Ezekiel 47:1
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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.

Ezekiel

THE RIVER OF LIFE

Ezekiel 47:1
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Unlike most great cities, Jerusalem was not situated on a great river. True, the inconsiderable waters of Siloam-’which flow softly’ because they were so inconsiderable-rose from a crevice in the Temple rock, and beneath that rock stretched the valley of the Kedron, dry and bleached in the summer, and a rainy torrent during the rainy seasons; but that was all. So, many of the prophets, who looked forward to the better times to come, laid their finger upon that one defect, and prophesied that it should be cured. Thus we read in a psalm: ‘There is a river, the divisions whereof make glad the City of our God.’ Faith saw what sense saw not. Again, Isaiah says: ‘There’-that is to say, in the new Jerusalem-’the glorious Lord shall be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams.’ And so, this prophet casts his anticipations of the abundant outpouring of blessing that shall come when God in very deed dwells among men, into this figure of a river pouring out from beneath the Temple-door, and spreading life and fertility wherever its waters come. I need not remind you how our Lord Himself uses the same figure, and modifies it, by saying that whosoever believeth on Him, ‘out of him shall flow rivers of living waters’; or how, in the very last words of the Apocalyptic seer, we hear again the music of the ripples of the great stream, ‘the river of the water of life proceeding out of the Throne of God and of the Lamb.’ So then, all through Scripture, we may say that we hear the murmur of the stream, and can catch the line of verdure upon its banks. My object now is not only to deal with the words that I have read as a starting-point, but rather to seek to draw out the wonderful significance of this great prophetic parable.

I. I notice, first, the source from which the river conies.

I have already anticipated that in pointing out that it flows from the very Temple itself. The Prophet sees it coming out of the house-that is to say, the Sanctuary. It flows across the outer court of the house, passes the altar, comes out under the threshold, and then pours itself down on to the plain beneath. This is the symbolical dress of the thought that all spiritual blessings, and every conceivable form of human good, take their rise in the fact of God’s dwelling with men. From beneath the Temple threshold comes the water of life; and wherever it is true that in any heart-or in any community-God dwells, there will be heard the tinkling of its ripples, and freshness and fertility will come from the stream. The dwelling of God with a man, like the dwelling of God in humanity in the Incarnation of His own dear Son, is, as it were, the opening of the fountain that it may pour out into the world. So, if we desire to have the blessings that are possible for us, we must comply with the conditions, and let God dwell in our hearts, and make them His temples; and then from beneath the threshold of that temple, too, will pour out, according to Christ’s own promise, rivers of living water which will be first for ourselves to drink of and be blessed by, and then will refresh and gladden others.

Another thought connected with this source of the river of life is that all the blessings which, massed together, are included in that one word ‘salvation’-which is a kind of nebula made up of many unresolved stars-take their rise from nothing else than the deep heart of God Himself. This river rose in the House of the Lord, and amidst the mysteries of the Divine Presence; it took its rise, one might say, from beneath the Mercy-seat where the brooding Cherubim sat in silence and poured itself into a world that had not asked for it, that did not expect it, that in many of its members did not desire it and would not have it. The river that rose in the secret place of God symbolises for us the great thought which is put into plainer words by the last of the apostles when he says, ‘We love Him because He first loved us.’ All the blessings of salvation rise from the unmotived, self-impelled, self-fed divine love and purpose. Nothing moves Him to communicate Himself but His own delight in giving Himself to His poor creatures; and it is all of grace that it might be all through faith.

Still further, another thought that may be suggested in connection with the source of this river is, that that which is to bless the world must necessarily take its rise above the world. Ezekiel has sketched, in the last portion of his prophecy, an entirely ideal topography of the Holy Land. He has swept away mountains and valleys, and levelled all out into a great plain, in the midst of which rises the mountain of the Lord’s House, far higher than the Temple hill. In reality, opposite it rose the Mount of Olives, and between the two there was the deep gorge of the Valley of the Kedron. The Prophet smooths it all out into one great plain, and high above all towers the Temple-mount, and from it there rushes down on to the low levels the fertilising, life-giving flood.

That imaginary geography tells us this, that what is to bless the world must come from above the world. There needs a waterfall to generate electricity; the power which is to come into humanity and deal with its miseries must have its source high above the objects of its energy and its compassion, and in proportion to the height from which it falls will be the force of its impact and its power to generate the quickening impulse. All merely human efforts at social reform, rivers that do not rise in the Temple, are like the rivers in Mongolia, that run for a few miles and then get sucked up by the hot sands and are lost and nobody sees them any more. Only the perennial stream, that comes out from beneath the Temple threshold, can sustain itself in the desert, to say nothing of transforming the desert into a Garden of Eden. So moral and social and intellectual and political reformers may well go to Ezekiel, and learn that the ‘river of the water of life,’ which is to heal the barren and refresh the thirsty land, must come from below the Temple threshold.

II. Note the rapid increase of the stream.

The Prophet describes how his companion, the interpreter, measured down the stream a thousand cubits-about a quarter of a mile-and the waters were ankle-deep another thousand, making half a mile from the start, and the water was knee-deep. Another thousand-or three-quarters of a mile-and the water was waist-deep; another thousand-about a mile in all-and the water was unfordable, ‘waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over.’ Where did the increase come from? There were no tributaries. We do not hear of any side-stream flowing into the main body. Where did the increase come from? It came from the abundant welling-up in the sanctuary. The fountain was the mother of the river-that is to say, God’s ideal for the world, for the Church, for the individual Christian, is rapid increase in their experience of the depth and the force of the stream of blessings which together make up salvation. So we come to a very sharp testing question. Will anybody tell me that the rate at which Christianity has grown for these nineteen centuries corresponds with Ezekiel’s vision-which is God’s ideal? Will any Christian man say, ‘My own growth in grace, and increase in the depth and fulness of the flow of the river through my spirit and my life correspond to that ideal’? A mile from the source the river is unfordable. How many miles from the source of our first experience do we stand? How many of us, instead of having ‘a river that could not be passed over, waters to swim in,’ have but a poor and all but stagnant feeble trickle, as shallow as or shallower than it was at first?

I was speaking a minute ago about Mongolian rivers. Australian rivers are more like some men’s lives. A chain of ponds in the dry season-nay! not even a chain, but a series, with no connecting channel of water between them. That is like a great many Christian people; they have isolated times when they feel the voice of Christ’s love, and yield themselves to the powers of the world to come, and then there are long intervals, when they feel neither the one nor the other. But the picture that ought to be realised by each of us is God’s ideal, which there is power in the gospel to make real in the case of every one of us, the rapid and continuous increase in the depth and in the scour of ‘the river of the water of life,’ that flows through our lives. Luther used to say, ‘If you want to clean out a dunghill, turn the Elbe into it.’ If you desire to have your hearts cleansed of all their foulness, turn the river into it. But it needs to be a progressively deepening river, or there will be no scour in the feeble trickle, and we shall not be a bit the holier or the purer for our potential and imperfect Christianity.

III. Lastly, note the effects of the stream.

These are threefold: fertility, healing, life. Fertility. In the East one condition of fertility is water. Irrigate the desert, and you make it a garden. Break down the aqueduct, and you make the granary of the world into a waste. The traveller as he goes along can tell where there is a stream of water, by the verdure along its banks. You travel along a plateau, and it is all baked and barren. You plunge into a w⤹, and immediately the ground is clothed with under-growth and shrubs, and the birds of the air sing among the branches. And so, says Ezekiel, wherever the river comes there springs up, as if by magic, fair trees ‘on the banks thereof, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed.’

Fertility comes second, the reception of the fertilising agent comes first. It is wasted time to tinker at our characters unless we have begun with getting into our hearts the grace of God, and the new spirit that will be wrought out by diligent effort into all beauty of life and character. Ezekiel seems to be copying the first psalm, or vice versa, the Psalmist is copying Ezekiel. At any rate, there is a verbal similarity between them, in that both dwell upon the unfading leaf of the tree that grows planted by rivers of water. And our text goes further, and speaks about perennial fruitfulness month by month, all the year round. In some tropical countries you will find blossoms, buds in their earliest stage, and ripened fruit all hanging upon one laden branch. Such ought to be the Christian life-continuously fruitful because dependent upon continual drawing into itself, by means of its roots and suckers, of the water of life by which we are fructified.

There is yet another effect of the waters-healing. As we said, Ezekiel takes great liberties with the geography of the Holy Land, levelling it all, so his stream makes nothing of the Mount of Olives, but flows due east until it comes to the smitten gorge of the Jordan, and then turns south, down into the dull, leaden waters of the Dead Sea, which it heals. We all know how these are charged with poison. Dip up a glassful anywhere, and you find it full of deleterious matter. They are the symbol of humanity, with the sin that is in solution all through it. No chemist can eliminate it, but there is One who can. ‘He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.’ The pure river of the water of life will cast out from humanity the malignant components that are there, and will sweeten it all. Ay, all, and yet not all, for very solemnly the Prophet’s optimism pauses, and he says that the salt marshes by the side of the sea are not healed. They are by the side of it. The healing is perfectly available for them, but they are not healed. It is possible for men to reject the influences that make for the destruction of sin and the establishment of righteousness. And although the waters are healed, there still remain the obstinate marshes with the white crystals efflorescing on their surface, and bringing salt and barrenness. You can put away the healing and remain tainted with the poison.

And then the last thought is the life-giving influence of the river. Everything lived whithersoever it went. Contrast Christendom with heathendom. Admit all the hollowness and mere nominal Christianity of large tracts of life in so-called Christian countries, and yet why is it that on the one side you find stagnation and death, and on the other side mental and manifold activity and progressiveness? I believe that the difference between ‘the people that sit in darkness’ and ‘the people that walk in the light is that one has the light and the other has not, and activity befits the light as torpor befits the darkness.

