation.” None of the first readers of Ezekiel could find this in it. They must have understood by the Jordan simply the Jordan, by the sea the Mediterranean, by the tribes themselves those who still bore the yoke of banishment. The return of the people to the old home, the restoration of the temple, of the priestly service to be performed by the sons of Zadok, of the sacrifices in the Old Testament form,—these are obvious realities; and nothing leads us to suppose that they are to be regarded as figures belonging to the action of the prophetic scene of the future. If so interpreted, the prophecy would be altogether vain. The people might then reject the former threatenings of the prophet also, because they referred them to a people of the future, and explained all that cried aloud, “Thou art the man,” as mere figures. Had the prophet wished all these things to be regarded as mere figures, he must have explained this in the clearest manner. The apagogical argument for this view, drawn from the fact that there is much that is not found in the times soon after the exile, so that we must be perplexed about the divine mission of the prophet if we cling to these times, loses its force as soon as it is admitted that a distinction must be made between the thought and its clothing. But we do not see how this argument can be maintained by those who themselves extend the domain of form much further, and in fact draw upon themselves the charge of arbitrary spiritualizing unjustly brought against others.

[245] But the older theologians were not without a sense of the difficulties which pressed upon the view, and awaited fuller light in the future. Starck, for ex., says, Precor Deum, ut aliis Ezechielis revelationem meditantibus majorem affandat lucem, majora dicendi et nodos solvendi.

Finally, most unfortunate is the interpretation, according to which that “national order” is here described, “in which at the end of the times converted Israel, with the church engrafted into it from the heathen, shall live in the millennial kingdom.” There is not the least ground to refer to the last time a prophecy which, rightly understood, has found its fulfilment a few decenniums after it was delivered. It is manifest on the clearest grounds, that the delineations of the prophet have something intentionally Utopian, and much belongs only to the pictorial. If we neglect this, and are led by a literal interpretation to overstep the bounds of the Old Testament, we arrive at very doubtful dogmatic results. The restoration of the temple, the Old Testament festivals, the bloody sacrifices, the priesthood of the sons of Zadok, can only be expected within the bounds of the New Testament by a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ and His church. But if we shrink from these consequences, if at this point we distinguish between the thought and its form, if we cease to cling to the literal interpretation, we do not see why the fulfilment is to be sought in so cloudy a distance. Dr. v. Hofmann says justly in the Scriptural Proof: “In the face of the fall of the Israelitish community, the desolation of the holy land, the destruction of God’s house, the people needed a promise which assured them of the restoration of all that seemed lost.” All this is actually bestowed again upon the people through God’s grace under Zerubbabel and Joshua, Ezra and Nehemiah; and with what gratitude this grace is acknowledged, Psalms 107 for ex., shows. It would be unreasonable to ignore this restoration, rather than be led by so manifest a fulfilment of the promise contradicting all natural reason, to the hope of the deliverance of the church from all the troubles and sorrows which it now suffers.

Verses 1-12

Chapter 47:1-12

Here suddenly the view becomes wider and freer. It enters into the Messianic times. From the restored temple at length salvation goes forth for the whole world: this is the naked thought. We shall have to regard as the Mediator of this salvation the exalted descendant of David, who, according to ch. Ezekiel 17:23, grows from a feeble sapling to a glorious cedar under which all fowls dwell: to the fowls of every wing there, correspond here the fish of every kind ( Ezekiel 47:10). In harmony with our prophecy the salvation here announced took its beginning at the time of the second temple, and flowed thence, where Jesus had the chief seat of His activity (comp. on John 7:3-4), over the nations of the earth.

The relations of the New Testament to our section are very rich and manifold. In reference to it the Lord in Matthew 4:18-19 says to Peter and Andrew, “I will make you fishers of men.” On it rests the miraculous draught of fishes by Peter at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus (Luke 5), and also the draught after the resurrection in John 21 Jesus designedly embodies, at the commencement and the close, the contents of our prophecy in a symbolic act. No less allusive to our prophecy is the parable of the net, which gathered of every kind, in Matthew 13:47. Finally, in Revelation 22:1-2 is announced the last and most glorious fulfilment of our prophecy. Our section is the only one in the whole cycle of ch. Ezekiel 40:1 to Ezekiel 48:35, the fulfilment of which is represented in the New Testament as belonging to the time of Christ. It should have set aside the old application of the whole prophecy concerning the new temple to the Christian church, that the New Testament affords no support for this interpretation. On this side of the Apocalypse the references are limited to ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12; all the rest is ignored, which would be inconceivable if it referred to the times of the New Testament. But the new Jerusalem in the Apocalypse, far from establishing the interpretation of the whole prophecy by the Christian church, stands to the restored Jerusalem of Ezekiel in an antithetic relation. In Ezekiel all is earthly; there all is above the earthly. The measures are quite different. In Ezekiel the whole city has the moderate circuit of about a mile and a half (about 7 Eng.), which agrees with its extent after the exile. On the contrary, in Revelation 21:16 the city is 12,000 stadia long, broad, and high. It measures on every side 300 geographical miles (above 1200 Eng.). In the Apocalypse all is of gold, precious stones, and pearls, while here the most moderate relations are presented. The temple that forms here the absolute centre is wanting altogether in the Apocalypse.

