“Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes” (v. 9).- Ezekiel 47:1–12
If there were any doubt that Ezekiel’s temple vision in the last section of his book is meant to be taken symbolically and not as a literal depiction of a building to be constructed at the end of time, today’s passage convinces us that prophet’s vision emphasizes spiritual realities to come. The description of the river that flows forth from the eschatological (end times) temple reveals a renewed creation that will result when the Lord consummates His plan.
Ezekiel sees water “issuing from below the threshold of the temple” (Ezek. 47:1a). Most English translations do not reflect very well what the prophet actually describes. The Hebrew term translated with the English word issuing actually conveys a trickling. Just a minor amount of water is trickling down and out of the south side of the temple (vv. 1b–2).
Since only a trickle originates from the temple, at first it seems as if this water cannot do much for the land. However, as the water exits the temple’s south side and heads east, dramatic things begin to happen. First, this trickle turns into a river that becomes progressively deeper. Ezekiel is led through the water, which goes from ankle depth to a river so vast that the only way to pass through the water is to swim (vv. 3–6). What makes this more remarkable is that the quantity of the water comes only from the trickle of water flowing out of the temple. No additional tributaries that feed the deepening river are mentioned.
Geographically, the route that the river takes is impossible. It “flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea” (v. 8). The sea is the Dead Sea, and to get there from Jerusalem via the route Ezekiel describes, it would have to flow down to the Kidron Valley, up over the Mount of Olives, and then cross through a series of other valleys and mountain ranges. Gravity and other forces and pressures make this impossible for an ordinary river, but this is no ordinary river, and that is further confirmed by what happens when the river reaches the Dead Sea. The salinity of the Dead Sea is so great that nothing lives in it. But when the river from the temple reaches it, the water is instantly transformed and can support fish “of very many kinds” (vv. 8–10). Fruit trees line the river that flows through what was a desert in Ezekiel’s era and remains so today (v. 12).
The vision conveys the abundant life that results from Israel’s restoration from exile. God’s life-giving power will not be confined to the temple but will issue forth to renew all things. Rivers of living water will restore life permanently to His people (John 7:37–39).
Today’s study is probably one of the texts Jesus had in mind when He discussed regeneration with Nicodemus (John 3:1–8). In the new covenant that follows the exile of Israel, the Spirit gives life unparalleled in its abundance. This life is from Christ alone and begins, imperceptibly, in the individual’s heart. But over time, the life deepens and grows so that via the ministry of His church, God reaches His elect. When the elect are all redeemed, the Lord will renew the whole world.
Passages for Further Study