Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Afterward he brought me again 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 stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar.XLVII.
The first twelve verses of this chapter constitute what is generally known as “the vision of the living waters;” the latter part of the chapter, Ezekiel 47:13-23, more properly belongs with Ezekiel 48, and, with that, gives an account of the boundaries of the land, of its distribution among the tribes, and of the building of the holy city.
The ideal character of this vision of the waters is so plain upon its face that little need be said on this point. The stream is represented as issuing from the summit of “a very high mountain” (Ezekiel 40:2), and as constantly and rapidly increasing its volume, without the accession of tributaries, so that in a little more than a mile it becomes a river no longer fordable. The trees upon its banks, too, are evidently symbolical, and its effect upon the Dead Sea (as already said in the introductory note to Ezekiel 40-48) is such as could not naturally occur. Such imagery is common in prophecy. Joel (Joel 3:18) says, “All the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of Shittim.” Zechariah (Zechariah 14:8), “Living waters shall go out from Jerusalem, half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea;” and finally, the description of the “pure river of water of life” in Revelation 22:1-3, is evidently founded upon this passage of Ezekiel. Passages in which water is used as the symbol of the influence of the Spirit are too numerous and familiar to need quotation. (Comp. Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Zechariah 13:1, &c.)
Ezekiel, having in the previous chapters described the dwelling of the Lord among His people with characteristic minuteness of detail, now proceeds to set forth the blessings that flow from this presence.
(1) Door of the house.—This is the entrance of the Temple itself; the waters come out from under its threshold, just as in Revelation 22:1 they proceed “out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” The prophet, who had just been in the outer court (Ezekiel 46:21, &c.), is brought in to the door of the house that he may see the waters.
From the right side of the house.—Although the waters issue directly from the threshold which was in the centre of the east front of the Temple, and their general course was due east, it was necessary that they should be deflected a little at the start to the south in order to pass the porch and the altar, as well as both the inner and outer gateways.
Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the utter gate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side.(2) Out of the way of the gate northward.—Rather, out by the way of the north gate. The east gate, the direct way, was shut (Ezekiel 44:2); the prophet was therefore carried round to the outside of it by the way of the north gate. There he saw the waters on the right, or south, side of the gateway.
And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ancles.(3) Brought me through the waters.—The point from which the measurement began is not distinctly mentioned, but is to be assumed as from their source, the threshold of the house. The prophet is “brought through the waters” to impress upon him a vivid sense of their size and depth, and this is repeated at each 1,000 cubits until the waters become impassable.
Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over.(5) A river that could not be passed over.—The whole distance measured is 4,000 cubits, or less than a mile and a half, during which the waters, without external addition, have swollen from a mere streamlet to an impassable river, in direct opposition to the ordinary fact in nature. A large part (1,500 cubits, or half of 3,000 cubits) of this distance must have been within the precincts described in Ezekiel 42:16-20, but the prophet takes no notice of this, as the whole is ideal, and the precincts were to set forth one truth, the river another. The point thus far brought out is plainly the increase of the kingdom of God—the same truth illustrated by our Lord in the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32), and often declared by the prophets (see Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:27; &c.). All history, since the Christian era, has been occupied with the fulfilment of the prophecy.
And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen this? Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the brink of the river.(6) To return to the brink.—The angel, having called the prophet’s attention to this marvellous increase, now causes him to return along the bank to observe other things. The word brink in this verse and bank in the next are the same in the original. The prophet does not return to the brink, for he had not left it, but is told to pass along it.
Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other.(7) Very many trees.—In the corresponding vision of Revelation 22:2 the same thought is symbolised by the “tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits.”
Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed.(8) Go down into the desert.—The word for country is the same as is used in Joshua 22:10-11, for the borders of the Jordan, and undoubtedly has the same meaning here: the valley of the Jordan, called the Ghor. The word desert is better translated in the margin, plain, and refers to that expansion of the Jordan valley just north of the Dead Sea in which the city of Jericho was situated. So far the course of the river has been due east; now, without any allusion to the Jordan, it apparently takes its place and flows into the sea. Both the situation and the description show that the Dead Sea is intended. By its entrance “the waters of the sea shall be healed,” that is, they shall be so changed that, from being incapable of supporting life, they shall become the home of life in all abundance and variety (Ezekiel 47:9-10).