It is not otherwise with the closing prophecy of Ezekiel than in the prophecy in the first book of Moses. There the announcement concerning the blessing coming upon all the families of the earth through Abraham, and of the Shiloh, to whom the people cleave ( Genesis 49:10), only penetrates into the Messianic region. Irrespective of this, the prophetic announcement—as Genesis 12:1-3, and particularly the blessing of Jacob in Genesis 49, clearly show—refers to the deliverance of the nearer future, to the people springing from the descendants of the patriarchs, the release from the land of pilgrimage, the possession of Canaan. So, in Ezekiel, the lower but nearer deliverance preeminently draws his attention to itself, as indeed is the case in all other prophets; as, for ex., Habakkuk opposes to the Chaldean catastrophe first the release from the Chaldean bondage. Such a course is evidently wise and natural. The plain, obvious matter of fact could only be mistaken in a time when the mind was not alive to historical apprehension. It is an anachronism to attempt to revive such an interpretation. We certainly need not therefore mistake the fact, that in a certain sense the whole description of the new temple bears a Messianic character. The restoration of the temple here announced is not exhausted by the immediate fulfilment. It assures us that even in the church of Christ life will ever issue from death. But there it stops: ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12 alone is directly and exclusively Messianic. The order in this section, which runs parallel with ch. Isaiah 53 of Isaiah, ch. Jeremiah 30 and Jeremiah 31 of Jeremiah, and ch. Zechariah 11 of Zechariah, is very simple: first, the description, the water from the sanctuary, Ezekiel 47:1-6; the trees on its banks, Ezekiel 47:7; then the statement of the purpose served by that which is described—the water, Ezekiel 47:1-11; the trees, Ezekiel 47:12.

Ezekiel 47:1. And he brought me back to the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the front of the house was toward the east, and the waters came down from under the right side of the house south of the altar. 2. And he brought me forth the way of the gate northward, and led me round without to the outer gate that looketh eastward; and, behold, waters gushed from the right side. 3. And when the man went forth to the east, and the line in his hand, he measured a thousand cubits, and brought me through the waters, waters of the ankles. 4. And he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters, waters to the knees. And he measured a thousand, and brought me through waters of the loins. 5. And he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not wade: for the waters were high, waters of swimming, a river that could not be passed. 6. And he said unto me, Seest thou, son of man? And he led me, and brought me back to the brink of the river. 7. When I returned, behold, at the brink of the river were very many trees on this side and on that. 8. And he said unto me, These waters go out to the west circuit, and go down to the waste, and enter the sea; brought forth they fall into the sea, and the waters are healed. 9. And it shall be, that every living being that creepeth, to which the two rivers come, shall live; and the fish shall be very many: for these waters shall come thither, and they shall be healed; and every thing shall live to which the river cometh. 10. And it shall be, that fishers shall stand on it, from En-gedi even to En-eglaim; they shall be a spreading place for nets: their fish shall be of all kinds, as the fish of the great sea, very many. 11. Its mire and its marshes that are not healed are given to salt. 12. And on the river, on its brink, on this side and on that, shall grow all trees for food: its leaf shall not fade, nor its fruit cease; it shall ripen every month, for its waters flow forth from the sanctuary; and its fruit shall be for food, and its leaf for healing.

