Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
The ultimate goal of our salvation is not merely our deliverance from God’s judgment, it is the gift of eternal life with God. Ezekiel’s fourth vision climaxes with a glorious vista of the restoration of the promised land healed from the disease of sin—the place where God’s people will dwell with him forever. This part of the vision is especially helpful to us when sin’s effects do us harm, physically and spiritually.
To feel the full impact of this vision, we have to remember why Israel’s time in exile was so traumatic. They had been taken into exile—first the northern kingdom by Assyria in 722 BC and later the southern kingdom by Babylon culminating in 586 BC. This meant that God’s people were not dwelling in the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God’s faithfulness was on the line.
Up to this point in the vision God has shown Ezekiel the ideal Israelite community complete with a new temple and functioning priesthood. But now he focuses on the land itself. He highlights the renewal of the land physically, a dramatic picture of the lush provision of the new earth where we will dwell with God forever.
Ezek. 47:1Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple and there was 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 threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Next he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate that faced east; there the water was trickling from the south side. 3 As the man went out east with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a third of a mile and led me through the water. It came up to my ankles. 4 Then he measured off a third of a mile and led me through the water. It came up to my knees. He measured off another third of a mile and led me through the water. It came up to my waist. 5 Again he measured off a third of a mile, and it was a river that I could not cross on foot. For the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed on foot.
This river flowing from the temple will bring life to the land. The vision pictures God himself as the source of this river of life. All life is dependent on God, including spiritual life and the eternal restoration of creation. In the eternal state on the new earth, our spiritual life will be a physical existence. In this vision, the point is clear: God will renew creation, providing life where there was none.
Ezek. 47:6 He asked me, “Do you see this, son of man?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I had returned, I saw a very large number of trees along both sides of the riverbank. 8 He said to me, “This water flows out to the eastern region and goes down to the Arabah. When it enters the sea, the sea of foul water, the water of the sea becomes fresh. 9 Every kind of living creature that swarms will live wherever the river flows, and there will be a huge number of fish because this water goes there. Since the water will become fresh, there will be life everywhere the river goes. 10 Fishermen will stand beside it from En-gedi to En-eglaim. These will become places where nets are spread out to dry. Their fish will consist of many different kinds, like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. 11 Yet its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be left for salt. 12 All kinds of trees providing food will grow along both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. Each month they will bear fresh fruit because the water comes from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be used for food and their leaves for medicine.”
This river will renew the land by irrigated trees, and it will renew the Dead Sea. Today the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. Because it has no outlet, everything that flows into it stays put. Due to the rate of condensation, many natural chemicals are left in the water resulting in a lifeless sea. In the vision, this river from the temple will bring life to the Dead Sea. Furthermore, the trees that grow on the banks of the river will bear fruit every month rather than every year, fruit for food and healing.
This life-giving river pictures God’s provision for us. What we want most, fulfillment and satisfaction, can only be found in God’s provision. God reveals this to Ezekiel by showing him a grand view of the land restored. This message would have encouraging Israel in exile, sitting in Babylon, having left a broken land behind.
The Big Picture
Not only will God be faithful to return Abraham’s descendants to the promised land, he will also renew the land itself. The New Testament clarifies that this promise is not only for believing Jews, but for believing Gentiles as well. Furthermore, it is the Messiah, the descendant from Abraham promised in Genesis, who will accomplish this restoration. He is the source of life.
At one key moment in Jesus’ ministry he attend the feast of Tabernacles at the temple in Jerusalem. At the climactic moment on the last day of the feast the priests would pour out water at the temple, reminding the people of God’s provision of water for his people in the wilderness. Just as this was happening, the apostle John tells us, “On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.’”
Jesus consciously identified himself as the source of spiritual life. He links his work with the provision of water in the wilderness, and he offers to anyone who will come to him the blessing of eternal satisfaction. This river of life in Ezekiel’s fourth vision is Jesus’ river.
At the end of the New Testament the apostle John himself is given a vision of the new earth and the new Jerusalem. Not surprisingly he sees a river running from the throne of God and the Lamb right through the city. Note the similar (sometimes identical phrasing) to Ezekiel,
“Then he showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the city’s main street. The tree of life was on each side of the river, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will worship him.”
Jesus’ provision heals the conflict between nations due to sin. Jesus’ provision eliminates the curse of sin on the earth and undoes the damage of Eden. Jesus’ provision enables the tree of life to provide eternal sustenance. In short, without Jesus, there is no life.
Taking It Home
What Ezekiel sees in this fourth vision is where all believers are headed: a renewed earth, free of the curse of sin. In this perfect environment we will live with every craving satisfied by Jesus’ provision. This vision is not merely meant to give us a nice image, it is meant to sustain our faith when we most definitely are feeling the curse of sin.
Don’t forget that the Israelites who first received this vision were in exile, living in a broken land. When we feel the impact of sin in our world—sickness, disease, suffering, natural disasters, death—we need a reminder of what God will do to this earth. Yes, for the moment, the suffering still stings. But Jesus’ provision for us cannot be stopped.
This vision may be the best antidote for depression or frustration with our circumstances. The image of fresh, life-giving water healing the land is meant to nourish our souls. Jesus is not only the source of life, he is life. Given this reality, we can be content to trust God in the desert for a while. Yes, we may be thirsty, but because of Jesus’ work, we know our future will be in the lush promised land. In the meantime, our best course is to cling to him and to his promise.
- Confess any anxiety, frustration, or bitterness regarding your current circumstances to the Lord. Identify the ways that sin’s effects are impacting you, perhaps even causing you to suffer.
- Praise God for the promise that he will restore creation, removing the curse of sin. Praise Jesus for dying to redeem us and creation.
- Ask God to increase your faith in him and his promises. Praise him that we have hope even in the midst of suffering because he is faithful.