And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.(9) The rivers.—According to the pointing of the Hebrew text this is the two rivers, as is expressed in the margin. This peculiar form has occasioned some perplexity, especially because in the vision of Zechariah (Zechariah 14:8) the waters are represented as divided, half of them flowing to the Dead Sea and half of them to the Mediterranean. It is plain, however, that but one river is intended here, flowing into the Dead Sea. Possibly there is an allusion in the dual form to the Jordan flowing with it into the sea; but this vision throughout pays so little regard to the natural features of the country that it seems more likely that the dual form is simply used to express the greatness of the river, “a double river.” By a division of the word and a slight change in the vowels the expression would become “river of the sea,” that is, flowing into the sea.
Shall live.—This is to be understood as a pregnant expression; all kinds of life shall spring into being whithersoever the waters come. The same thing is emphatically repeated at the close of the verse, and in the intermediate clause the same thought is expressed by the “very great multitude of fish.”
And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it from Engedi even unto Eneglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many.(10) From En-gedi even unto En-eglaim.—En-gedi, “the fountain of the goat,” is a well-known copious spring about midway on the western coast of the Dead Sea. En-eglaim occurs only here, and has not been certainly identified. St. Jerome speaks of “Engallim” as at the junction of the Jordan with the sea, and near this point there is a fountain now known as Ain-el-Feshkhah. Others consider that the dual form of the name indicates “one of the double cities of Moab,” thus placing it on the eastern side of the sea, and this seems more probable, since the expression would then be equivalent to “the whole breadth of the sea.” Everywhere they shall stretch their nets, and the variety and abundance of the fish shall be as great as in “the great sea,” that is, the Mediterranean. This whole verse in regard to the fishermen is a striking illustration of Ezekiel’s way of carrying out the most ideal description into detail.
But the miry places thereof and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt.(11) The marishes thereof shall not be healed.—The picture of the life-giving waters would be imperfect without this exception to their effects. The Dead Sea at the southern end is very shallow, and beyond there is an extensive tract of very low land. In the season of the flood of the Jordan this is overflowed to a considerable distance, and as the river subsides, is again left bare and encrusted with salt from the evaporation of the water. This allusion, therefore, shows plainly that the prophet did not have in mind a flowing on of the river through the Arabah, or valley leading from the Dead to the Red Sea, and that the effect of the life-giving waters should cease where the waters themselves ceased to flow; at the same time, in the thing symbolised, it shows that we are not to expect, as the effect of the Gospel, a perfect and universal obedience to its teachings. Man is still left free to hear or forbear, and the world must be expected always to contain its unhealed miry and marshy places.
And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.(12) Be consumed.—Better, fail. The fruit is to be eaten, but shall not fail to grow as it is wanted. These trees with their supernatural virtues are represented as produced by the waters because “they issued out of the sanctuary,” thus presenting a most effective image of the life-giving power of those spiritual influences which come from God upon men.
It has been objected to the spiritual interpretation of this vision, that under it nothing can be made of the fishermen of Ezekiel 47:10, and that, therefore, the whole is to be considered as a glorification of nature in the future Palestine. But this is to forget that in every figure and parable there are, and must be, details necessary to the figure which have nothing answering to them in the thing signified, and that it is the habit of Ezekiel to carry out such details very far. In this case, the mention of the fishermen greatly heightens the imagery of the life-giving power of the waters; while, if the whole were to be literally understood, they would really have no place, because there would be no such fishermen in the supposed glorified condition of the land.
Ezekiel 47:13-23, which, as already said, properly belong to Ezekiel 48, give the boundaries of the land to be divided among the tribes, together with provision for the inheritance of strangers living among them. The tracing of the boundary itself is introduced by some general statements in Ezekiel 47:13-14, concerning the distribution.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; This shall be the border, whereby ye shall inherit the land according to the twelve tribes of Israel: Joseph shall have two portions.(13) According to the twelve tribes of Israel.—In the ideal land of the restoration, not Judah and Benjamin only, but all the twelve tribes are to have their portions. Yet Levi is otherwise provided for in the “oblation,” and therefore Joseph, in accordance with Genesis 48:5; Genesis 48:22, and with the whole history of the nation, is to have two portions. The Hebrew is simply “Joseph portions” in the plural, but that these portions were to be two and no more was a matter of course, not needing to be specified.
