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The Life-Giving River
“And he brought me back unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward (for the forefront of the house was toward the east); and the waters came down from under, from the right side of the house, on the south of the altar. Then he brought me out by the way of the gate northward, and led me round by the way without unto the outer gate, by the way of the gate that looketh toward the east; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side”-vers. 1, 2.
Back of all our meditations upon these last chapters of Ezekiel, from 40 to 48, the question has been kept ever in mind, Are we to take this vision literally as indicating something which will be fulfilled to the letter in millennial days, or are we to understand it as symbolic of wondrous blessing which God has in store for His ancient people and for the world, but which He has presented in this form in order that the poor finite minds of His people may get some conception of the wondrous things reserved for them which are utterly beyond human imagination? We cannot help contrasting and comparing the closing chapters of the Apocalypse with what we have here. In considering this vision of the river our attention necessarily will be directed to that pure river of water of life proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, which John saw in vision as he found himself in spirit on a great and high mountain beholding the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven. We are told definitely in the first verse of the Revelation that God sent and signified these things to His servant John; and we have observed that the word signified really means symbolized. There are very few indeed who would attempt to literalize the great visions of this remarkable book. No one expects to see a sevenfold-sealed roll in heaven broken by one who has the appearance of a lamb. The roll we know is the title-deed to this world, and the Lamb is the Man Christ Jesus seated on the throne of God. Neither do we expect an actual savage brute with seven heads and ten horns to come bodily up from the bottomless pit and dominate the world.
We see in this vision the symbol of human government in its last degenerate and atheistic condition; and so when it comes to the vision of the heavenly city we understand that God is using symbols of wondrous beauty and glory to set forth the magnificence and marvelous character of the eternal home of the saints. The river there is clearly the Holy Spirit’s testimony to the risen Christ, which brings refreshment and blessing everywhere it goes; and we see on either side of the river the tree of life with its marvelous fruits, speaking of the message of the gospel which brings spiritual healing to all who receive it.
Now as we consider Ezekiel’s vision it would seem to be but slavish adherence to literality which would deny the symbolic character of much that is here unfolded. For many, the river in this chapter is a literal stream which will break forth from underneath the temple in millennial days and will divide into two parts, according to Joel 3:18 and Zechariah 14:8; thus linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Dead Sea and giving the city of Jerusalem itself a water-harbor. All this may indeed be true, but that this passage in Ezekiel refers to the same thing does not seem to the present writer either to be reasonable or in accordance with what we learn elsewhere in Scripture. What is the river that proceeds from under the threshold of the sanctuary of Jehovah? Can it be other than that same glorious stream which we have mentioned already, as brought before us in the twenty-second chapter of the Revelation? Of such a river Scripture speaks in many places. Wherever God rests we find a river flowing. There was one in Eden, a literal river flowing forth from the garden and dividing into four great streams; but elsewhere we find the river spoken of in a spiritual sense. In Psalms 36:8 we read, “Thou shall make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures”; and in Psalms 46:4 we are told, “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.” Observe, this is not a prophecy of some literal river to break forth from the floor of the temple in the future, but at the time the Psalmist wrote, it was a blessed fact, and it is a fact still, that there is such a river of refreshment of which all may drink who are willing to stoop down in repentance and receive that which God so graciously offers. This accords with what we have in the New Testament, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). Our blessed Lord, using the same figure, said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that be-lieveth on Me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). He has promised to bless and refresh the dry places like a river (Psalms 105:41); and Isaiah twice speaks of peace as a river (48:18; 66:12); while both the Psalmist and Jeremiah tell us of the righteous man who is like a tree planted by the rivers of water (Psalms 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8). Speaking prophetically of our Lord Jesus Christ, Isaiah says, “A man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (32:2). “A man shall be…as rivers”-what a remarkable picture! But when we realize that this river speaks of life and refreshment we at once see that all this is centered in our Lord Jesus who gives life and rest of heart and conscience to all who come to Him and drink.
There are numerous passages to which we might turn, but these are sufficient to show how frequently the Holy Scriptures use the symbol of a river as referring to the grace of God in Christ ministered to the soul in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Whether, therefore, Ezekiel’s vision of a river will be fulfilled literally or not we do not know. Of this we may be sure: it does speak to us today of that same glorious river which is brought before us in so many other places in the Word of God.
The prophet was led by his guide to the door of the house, and he beheld water issuing from under the threshold of the house toward the east. He had seen nothing like this before; though in vision he had been led through that court. It is as though now all is seen as completed, and God has found His rest in the sanctuary ; His glory has filled the house, and waters spread forth for the refreshment and blessing of His people.
These waters are pictured as running down from the court through the outer gate that looks toward the east and descending on the right side, going on down to the Jordan valley.
“When the man went forth eastward with the line in his hand, he measured a thousand cubits, and he caused me to pass through the waters, waters that were to the ankles. Again he measured a thousand, and caused me to pass through the waters, waters that were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and caused me to pass through the waters, waters that were to the loins. Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not pass through; for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed through”-vers. 3-5.
There is something here that is absolutely inexplicable if we think of a literal river. Rivers widen and deepen as the volume of water increases through tributaries pouring into them; but of such tributaries we have no mention here, and yet this river becomes deeper and broader the farther it flows from its source. Is not this true of the river of God’s grace? How small the apparent beginnings on Pentecost when the glory of God filled all the place where the disciples were sitting, and immediately the testimony to the risen Christ began, and the river has been flowing on ever since until it has become a mighty stream encompassing the whole world.
Ezekiel’s guide measured a thousand cubits-that is, fifteen hundred feet, and he caused the prophet to enter into the waters: they were up to his ankles. May this not suggest the very beginning of a life in fellowship with God? “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). The feet were in the river, and the waters covered them. But the guide measured another thousand cubits and caused Ezekiel to pass through the waters, and they were up to his knees. Who will think it fanciful if we say that the waters up to the knees suggest praying in the Holy Spirit? But the guide measured another thousand and caused the prophet to pass through the waters, and now they were up to his loins, suggesting the complete control of every fleshly lust in the power of the Spirit of God. He measured another thousand, and that which had begun as a small stream was a river so that Ezekiel could not pass through, for the waters were risen, waters to swim in. Surely this is to live in the fulness of the Spirit to which every child of God should aspire.
“And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen this? Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the bank of the river. Now “when I had returned, behold, upon the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then said he unto me, These waters issue forth toward the eastern region, and shall go down into the Arab ah; and they shall go toward the sea; into the sea shall the waters go which were made to issue forth; and the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every living creature which swarmeth, in every place whither the rivers come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish; for these waters are come thither, and the waters of the sea shall be healed, and everything shall live whithersoever the river cometh. And it shall come to pass, that fishers shall stand by it: from En-gedi even unto En-eglaim shall be a place for the spreading of nets; their fish shall be after their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many. But the miry places thereof, and the marshes thereof, shall not be healed; they shall be given up to salt. And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow every tree for food, whose leaf shall not wither, neither shall the fruit thereof fail: it shall bring forth new fruit every month, because the waters thereof issue out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for food, and the leaf thereof for healing”-vers. 6-12.
Having brought the prophet back in vision to the bank of the river, the guide bade him to consider what he had seen and experienced. Then as Ezekiel continued to gaze he saw that upon the bank of the river many trees appeared on both sides. The guide explained that these waters issued forth toward the eastern region and should go down unto the Arabah-that is, the plain of the Jordan, and thence on to the Dead Sea-that sea which for four millennia has become more and more salty as time has gone by, and yet ever receiving millions of gallons of fresh water from the Jordan; but because of no outlet its brininess has increased rather than diminished, so that no fish can live in it. But as Ezekiel looked he saw that when the waters of this river poured into the sea they brought life and healing; a multitude of living things swarmed into the sea and great schools of fish were seen where before there had been only death and desolation, and all this because “these waters are come thither.” We are told that, “everything shall live whithersoever the river cometh”; and because of this fishers shall stand by it, from the north and to the southern extremity of what had been a sea of death, spreading their nets, taking fish of every kind, furnishing abundant food for untold thousands of people. The miry places and the marshes were not to be healed but given up to salt. This is not yet the eternal condition; it speaks of millennial blessing, for salt tells of the preservative power of righteousness. Not until the eternal state do we read, “There was no more sea.”
The beauty of the picture stirs the heart as we read of trees for food “whose leaf shall not wither, neither shall the fruit thereof fail. It shall bring forth new fruit every month,” as in the case of the tree of life as seen in the Apocalypse. Who can measure the blessing that will come to this world and to mankind as a whole because of the stream of testimony that shall yet flow forth from the throne of Jehovah, when set up on earth!
The remaining part of the chapter might have been better linked with chapter 48 to which it is really an introduction.
“Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: This shall be the border, whereby ye shall divide the land for inheritance according to the twelve tribes of Israel: Joseph shall have two portions. And ye shall inherit it, one as well as another; for I sware to give it unto your fathers: and this land shall fall unto you for inheritance. And this shall be the border of the land: On the north side, from the great sea, by the way of Hethlon, unto the entrance of Zedad; Hamath, Berothah, Sibraim, which is between the border of Damascus and the border of Hamath; Hazerhatticon, which is by the border of Hauran. And the border from the sea, shall be Hazarenon at the border of Damascus; and on the north northward is the border of Hamath. This is the north side. And the east side, between Hauran and Damascus and Gilead and the land of Israel, shall be the Jordan; from the north border, unto the east sea shall ye measure. This is the east side. And the south side southward shall be from Tamar as far as the waters of Meriboth-kadesh, to the brook of Egypt, unto the great sea. This is the south side southward. And the west side shall be the great sea, from the south border as far as over against the entrance of Hamath. This is the west side. So shall ye divide this land unto you according to the tribes of Israel. And it shall come to pass, that ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you and to the strangers that sojourn among you, who shall beget children among you; and they shall be unto you as the home-born among the children of Israel; they shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it shall come to pass, that in what tribe the stranger sojourneth, there shall ye give him his inheritance, saith the Lord Jehovah”-vers. 13-23.
One can mark out these boundaries by the aid of an Atlas as the pencil moves on from city to city and district to district. It speaks of an enlarged Canaan where there will be abundant room for all who desire to dwell there in millennial days. It is to be divided among the twelve tribes, many of which though lost to man’s vision are still known to God; but the strangers will be welcomed and will be permitted to share in the inheritance which God is to give to Israel in that day.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezekiel 47". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany