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‘And he brought me back to 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 towards the east. And the waters came out from under, from the right side of the house, on the south of the altar.’
The heavenly visitant now brought Ezekiel to the door of the house. This was probably the door of the sanctuary itself. And from underneath its threshold issued out water moving towards the east gate, which was natural as the door faced east (thus not towards Jerusalem which was south). The water flowed from the right side of the threshold and past the south side of the altar as it made its way to the permanently closed east gate. It was at present but a streamlet, a day of small things. This was the path that Yahweh had taken in the reverse direction when His glory had returned to the house previously. It is clear that we are to see in this life from God as He now reaches out to His people with spiritual water, for to Israel waters spoke of life.
‘Waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward.’ Water is regularly a picture of spiritual life and growth, whether in terms of river or rain. ‘The righteous man’ is ‘like a tree planted by the streams of water,’ (Psalms 1:3). The man who trusts in Yahweh is like ‘a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river,’ (Jeremiah 17:8). The coming transforming and reviving work of the Spirit is likened to men being sprinkled with water and made clean (Ezekiel 36:25-27), and to water being poured out on those who are thirsty, and streams on the dry ground (Isaiah 44:3). A Man is coming who will be a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest, like rivers of water in a dry place (Isaiah 32:2). A fountain is to be opened for sin and uncleanness (Zechariah 13:1). Those who take refuge in God will drink of the river of His pleasures, for with Him is the fountain of life (Psalms 36:8-9). There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High (Psalms 46:4). The earth being filled with the knowledge of Yahweh is likened to the waters covering the sea (Isaiah 11:9).
‘From the right side of the house, on the south of the altar.’ Every Israelite knew that at the right side of the house had stood the seven branched golden lampstand (Exodus 26:35; Exodus 40:24). This primarily represented the presence of Yahweh as a light of divine perfection among His people, but it also represented the resulting witness of Israel and was later seen as a symbol of the witness and work of Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest (Zechariah 4:0). But as God’s anointed ones they were fed from the golden lampstand, as God worked through His Spirit in the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10). Possibly this was seen by Zechariah as the first initial fulfilment of the flowing water from the south side of the sanctuary, from He Who is the light of the world.
Chapter Ezekiel 47:1-12 The Rivers of Living Water.
The first twelve verses of this chapter deal with the vision of rivers of living water flowing from the temple, beginning as a small streamlet and multiplying as they flowed outwards. If anything proves that this is a heavenly temple it is this. Attempts have been made to literalise this but they can miss the point of the whole message and ignore the significance read into the incident in the New Testament (John 7:37-39; Revelation 22:1-5). This is no vision of an earthly cascade, but of heavenly action active in blessing. Such a huge earthly cascade issuing continually month by month (Ezekiel 47:12) from a real temple would soon sweep the temple away. Nor could such a cascade come from ‘the top of a very high mountain’ (Ezekiel 40:2). But this is a heavenly river flowing from a heavenly sanctuary, which is an entirely different matter (see Ezekiel 47:12 where it is stressed that the unique quality of the water is because it comes from the sanctuary).
So firstly we must recognise the source of this flow. It is from the sanctuary via the closed east gate of the heavenly temple (Ezekiel 47:1). It has nothing therefore to do with Jerusalem, for this temple was specifically sited well away from Jerusalem (Ezekiel 45:1-6). Its source is in God. Zechariah 14:8 tells us that ‘in that day living waters will go out from Jerusalem -- and Yahweh will be king over all the earth’. If we see this as spiritual waters flowing from God the two can be equated but no literalist can compare the two. Literally speaking they are from different sites. However as spiritual flows they are both from God. This confirms that Zechariah is actually thinking of Jerusalem in the same way as Ezekiel is thinking of the heavenly temple.
It should be recognised that Ezekiel was fond of the metaphorical picture of things abounding through water, and did not feel it necessary to explain that he did not mean it literally. He says of Pharaoh, ‘the waters nourished him, the deep made him to grow’, and he likened Egypt to rivers and canals causing growth wherever they went (Ezekiel 31:4), a similar picture to here. Pharaoh’s punishment was that he would be taken out of the waters and the rivers and thrown into the wilderness (Ezekiel 29:3-5) and the result would be that those who were like trees by the waters would sink to the nether parts of the earth (Ezekiel 31:14). Both Babylon and Egypt are seen as planting men by rivers of water so that they might be like the willow tree or the goodly vine (Ezekiel 17:5; Ezekiel 17:8). Israel too is said to have been like a vine, planted by the waters, fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters, until she was replanted in the wilderness in a dry and thirsty land (Ezekiel 19:10; Ezekiel 19:13). And especially in Ezekiel 36:25-26 Ezekiel pictures God as sprinkling His people with water so that they may be made clean and undergo spiritual transformation. Thus we have every reason to see these waters too as metaphorical and spiritual.
