The Temple River - Chapter 47
F. Cundick, Luton
There is some diffidence among expositors with regard to the literal character of the details of this vision. One thing is evident - there will be a literal city, temple, land and nation of Israel with ceremonial procedures, see Jer. 33. 15, 18, 21, 22; Isa. 66. 20, 21, 23. A purely figurative spiritualizing of these final details is wholly impossible. E. Sauer excellently remarked, "We stand here really before an inescapable alternative: Either the prophet himself was mistaken in his expectation of a coming temple service, and his prophecy in the sense in which he himself meant it will never be fulfilled; or God, in the time of the Messiah, will fulfil literally these prophecies of the temple according to their intended literal meaning", From Eternity to Eternity, p. 181. Is it not true that, in the tabernacle of the wilderness, symbolism and typology had chief places?, see Heb. 3. 5; nevertheless, it was a literal dwelling place of God, consisting of visible materials with literal measurements. Likewise with the subject before us. Let us aim to grasp the eternal spiritual truth set forth in the material forms.
The significance of the whole vision is Messianic and millennial. It presents in the earth at large the fruitful results of God's dwelling in the midst of Israel in holy fellowship. Blessings flow to the restored nation* and extend to all the peoples of the earth. Barrenness and desolation of both material and spiritual kinds will be removed by the copious effusions of the blessings of the Spirit. "The river of life is the most striking presentation of the general conception of Messianic felicity"., (Skinner).
Its Origin. "Behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward"., 47. 1. This means that the water issues from the sanctuary on its right shoulder which faces the south point of the compass. The threshold is that of the door leading to the holy place wherein the glory of the Lord now rests. From its own deep fountains the river draws its increase. This symbolizes that all blessings whether personal, communal, national or spiritual, has its source in God. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning", James 1. 17. The ministrations of the Holy Spirit of God alone bring blessing. We do well to focus attention upon this truth in these days of jaded restlessness. One wrote recently, "Many advices are being given to the church at present by a multitude of counsellors. They investigate her case, they indicate the point of weakness or pain, they cry, 'Thou ailest here, and here'. The diagnosis may be accurate enough; but there has been provided, thank God, a remedy sufficient to meet all the ills to which the church is liable, one that is adequate to every emergency - the reception, the indwelling, the infilling of the Holy Spirit".
Its Outflow. "The waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar", v. 1. Ezekiel watched the water flow past the altar of sacrifice, then afterwards he is taken out through the north gate (the east gate being shut for the reason given in 44. 2), to watch the waters flow in an eastward direction through the city, and then plunge into the Jordan Valley to reach the Dead Sea. All four points of the compass have their symbolic import. The south indicates prosperity and blessing. Thus the waters flowing southward past the altar, the blood of sacrifice mingling with it, symbolize that all God's blessings for man are based upon the sacrificial work of Christ. Through His death life flows to us; His crucifixion through weakness brings the water of strength.
Its Operations. The river deepens and broadens in its outward flow as revealed by the successive measurements made by the guide of the prophet. After the first measurement, the waters are found to be ankle-deep; after the second, knee-deep; after the third, loin-deep; and the fourth, "waters to swim in". In about a mile and a third from the temple, the stream is a river too deep for wading. In the question of the guide, "Son of man, hast thou seen this?", v. 6, a note of triumph can be detected. The seemingly impossible is done, and blessing is carried everywhere. What a transformation there is in store for the land of Canaan in order to fit it for the habitation of Jehovah's people. In their past history, fertile seasons and luxurious harvests were a sign of God's favour; drought and famine were proof of His discipline because of their sin and disobedience. When all cause of offence is removed from Israel, God will again smile upon His people, and the land will burst into abundant fertility. The whole scene described here strongly infers that a complete remodelling of the land will take place. One thing is obvious according to the ministry of other Old Testament prophets; geographical changes will take place in the land when the Lord returns. This fact alone, incidentally, serves to dispel difficulties that some find in the way of their acceptance of a literal interpretation.
i. Fertility. "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... fail", v. 12 A.v., R.v. The banks of the river are covered with luxurious vegetation providing abundance. There will be no want in that age. Symbolically, we learn again that life given by God results in growth and beauty. The redeemed of the Lord are oft-times likened to trees, Psa. 1. 3; Col. 2. 6-7. What great transformations has grace wrought in. the lives of men! Instead of moral barrenness there has come beauty of character; instead of desolation and spiritual uselessness, there come usefulness and fruitful service for God and men.
2. Healing. "And the leaf thereof for medicine", v. 12, Ezekiel learns of the outward flow of the river into the eastern circle, which is identical with the circle of the Jordan region above the Dead Sea. The sea into which the river now flows is dead because there is no outlet. The natural salts of central Palestine are carried to the sea by the Jordan and a few other tributaries. The water evaporates and the salt remains at a concentration in which no life can survive. This barren land toward the east and the bitter waters of the sea would be, in the words of another, "A contradiction to the ideal of an external nature subservient in all her parts to man in the fellowship of God". Today we would say that only a miracle could sweeten the waters of the Dead Sea. Ezekiel wrote of such a miracle. The symbolism develops, teaching us that our faith is not lived out in the temple alone, but also in the redeemed land. The blessing of life that we have received is expansive and healing in character. An example of this principle we find in the ministry of the Lord who manifested His power in the synagogue, and immediately afterward did a gracious work of healing in the house (see Mark 1. 23-31).
3. Life and Prosperity. "And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live . . . and every thing shall live whither the river cometh", v. 9. The inflow of these waters changes all, so that life and fruitfulness fill the place of curse and death. How God delights in life! In this detail again, the import is clear. Only the stream flowing out from the glory of God, by way of the altar of sacrifice, can transform the wilderness into a garden, and dead waters into a veritable fishpond. The Dead Sea is not first drained to rid it of impure conditions. The stream of life does the good work. We do not preach a social gospel or endorse religious reformation. The new life from God supercedes these ideas, and produces spiritual results which are impossible by human means.