Then the man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar.
The beauty and even sublimity of this portion of Ezekiel's prophecies must impress every reader of imagination and taste. Upon the suggestion of the waters of Siloam taking their rise from the temple rock, and the watercourse of the Kedron threading its way among the rocky deserts until it reaches the expanse of the Dead Sea, the poet-prophet describes a river which has its source in the sanctuary of Jehovah, and which broadens and deepens as it flows, until it becomes a stream of vastest blessing, diffusing health and life for the benefit of multitudes of men. Under this similitude Ezekiel pictures the spiritual blessings brought by God, through the channels of his grace and faithfulness, not to Israel alone, but to all mankind.
I. THE SOURCE OF THE HOLY WATERS. AS the rain comes down from heaven, filters in the soil, and wells up a living spring, so the blessings of the gospel have their fountain in the very mind and heart of God himself. But, as conveyed to men, they have a well-spring human and earthly. The student of human history, who looks beneath the surface of things, and seeks to understand the growth of thought and of morals, turns his attention to the Hebrew people, wondering that from them, as from a well-head of ethical and religious life, should flow blessings so priceless for the enrichment of humanity. Yet so it is; the temple at Jerusalem is the symbol of a Divine revelation. The justest and noblest ideas which have entered into the intellectual and spiritual life of man have very largely issued from Moses and the Hebrew prophets. How far Ezekiel entered into this truth may not be certain; yet since he was a cosmopolite, in relation with Babylon, Egypt, and Tyre, and knew well the mental and moral state of the nations of antiquity, it seems reasonable to believe that he had enough of the critical spirit to compare the debt of the world to the Hebrews as compared with the people that figure so vastly in secular history. He was certainly right in tracing to Israelitish sources the waters of life, fruitfulness, and healing which were to bring blessing to mankind.
II. THE WIDENING AND DEEPENING OF THE HOLY WATERS. It is here that Ezekiel passes from history to prophecy. Possessed by the Spirit of God, he was able to look into the future and behold the wonder yet to be. It is, indeed, marvelous that, in a period of national depression, when national extinction seemed to human foresight to be imminent, the prophet of the exile should have had so clear a perception of the reality of things, and so clear a foresight of the spiritual future of the world, which must in his apprehension have appeared bound up with the continuity of the history and religious life of Israel. The river, like the temple from which it proceeded, was the emblem of what was greater than itself. Christian commentators have taken pleasure in tracing Correspondences between the gradual increase of the stream and the growth of true and spiritual religion. Beginning with Judaism, the stream of truth and blessing widened and deepened into Christianity; and Christianity itself, commencing its course in the besom of Israel, soon came to include in its ever-widening flood, its ever-deepening volume of blessing, all the nations comprehended in the dominion of Rome. And following centuries have witnessed the constant broadening of the life-giving and beneficent stream, so that none can place a limit to the area which shall be fertilized and refreshed by the waters that first flowed from the courts of the temple at Jerusalem.
III. THE BENEFICENCE OF THE HOLY WATERS. Among the results of the presence of the waters of life may be observed the following.
1. Healing. The salt and bituminous waters of the Dead Sea are represented as being healed and restored to sweetness by this inflow of the sweet and wholesome waters issuing from the sanctuary. By this may be understood the power of pure and supernatural religion to heal the corruptions of sinful society. Certainly, as a matter of fact, not a little has been done in this direction in the course of the centuries, as the Church has taken possession, first of the Roman empire, and then of the nations of the North, and as, in these latter days, it has, with missionary zeal, penetrated the foulness of the remotest heathenism.
2. Life. And this in two several directions. The prophet saw very many trees on the banks of the river, and a very great multitude of fish in its translucent waters. Life, both vegetable and animal, life of every kind and order, is the result of the stream's full and beneficent flow. Corresponding with this is the spiritual life which results from the benign and wholesome influence of true Christianity. The Lord Jesus came that men might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. Life of the spirit, the very life of God himself - such is the issue of the Divine interposition and provision.
3. Fruitfulness and abundance. The fishers spread their nets and draw up from the waters a great supply of fish; the husbandmen go forth into the gardens and vineyards by the river-side and gather great crops of fruit. The river of the water of life, like the streams of Damascus creating a green oasis in the Syrian desert, brings fertility, a wealth of blossom and of fruit, wherever it flows. Righteousness and holiness, patience and peace, devotion and hope, - such are the harvest for which the world is indebted to the sweet waters of the Divine sanctuary. - T.
He measured a thousand cubits.