And secondly we must recognise its intention. It was to bring life wherever it went (Ezekiel 47:9). To the ancients the primary power of water was to give life. Those who lived in Canaan knew what it was to watch all nature die in a waterless and very hot summer. And then the rains came, and almost immediately, like magic, the bushes came to life, greenery sprang from the ground, and the world came alive again. That was the life-giving power of water. In Babylonia Israel had also witnessed the power of the great rivers. Along their banks life always flourished, and water was taken from them by irrigation to bring life to drier areas. The wilderness blossomed like a rose. They knew that the coveted Garden of Eden had been fruitful because of the great river flowing through it that became four rivers and watered the world. So that was their dream for their everlasting homeland, a great and everflowing river that would bring life everywhere, and especially in men’s hearts.
This prophecy is the answer to their dreams and parallel to those great prophetic pronouncements which spoke of the coming of the Spirit in terms of heavenly rain producing life and fruitfulness (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:3-5; Joel 2:23-32), and is similar in thought to Psalms 46:4; Psalms 65:9; Isaiah 33:21.
The New Temple (Ezekiel 40:1 to Ezekiel 48:35 ).
The book of Ezekiel began with a vision of the glory of God and the coming of the heavenly chariot throne of God in order to speak directly to His people through Ezekiel (chapter 1). He then recorded the departure of God's glory from Jerusalem and the Temple because of the sins of Israel (chapters 8 - 11). This was followed by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Now it ends with another vision, the return of God's glory to the land and to His people (chapters 40 -48) depicted in the form of a heavenly temple established on the mountains of Israel to which the glory of God returns, resulting in the final restoration of ‘the city’ as ‘Yahweh is there’. Thus this part of the book follows both chronologically and logically from what has gone before.
Furthermore at the commencement of the book Ezekiel received his divine commission as a prophet (chapters 1 - 3), then he pronounced oracles of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem for their sins, declaring that Jerusalem must be destroyed (chapters 4 - 24). He followed this up with oracles of judgment against the foreign nations who had opposed Israel (chapters 25 - 32). Then on hearing of Jerusalem's fall (Ezekiel 33:21), the prophet proclaimed messages of hope for Israel, declaring that God would fulfil His promises to deliver and bless His people Israel, and would restore them to the land of their fathers and establish them in the land.
Yes, more, that they would be established there everlastingly under a new David, with an everlasting sanctuary set up in their midst (stressed twice - Ezekiel 37:26; Ezekiel 37:28) (chapters 34 - 39). And now he declares the presence of that new Temple, even now present in the land, invisible to all but him and yet nevertheless real in so much that it can be measured. It is ‘the icing on the cake’, the final touch to what has gone before (40-48). God is back in His land. For such an invisible presence, a glimpse of another world, present but unseen except by those with eyes to see, compare Genesis 28:12; 2 Kings 2:11-12; 2 Kings 6:17; Zechariah 1:7-11. Indeed without that heavenly temple the glory could not return, for it had to be guarded from the eyes of man.
The heavenly temple can be compared directly with the heavenly throne with its accompanying heavenly escort which Ezekiel saw earlier (chapter 1). That too was the heavenly equivalent of the earthly ark of the covenant, and huge in comparison. So Ezekiel was very much aware of the heavenly realm and its presence in different ways on earth, for he was a man of spiritual vision.
But there is one remarkable fact that we should notice here, and that is that having been made aware of the destruction of Jerusalem, and looking forward to the restoration of Israel and its cities and the Satanic opposition they will face, and even speaking of the building of a new Temple, Ezekiel never once refers directly by name to Jerusalem in any way (in Ezekiel 36:38 it is referred to in an illustration). This seems quite remarkable. It seems to me that this could only arise from a studied determination not to do so. He wants to take men’s eyes off Jerusalem.
Here was a man who was a priest, who had constantly revealed his awareness of the requirements of the cult, who had been almost totally absorbed with Jerusalem, who now looked forward to the restoration of the land and the people, and yet who ignored what was surely central in every Israelite’s thinking, the restoration of Jerusalem. Surely after his earlier prophecies against Jerusalem his ardent listeners must have asked him the question, again and again, what about Jerusalem? And yet he seemingly gave them no answer. Why?