Under the figure of water salvation is often presented in Scripture, which appears even in paradise in the shape of water; comp. Genesis 13:10. In Psalms 46:5, “The river, its streams gladden the city of God,” the blessings of the kingdom of God, His royal graces, appear as a river that conveys its saving waters by a series of channels to the community of God. The saving waters that there belong first only to Zion are here k out also to the heathen. In Psalms 87:7, when the Messianic salvation is come which quickens the thirsty soul and the dry land, Israel sings, “All my springs are in Thee.” Isaiah prophesies in ch. Isaiah 30:25 of this time: “And there shall be on every high mountain, and on every lofty hill, rivers. Water-brooks, in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall.” While the judgment on the world proceeds, and in it annihilates all pride and abases all haughtiness, Zion is quickened by the waters of salvation. The figure is directly explained in several places. In Psalms 36:9, “And of the river of thy pleasure thou makest them drink,” the river denotes the fulness of delight which the Lord pours upon His own. Isaiah says in ch. Isaiah 12:3 of the Messianic times, “And with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” In Revelation 7:17 it is said, “The Lamb in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them to living fountains of waters.” Accordingly water signifies life, a powerful happy life disturbed by no hindrance. So also in Revelation 22:1. Ezekiel expands here what Joel has indicated in ch. Joel 3:18, “And a fountain goes forth from the house of the Lord, and waters the acacia dale,” the symbol of human need; and Zechariah again in ch. Zechariah 14:8 points back to Ezekiel. The water comes out under the threshold of the house. The house is the proper temple, the holy place, and the holy of holies. The proper fountain is in the latter. According to the Apocalypse, the water goes out from the throne of God. The prophet has in ch. Ezekiel 43:1 f. seen the new entrance of the Lord into the sanctuary forsaken by Him. In this entrance, from which the city again receives the name “Jehovah thither” (ch. Ezekiel 48:35), not only the appearance of Christ announced elsewhere by the prophet, but the issue of the waters consequent upon it, has its ground. But Ezekiel, held fast by the Old Testament limits, cannot advance to the fountain of waters. The entrance into the holy of holies was allowed only to the high priest. The words, “For the face or front of the house was toward the east,” explain the foregoing passage, where the threshold toward the east was spoken of. The front side is, as such, at the same time the door side. But the front of the temple is toward the east. That the descent of the water is spoken of is explained by this, that to depict its internal elevation the temple was higher than the court. The water comes down under the right or south side of the house, that is, to the south-east; for from what goes before, the south side can only be the south part of the east side. The water flows to the south end of the threshold. The reason why it came forth there, and not in the middle of the threshold, is given in the words “south of the altar.” The altar of burnt-offering lay immediately before the east door of the sanctuary (ch. Ezekiel 40:47): the water must therefore issue not from the middle of the threshold, if it was not to meet with an immediate hindrance; it must first come forth where the altar did not stand in the way. The prophet has, so far as he was allowed, seen the origin of the water. Now he is to observe its further course. For this purpose he must leave the temple. The most natural way out was the east gate of the court, where the water flowed toward the east. But as, according to ch. Ezekiel 44:1-2, the outer east gate was always shut, he must go round through the north gate, and outside the temple make his way to the east gate. There, according to Ezekiel 47:2, he sees water gushing out [312] on the right side. The right, or the south side, is here also, from the connection, the south-east. The south side of the east gate is first meant. But the water comes forth on the south side of the east gate, only because it has taken its rise on the south-east side of the temple. It goes forth thence in a straight course. The measuring in Ezekiel 47:3-5 is fourfold. The thought is, that the Messianic salvation, at first small in appearance, will unfold itself in ever richer fulness and glory, crescit eundo, while the streams of worldly enterprise after a brief course dry up—are streams whose waters lie ( Isaiah 58:11; Job 6:15-20). To be compared is ch. Ezekiel 17:22-23, where the tender sapling grows to a cedar, in whose shadow all the fowls of heaven, all the nations of the earth, dwell,—a passage that affords the necessary supplement to ours, as in it the person of the Mediator appears; and also in the New Testament the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. The same progress which is exhibited in the real world among the nations, appears also in the life of individuals. The wonderful power working