The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Ezekiel 47

Eze 47:1

Vv 1-12: The temple river: This healing river of God is plainly symbolic: (a) it arises at peak of mountain -- which is (practically) an impossibility; (b) its volume increases dramatically, even though it has no tributaries feeding into it; and (c) cp with Rev 22:2. (Cp also the sym nature of Joe 3:18.)

HAW comments: "Because 'waters come down from under the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar' (Eze 47:1), it is inferred [by HSul] 'that the altar must be considerably elevated.' But is one at liberty to deduce from the verb 'come down' that the waters descend from the top of a mountain? The seven steps and eight steps (Eze 40:22,31) by which the house was higher than its surroundings would be adequate to explain why the waters 'come down' " (FLET).

"Springs do not emerge from the summit of 'a very high mountain' [as HSul suggests]. Occasionally they spring from fairly near the highest point of a mountain, but never from the top-most peak. Nor does a normal stream deepen at such a fantastically rapid rate as to be crossed only by swimming when a mere one and a half miles from its source. Nor does any river grow in volume except through the contributions made by tributaries, and this river has no tributaries. It may, of course, be urged in reply that these living waters are to be altogether miraculous. And to such an 'argument' there can be no answer. Nevertheless it is surely significant that this river, if real and not symbolic, is the only miraculous element connected with Ezekiel's temple" (FLET).

V 1: Ezekiel's guide, who appears to have been his original guide in this vision (v 3), brought him back to the main entrance to the temple proper. Ezekiel saw water flowing to the east from under the temple threshold. It apparently flowed to the south of the stairs on the right side of the temple as one faces east.

Eze 47:2

The man then brought Ezekiel through the north gate to the outside of the outer wall of the temple enclosure. Just south of the east gate he saw water trickling to the east, a continuation of the stream that he had observed inside the temple enclosure.

Eze 47:3

Vv 3-5: The "man" took his measuring line (Eze 40:3) and measured 1,000 cubits (about one-third of a mile) east from the wall along the watercourse. He led Ezekiel across the river (Heb "nachal") and it was ankle deep. Another 1,000 cubits farther east they crossed again, and this time the water was knee-deep. Another 1,000 cubits and it was up to his waist. Another 1,000 cubits and it was so deep that they could not cross it standing up; it was so deep they would have had to swim across.

This description suggests that some major topographical changes will occur east of present-day Jerusalem by this time. Other prophecies support this conclusion (Eze 34:26-30; 36:8-12,30-36; 37:25-28; 45:1-8; 48:8-14; Joel 3:18; Zec 13:1; 14:4-8). The water will follow the contours of the altered terrain. Zechariah recorded that the water flowing from Jerusalem will divide with half of it going west to the Mediterranean Sea and half east to the Dead Sea (Zec 14:9). Ezekiel described only the branch that flowed east.

Eze 47:6

DO YOU SEE THIS?: In other words, 'Have you considered the spiritual import of this vision?'

Eze 47:7

A GREAT NUMBER OF TREES ON EACH SIDE OF THE RIVER: Rivers, by their very nature, give and nurture life.

Eze 47:8

AND GOES DOWN INTO THE ARABAH: Presently this involves a drop in elevation of over 3,700 feet (from the temple mount at 2,430 feet above sea level to the Dead Sea at 1,290 feet below sea level).

WHEN IT EMPTIES INTO THE SEA, THE WATER THERE BECOMES FRESH: Or, more expressively, as the KJV: "The waters shall be HEALED!". Think of those waters of the Dead Sea, dreary and dreadful! This was the "Chamber of Horrors" in the land of Israel. Travelers describe it as a place of utter desolation. Lying in a deep hollow, some thirteen hundred feet below any other sea, the Dead Sea was sunk deep into the earth, like the mouth of the abyss. Masses of tar float upon its surface, and line its shores. Poisonous gases abound, and on its banks are hot sulfur springs. Swimming, or rather floating, in its thick brine is unpleasant; the skin tingles with its acid salts long afterwards. It is not desirable to linger upon the brink of it, neither is there anything to tempt one to do so. Very scanty is the vegetation, few are the birds, and rare the living things. It is the place of destruction. Nothing may live there, at least for long.

The doomed lake has dark mysteries buried in its heart -- down deep in its depths lie the destroyed cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah, whose sins provoked the wrath of God. In this respect the Dead Sea is a fit picture of our fallen humanity, a truthful symbol of the whole world, which lies in wickedness. It may be said that the world is a vast "Dead Sea", and its cities modern "Sodoms".

God is at work creating new heavens and a new earth, and in the process forms of beauty are developed -- little "outposts" of the Kingdom of God which is coming -- but to this day the old decadent cities of our world remain easily-recognizable matches for the depraved and debauched cities of the plain, where Lot first pitched his tent, and then finally took up residence.

And the heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked. Can it ever be purified? Can its "waters" be healed? Yes, God says, they WILL be healed! Let us believe His promise, and take courage. Let us believe that, one day, the worst hell-holes of sin will yet be made holy. Even when it seems to be the least likely expectation, even when we are shocked at the sin which surrounds us, we are still to believe that Yahweh shall reign for ever and ever, and the serpent and sin shall be crushed under our Redeemer's heel. "The waters SHALL be healed": all the brine and tar of the Dead Sea will not be enough to forestall the hand of the Almighty. The worst that Calcutta, or London, or New York can offer will yet be made sweet as the pure water of Siloam. The atrocities of war and oppression will cease, and the reign of evil will end; for the Lord has promised it, and it will be done. The kingdoms of this world must become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and every heart and every mind will be truly and wholly his. "The waters shall be healed." Thank God.

The river of "life" represents the spiritual life and healing that flows to humanity from the throne of God (John 4:14; 7:37,38). "The river is like the blood of the Messiah from the cross of Calvary that began as a trickle (John 19:34). Finally, the blood, like the river, became a flood of redemption for all people (Rev 1:5). So the flow from Calvary became a fountain of redemption for all people including Israel (see Zech 13:1-6; Rev 1:5-6). Just so, the water of life that the prophet saw coming from the threshold came forth gently, then began to flow, and finally became a mighty river of life healing all in its wake" (Cooper, cited in Const).

Eze 47:9

THERE WILL BE LARGE NUMBERS OF FISH: "The special mention of abundant fish and a thriving fishing industry is difficult to understand, if intended literally. But the spiritual meaning of these words is too obvious to require elucidation. 'As the fish of the Great Sea' certainly suggests the blessing of the Gentile nations through the godly influence of this new House of God" (FLET).

Eze 47:10

The Dead Sea would become so full of many varieties of fish that fishermen would fish for them from Engedi, on the west side of the sea about midway north to south, to En Eglaim, possibly on the northwest shore near Qumran or on the eastern side. The entire Dead Sea region would not become fresh, except as described in v 11.

EN GEDI: Sig "the fountain of a kid". The fountain is for cleansing (Zech 13:1). The kid, a sin-offering, points to the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:5). Cp Song 1:14.

EN EGLAIM: Sig "the fountain of the young calves": young bullocks of burnt-offering.

Eze 47:11

BUT THE SWAMPS AND MARSHES WILL NOT BECOME FRESH; THEY WILL BE LEFT FOR SALT: "This river of life goes to the Dead Sea and its waters are healed, so that they swarm with fish. Nevertheless 'the miry places thereof and the marshes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt.' Literally the words are really difficult. Symbolically they suggest easily enough that whilst this rebuilt temple of an Israel returned from captivity will have wondrous possibilities of carrying divine influence and blessing to the most unlikely quarters, it was not to be expected that in that age a perfect and complete reformation would be accomplished" (FLET).

Eze 47:12

Fruit trees would grow all around the Dead Sea. They would remain continually healthy and productive. These trees would be so fruitful that they would bear fruit every month of the year. People would eat their fruit and use their leaves for medicinal purposes. This formerly desert region would blossom like a rose (cp Eze 36:35; Isa 35:1,2,6,7; Joel 3:18).

THEIR LEAVES FOR HEALING: "Here, surely, is a detail which shouts for symbolic interpretation... The symbolic use of this very passage in Rev 22:2 indicates expressly what is being argued for here as almost self-evident: 'On either side of the river was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.' He would be a bold man who would maintain the literal intention of these words in this context!" (FLET).

Eze 47:13

Eze 47:13--48:35: The boundaries and principles of allotment of the land. See Lesson, Ezekiel's temple: 12 tribes.

Vv 13-21: This describes a land whose territory is considerably less than that promised to Abraham (Gen 15:18): this cannot be the future Kingdom of God.

Vv 13,14: The Lord instructed the future Israelites (cf v 21) to divide the Promised Land for their inheritance. He first described the boundary around the entire land. The tribes of Joseph, namely Ephraim and Manasseh, were to have two portions (cf Gen 48:5,6,22). This was important to clarify at the outset because the tribe of Levi would receive another portion of the land (Eze 45:1-8; 48:8-14). Thus the number of tribal allotments would be 12 plus the Levitical portions. Each tribe was to have as much land as all the others; the portions were to be equal in size. This was not the case when Joshua divided the land among the tribes; some tribes received more land than others. Thus the Lord would fulfill His promise to give the Israelites the land as an inheritance. The boundaries described here are almost identical to the ones in Num 34:3-12 (cf 1Ki 8:65).

Eze 47:15

Vv 15-17: The LORD specified the boundaries by listing place names that the Israelites of Ezekiel's day would have known. Not all of them are identifiable today. The northern boundary would run from the Great (Mediterranean) Sea east, following the road to Hethlon, to the entrance of the town of Zedad, and through the region of Hamath (cp 1Ki 8:65) near Berothah to Sibraim. It then ran through Hazar-hatticon (lit, "the middle Hazar") on the border of the territory of Hauran. Hazar-enan (perhaps the same as Hazar-hatticon) seems to have been the easternmost town in this string. It apparently stood between the borders of the territories controlled by Damascus and Hamath. Some of these sites apparently stood within or adjacent to the region described, not just along its border.

Eze 47:17

THE NORTHERN BORDER OF DAMASCUS... HAMATH: In other words, the NORTHERN border of the land will be the SOUTHERN border of Damascus and Hamath.

Eze 47:18

The eastern border would run between the territories of Hauran and Damascus and then along the Jordan River between the land of Israel on the west and Gilead to the east. This boundary would continue south through the eastern (Dead) sea to the town of Tamar.

HSul takes the "east sea" to be the Persian Gulf, and draws maps showing strips of Israel's territory stretching across Arabia to the Euphrates. But, plainly, the eastern border of the Land will be the Jordan River, And the "eastern sea" = the Dead Sea (Num 34:3; Josh 12:3; Joel 2:20). No other conclusion is possible.

Eze 47:19

The south border would run west from Tamar to the waters of Meribath-kadesh (Kadesh-barnea), to the Brook of Egypt (Wadi el-Arish), and along this stream to the Mediterranean Sea.

The southern border: "Kadesh in the Negeb is unmistakable. The great sea is certainly the Mediterranean. But many identify 'the river' as being the Nile, and thus proceed to appropriate a big piece of the land of Egypt as part of Israel's future inheritance. But this is certainly not the true interpretation, as is proved by the mention of Kadesh. Also, the southern limit of the Land promised to the Fathers is 'the river of Egypt', which is undeniably the wadi El Arish which enters the sea just south of Gaza. Also, the Hebrew word for 'river' here is that which describes a torrent and is certainly not the correct word for a mighty flood of waters like the Nile" (FLET).

Eze 47:20

The west border would be the Mediterranean Sea from the south border, the Brook of Egypt, to a point west of Lebo-hamath in the north.

Eze 47:21

The Israelites were to divide the land in this way for the tribes of Israel by lot (cf Eze 45:1).

Eze 47:22

Vv 22,23: The land was not to be for Israelites alone, however. Aliens who permanently lived among them could dwell in this region too. Under the Mosaic economy, resident aliens were non-Israelites who had adopted the religion and laws of the Hebrews; they had become converts to the worship of Yahweh. The Israelites were to regard these alien peoples as equals with themselves concerning their rights within the land. These aliens were to inherit portions of land in the tribal allotments just like the Israelites who lived there (Eze 14:7; 22:7; Lev 19:34; 24:22; Num 15:29; Isa 56:3-8).

THE ALIENS WHO HAVE SETTLED AMONG YOU: The Gentiles who have accompanied the Jews in their return from exile: the "mixed multitude". Or, possibly, those Gentiles already in the Land when the captives return.

In vv 22,23 there is "explicit legislation to ensure that strangers in the Land shall not be disinherited but shall have their own portion alongside the children of Israel. This is difficult to reconcile with the many promises that, in the Kingdom Age, the Land is to be for Israel, ruled over by the twelve apostles. But as a solution of the inevitable difficulty that the Jews returning from Babylon would find people of other races already settled in their territory, it is eminently sensible and just" (FLET).

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