It seems to me that there can only be two parallel answers to that question. The first is that Jerusalem had sinned so badly that as far as God and Ezekiel were concerned its restoration as the holy city was not in the long run to be desired or even considered. What was to be restored was the people and the land, which was his continual emphasis. Jerusalem was very secondary and not a vital part of that restoration. And secondly that in the final analysis the earthly Jerusalem was not important in the final purposes of God. Jerusalem had been superseded. His eternal sanctuary would be set up, but it would not be in the earthly Jerusalem (chapter 45 makes this clear). Rather it would be set up in such a way that it could more be compared to Jacob’s ladder, as providing access to and from the heavenlies (Genesis 28:12) and a way to God, and yet be invisible to man. It is a vision of another world in its relationships with man (compare 2 Kings 6:17). It was the beginnings of a more spiritual view of reality. And it would result in an eternal city, the city of ‘Yahweh is there’ (Ezekiel 48:30-35).
Now that is not the view of Jerusalem and the temple of men like Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4) and Daniel (Daniel 9:2; Daniel 9:16; Daniel 9:19), but they were God-inspired politicians thinking of the nearer political and religious future not the everlasting kingdom. (Daniel does of course deal with the everlasting kingdom, but he never relates Jerusalem to it. He relates the everlasting kingdom to Heaven). Nor do the other prophets avoid mentioning Jerusalem, and they do see in ‘Jerusalem’ a place for the forwarding of the purposes of God (e.g. Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 4:3-5; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 31:5; Isaiah 33:20-21; Isaiah 40:2; Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 44:26-28; Isaiah 52:1-2; Isaiah 52:9; Isaiah 62:1-7; Isaiah 65:18-19; Isaiah 66:10-20; Jeremiah 3:17-18; Jeremiah 33:11-18; Joel 2:32; Joel 3:1; Joel 3:16-20; Obadiah 1:17-21; Micah 4:2-8; Zephaniah 3:14-16; Zechariah 2:2-4; Zechariah 2:12; Zechariah 3:2; Zechariah 8:3-8; Zechariah 8:15; Zechariah 8:22; Zechariah 9:9-10; Zechariah 12:6 to Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 14:11-21; Malachi 3:4), although some of these verses too have the ‘new Jerusalem’ firmly in mind. And certainly God would in the short term encourage the building of a literal Temple in Jerusalem (Haggai and Zechariah). Thus all saw the literal Jerusalem as having at least a limited function in the forward going of God’s purposes, simply because it was central in the thinking of the people of Israel. Although how far is another question. However, Ezekiel’s vision went beyond that. It seems to be suggesting that in the major purposes of God the earthly Jerusalem was now of little significance. It was not even worthy of mention. It is now just ‘the city’.
Yet we find him here suddenly speaking of the presence of a new Temple in the land of Israel. But even here, although it is referred to under the anonymous phrase ‘the city’ (Ezekiel 40:1), Jerusalem remains unmentioned by name. And the temple is not sited in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is simply a place called anonymously ‘the city’, whose future name, once it is redeemed and purified, is ‘Yahweh is there’ (Ezekiel 48:35). What Ezekiel is far more concerned to demonstrate is that the glory of Yahweh, and His accessibility to His own, has returned to His people in a new heavenly Temple, which has replaced the old, and is established on a mysterious and anonymous mountain, rather than to stress His presence in an earthly Jerusalem. Indeed he will stress that this temple is outside the environs of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 45:1-6).
This should then awaken us to the fact that Ezekiel is in fact here speaking of an everlasting sanctuary (Ezekiel 37:26; Ezekiel 37:28). This is no earthly Temple with earthly functions. There is no suggestion anywhere that it should be built, indeed it was already there and could be measured. It is an everlasting heavenly Temple of which the earthly was, and will be, but a shadow.
It is true that a physical temple would be built, and they are specifically told that the altar described (but pointedly not directly ‘measured’) is to be made (Ezekiel 43:18), for physical sacrifices would require a physical altar, and that will be the point of contact with the heavenly temple, but the important thing would be, not the physical temple, but the invisible heavenly temple, present in the land, of which the physical was but a representation. The ancients regularly saw their physical religious artefacts as in some way representing an invisible reality, and so it is here. A fuller picture of the heavenly temple is given throughout the Book of Revelation. And this temple was now ‘seen’ to be established in the land even before a physical temple was built. God had again taken possession of His land, and awaited the return of His people for the ongoing of His purposes.
But a further point, putting these verses firmly in its context, is that this will make them realise that once they have come through the trials brought on them by Gog and his forces, fortified by the presence of God in their midst, they will be able to enter the eternal rest promised them by God, for His heavenly, everlasting temple was here so that He could dwell among them in an everlasting sanctuary. This was thus putting in terms that they could understand the heavenly future that awaited His people. It was a fuller and more perfect sanctuary (Ezekiel 37:26-28; Hebrews 9:11). And it had relevance from the beginning as the sign that God had returned to His land.