in secret brings by degrees great out of small, fathers in God out of children. That it was not possible to walk through the water ( Ezekiel 47:5), the prophet ascertained by his own experience as he waded in to the neck ( Isaiah 8:8). In Ezekiel 47:6 the prophet is brought back from the stream to its brink. He cannot therefore have been satisfied with observing the state of the water from the brink, which has also all antecedent analogy against it. The words, “Seest thou, son of man” ( Ezekiel 47:6), point out the high significance of what precedes, and form at the same time the close and the transition. The words, “and brought me back to the brink of the river,” indicate that the attention is now to be turned to this, whereas hitherto it was directed to the bed of the river in which the prophet had to go hither and thither. It is said literally in Ezekiel 47:7, “when he turned me back.” [313] This is one of the verbal peculiarities which occur, in the whole of the Old and New Testament, only in Ezekiel. Me: this shows that the return was a passive act determined by a foreign influence. It is indeed preceded by, “He led me, and brought me back to the brink of the river.” The need of salvation is denoted by hungering as well as thirsting. Accordingly life or salvation is here represented in the shape of the fruit-tree, as before by the water; comp. Isaiah 55:1-2, where, in describing the future times of quickening, along with water for the thirsty, is named bread for the hungry. The trees have here no independent import. They come into account only for their fruit. If, by an unseasonable comparison of Psalms 1:3, Jeremiah 17:8, we understand by trees, men—the righteous of the Messianic time—by fruits their virtues, we violently sever our prophecy from the connection with Genesis 2:9, Genesis 3:22, on the one side, and with Revelation 22:2 on the other. That in the latter place persons are not spoken of, and the trees as in paradise come into account only for their fruits, is shown by the parallel passage, ch. Revelation 2:7, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Here the righteous are not themselves the tree of life, but they eat of the tree of life. With Ezekiel 47:8 begins the statement of the aim. First, we learn in Ezekiel 47:8-11 what the water means. The words, “These waters go out to the east circuit,” determine the region in which the waters are to prove effectual. The details then follow in the words, “And go down to the waste, and enter the sea.” The waste, the Arabah, denotes in general the valley of the Jordan. In this connection, however, with the east region on the one side and the sea on the other, the Arabah can only come into account in its south end by the Dead Sea. There, in preparation for the Dead Sea, and as a fitter entrance to this, it is a horrid wilderness—“a solitary plain full of salt clay.” The wilderness is in Scripture a figure of ungodliness—thus a suitable emblem of the world estranged from God and excluded from His kingdom, to which applies the words in Psalms 107:5, “Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.” In the fundamental passage of Joel corresponds to the Arabah here, “The vale of the acacias, the wilderness tree;” and in Isaiah 35:6, the Arabah is in parallelism with the wilderness: “In the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the waste.” The figure of the wilderness transferred from Joel, the prophet only indicates. He turns immediately to a second more striking figure of ungodliness; and gives this at full length. “The sea” is from the whole context the east sea ( Ezekiel 47:18), the Dead Sea, of which Von Raumer says, p. 61, “The sea is called Dead, because there is in it no green plant, no water-fowl—in it no fish, no shell. If the Jordan carry fish into it, they die.” Gadow relates: “Some herons had taken their stand on the miry delta (of the entering Jordan), and sought the little fishes washed into the sea, that died instantly in the sharp lye. I remarked some struggling with death.” This explains the passage of Ezekiel 47:8-10. Sea-fishes, which Marshal Marmont at Alexandria cast into the water taken from the Dead Sea, died in two or three minutes. As a symbol of the corrupt world lying in wickedness ( 1 John 5:19), the Dead Sea is the more appropriate, as it owes its origin to a judgment on the corrupt world, and the spiritual eye discerns under its waves the figure of Sodom and Gomorrah. The prophet has already, in ch. Ezekiel 47, presented Sodom as a type of the world dead in sins; comp. above, p. 144. “Into the sea” is a repetition, in order to attach to it the statement of the aim and the import. All before this was purely geographical. For the statement of the aim the phrase “brought forth “prepares, which points to the higher hand, which by deliberate counsel executes the plan of salvation. “And it shall be” ( Ezekiel 47:9) directs the attention to the remarkable change. As there is in the Dead Sea no other “living being” than those who wrestle with death, or have yielded to it, so also its counterpart the world is a great charnel-house. “Living beings:” they merit this name