And ye shall inherit it, one as well as another: concerning the which I lifted up mine hand to give it unto your fathers: and this land shall fall unto you for inheritance.(14) One as well as another.—This is the ordinary expression for equality. Unlike the former division of the laud, the territory is to be arranged in twelve equal portions. This is generally understood to mean that the strips of territory assigned to each tribe shall be of equal width, and such is undoubtedly the prophet’s meaning, since the vision throughout makes little account of the natural features of the country. It may be well to notice in passing, however, that the actual area of the territory given to the tribes is thus made very unequal. The country was nearly three times as broad at the south as at the north, and the southern tribes would thus have actually nearly three times as much land as the northern, although they were ideally equal. Were the portions to be made actually equal, the map given under Ezekiel 48 would be much changed. Such an arrangement would move the “oblation” farther south and give it ample room between east and west. Its north line would be a little north of Jerusalem, and its south within ten or twelve miles of Beersheba, and the Temple would be situated a few miles north-west of Hebron and still on the western watershed.
And this shall be the border of the land toward the north side, from the great sea, the way of Hethlon, as men go to Zedad;(15) This shall be the border of the land.—The boundaries are essentially the same as those given in Numbers 34:1-15, only that there the southern boundary is given first to the Israelites coming up from Egypt, while here the northern is first described for the people supposed to be returning from Babylon. There is also more detail given in Numbers, and as the points mentioned here are the same, it is fair to fill out this description from the earlier one. It is remarkable that in both cases the eastern boundary is the Jordan. The inheritance of the tribes on the east of that river having been a modification of the original allotment, and not being taken into consideration at all here, portions are assigned on the west of the river to the two and a half tribes who had lived all through Israel’s history on the east.
The way of Hethlon.—The boundary begins at the Mediterranean, but at what precise point cannot be determined; for although it is evident that the lines between the tribes were straight and parallel, yet it does not appear whether they were perpendicular to the Jordan, which would be substantially parallel to the lines of latitude, or perpendicular to the Mediterranean, which would make a small angle with them. Hethlon is mentioned only here and in Ezekiel 48:1, and has not been identified. It was probably a place of little importance, as its situation is described “as men go to Zedad.” The latter place is mentioned in Numbers 34:8 as one of the points in the original northern border of the land. It is clear from the passage in Numbers that it lay eastward of the “entrance to Hamath,” and has been identified by some writers with the modern village of Sadad, but this is thirty miles from “the entrance of Hamath,” which seems quite too far. Ezekiel may have passed through it when carried captive to Babylon.
Hamath, Berothah, Sibraim, which is between the border of Damascus and the border of Hamath; Hazarhatticon, which is by the coast of Hauran.(16) Hamath is not to be understood of the city of Hamath on the Orontes (which was much too far to the north), but of the boundary of the district of Hamath; this cannot be now precisely fixed, but certainly came as far south as the “entrance of Hamath” (Numbers 34:8), or the defile between the Lebanon and Antilebanon Mountains which leads to Hamath. This defile, however, is many miles in length, and the authorities differ as to whether its southern end or its northern (where the Lebanon and Antilebanon ranges end, and a rolling country several miles broad intervenes between them and the next ranges) should be called “the entrance to Hamath.’
Berothah is also mentioned in 2Samuel 8:8, as one of the cities conquered by David from the king of Zobah, and it is evident from this passage that it was between “Hamath” and Damascus; but nothing further is known of its situation.
Sibraim may be the same with Ziphron of Numbers 34:9, and must have been on the confines of the two kingdoms of Hamath and Damascus; but nothing more is known of it, and it is not mentioned elsewhere.
Hazar-hatticon.—That is, as noted in the margin, the middle Hazar, to distinguish it from the Hazar-enan mentioned in the next verse. All that is known of it is from this passage, that it was on the border of the district of Hauran. Hauran, here and in Ezekiel 47:18, is used in a wider sense than the classic Auranitis, and includes also Gaulanitis (Golan), and Batanœa (Bashan), in fact the whole land between the territories of Damascus and Gilead (Ezekiel 47:18).