This section about the ‘heavenly’ temple can be split into five parts. The first is a brief introduction in terms of the vision that Ezekiel experienced (Ezekiel 40:1-4). This is followed by a detailed description of the new temple complex with the lessons that it conveyed (Ezekiel 40:5 to Ezekiel 42:20), the return of Yahweh to His temple (Ezekiel 43:1-9), the worship that would follow as a result of that temple (Ezekiel 43:10 to Ezekiel 46:24), and the accompanying changes that would take place with regard to His people as they ‘repossessed the land’ with the final establishment of a heavenly city (chapters 47-48), all expressed in terms of what they themselves were expecting, but improved on. To them ‘the land’ was the ultimate of their aspirations, a land in which Yahweh had promised them that they would dwell in safety and blessing for ever. So the promises were put in terms of that land to meet with their aspirations. But there are clear indications that something even more splendid was in mind as we shall see. The land could never finally give them the fullness of what God was promising them, and once the temple moved into Heaven, ‘the land’ would move there too.
But we should perhaps here, in fairness to other commentators, pause to recognise that there are actually a number of main views (with variations) with regard to these chapters, which we ought to all too briefly consider for the sake of completeness, so as to present a full picture. As we consider them readers must judge for themselves which one best fits all the facts, remembering what we have already seen in Ezekiel the details of a vision that reaches beyond the confines of an earthly land. We must recognise too that accepting one does not necessarily mean that we have to fully reject the others, for prophecy is not limited to a single event, but to the ongoing action and purposes of God. Nevertheless we cannot avoid the fact that one view must be predominant
1) Some have considered that what Ezekiel predicted was fulfilled when the exiles returned and re-established themselves in the land, rebuilding the physical temple and restoring the priesthood. However nothing that actually took place after the return from Babylon matches the full details of these predictions. Neither the temple built under Zerubbabel's supervision, nor the temple erected by Herod the Great, bore any resemblance to what Ezekiel describes here. In fact, there has been no literal fulfilment of these predictions. And there does not seem to have been a desire for it. Thus this view disregards many of the main facts outlined and dismisses them as unimportant. It sees them as mainly misguided optimism or permissible exaggeration.
2) Others have interpreted this section spiritually. They have seen these predictions as fulfilled in a spiritual sense in the church, and certainly the New Testament to a certain extent confirms this view. Consider for example the use of the idea in chapter 47 in John 7:38. But many consider that this approach fails to explain the multitude of details given, such as the dimensions of the various rooms in the temple complex. They point out that Ezekiel's guide was careful to make sure that the prophet recorded these details exactly (Ezekiel 40:4). The reply would be that what they indicate symbolically is God’s detailed concern for His people. This view presupposes that the church supersedes the old Israel in God's programme (as many believe that the New Testament teaches) and that many of God's promises concerning a future for Israel find part of their actual fulfilment in the church as God’s temple and as the new Israel, symbolically rather than literally. There is certainly some truth in this position.
3) Still others believe that these chapters describe a yet future, eschatological temple and everlasting kingdom in line with Ezekiel 37:24-28, and following 38-39, but that they again do so only symbolically. These interpreters believe that the measurements, for example, represent symbolic truth concerning the coming everlasting kingdom, including the dwelling of God among His people, the establishing of true and pure worship, and the reception by His people of all that He has promised them in fuller measure than they can ever have expected, but they do not look for a literal temple complex and the establishment of temple worship. Indeed they consider that such would be a backward step in the progress of God’s purposes.
It is claimed by those who disagree with them that this view also overlooks the amount of detail given, so much detail, they would claim, that one could almost use these chapters as general blueprints to build the structures in view. To this the reply is partly that the detail is in fact not sufficient to prepare efficient blueprints, and partly that they bear their own message. Indeed they argue that all the many attempts to make a reliable blueprint have failed. If taken literally, they argue, there are problems with the detail that cannot be surmounted. They are therefore far better seen as depictions of the concern of God for perfection for His people.
4) Still others also take this passage as a an apocalyptic prophecy but anticipate a literal fulfilment in the future. While they accept that some of the descriptions have symbolic significance as well as literal reality, and that some teach important spiritual lessons, and can also be applied to the eternal state, nevertheless, they argue, the revelation finally concerns details of a literal future temple to be built to these specifications, details of a system of worship and priesthood which will be literally established, and actual physical changes in the promised land, which will occur when a people identifying themselves specifically as Israel, not the church, dwell there securely (i.e. during what they call the Millennium).
Those who disagree with them point among other things to the impracticality of the plans for the temple, the impossibility of now establishing a genuine Zadokite priesthood, the contradiction of establishing a system of sacrifices when the New Testament points to a better sacrifice, made once for all, which has replaced all others, the discrepancies and difficulties with regard to the siting of the temple, and the unfeasability of dividing the land in the way described.
5) And finally there is the view that we are proposing here, that the Temple of Ezekiel was never intended to be built by man, but was rather a genuine and real presence of the heavenly temple which was from this time present invisibly on earth (invisible to all but Ezekiel, as the armies of God were present but invisible to all but Elisha -2 Kings 6:17). It is saying that God has established Himself in His own invisible temple in the land ready to carry out His campaign into the future. This can then be seen as connected with the temple seen in Revelation in heaven, with the earthly temples to be built as but a shadow of the heavenly, and with the final temple in the everlasting kingdom. The strength of this position will appear throughout the commentary. Suffice to say at this point that there is nowhere in the chapters any suggestion that the temple should be built from the description presented (in complete contrast with the tabernacle - Exodus 25:40). And this is even more emphatically so because instructions are given to build an altar for worship. Given Ezekiel’s visionary insight this fact in itself should make us hesitate in seeing this as any but a visionary temple already present in Israel at the time of measuring.
Whatever view we take we cannot deny that the New Testament does see God’s temple as being present on earth in His people (Ephesians 2:20-22; 1Co 3:16-17 ; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 11:1), and that John in Revelation refers throughout to a temple in Heaven, and to a new Jerusalem, clearly related to some of the things described in these chapters. Furthermore his description of the eternal state, of life in ‘the new earth’ after the destruction of the present earth, is partly based on chapter 47-48 (Revelation 21-22). And we might see that as suggesting that once the Messiah had been rejected God’s heavenly temple was thought of as having deserted Israel, and as having gone up into Heaven where it was seen by John, although still being represented on earth, no longer by a building, but by His new people.
Bearing all this in mind we will now consider the text.
‘Then he brought me out by the way of the north gate, and led me round by the outside route to the outer gate, that is, by the route of the gate that looks towards the east. And behold, there ran out waters on the south side.’
Ezekiel was now taken by way of the north gate to the outside of the east gate which was permanently closed because of its holiness, and the waters which were coming from the sanctuary were making their way under the gate on the south side. The flow was still not very large, but its source and passage was holy.
In a larger context we have here a combination of the lifegiving Spirit, proceeding from the place of the throne of God, and then through the holy place of the Prince, before flowing from the temple to the world.
‘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 forded (‘be passed through’). And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen?” ’
The flow of water now grew in volume, gradually growing deeper and deeper, until at length it was too deep for a man to stand up in. That this multiplying of the water was intended to be miraculous cannot be doubted, and evoked the man’s question. This was no natural river. There were no streams flowing into the flow, so that its growth was unnatural and could only be by the mighty working of God. Notice its growth in stages, a fact deliberately drawn out by the measuring every thousand cubits. It was a symbol of the mighty working of the Spirit of God beginning in a gradual work that grew and grew until it achieved its fulfilment in waters that bore a man so that he could not resist it.
We note in passing that although Ezekiel was made to paddle in the river and walk through the river there is no suggestion that he was made to swim in it. No doubt he could not swim.
No Israelite would have doubted that this was the River of God that was full of water (Psalms 65:9), as had been that in Eden, sufficient to supply four great rivers (Genesis 2:10). Isaiah 33:21 spoke of God’s blessing as being like a place where Yahweh would be with His people in majesty, in a place of broad rivers and streams, but without rowing galley or gallant ship, in other words a heavenly river unaffected by man.
And we have been privileged to see the far end of the streamlet as it has flowed and expanded through the centuries, from the small beginnings of the work of Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest it grew through the centuries through many godly men until it became the work of John the Baptiser (Malachi 4:6), the ministry of Jesus (John 3:5-6; John 4:10; John 4:14), and the Gospel flowing out through His disciples, through the ages, to the world (John 7:37-39). All coming from the flow from the heavenly temple as it grew and grew. And one day we shall see its glorious final result in the river of water of life in the new earth, in Paradise (Revelation 22:1-5, which is largely based on this chapter).
‘Then he brought me and caused me to return to the bank of the river. Now when I had returned, behold, on the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other.’
This verse is a death thrust to a literalist interpretation. It refers to Ezekiel being returned to the bank of the river, and then describes the trees that have miraculously and instantaneously grown along the bank of the river. It is quite clear that this is not intended just to be a picture of the scenery but the consequence of this now great and flowing river. The eastern side of the mountains was well known for its aridity. Here is the God of creation at work indeed.