But there is a far deeper truth than that in the figure, a truth that I would fain lay upon the hearts of all my hearers, that unless we our own selves have this water of life which comes from the Sanctuary and is brought to us by Jesus Christ, ‘we are dead in trespasses and sins.’ The only true life is in Christ. ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’

Ezekiel 47:1. He brought me again to the door of the house — The door of the temple, described Ezekiel 41:2. And behold, waters issued from under the threshold eastward — Ezekiel had repeatedly walked round the house, and had surveyed the doors of it, but had not discovered this stream of water springing from under its threshold till now. Thus God makes known his mind and will to his people, not all at once, but by degrees. Dr. Lightfoot tells us, that there was a large quantity of water conveyed in pipes under ground from the fountain of Etam, for the uses of the temple; and some commentators seem disposed to interpret this part of Ezekiel’s vision, of that water. Others think he only alludes to it, or draws his similitude from it, but is to be mystically understood. Whether he allude to any such conduit, or stream of water, or not, that the waters here spoken of are to be understood mystically, will hardly be doubted by any that consider what is stated concerning their direction and course, their continual increase, and salubrious effects; circumstances all utterly inapplicable to the water said to be brought in pipes for the uses of the temple. The fore-front of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under the right side of the house, and proceeded eastward — They did not therefore come to the temple, as if intended for the purposes of washing the sacrifices, carrying off the filth, and keeping every part clean and wholesome; but they issued from it, and proceeded to refresh and fertilize other places. The prophecy of Zechariah 14:8, that living waters should go forth from Jerusalem, half of them toward the former sea, and half toward the hinder sea; and St. John’s vision (Revelation 22:1) of a pure river of water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God and the Lamb, elucidate this part of Ezekiel’s vision, and direct us in the application of it. It is undoubtedly to be understood of the gospel of Christ, which went forth from Jerusalem, and spread itself into the countries around; and of the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost which accompanied it, and by virtue of which it diffused its influence far and wide, and produced the most blessed effects. Thus Isaiah foretold that out of Zion should go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, Isaiah 2:3. At Jerusalem it was that the Spirit was poured out upon the apostles, enduing them with the gift of tongues, that they might carry these waters to all nations; and in the temple first they stood and preached the words of this life. But this temple of Ezekiel was not so much designed to be an emblem of the material temple, built after the return of the Jews from Babylon, or of the Jewish Church, which had its principal seat there, as of the Christian Church, the temple built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ is at once the foundation and chief corner-stone; nay, and also its threshold and door of entrance: and from him springs the well, and from him proceed the rivers of living water, which refresh and comfort the souls of true believers, and render them fruitful to the praise and glory of God: see John 4:10; John 4:14; John 7:38-39. Through these waters, the places, which had before been a mere wilderness, are made like Eden; and what had been a dry and barren desert, becomes like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness are found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody, Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 30:25, where see the notes.

47:1-23 These waters signify the gospel of Christ, which went forth from Jerusalem, and spread into the countries about; also the gifts and powers of the Holy Ghost which accompanied it, by virtue of which is spread far, and produced blessed effects. Christ is the Temple; and he is the Door; from him the living waters flow, out of his pierced side. They are increasing waters. Observe the progress of the gospel in the world, and the process of the work of grace in the heart; attend the motions of the blessed Spirit under Divine guidance. If we search into the things of God, we find some things plain and easy to be understood, as the waters that were but to the ankles; others more difficult, which require a deeper search, as the waters to the knees, or the loins; and some quite beyond our reach, which we cannot penetrate; but must, as St. Paul did, adore the depth, Ro 11. It is wisdom to begin with that which is most easy, before we proceed to that which is dark and hard to be understood. The promises of the sacred word, and the privileges of believers, as shed abroad in their souls by the quickening Spirit, abound where the gospel is preached; they nourish and delight the souls of men; they never fade nor wither, nor are exhausted. Even the leaves serve as medicines to the soul: the warnings and reproofs of the word, though less pleasant than Divine consolations, tend to heal the diseases of the soul. All who believe in Christ, and are united to him by his sanctifying Spirit, will share the privileges of Israelites. There is room in the church, and in heaven, for all who seek the blessings of that new covenant of which Christ is Mediator.The vision of the waters; or, the blessings which flow from this source to animate and refresh all the inhabitants of the earth. Compare Isaiah 44:8...; Joel 3:18. Ezekiel's description is adopted and modifled by Zechariah and in Rev. (compare the marginal references) Hebrew tradition speaks of a spring of water, named Etham, said to be identical with the well-waters of Nephtoah Joshua 18:15, on the west of the temple, whose waters were conducted by pipes into the temple-courts for the uses needed in the ministration of the priests. The waters of Shiloah Psalm 46:4; Isaiah 8:6 flowed from the rocks beneath the temple-hill. It is quite in the manner of Ezekiel's vision to start from an existing feature and thence proceed to an ideal picture from where to draw a spiritual lesson. The deepening of the waters in their course shows the continual deepening of spiritual life and multiplication of spiritual blessings in the growth of the kingdom of God. So long as the stream is confined to the temple-courts, it is merely a small rill, for the most part unseen, but when it issues from the courts it begins at once to deepen and to widen. So on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the company of believers, little then but presently to develop into the infant Church in Jerusalem. CHAPTER 47

Eze 47:1-23. Vision of the Temple Waters. Borders and Division of The land.

