By Sam E. Stone
Last week’s study ended with Ezekiel 43:21. After that Ezekiel was given further instruction about those who would serve in the temple, the allotment of land, and priestly duties for various occasions. Now the prophet is back at the entrance to the temple. Worship in the kingdom of God is the future promised to all of the Lord’s people. One Bible teacher summarized these blessings as “health, happiness, and holiness.”
Today’s lesson text leads us into another part of the prophet’s impressive vision. Henry Halley wrote, “This is one of Ezekiel’s grandest passages. Joel and Zechariah also spoke of this stream (Joel 3:18; Zechariah 14:8). It seems to be a picture of Heaven’s ‘water of life’ (Revelation 22:1, 2). Whatever specific or literal application these waters might have . . . they can, in a general way, be taken as a beautiful picture of the benign influences of Christ, coming out of Jerusalem, and flowing . . . in an ever-widening stream to the whole wide world, blessing the nations with their life-giving qualities, on into the eternities of Heaven.”
The angelic guide brought Ezekiel to the temple entrance again. Here he saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east. The waters were apparently flowing in a southeasterly direction. This section makes it clear that healing, life-nurturing water is meant (see Psalm 36:8; 46:4). It is reminiscent of the river flowing from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10). After the man measured off a thousand cubits, he then led Ezekiel thorough water that was ankle-deep.
As they walked on together, the water became even deeper. It was knee-deep (18-20 inches), then waist-deep (about three feet). As they continued on, eventually the water became so deep that they couldn’t walk through it. James E. Smith added, “The guide then brought Ezekiel to the banks of the river. A great number of trees had grown up along the river. The guide explained that the river eventually made its way down through the mountains of Judah to the Dead Sea. The river of life actually purified the lifeless waters of that sea.”
Then the angel exclaimed, Son of man, do you see this? There they saw the miraculous flow of water. (Compare Isaiah 41:18.) Just as when the prophet saw God’s power in the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14), he was moved to amazement again at this new location. The psalmist declared, “he turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing streams” (Psalm 107:35).
Iain M. Duguid pointed out, “The most striking aspect of Ezekiel’s river is that, unlike the other rivers of life, it starts out as an insignificant trickle and only ends up as a thunderous torrent after a distance. This is something that no upheaval in the topography of Palestine can accomplish literally.”
The water then flowed down to the Dead Sea. Those who visit Palestine today are always impressed by the dry, hot region that marks the lowest spot on earth. No fish can live in the salt-filled waters of the Dead Sea. In his vision, however, Ezekiel reported that the briny waters had been transformed into sweet water that supported life. Where no aquatic life could ever exist in the past, swarms of fish could be found. Where the river flows everything will live.
En Gedi is about 22 miles southeast of Jerusalem, on the western shore of the Dead Sea. The exact location of En Eglaim is debated by Bible scholars. It may have been situated on the central eastern shore of the Dead Sea. The point is that fish of many kinds are now plentiful there, just like those found in the Mediterranean Sea. The new Jerusalem has a continual supply of food, reminiscent of what was available after creation (Genesis 2:9).
Life-giving water was also a figure used by Jesus during his earthly ministry. To the Samaritan woman at the well he said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Later at the Feast in Jerusalem he declared, “Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37). Fruit trees of every kind are available in this paradise as well. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. Truly, water from the sanctuary gives life!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.