‘Then he said to me, “These waters issue forth towards the eastern region and will go down into the Arabah, and they will go towards the sea. Into the sea will the waters go which were made to issue forth, and the waters will be healed.” ’
The eastern region and the slopes down into the Arabah (the Jordan rift valley) rarely saw water. They were dry and arid and barren, apart from the occasional oasis. But even more arid was the area around the Dead Sea. Yet the point is that God can water the barren places, and instantaneously make them fruitful. And then follows the most wonderful illustration of all. The Dead Sea, that sea saturated with salt, in which nothing could live, would itself become a fresh water lake. Its waters would be healed. So God chose one of the deadest places on earth to illustrate how His waters would bring life to the world, and how He would prepare for His people a new Eden in a new earth out of the most impossible circumstances (Revelation 22:1-5).
“And it will come about that every living creature which swarms in every place where the two rivers come, will live, and there will be a very great quantity of fish. For these waters are come there, and the waters of the Sea will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river comes. And it will be that fishermen will stand by it. From Engedi even to Eneglaim will be a place for the spreading of nets. Their fish will be after their kinds, an extremely great quantity like the fish of the Great Sea.”
The river has now split into two rivers, so great is its flow, until it becomes a fresh water sea. It is continually growing. The picture is in direct contrast to that of Pharaoh (Ezekiel 29:3-5). There he was transplanted from the waters along with his fish, and all were cast into the wilderness and died for lack of water, victims of the scavengers. But here the wilderness becomes a great twofold river, and the fish multiply. And the waters heal wherever they go. The result is an abundance of life. In neither case is it to be taken pedantically literally.
The illustration of the fishermen is in order to emphasise the quantity of the fish, and God’s provision for man. Whenever expert fishermen are found in quantities you can be sure that the fish are plentiful. We are not intended to apply the detail. The point is that abundant life has come where there was only aridity and death, and that what was once desert-like and ugly has become pleasant and beautiful, a new Paradise.
Engedi was an important oasis and fresh water spring west of the Dead Sea allotted to Judah at the conquest (Joshua 15:62), an oasis in a barren land. Now it would have become part of a large river-fed area where fish abounded, right up to Eneglaim (which would be another oasis, only mentioned here and otherwise unknown, possibly near Qumran).
“But its miry places and its marshes will not be healed. They will be given up to salt.”
At first sight this seems to be a sign of the failure of the river. But in fact the people would not have rejoiced at the idea of losing valuable salt resources, and this is rather evidence of the discrimination and continual provision of God. Salt is good (Mark 9:50; Luke 14:34). So the salt reserves will be preserved. In the new earth will be everything a man can need. Fish and salt together would provide man with abundant food.
“And by the river on its bank, on this side and on that side, will grow every tree for food, whose leaf will not wither, nor will its fruit fail. It will bring forth firstfruits every month because its waters issue out of the sanctuary. And its fruit will be for food and its leaf for healing.”
The final concluding picture emphasises that this is not to be taken totally literally. On both sides of the river will grow every tree for food. We are in a new Eden (Genesis 2:9). And the trees which grow will be such trees as man has never known. They will be renewed every month, producing, monthly, first firstfruits, and then a harvest, and yet their leaves will not wither. And this will be because they are fed by water from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food and their leaf for healing. They are God’s trees and God’s provision in a unique way.
Here we are clearly in a Paradise restored, with hugely abundant supplies. The idea of healing is not because men will continually need to be healed, but because having been initially healed their health will be continually maintained. It demonstrates their continual wellbeing in the only way that men of that day could understand.
So the whole glorious picture is of God from His heavenly sanctuary beginning a flow of blessing (water was always a sign of blessing) which will grow and grow, bringing life and fruitfulness wherever it goes and producing a new and better Eden with all that man can need, a picture that is taken up and expanded in Revelation which has these verses very much in mind.
‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “This shall be the border by which you will divide the land for inheritance according to the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph shall have portions (i.e. two portions). And you will inherit it, one as well as another, concerning which I lifted up my hand to give it to your fathers, and this land will fall to you for an inheritance.”
God was here reiterating to the exiles that He would restore what they had lost, and He then outlined in the following verses the land that was to be theirs for the taking. The land was to be split equally between the tribes ‘one as well as another’. As often Joseph was to be split into Ephraim and Manasseh for this purpose, and Levi had no portion (Ezekiel 44:28 - apart of course from the portion mentioned in Ezekiel 44:4-5). Thus the number twelve was maintained. Yahweh had sworn (lifted up His hand) that it would be theirs, and theirs it would be. It was their inheritance.