first after the waters from the sanctuary have overcome the substances hostile to life. The “two rivers” stand for the strong river, as in Jeremiah 50:21 the double revolt means the strong revolt. The first oppressor of Israel in the time of the Judges bears, on account of his great wickedness, the name Rishathaim, double wickedness. [314] In a certain respect the foregoing passage speaks of a doubled water—the source as it first comes from the sanctuary, and the increase which it afterwards receives. Only after they receive this reinforcement they effect the here mentioned miraculous change in the Dead Sea. “And the fish shall be very many:” the sea appears in Scripture as the symbol of the world. Accordingly men appear as the living creatures in the sea, and in particular as the fishes; comp. on Revelation 8:9. In the Dead Sea of the world there were hitherto only dead fish, that are not reckoned as fish, but only unspiritual, unsaved men. If the meaning of the fish be settled, that of the fishers cannot be doubtful. If the fish be the men who have attained to life by the Messianic salvation, the fishers can only be the messengers of this salvation, who gather those who are quickened into the kingdom of God—introduce them into the communion of the church. So also has our Lord repeatedly and emphatically expounded this trait of our prophecy; thus in the words directed in the apostles to all the ministers of the church: “I will make you fishers of men; fear not, henceforth thou shalt catch men” ( Luke 5:11; in Matthew 13:47, etc.). The question is not of fishers who will divide the fish caught after their kind, but only of those who catch fish of different kinds. The forced transference of the prophecy to the last time of the kingdom of God has nothing for, everything against it: the gradual growth of the river of life; the authority of Christ, who sets out from this, that the fishing of men predicted by Ezekiel begins immediately; and the nature of the thing, as it would be absurd to ignore the beginning and contemplate the end alone or even chiefly, since it is already contained in the beginning. The fishers will stand from En-gedi to En-eglaim. Both places are combined, because they are both named from a fountain. En-gedi is known. It lies on the west side of the sea, pretty far toward the south, though by no means on the south end. Jerome places En-eglaim at the north end of the sea, where the Jordan flows into it. But as obviously the whole compass of the sea is intended, it is much better to look for En-eglaim on the east side of the sea. Now En-gedi is in fact obliquely over against the Eglaim mentioned in Isaiah 15:8; according to the Onom. s. v. Agallim 8 m. p., south of the old Moabite city Ar, probably identical with Agalla, a city which Alexander Jannaeus had wrested from the Arabs (Joseph. Arch. xiv. 1, 4). [315] “They shall be a spreading place for nets;” literally, they shall be a place for the spreading of the nets. The subject is the places from En-gedi to En-eglaim, thus the whole compass of the Dead Sea, on which hitherto no spread nets, as it were the symbol of the fish kingdom, were seen. The nets are spread after fishing to dry, in preparation for new work, new success. “Their fish shall be of all kinds:” this refers to Genesis 1:21. In the Dead Sea of the world arises such a joyful swarm of those who are made partakers of life from God, as once at the creation in the natural sea of ordinary fish. The salvation is for all, without distinction of nation, rank, or age. [316] “Its mire [317] and its marshes that are not healed” ( Ezekiel 47:11): the height of the water in the Dead Sea is different at different times. If the water subsides, salt morasses and marshes arise here and there, that are cut off from connection with the main sea (Robinson, Part ii. pp. 434, 459). In the Dead Sea of the world, the swamp and marshes are originally of the same nature as the main sea: the only difference is, that they cut themselves off from the healing waters that come from the sanctuary: comp. the sayings, “and ye would not;” and, “No man can come unto me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him”—whose drawing the longing of the soul must meet ( John 6:44). “Are given to salt:” the salt comes into account here not as seasoning, as often, but as the foe of fruitfulness, life, and prosperity. The salt land denotes, in Job 39:6, the desert, barren steppe. To be given to salt forms the contrast to deliverance from the corrosive power of salt, which would be effected by the water from the sanctuary, if access were afforded to it; the waters remain given over to the salt: “He that believeth not the Son of God shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” ( John 3:36). It is punishment enough for the world lying in wickedness, that it abides as it is. That the trees bring forth new fruit every month ( Ezekiel 47:12), indicates the uninterrupted enjoyment of salvation. The salvation must present itself for the deadly sick heathen world, before all in the form of saving grace. Besides the nourishing fruits, therefore, are named also the healing leaves.

[312] פכךְ? , to roll, is connected with בקק , both formed after the sound, “of the sound which the emptying bottle makes,” in Arab, to break forth, gush forth. Very unsuitable is the comparison with בכה , weep, then trickle. The water must in its very origin bear the character of fulness and life.

[313] In the infinitive, ֵ?ני—regularly and without exception denotes the accus. me, ִ?י—the genitive of the subject, my (Böttcher, Gram.).

[314] Perhaps ענלים in Ezekiel 47:10 is also such a dual, the double calf in parallelism with the goat. Springs are named after the discoverers. The calf had signalized itself by the discovery. The doubled stands often for the distinguished: thus כפלים , Job 11:6; םשנה , Isaiah 61:7.

[315] That Eglaim in Isaiah is written with א is not decisive, as ע and א are not seldom exchanged; comp. Gesen. Thes. under א . אגלים affords no suitable derivation.

[316] Jerome: Omnia capta sunt ab apostolis, nihil mansit incaptum, dum nobiles et ignobiles, divites et pauperes et omne genus hominum de mari hujus seculi extrahitur ad salutem. The great multiplicity of kinds has since then become infinitely more manifest.

[317] The singular stands in the text. The Keri, to which the vowels belong, substitutes the plural on account of the following plural. But בצה occurs elsewhere only in the sing. ( Job 8:11; Job 40:21); and also בץ , mire, Jeremiah 38:22.

Verses 13-23

Chapter 47:13-23

From the far future the prophet returns to the near, from the higher salvation to the lower, which formed its presupposition. He has already painted the temple and city of the future. It remains to show how Israel is reinstated in the possession of the land. In this section the boundary of the land is given. In ch. Ezekiel 48 then follows the partition among the several tribes.

In Numbers 34 and in Joshua 15 the statement of the boundaries proceeds from the south; here, on the contrary, it begins in the north, and the tribes also in ch. Ezekiel 48 follow from north to south. The distinction arises from this, that in ancient times Israel came from the south into the land, but here the return takes place from the land of the north.

Everything also in our section depends on this, that we rightly conceive the aim of the prophet. His problem is this, to give a hold and a ground for believing hope in the restoration to the land of their fathers as it existed for the people affected by the Chaldean catastrophe (to those affected by the Roman conquest such a hope is nowhere held out in the Old or New Testament, and could not be held out according to the nature of the New Testament). Questions of detail—whether the Phoenicians and the Philistines shall keep their coast-land, whether the transjordanic region shall, as formerly, come into possession of Israel as a frontier of the proper Canaan—interest him not. He deals only in the general. He knows that the Mosaic boundary is not completely covered by the later actual boundary—that circumstances have changed the state of things. He adheres closely to this Mosaic boundary as it is presented in Numbers 24, as in the description of the temple he does to the pattern of that of Solomon. In conclusion, he declares that the strangers who have been incorporated with Israel during the exile, shall be made equal with the natives in the partition of the land. We have here a remarkable monument of faith—a parallel to the blessing of Jacob, who, far from the land of promise, contemplated its future possession as present. The exposition that would transfer all to the times of the New Testament, is in this section also involved in perplexity. It asserts that all is to be spiritually understood here, but cannot give the spiritual sense more precisely. It is true our section contains ‘‘ truth and poetry;” but if we do not understand that the truth in it is the restoration from the Chaldean exile, which even in Jeremiah, for ex., in ch. Jeremiah 31:30, presents itself as the chief source of comfort, all floats in the air.

Ezekiel 47:13. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, The inside of the border by which ye shall inherit the land, for the twelve tribes of Israel: for Joseph two portions. 14. And ye shall inherit it, every one as his brother; which I lifted up my hand to give to your fathers: and this land shall fall to you for inheritance. 15. And this is the border of the land on the north side, from the great sea towards Plethlon, and thence to Zedad; 16. Hamath, Berathah, Sibraim, which is between the border of Damascus and the border of Hamath; Hazer the middle, which is on the border of Hauran. 17. And the border from the sea shall be Hazar-enon, the border of Damascus, and the north northward, and the border of Hamath. And this is the north side. 18. And the east side, from between Hauran, and Damascus, and Gilead, and the land of Israel, is the Jordan; from the border to the east sea ye shall measure. And this is the east side. 19. And the south side southward, from Tamar to the waters of Meriboth Kadesh the inheritance reaches to the great sea. And this is the south side southward. 20. And the west side is the great sea, from the border over against the way to Hamath. This is the west side. 21. And ye shall divide the land for you unto the tribes of Israel. 22. And it shall be, that ye shall allot it for an inheritance to you, and to the strangers that sojourn among you, who have begotten children among you; and they shall be unto you as the natives among the children of Israel; with you shall they share in the inheritance among the tribes of Israel. 23. And it shall be, that in the tribe with which the stranger dwells, there ye shall give him his inheritance, saith the Lord Jehovah.