This chapter is a chapter of measurement. Everything is meted out, as it were, by so many cubits and inches. The voice is very dogmatic: — "This is the north side" (ver. 17); "This is the east side" (ver. 18); "This is the south side" (ver. 19); "This is the west side" (ver. 20). "So shall ye divide." Everything is done for us in grand totals. What, then, is the suggestion of wisdom? Surely it is, Lord, teach me where I am bounded, and how I am limited, and help me with patience and eager expectancy to do my little day's work with all industriousness and heart-loyalty, knowing that that servant shall be blessed who shall be found working steadily at his humble lot whenever his Lord cometh. By following out this doctrine of measurement, we shall get rid of a great deal of fret and worry and excitement, and we shall be able to welcome weird-looking guests into the house, and say, For God's sake you are welcome, though we do not know you, and we do not like you at first; the Lord sent you this way; and presently, that weird face will become beauteous as the face of a child angel. How curious is life, and from certain points how utterly unmanageable! From other points of view, how beauteous is life, how well-proportioned, and how easily handled if we would only keep our own hands off it, and let God do what He will! Look at your own industry and endeavour in the market place, and in all the pursuits of business. What a curious law it is that in order to do a few things we must do many. The things you do without any positive or profitable result are really profitable to you in another way. Your disappointments are your educators, as well as your satisfactions. You are taught patience, your ambition is limited if not rebuked; you say again and again, We must do a thousand things by way of endeavour in order to accomplish half a dozen things by way of positive and literal success. What a curious thing it is that though we know that only one can find the prize, yet we all go out to seek for it! We are accustomed to the illustration of a treasure being lost in the darkness, and on the broad thoroughfare. A thousand men get to know that a purse has been lost. It was only a purse, only one individual could find it and take it, and yet all the thousand are looking round and groping about for it. Do you not know that only one person can get that? You know it, but something says to you, Perhaps you are the one person. Could we just have that amount of faith in the Christian Church, we should have a revival of godliness. Here is salvation; let us suppose that only one man can get it: who knows who that one man is? "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." A still more extraordinary thing is this, and curious in its way, that although we know we may at any moment die, our plans are laid as if we were going to live forever. Ask any man how long he will live, and he will tell you he does not know. Ask him if he may this very day die, and he will say, Certainly, this very day I may cease to live upon the earth. Now examine his plans — his plans of business, his plans of home, his plans of education — and you will not find one of them limited to the day. And the most curious part of it is that the man cannot help it. He could not be bound by the sunrising and the sunsetting. He will tell you plaintively that he may never live to see the sunset, yet his whole life is set in plans that shall endure for years and ages. He never says, Tonight at six o'clock, I may be a dead man, therefore I will draw my lines accordingly. He says, Tonight at six o'clock I may be a dead man, but the world will not be dead; the individual may go, but the race will remain; man dies, but humanity abides; and my last act, if it be my last act, upon earth, shall be an act of generous contribution to the progress of the total world. Do not stifle these voices. In all labour there is profit. Even in the things you have done without result you have found some advantage to the soul if you have laboured faithfully. And as for that larger life, we know not what it is, it is enough to know meantime that it is larger. God is always enlarging and ennobling the outlook of man. We might also notice as a curious thing in all this measurement, that when we have done our best there comes a point when we must simply leave results. We cannot follow our own labour beyond a certain point. The agriculturist has done what he can in the field; now, he says, I must wait. I cannot hasten the sun or the processes of nature. So with the training of your children: all you can do is to show them a noble example. You can be chivalrous in the midst of your family, you can give them the best education in your power, you can encourage all that is good and beautiful in their nature, and then you must wait. And so with business. You can apparently be driving your business with tremendous energy which ends in nothing. Really, a quiet industry may often do more than a vehement importance. You can be industrious, faithful, honourable, generous, and having done all you can, not as an atheist, but as a believer in God, you must say, Now, Lord, the harvest is in Thine hands: I have done what I can in my poor little field; Thou knowest that I have spared no energy and no thought: now let the harvest be as Thou wilt; if I come back in the autumn and find this field sterile, the day of harvest a day of sorrow, help me to say, Thy will be done: I will leave it all now; I have tried to be a faithful and honest servant; and then if the harvest be golden, abundant, and far beyond the resources of our accommodation, to God's name be the praise; He always surprises us by the infinity, the boundlessness of His gifts.
It is good to be often searching into the things of God, and trying the depth of them, not only to look on the surface of these waters, but to go to the bottom of them as far as we can, to be often digging, often diving, into the mysteries of the kingdom of God, as those who covet to be intimately acquainted with those things.
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