The happy fruit to the earth at large of God's dwelling with Israel in holy fellowship is that the blessing is no longer restricted to the one people and locality, but is to be diffused with comprehensive catholicity through the whole world. So the plant from the cedar of Lebanon is represented as gathering under its shelter "all fowl of every wing" (Eze 17:23). Even the desert places of the earth shall be made fruitful by the healing waters of the Gospel (compare Isa 35:1).

1. waters—So Re 22:1, represents "the water of life as proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." His throne was set up in the temple at Jerusalem (Eze 43:7). Thence it is to flow over the earth (Joe 3:18; Zec 13:1; 14:8). Messiah is the temple and the door; from His pierced side flow the living waters, ever increasing, both in the individual believer and in the heart. The fountains in the vicinity of Moriah suggested the image here. The waters flow eastward, that is, towards the Kedron, and thence towards the Jordan, and so along the Ghor into the Dead Sea. The main point in the picture is the rapid augmentation from a petty stream into a mighty river, not by the influx of side streams, but by its own self-supply from the sacred miraculous source in the temple [Henderson]. (Compare Ps 36:8, 9; 46:4; Isa 11:9; Hab 2:14). Searching into the things of God, we find some easy to understand, as the water up to the ankles; others more difficult, which require a deeper search, as the waters up to the knees or loins; others beyond our reach, of which we can only adore the depth (Ro 11:33). The healing of the waters of the Dead Sea here answers to "there shall be no more curse" (Re 22:3; compare Zec 14:11).The vision of the holy waters, Ezekiel 47:1-5. The virtue of them, Ezekiel 47:6-12. The borders of the land, Ezekiel 47:13-21. The division of it by lot, Ezekiel 47:22,23.

After that the temple was measured, and the ordinances of it were settled, and what pertained to prince and people assigned, &c., he brought me; the angel, or the Spirit of God, Ezekiel 1:3 3:22. The house; the temple itself. Waters issued out: some do observe that there were aqueducts laid under ground, which from some fountain were conveyed to cleanse and purge away the blood of sacrifices poured fourth, and the excrements of the slain beasts, of which some would remain after the greatest care. However, they would need much water about their temple services, and this was conveyed in pipes from the fountain Etare, as Dr. Lightfoot observes from their rabbins, and from Aristaeus an eye-witness; these gave. occasion or ground of this vision. From under the threshold; the fountain lay to the west, the conduit pipes were laid to bring the water to the temple, and so must run eastward, and perhaps one main pipe might be laid under the east gate of the temple. From the right side; on the south side of the temple, for so the south is to a man whose face looketh toward the east. At, or towards, the south side of the altar, for so it seems they were conveyed to run, till they came to the altar, and were conveyed by the right side of it into a room they called the well room. The spiritual meaning I refer to the private meditations of Christians; thus far of the aqueducts.

Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house,.... The door of the temple, even of the holy of holies; hither the prophet is said to be brought again, or "brought back" (x); for he was last in the corners of the outward court, viewing the kitchens or boiling places of the ministers; but now he was brought back into the inner court, and to the door that led into the holiest of all:

and, behold! for it was matter of admiration, as well as of observation and attention:

waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward; this is a new thing, to which there was nothing like it, either in the first or second temple. Ariateas (y) indeed relates what he himself saw,

"a never failing conflux of water, as of a large fountain, naturally flowing underneath, and wonderful receptacles under ground; to each of which were leaden pipes, through which the waters came in on every side, for about half a mile about the temple, and washed away the blood of the sacrifices;''

and so the Talmudists (z) say, there was an aqueduct from the fountain of Etam, and pipes laid from thence to supply the temple with water, for the washing and boiling of the sacrifices, and keeping the temple clean: but these waters are quite different; they are such as came out of the temple, and not what were carried by pipes into it; nor were they a common sewer to carry off the filth of it, but formed a delightful and useful river. The fountain of them is not declared, only where they were first seen to issue out,

under the threshold of the house eastward; the threshold of the door of the most holy place; so that they seem to take their rise from the holy of holies, the seat of the divine Majesty, and throne of God, with which agrees Revelation 22:1, and so the Talmudists (a) say, that this fountain came first from the house of the holy of holies, under the threshold of the door of it, which looked to the east:

for the fore front of the house stood toward the east; the holy of holies was at the west end of the temple; but the front of it, and so the door into it, was to the east, and from hence these waters flowed:

and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house; they are said to "come down", because the temple was high built upon the top of a mountain; and "from under", that is, the threshold of the door of it; or rather in subterraneous passages, till they appeared from under that; and this was "on the right side of the house"; that is, on the south side: for, suppose a man standing with his face to the east, as the prophet did, when he turned himself to see which way the waters flowed, having his face to the west when he first saw them come out; the south then must be on his right hand, and so it follows:

at the south side of the altar; of the altar of burnt offerings, which stood before the house.

(x) "reduxit me", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Cocceius, Starckius. (y) Hist. 70. Interpret. p. 32, 33. Ed. Oxon. 1692, (z) T. Hieros. Yoma, fol. 41. Cippi Hebr. p. 10. (a) T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 77. 2.

Afterward he brought me again to the door of the house; and, behold, {a} waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the front 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.

(a) By which are meant the spiritual graces that would be given to the Church under the kingdom of Christ.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. From the outer court (Ezekiel 46:23) the prophet was brought again to the door of the house. There he saw waters issuing from beneath the threshold on the right, that is the south side, which flowed east, passing the altar on the south side.

1–12. The river issuing from the temple. The prophet saw a stream issuing from beneath the threshold of the house, which pursued its way eastward, passing the altar on the south side and emerging into the open on the right hand of the outer east gate. A thousand cubits from the gate the waters were ankle deep, but speedily they became a river so deep that it could be crossed only by swimming (Ezekiel 47:3-5). A luxuriant nature attended the course of the stream; trees grew on every side, ever green and with unfailing fruit, the leaves of which possessed a healing virtue (Ezekiel 47:7; Ezekiel 47:12). The desert place to the east became transformed, and the bitter waters of the Dead Sea into which the river flowed were made sweet, and swarmed with life like the great sea on the west. Fishermen peopled the shores from En-gedi to En-eglaim; only the marshes by the seaside remained salt (Ezekiel 47:6-12).

Ezekiel 47:1The River of Water of Life

When Jehovah shall have judged all the heathen in the valley of Jehoshaphat, and shall dwell as King of His people upon Zion His holy mountain, then will the mountains trickle with new wine, and the hills run with milk, and all the brooks of Judah flow with water; and a spring will proceed from the house of Jehovah, and water the Acacia valley. With these figures Joel (Joel 4:18) has already described the river of salvation, which the Lord would cause to flow to His congregation in the time when the kingdom of God shall be perfected. This picture of the Messianic salvation shapes itself in the case of our prophet into the magnificent vision contained in the section before us.

(Note: Compare W. Neumann, Die Wasser des Lebens. An exegetical study on Ezekiel 47:1-12. Berlin, 1848.)

Ezekiel 47:1. And he led me back to the door of the house, and, behold, water flowed out from under the threshold of the house toward the east, for the front side of the house was toward the east; and the water flowed down from below, from the right shoulder of the house on the south of the altar. Ezekiel 47:2. And he led me out by the way of the north gate, and caused me to go round about on the outside, to the outer gate of the way to the (gate), looking toward the east; and, behold, waters rippled for the right shoulder of the gate. Ezekiel 47:3. When the man went out toward the east, he had a measuring line in his hand, and he measured a thousand cubits, and caused me to go through the water-water to the ankles. Ezekiel 47:4. And he measured a thousand, and caused me to go through the water-water to the knees; and he measured a thousand, and caused me to go through-water to the hips. Ezekiel 47:5. And he measured a thousand-a river through which I could not walk, for the water was high, water to swim in, a river which could not be forded. Ezekiel 47:6. And he said to me, Hast thou seen it, son of man? and he led me back again by the bank of the river. Ezekiel 47:7. When I returned, behold, there stood on the bank of the river very many trees on this side and on that. Ezekiel 47:8. And he said to me, This water flows out into the eastern circle, and runs down into the plain, and reaches the sea; into the sea is it carried out, that the waters may become wholesome. Ezekiel 47:9. And it will come to pass, every living thing with which it swarms everywhere, whither the double river comes, will live, and there will be very many fishes; for when this water comes thither they will become wholesome, and everything will live whither the river comes. Ezekiel 47:10. And fishermen will stand by it, from Engedi to Eneglaim they will spread out nets; after their kind will there be fishes therein, like the fishes of the great sea, very many. Ezekiel 47:11. Its marshes and its swamps, they will not become wholesome, they will be given up to salt. Ezekiel 47:12. And by the river will all kinds of trees of edible fruit grow on its bank, on this side and on that; their leaves will not wither, and their fruits will not fail; every moon they will bear ripe fruit, for its water flows out of its sanctuary. And their fruits will serve as food, and their leaves as medicine.

From the outer court, where Ezekiel had been shown the sacrificial kitchens for the people (Ezekiel 46:21.), he is taken back to the front of the door of the temple house, to be shown a spring of water, flowing out from under the threshold of the temple, which has swollen in the short course of four thousand cubits from its source into a deep river in which men can swim, and which flows down to the Jordan valley, to empty itself into the Dead Sea. In Ezekiel 47:1 and Ezekiel 47:2, the origin and course of this water are described; in Ezekiel 47:3 and Ezekiel 47:5, its marvellous increase; in Ezekiel 47:6, the growth of trees on its banks; in Ezekiel 47:7-12, its emptying itself into the Arabah and into the Dead Sea, with the life-giving power of its water. - Ezekiel 47:1. The door of the house is the entrance into the holy place of the temple, and מפתּן הבּית the threshold of this door. קדימה, not "in the east" (Hitzig), for the following sentence explaining the reason does not require this meaning; but "toward the east" of the threshold, which lay toward the east, for the front of the temple was in the east. מתּחת is not to be connected with מכּתף, but to be taken by itself, only not in the sense of downwards (Hitzig), but from beneath, namely, down from the right shoulder of the house. ירד, to flow down, because the temple stood on higher ground than the inner court. The right shoulder is the part of the eastern wall of the holy place between the door and the pillars, the breadth of which was five cubits (Ezekiel 41:1). The water therefore issued from the corner formed by the southern wall of the porch and the eastern wall of the holy place (see the sketch on Plate I), and flowed past the altar of burnt-offering on the south side, and crossed the court in an easterly direction, passing under its surrounding wall. It then flowed across the outer court and under the pavement and the eastern wall into the open country, where the prophet, on the outside in front of the gate, saw it rippling forth from the right shoulder of that gate. That he might do this, he was led out through the north gate, because the east gate was shut (Ezekiel 44:1), and round by the outside wall to the eastern outer gate. דּרך חוּץ is more minutely defined by אל־שׁער החוּץ, and this, again, by דּרך הפּונה קדים, "by the way to the (gate) looking eastwards." The ἁπ. λεγ. ּרך̓̀ינבל;, Piel of פּכה, related to בּכה, most probably signifies to ripple, not to trickle. מים has no article, because it is evident from the context that the water was the same as that which Ezekiel had seen in the inner court, issuing from the threshold of the temple. The right shoulder is that portion of the eastern wall which joined the south side of the gate. - Ezekiel 47:3-5. The miraculous increase in the depth of the water. A thousand cubits from the wall, as one walked through, it reached to the ankles; a thousand cubits further, to the knees; a thousand cubits further, to the hips; and after going another thousand cubits it was impossible to wade through, one could only swim therein. The words מי אפסים are a brief expression for "there was water which reached to the ankles." אפס is equivalent to פּס, an ankle, not the sole of the foot. In 1 Chronicles 11:13, on the other hand, we have פּס דּמּים for אפס דּמּים . The striking expression מים בּרכים for מי ברכים may possibly have been chosen because מי ברכים had the same meaning as מימי רגלים in Isaiah 36:12 (Keri). The measuring man directed the prophet's attention (Ezekiel 47:6) to this extraordinary increase in the stream of water, because the miraculous nature of the stream was exhibited therein. A natural river could not increase to such an extent within such short distances, unless, indeed, other streams emptied themselves into it on all sides, which was not he case here. He then directed him to go back again על שׂפת, along the bank, not "to the bank," as he had never left it. The purpose for which he had been led along the bank was accomplished after he had gone four thousand cubits. From the increase in the water, as measured up to this point, he could infer what depth it would reach in its further course. He is therefore now to return along the bank to see how it is covered with trees. בּשׁוּבני cannot be explained in any other way than as an incorrect form for בּשׁוּבי, though there are no corresponding analogies to be found.

In Ezekiel 47:8-12 he gives him a still further explanation of the course of the river and the effect of its waters. The river flows out into הגּלילה הקּדמונה, the eastern circle, which is identical with גּלילות היּרדּן htiw lacitne, the circle of the Jordan (Joshua 22:10-11), the region above the Dead Sea, where the Jordan valley (Ghor) widens out into a broad, deep basin. הערבה is the deep valley of the Jordan, now called the Ghor (see the comm. on Deuteronomy 1:1), of which Robinson says that the greater part remains a desolate wilderness. It was so described in ancient times (see Joseph. Bell. Jude 3.10. 7, iv. 8. 2), and we find it so to-day (compare v. Raumer, Pal. p. 58). היּמּה is the Dead Sea, called היּם הקּדמוני in Ezekiel 47:18, and the sea of the Arabah in Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:49. We agree with Hengstenberg in taking the words אל־היּמּה המּוּצאים as an emphatic summing up of the previous statement concerning the outflow of the water, to which the explanation concerning its effect upon the Dead Sea is attached, and supply בּאוּ from the clause immediately preceding: "the waters of the river that have been brought out (come) to the sea, and the waters of the Dead Sea are healed." There is no need, therefore, for the emendation proposed by Hitzig, namely, אל היּם הם מוּצאים. So much, however, is beyond all doubt, that היּמּה is no other than the Dead Sea already mentioned. The supposition that it is the Mediterranean Sea (Chald., Ros., Ewald, and others) cannot be reconciled with the words, and has only been transferred to this passage from Zechariah 14:8. נרפּא signifies, as in 2 Kings 2:22, the healing or rendering wholesome of water that is injurious or destructive to life. The character of the Dead Sea, with which the ancients were also well acquainted, and of which Tacitus writes as follows: Lacus immenso ambitu, specie maris sapore corruptior, gravitate odoris accolis pestifer, neque vento impellitur neque pisces aut suetas aquis volucres patitur (Hist. v. c. 6), - a statement confirmed by all modern travellers (cf. v. Raumer, Pal. pp. 61ff., and Robinson, Physical Geography of the Holy Land), - is regarded as a disease of the water, which is healed or turned into wholesome water in which fishes can live, by the water of the river proceeding from the sanctuary. The healing and life-giving effect of this river upon the Dead Sea is described in Ezekiel 47:9 and Ezekiel 47:10. Whithersoever the waters of the river come, all animated beings will come to life and flourish.

In Ezekiel 47:9 the dual נחלים occasions some difficulty. It is not likely that the dual should have been used merely for the sake of its resemblance to מים, as Maurer imagines; and still less probable is it that there is any allusion to a junction of the river proceeding from the temple at some point in its course with the Kedron, which also flows into the Dead Sea (Hvernick), as the Kedron is not mentioned either before or afterwards. According to Kliefoth, the dual is intended to indicate a division which takes place in the waters of the river, that have hitherto flowed on together, as soon as they enter the sea. But this would certainly have been expressed more clearly. Hengstenberg takes the expression "double river" to mean a river with a strong current, and refers to Jeremiah 50:21 in support of this. This is probably the best explanation; for nothing is gained by altering the text into נחלם (Ewald) or נחלים (Hitzig), as נחל does not require definition by means of a suffix, nor doe the plural answer to the context. is to be taken in connection with אשׁר ישׁרץ: "wherewith it swarms whithersoever the river comes;" though אל does not stand for על after Genesis 7:21, as Hitzig supposes, but is to be explained from a species of attraction, as in Genesis 20:13. יחיה is a pregnant expression, to revive, to come to life. The words are not to be understood, however, as meaning that there were living creatures in the Dead Sea before the health-giving water flowed into it; the thought is simply, that whithersoever the waters of the river come, there come into existence living creatures in the Dead Sea, so that it swarms with them. In addition to the שׁרץ, the quantity of fish is specially mentioned; and in the second hemistich the reason is assigned for the number of living creatures that come into existence by a second allusion to the health-giving power of the water of the river. The subject to וירפאוּ, viz., the waters of the Dead Sea, is to be supplied from the context. The great abundance of fish in the Dead Sea produced by the river is still further depicted in Ezekiel 47:10. Fishermen will spread their nets along its coast from Engedi to Eneglaim; and as for their kind, there will be as many kinds of fish there as are to be found in the great or Mediterranean Sea. עין גּדי, i.e., Goat's spring, now Ain-Jidi, a spring in the middle of the west coast of the Dead Sea, with ruins of several ancient buildings (see the comm. on Joshua 15:62, and v. Raumer, Pal. p. 188). עין עגלים has not yet been discovered, though, from the statement of Jerome, "Engallim is at the beginning of the Dead Sea, where the Jordan enters it," it has been conjectured that it is to be found in Ain el-Feshkhah, a spring at the northern end of the west coast, where there are also ruins of a small square tower and other buildings to be seen (vid., Robinson's Palestine, II pp. 491, 492), as none of the other springs on the west coast, of which there are but few, answer so well as this. למינה is pointed without Mappik, probably because the Masoretes did not regard the ה as a suffix, as the noun to which it alludes does not follow till afterwards. - Ezekiel 47:11 introduces an exception, namely, that notwithstanding this the Dead Sea will still retain marshes or pools and swamps, which will not be made wholesome (בּצּאת for בּצּות, pools). An allusion to the natural character of the Dead Sea underlies the words. "In the rainy season, when the sea is full, its waters overspread many low tracts of marsh land, which remain after the receding of the water in the form of moist pools or basins; and as the water in these pools evaporates rapidly, the ground becomes covered with a thick crust of salt" (Robinson's Physical Geography, p. 215). למלח נתּנוּ, they are given up to salt, i.e., destined to remain salt, because the waters of the river do not reach them. The light in which the salt is regarded here is not that of its seasoning properties, but, in the words of Hengstenberg, "as the foe to all fruitfulness, all life and prosperity, as Pliny has said (Hist. Nat. xxxi. c. 7: Omnis locus, in quo reperitur sal, sterilis est nihilque gignit") (cf. Deuteronomy 29:22; Jeremiah 17:6; Zephaniah 2:9; Psalm 107:34). - In Ezekiel 47:12 the effect of the water of the river upon the vegetation of the ground, already mentioned in Ezekiel 47:7, is still further described. On its coast grow all kinds of trees with edible fruits (עץ מאכל, as in Leviticus 19:23), whose leaves do not wither, and whose fruits do not fail, but ripen every month (בּכּר, or produce first-fruits, i.e., fresh fruits; and לחדשׁים distributive, as in Isaiah 47:13), because the waters which moisten the soil proceed from the sanctuary, i.e., "directly and immediately from the dwelling-place of Him who is the author of all vital power and fruitfulness" (Hitzig). The leaves and fruits of these trees therefore possess supernatural powers. The fruits serve as food, i.e., for the maintenance of the life produced by the river of water; the leaves as medicine (תּרוּפה from רוּף equals רפא, healing), i.e., for the healing of the sick and corrupt (εἰς θεραπείαν, Revelation 22:2).

In the effect of the water proceeding from the sanctuary upon the Dead Sea and the land on its shores, as described in Ezekiel 47:8-12, the significance of this stream of water in relation to the new kingdom of God is implied. If, then, the question be asked, what we are to understand by this water, whether we are to take it in a literal sense as the temple spring, or in a spiritual and symbolical sense, the complete answer can only be given in connection with the interpretation of the whole of the temple vision (Ezekiel 40-48). Even if we assume for the moment, however, that the description of the new temple, with the worship appointed for it, and the fresh division of Canaan, is to be understood literally, and therefore that the building of an earthly temple upon a high mountain in the most holy terumah of the land set apart for Jehovah, and a renewal of the bleeding sacrifices in this temple by the twelve tribes of Israel, when restored to Palestine from the heathen lands, are to be taken for granted, it would be difficult to combine with this a literal interpretation of what is said concerning the effect of the temple spring. It is true that in Volck's opinion "we are to think of a glorification of nature;" but even this does not remove the difficulties which stand in the way of a literal interpretation of the temple spring. According to Ezekiel 47:12, its waters posses the life-giving and healing power ascribed to them because they issue from the sanctuary. But how does the possession by the water of the power to effect the glorification of nature harmonize with its issuing from a temple in which bullocks, rams, calves, and goats are slaughtered and sacrificed? - Volck is still further of opinion that, with the spiritual interpretation of the temple spring, "nothing at all could be made of the fishermen;" because, for example, he cannot conceive of the spiritual interpretation in any other way than as an allegorical translation of all the separate features of the prophetic picture into spiritual things. But he has failed to consider that the fishermen with their nets on the shore of the sea, once dead, but now swarming with fish, are irreconcilably opposed to the assumption of a glorification of nature in the holy land, just because the inhabitants of the globe or holy land, in its paradisaically glorified state, will no more eat fish or other flesh, according to the teaching of Scripture, than the first men in Paradise. When once the wolf shall feed with the lamb, the leopard with the kid, the cow with the bear, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox, under the sceptre of the sprout from the stem of Jesse, then will men also cease their fishing, and no longer slaughter and eat either oxen or goats. To this the Israelites will form no exception in their glorified land of Canaan. - And if even these features in the vision before us decidedly favour the figurative or spiritual view of the temple spring, the necessity for this explanation is placed beyond the reach of doubt by a comparison of our picture with the parallel passages. According to Joel 4:18, at the time when a spring issues from the house of Jehovah and the vale of Shittim is watered, the mountains trickle with new wine, and the hills run with milk. If, then, in this case we understand what is affirmed of the temple spring literally, the trickling of the mountains with new wine and the flowing of the hills with milk must be taken literally as well. But we are unable to attain to the belief that in the glorified land of Israel the mountains will be turned into springs of new wine, and the hills into fountains of milk, and in the words of the whole verse we can discern nothing but a figurative description of the abundant streams of blessing which will then pour over the entire land. And just as in Joel the context points indisputably to a non-literal or figurative explanation, so also does the free manner in which Zechariah uses this prophecy of his predecessors, speaking only of living waters which issue from Jerusalem, and flow half into the eastern (i.e., the Dead) sea, and half into the western (i.e., the Mediterranean) sea (Zechariah 14:8), show that he was not thinking of an actual spring with earthly water. And here we are still provisionally passing by the application made of this feature in the prophetic descriptions of the glory of the new kingdom of God in the picture of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1 and Revelation 22:2).

The figurative interpretation, or spiritual explanation, is moreover favoured by the analogy of the Scriptures. "Water," which renders the unfruitful land fertile, and supplies refreshing drink to the thirsty, is used in Scripture as a figure denoting blessing and salvation, which had been represented even in Paradise in the form of watering (cf. Genesis 13:10). In Isaiah 12:3, "and with joy ye draw water from the wells of salvation," the figure is expressly interpreted. And so also in Isaiah 44:3, "I will pour water upon the thirsty one, and streams upon the desert; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:" where the blessing answers to the water, the Spirit is named as the principal form in which the blessing is manifested, "the foundation of all other salvation for the people of God" (Hengstenberg). This salvation, which Joel had already described as a spring issuing from the house of Jehovah and watering the dry acacia valley, Ezekiel saw in a visionary embodiment as water, which sprang from under the threshold of the temple into which the glory of the Lord entered, and had swollen at a short distance off into so mighty a river that it was no longer possible to wade through. In this way the thought is symbolized, that the salvation which the Lord causes to flow down to His people from His throne will pour down from small beginnings in marvellously increasing fulness. The river flows on into the barren, desolate waste of the Ghor, and finally into the Dead Sea, and makes the waters thereof sound, so that it swarms with fishes. The waste is a figure denoting the spiritual drought and desolation, and the Dead Sea a symbol of the death caused by sin. The healing and quickening of the salt waters of that sea, so fatal to all life, set forth the power of that divine salvation which conquers death, and the calling to life of the world sunk in spiritual death. From this comes life in its creative fulness and manifold variety, as shown both by the figure of the fishermen who spread their nets along the shore, and by the reference to the kinds of fish, which are as manifold in their variety as those in the great sea. But life extends no further than the water of salvation flows. Wherever it cannot reach, the world continues to life in death. The pools and swamps of the Dead Sea are still given up to salt. And lastly, the water of salvation also possesses the power to produce trees with leaves and fruits, by which the life called forth from death can be sustained and cured of all diseases. This is the meaning, according to the express statement of the text, of the trees with their never withering leaves, upon the banks of the river, and their fruits ripening every month.

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