The inside of the border ( Ezekiel 47:13) is the land enclosed within the border. [318] The following “by which”—in what relation, to what extent—“ye shall inherit the land” serves for explanation. “Joseph parts;” that is, wherein Joseph shall receive two parts. The allusive brevity, which shows itself particularly in this, that a multiplicity of parts is spoken of instead of a definite duality, arises from this, that the proportion is generally known. Jacob, in Genesis 48:5, makes the two sons of Joseph equal in respect of the share in the land of Canaan—raises these grandsons to the rank of sons. In the statement of the north boundary in Ezekiel 47:15-17, the direction is first defined in Ezekiel 47:15 by a prominent point. It commences at the Mediterranean, and proceeds thence over Hethlon to Zedad. This, the present Zadad or Sudud, four hours from Hasya on the west edge of the desert, was named in Numbers 34:8 as the north-eastern point of the territory of Israel. In Ezekiel 47:16 are then named some of the most important places lying on the north border; at the head Hamath, as the most considerable of the border lands. Then in Ezekiel 47:17 the sea is designated as the western point of the north border; Hazar-enon as the eastern, which appeared in Numbers 34:9 as the eastern point of the north border; and Hamath as the northern, [319] which often presents itself, after the example of Numbers 34:8, as the northern limit of Canaan. Solomon assembles all Israel to the dedication of the temple, from Hamath to the river of Egypt ( 1 Kings 8:65). [320] As the east border, by which the land of Israel is separated from Hauran, Damascus, and Gilead, appears in Ezekiel 47:18 the Jordan. The transjordanic region is thus not reckoned to the land of Israel. A reversal of relations has thence been wrongly inferred. Even in Numbers 32:30, Numbers 33:51, the land of Canaan is the land west of the Jordan. In Joshua 22:9, Canaan and Gilead are set over against one another quite as here. But when the prophet here excludes Gilead from the proper land of Israel, he does not in the remotest degree say that they shall not have it as a frontier in the future, as formerly. If he asserted this, he would be at variance with Psalms 60, with Micah 7:14, where it is said of the people delivered from the Babylonian catastrophe (ch. Micah 4:9, Micah 4:7), “They shall feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old;” with Jeremiah 50:19, where, along with Karmel and Mount Ephraim, Bashan and Gilead appear as the possession of the people restored from Babylon; with Zechariah 10:10, and not less with history. “From the border to the east sea ye shall measure:” the border on the north has been already defined in Ezekiel 47:15-17; and then again in our verse, where Hauran stands at the head as the northern point of the east border, the east sea is named as the southern point of the east border—the Dead Sea, so called in contrast with the Mediterranean, which lay to the west. The starting-point of the south border, Tamar, in Ezekiel 47:19, occurs not elsewhere in the Old Testament. As the west sea is given as the end of the south border, we must look for Tamar at the extreme south-east, at the end of the east sea, which appears in Ezekiel 47:18 as the southern part of the east border. To this also point Numbers 34:4 and Joshua 15:2, according to which the south border begins at the end of the salt sea, the tongue that looketh southward from the southern end of the Dead Sea, on which Tamar must have stood. [321] The second point, the strife-waters of Kadesh, is made prominent on account of the theological monitory significance which it has in the history of the old time. [322] The great sea is designated as the western point of the south border. [323] The west border in Ezekiel 47:20, the Mediterranean, begins with the western point of the south border mentioned in Ezekiel 47:19, and goes in the north, “over against the way to Hamath,” to the point where the way from the sea to Hamath, that lay inland in the extreme north, begins, Ezekiel 47:17. The land so designated by its boundary is to be divided ( Ezekiel 47:21) among the tribes of Israel; yet so, it is added in Ezekiel 47:22-23, that the strangers who have been naturalized in Israel in the times of affliction (strangers in general are not intended; but the more exact definition is added, “who have begotten children among you”) are considered in the partition, and indeed each in the tribe to which he has attached himself. Some have wished to find here a New Testament trait; but they have not reflected that the boundaries of the land confined between the Jordan and the Mediterranean render it impossible to think of the hosts of heathen who were then received into Israel, and still less that only the strangers already naturalized in Israel are here spoken of. The general principle which lies at the root of this regulation is already expressed by Moses in Leviticus 19:34: “The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself.” Thus, according to the Mosaic law, heathens by birth might be received into the community of God. The exception that in this respect is made regarding the Ammonites and the Moabites ( Deuteronomy 23:3-5), serves only to confirm the rule ( Deuteronomy 23:7-8). Already in the condition of the people, as Moses discovered, was found a considerable foreign element—the whole posterity of the servants who went to Egypt with Jacob. [324] A new accession took place in Egypt at the time of the exodus. We find of those in the train of Israel a great swarm of Egyptians ( Exodus 12:38; Numbers 11:4). In 1 Chronicles 2:34-35 we have an example [325] that these Egyptian strangers were considered in the partition of the land, and indeed in the territory of the tribe to which they were attached. Further, Moses gives the friendly invitation to his Midianitish brother-in-law, according to Numbers 10:29 f., to share with his tribe the lot of Israel: “What good the Lord does to us, we will do to you.” “Hobab,” says Knobel, “shall have equal rights with them; thus, for ex., a share in the land. As no further refusal, but immediately after the departure of Israel, is recorded, Hobab consented. In fact, we find his family afterwards in the Hebrew land.” We may compare Judges 1:16, Judges 4:11; Jeremiah 35. Only apparently at variance with Ezekiel is the conduct of Ezra towards the heathen wives ( Ezra 9:10), and that of Nehemiah in ch. Nehemiah 13 toward the heathen men who had settled among the Israelites. Ezekiel speaks of those who had attached themselves by inner inclination to Israel at a time when he had no form nor comeliness, and when there was nothing in him to desire but the true God; Ezra and Nehemiah are zealous against the attempt to make heathendom of equal right with Israel, and to break down the partition wall so necessary in the times before Christ. Both the attraction which Ezekiel commends, and the repulsion for which Ezra and Nehemiah are zealous, arise rather from the same principle. It is the true God who here binds and there severs.

