By Sam E. Stone
Our final lesson from Ezekiel brings us to the largest section of the book—chapters 40–48. This apocalyptic message has been described as a “counter-vision” to the disaster of Ezekiel 8–11. At that time God’s glory departed from the temple, but now he had returned (43:1-5). The promised restoration was shown to be fulfilled as the land was divided among the tribes of Israel.
Iain Duguid explained, “The final section of Ezekiel’s book records the delineation and distribution of the renewed land, continuing the trend of the vision to move outward from the temple . . . The final section of the book will return to themes that have been central throughout . . . In the same way as chapters 40–42 present theology in architectural form, this final section renders theological concepts in geographical form. In both formats, the concepts of space, access, and position relative to the temple are crucial.”
Ezekiel 47:13, 14
The territory to be divided was somewhat smaller than the amount of land apportioned out by Moses and Joshua. The territory east of the Jordan is not included this time. In addition, James E. Smith reminds us, “Strangers who permanently dwelt among the tribes of Israel were to receive permanent portions according to the tribe where they live. Thus Gentiles as well as Jews would be welcome in the new land (47:21-23). The portions assigned to each tribe apparently were equal.”
Just as God promised, a remnant had returned (Isaiah 10:20-22); the people were gathered (Jeremiah 23:3). As one Bible teacher put it, “They will experience a new temple, a new law, and a new land, along with a new city.”
G. R. Beasley-Murray explained the modern-day boundaries of this land: the northern border ran from the Mediterranean Sea, just north of Tyre, to a point near Damascus (Ezekiel 47:15-17); the eastern border was formed by the Jordan River and the Dead Sea (v. 18); the southern from a little below the Dead Sea to the mouth of the so-called “river of Egypt” (v. 19); and the western border was formed by the Mediterranean Sea (v. 20).
The distribution of this land is extremely significant. It specifically includes “outsiders.” The allotment of property began to encompass the foreigners residing among you. Throughout the Old Testament God had shown his concern for the foreigners and others with special needs. The foreigners refers to resident aliens who lived in Israel’s midst. They were considered deserving of special help just as were “the fatherless and the widow” (Ezekiel 22:7) as well as “the poor and needy” (v. 29). The Israelites were to protect and help these people since they themselves had been foreigners in the past (see Deuteronomy 10:19; 26:5).
In Ezekiel’s prophecy, the foreigners were to receive hereditary property just like native-born Israelites. No difference would exist among those of Abraham’s seed and those born of the heathen. This was new! It suggests the inclusiveness of the gospel invitation extended to both Jews and Gentiles with the coming of Christ and the start of the church (Acts 2:37-47; 10:34, 35).
Jesus is our new temple (John 2:18-22; see Ephesians 2:19-22). The living water that flows from the temple marks the New Covenant when those of every “nation, tribe, people and language” can find salvation in Christ. All who repent and are baptized can now experience both the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). James E. Smith noted, “That each tribe has an equal portion within the holy land is further evidence that this is a symbolic vision . . . The topography of the land . . . is here completely ignored. Ezekiel is making the point that all of God’s people share equally in the kingdom of God.”
The history of promise and fulfillment provides the background for future hope. The God who covenanted with Abraham and brought the twelve tribes out of Egypt is the same God who restored the people of Ezekiel’s day, giving them life-giving water and an eternal home. G. R. Beasley-Murray emphasized, “The whole description of the land and people in the kingdom of God is fittingly concluded by the declaration of the same name that is to be given to the City of God, Jehovah Shammah, The Lord is there” (Ezekiel 48:35).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.