The fact that the land was to be split relatively equally, and to some extent without regard to previous tribal portions, or tribal numbers, is also an indication that it is not to be taken literally. Add to this that the tribes are split into a group of seven, indicating the divine perfection of the event, and a group of five, indicating conformance with the covenant, and the case is even more certain.
Many Israelites would in fact already be in the land having escaped the deportations. There were those in Galilee outside the range of the Samaritan importations; possibly those in Benjamin which was already in Babylonian hands prior to the final invasion, and may have escaped deportation; and some in areas to the south in the Negeb and the Shephelah which would possibly not been quite so affected (confirmed by Nehemiah 11:25-35). The King of Babylon was angry with those who had shown fierce resistance and probably finally saw the Judah and Jerusalem that he deported as a limited area. The idea is really that all twelve tribes will be represented in the land and be settled there, within the covenant, and within God’s divinely perfect plan. All with a fair share of the land.
Chapter Ezekiel 47:13 to Ezekiel 48:35 The Division of the Land and the Establishment of ‘The City’.
Presenting Paradise to the people of Israel at their lowest ebb could only be by giving them a picture of the sharing of the land among ‘the twelve tribes’ and the establishment of God’s City under the Davidic prince. That was the expanded Mosaic dream, with every man living under his own vine and his own fig tree (1 Kings 4:25). But it would depend on their true response and obedience, and as ever that was lacking. Thus the vineyard would be taken from them and given to others (Mark 12:9; Luke 20:16; Matthew 21:41).
They could not dream that, under God, one day the vision of the ‘twelve tribes’ would become fulfilled in the redeemed from all nations of the world who would become the twelve tribes (James 1:1; compare 1 Peter 1:1 and the idealistic picture of the sealed of God in Revelation 7:3-8 who became the great multitude whom no man could number). This would occur as men from all nations were grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:13-24) and adopted into the new covenant, becoming fellow-citizens with the true remnant of the old Israel - ‘the saints’ (Romans 9:6; Ephesians 2:19), and becoming the new seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9; Galatians 3:29), thus themselves becoming the new Israel, the true people of God (Galatians 6:16), made near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13).
That was God’s greater vision. It was regularly in one way or another portrayed by the prophets. In Abraham’s seed all the nations of the world were to be blessed (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 28:14), Israel were to be a kingdom of priests to the world in a world which all belonged to Yahweh (Exodus 19:5-6), His servant Israel (the inner Israel who were to seek to restore the whole) were to be the servant to the nations to bring them salvation and the true worship of God (Isaiah 49:3-7), all nations would finally flock to a new Jerusalem to worship in a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 66:23; Isaiah 65:17; Zechariah 14:16-17), and so on. But that would first depend on Israel in the person of their Prince coming before God to receive the everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14; Daniel 7:27).
Thus having depicted the new Paradise Ezekiel will now portray the new sharing of the land among the people of God, the establishment of their prince, and the founding of a new city named ‘Yahweh is there’ (Ezekiel 48:35). This is his picture of the final fulfilment of God’s purposes and of His final triumph, presented to those who would be its earthly source (it was from them that the Gospel would go out to the world - Acts 1:8). It was given to them when they were at their lowest ebb, in order to lift them up and press them on towards full obedience. His people are to be redeemed and restored, in order to enter the everlasting kingdom. God’s triumph is put into words that may seem to us an anticlimax, but to the people of Israel it was their vision and their living hope. It would finally be fulfilled in a way better than he ever envisioned.
So as we look at these last two chapters from Ezekiel 47:13 onwards, we must not be tied down to the detail. We must see them rather as God’s promise, put in terms of the day, that all the dreams that He had given to His true people would come to fruition.
In fact even when they ‘returned to the land’ Israel did not seek to fulfil this vision literally. It was a vision from the past, a dream, not something that they wanted to carry into actuality. Instead of gathering together in twelve tribes, the divisions between the tribes became blurred and almost overlooked, although many did still proudly see themselves as of a particular important tribe (compare Philippians 3:5), but without trying to gather that tribe into a particular section of the land. (Jesus, Who was of Judah, happily lived in Nazareth and was ‘a Nazarene’).