[318] גה is no “old mechanically perpetuated clerical error for זה .” Had this been so, no writer would have put גה for it. Any one must have attentively considered the letters before he wrote גה . It seems almost that Ezekiel wished to teaze scribes and critics, and put them to the test with the גה . גה is of like import with גֵ?הָ?ה , Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart doeth good to the inwards, and a broken spirit drieth the bone.” The stem is גהה or הוה . Cognate is גּ?ֵ?ו , middle—in Chald. גּ?ַ?ו ; גיא , valley, the interior enclosed by mountains; גוי , people, the interior, the centre, in opposition to the individuals as the periphery. The Syr. renders גה rightly by גנלה . It is not the border that is afterwards spoken of, but the territory, גה is here also the fitting word, as זה in Ezekiel 47:15.

[319] צפון , north, without the preposition, denotes the north border, to which all the places named belong. צפונה , toward the north, gives the special in the general. The north border was no straight line, but had its more and less northern points. The most northern was Hamath.

[320] “This is the north side.” את may also here be regarded as a sign of the accus. We may supply “ye see,” or the like. We have here in the local descriptions of Ezekiel a style which closely resembles our telegram. In such a style it is quite perverse to wish, by critical alteration and verbal exposition, to force that which is so easily explained by the assumption of omissions.

[321] Robinson (Traveh, iii. 1, pp. 179, 186), whom several have inadvertently followed, looked for Tamar on the site of the present Kurnub. But the positive grounds are wholly uncertain. The situation of the Thamara mentioned in the Onom. is determined by a change of text—a mere conjecture! But Robinson’s hypothesis leads to the unnatural assumption that the description of the border begins at a point in the middle, and then turns first to the east, and then to the west, against which all analogy speaks.

[322] The designation is taken from Numbers 27:14; only, instead of the singular there, the plural מריבות is put, which points to this, that the strife there involves a whole fulness of rebellion,—a solemn N.B. for those who bore in themselves the nature of their fathers, who were still to the present day a “house of rebellion.”

[323] Instead of “the inheritance goes to the great sea,” it is now usually said, by the river to the great sea, with reference to Numbers 34:6, Joshua 15:4, where, in the definition of the south border, mention is made of the river which falls into the Mediterranean at the old Rhinokorura, the modern Arish. But this river is nowhere else briefly called the river. or river without the article—always the river of Egypt, even in Isaiah 27:12—and could least of all here be so designated by mistake in a section that treats so strictly of the נחלה , the inheritance of Israel. The assumption connected with this interpretation of the incorrectness of the vocalization and accentuation—the word must then have been written as in Numbers 34:5—has not a single analogy in the whole so carefully elaborated text of Ezekiel. The oldest translators, LXX.—who have here παρεκτεῖ?νον , in the repetition (ch. 48:28) κληρονομί?ας—Jonathan, the Syriac, are against this explanation. The inheritance here corresponds to the border of the land in the first two places. That there is an allusion to the river in Numbers 34 we may certainly assume.

[324] Compare my essay, “Moses and Colenso,” Ev. K. Z. lxiv. p. 195.

[325] Compare on this the essay above quoted.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 47". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-47.html.
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