And the border from the sea shall be Hazarenan, the border of Damascus, and the north northward, and the border of Hamath. And this is the north side.(17) The border from the sea shall be Hazarenan.—Comparing this with Numbers 34:9, it is plain that the sense is, “The (north) boundary which started from the sea shall terminate at Hazar-enan, where it meets the boundaries of Damascus.” Hazar-enan means “the village of springs,” and is mentioned in Ezekiel 48:1, and in Numbers 34:9-10, as the end of the north and beginning of the east boundary of the land. For “and the border of Hamath,” read even the border—i.e., the northern boundary is the (south) boundary of Hamath. While it is impossible to locate precisely this northern boundary, either as given in Numbers or by Ezekiel, it is evident that the two are identical, and that the line stretched from the Mediterranean to the territory of Damascus. The whole width of the country at this point would therefore be somewhat over thirty miles.
And the east side ye shall measure from Hauran, and from Damascus, and from Gilead, and from the land of Israel by Jordan, from the border unto the east sea. And this is the east side.(18) From Hauran, and from Damascus.—The eastern boundary is also the same as that given in Numbers 34:10-12, although more particularly described there. In both cases it excludes the territory of the trans- Jordanic tribes, which was not included in Palestine proper, even after its conquest by Moses, and in which the two and a half tribes were allowed to settle with some reluctance (Numbers 32). The word “from,” occurring four times in this verse, is literally from between, as is noted in the margin; it means that the boundary was to run between the territories of Hauran, Damascus, and Gilead on the one side, and that of Israel on the other. The boundary is to be the Jordan; but as this does not extend so far north, it became necessary to mention the territory of Damascus as bounding the land of Israel, and in this connection Hauran and Gilead are also spoken of. The boundary extends, as of old, beyond the mouth of the Jordan to the southern end of the Dead Sea and thence to Kadesh. The extreme length of the land is somewhat uncertain, but must have fallen short of 250 miles.
And the south side southward, from Tamar even to the waters of strife in Kadesh, the river to the great sea. And this is the south side southward.(19) From Tamar even to the waters of strife.—The southern border, as given in Numbers 34:3-5, is identical with that described here, as far as the two can be compared. Tamar has been identified with Kurnub, a ruined village some twenty-five miles west of the southern end of the Dead Sea; but as the old boundary certainly went far to the south of this and as the next place mentioned is Kadesh, about thirty miles nearly south from the Dead Sea, the Tamar here meant is more probably some place not yet identified. Kadesh, known from the “waters of strife” as Meribah (Numbers 20:3-14), is called Kadesh-barnea in Numbers 34:4. It has been identified by Robinson with the Ain-el-Weibeh, about thirty miles slightly west of south from the Dead Sea. Its exact situation, however, is somewhat doubtful.
The river to the great sea.—Literally, riverward to the great sea. From Kadesh the boundary was to strike across the mountainous desert to what is often called in Scripture “the river of Egypt,” and was anciently known as the Rhinocolura, now called the Wady-el-Arish. It followed this to the Mediterranean. The length of the southern boundary, following the curve of the Rhinocolura, must have been nearly 100 miles, or about eighty-seven miles from east to west.
The west side also shall be the great sea from the border, till a man come over against Hamath. This is the west side.(20) Over against Hamath.—The western boundary, as in Numbers 34:6, is the Mediterranean, and continues to the starting-point, Hamath being here, as in Ezekiel 47:16-17, the district of Hamath.
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, which shall beget children among you: and they shall be unto you as born in the country among the children of Israel; they shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel.(22) By lot.—See Note on Ezekiel 45:1.
To the strangers.—An entirely new feature is here added to the Mosaic law. According to Leviticus 19:34, strangers were to be treated with kindness, but the entire territory was to be divided among the Israelites, and strangers could therefore acquire no land except in so far as they might purchase a temporary right between the years of Jubilee. Now, however, such of them as “shall beget children among you,” thus showing a disposition to permanent residence, are to receive an inheritance along with the tribes and in the portion of that tribe where they may have chosen to fix their residence. This privilege is absolute, without any condition of receiving circumcision.