Most of those who belonged to the tribes remained in foreign countries. Intermarriage blurred the distinctions. There were no longer literally ‘twelve’ tribes, and apart from in the earliest days never strictly were (the contents fluctuated, although not in a major way), and this is constantly recognised in that when the twelve tribes are listed the lists tend to differ slightly depending on their purpose (Genesis 29:0; Genesis 49:3-27; (the original twelve sons of Jacob) Numbers 1:5-15; Numbers 1:20-43 (here, and regularly, Joseph is divided into Ephraim and Manasseh, and Levi omitted - note 47:47); 2; 7; 13; 26; Deuteronomy 27:12-13 (the original twelve); Ezekiel 33:6-25 (Simeon omitted); Joshua 15-21; 1 Chronicles 2:1 (the original twelve); Ezekiel 27:16 (Gad and Asher omitted); Revelation 7:5-8 (Dan omitted, Ephraim called Joseph) compare the part lists in Judges 1:0; Judges 5:14-18). It is the ideal that matters, that the full tribal confederacy made up of ‘twelve tribes’ was sharing God’s inheritance, not the detail. The ‘twelve tribes’ simply represent all the people of God.
“And this will be the border of the land. On the north side from the Great Sea by the way of Hethlon, to the entering in of Zedad. Hamath, Berothah, Sibraim, which is between the border of Damascus and the border of Hamath, Hazer-hatticon, which is by the border of Hauran. And the border from the sea will be Hazar-enon at the border of Damascus, and on the north, northward, is the border of Hamath. This is the north side.”
The western boundary would naturally be the Mediterranean (the Great Sea), and the eastern boundary the Jordan (Ezekiel 47:18). The northern boundary was more complicated and with our lack of knowledge difficult to define in more than a general way.
Hethlon may be modern ‘Adlun, a coastal town some sixteen kilometres (ten miles) north of Tyre. The ‘entering in of Zedad’ is some point south of Zedad. Zedad may be either modern Sadad, 110 kilometres (seventy miles) east-north-east of Byblos, or Khirbet Sirada, a few miles north of Dan (reading Sarad with LXX and the Samaritan text - d and r were easily confused in the ancient Hebrew script). Hamath probably refers to the southern border of the district of Hamath often called ‘the entering in of Hamath’ (or Lebo-Hamath), Berothah may be modern Breitan, south of Baalbek (compare 2 Samuel 8:8). Sibraim is said to be between the border of Hamath and the border of Damascus. Hazer-hatticon (‘middle Hazer’) may be the same as Hazar-enon at the border of Damascus. Hauran is east of the sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) around the Bashan area in north Transjordan. ‘The sea’ may be the Sea of Chinnereth (Tiberias/Galilee). Note that the border of Hamath is to the north of the territory being described.
“And the east side between Hauran and Damascus, and Gilead and the land of Israel, will be Jordan. From the north border to the east sea you shall measure. This is the east side.”
The ‘east sea’ is probably the Dead Sea. Hauran/Damascus and Gilead/Israel represent the northern end of the border represented by the Jordan.
“And the south side southward shall be from Tamar as far as the waters of Meriboth-kadesh, to the wadi of Egypt, to the Great Sea. This is the south side southward.”
Tamar would be south of the Dead Sea, the oasis of Meriboth-kadesh is probably Kadesh-barnea, modern ‘Ain Qadeis, and the Wadi of Egypt is probably Wadi El-‘Arish 80 kilometres (fifty miles) west of Gaza, which separated usable land from the desert.
“And the west side shall be the Great Sea, from the south border as far as opposite the entering in of Hamath (or Lebo-hamath). This is the west side.”
The west boundary is simply the Great (Mediterranean) Sea between the north and south boundaries. For these boundaries compare Numbers 34:3-12 and 1 Kings 8:65.
‘ “So shall you divide this land to you according to the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that you will divide it by lot for an inheritance to you, and to the strangers who live among you, who will beget children among you. And they will be to you as the home born among the children of Israel, they will have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it will be that in whatever tribe the stranger lives, there you will give him his inheritance”, says the Lord Yahweh.’
So the land would be divided up among the tribes of Israel, but there was now no need to evict strangers as long as they were willing to become a part of the covenant and worship Yahweh (there were now no Canaanites as such). This was in accordance with Leviticus 19:34; Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:29; Isaiah 56:3-8. It is a clear indication that the land was now open to all who were willing to serve Yahweh. The new Israel was to be inclusive and not exclusive. ‘Yet will I gather others to him, besides his own who are gathered’ (Isaiah 56:8). Here we have the seeds of the worldwide expansion of the true Israel by the incorporation of the Gentiles. Gentiles who respond in faith to God and enter the covenant become one among the tribes of Israel.
The fact that it was to be divided by lot (compare Ezekiel 45:1; Joshua 14:1-2) does not fit well with specific allocation of the land. One is saying that the land became theirs in accordance with Yahweh’s will as in the days of Joshua, the other is saying that it was by divine fiat. But if the whole picture is idealistic and not literal then both can be true.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 47". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany