Ezekiel’s personal tour of the Temple grounds continues, but now with a rather unexpected twist. He’s brought “back to the door of the temple” and seems surprised (“behold”) to see water flowing out from beneath the threshold (1). The water trickles “toward the east” but south of the altar (2) and out of the courtyard on the southern side of the eastern gate (2). Ezekiel and his guide follow the trickle of water eastward, the guide carrying a measuring line in his hand (3). One thousand cubits (500 yards) downstream, Ezekiel and his guide walk through the ankle-deep water. Another 1000 cubits and the river is knee-deep; at the next stopping point (presumably 1000 cubits further downstream), the water has risen to become waist-deep (4). At their next stopping point, they cannot keep walking in the water, which has now become deep enough to require swimming (5).
At this point, Ezekiel’s guide draws his attention to what is lining the banks of the river: “Son of man, have you seen this?” Evidently, Ezekiel’s attention had been on the flowing, rising waters by which (and in which) they are walking. Ezekiel is “led . . . back to the bank of the river” (6) where he sees “very many trees on the one side and on the other” (7).
At this point, the guide explains more about all that Ezekiel is seeing and experiencing (8-12). The waters they’ve been traversing flow eastwards from the threshold of the sanctuary, out of the Temple grounds, and down into the “Arabah”—the valley running from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea (8). Then the waters empty into the Dead Sea, turning much of the salt sea into fresh water. The river brings life to what had been dead: “And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish” (9). Fishermen cast their nets into the waters and haul in abundant catches (10). While most of the formerly “Dead Sea” comes to life, some salty “swamps and marches” will remain “for salt” (11).
Ezekiel’s guide then speaks about the trees that line the river (12). These trees bear fruit continually (“every month”) “because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.” Incredibly, these fruit trees turn out to be a kind of evergreen (“Their leaves will not wither”) with leaves bring “healing”. Truly, “everything will live where the river goes” (9).
Beginning with verse 13, the narrative changes. No longer do we see Ezekiel walking with his guide along the banks of the river and lake. Instead, we hear a pronouncement from the Lord about the dividing up of the land among the twelve tribes of Israel (13-23). The Lord makes it clear that the land is to be divided up “equally” among the tribes, with Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) receiving the double-portion reserved for the firstborn (13-14). From what has already been said earlier (45:5), the Levites are not included in this distribution of the land as they are given a place to live near the Temple.
The Lord details the outer boundaries of the land; the new footprint is enlarged to the north and northeast (encompassing what had been Tyre, Sidon and some of Syria). The eastern edge no longer includes the Transjordan areas formerly possessed by three of the tribes (Manasseh, Gad and Reuben); the Jordan river frames much of the boundary to the east. The land extends south (“along the Brook of Egypt”—19) and then runs along the Mediterranean Sea to the west.
Explicit mention is made of God’s previous promise of this land to the “fathers” (14). The Lord has not forgotten His promise and will fulfill it, showing His faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Verse 22-23 concludes the chapter with mention of “sojourners” who choose to dwell among God’s people. Amazingly, these foreigners are to be given a land inheritance along with the sons of Israel. Their children are to be considered as “native-born children of Israel.” Wherever they decide to settle, they are to be assigned an inheritance along with the Israelites.
Visions of God
Abundant life flows from God. God is the source of every good thing. The river that flows from His presence brings life to what was barren, dry, and dead. Fruit trees grow and produce year-round “because the water for them flows from the sanctuary” (12). All life-giving blessings flow outward from God to sustain and enrich His people. As James reminds us: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Here the good gifts come from God’s presence on earth, flowing from the God of all life!
The Lord’s blessing expands to include Gentiles! Amazingly, the Lord makes ample provision for “sojourners” and their children to be included within the blessings given to His covenant people. They receive an allotment of land and are to be considered part of His people. Israel is still His first-born, but His family includes more than the “native-born” Israelites.
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen get a close-up experience of God’s amazing work. Ezekiel is given a sensory experience of the goodness of God as he walks by and in the waters flowing from the Temple. One of the privileges of God’s watchmen is that they get an up-close view of God’s incredible deeds. They get to see God’s glory in memorable ways.
Watchmen remind God’s people of God’s heart for “sojourners”. Ezekiel carries the news that God plans to give “sojourners” and their children an inheritance among His people. This would have been startling to some of the Jews. Ezekiel gets to enlarge their understanding of God’s love that welcomes the strangers who choose to live by His ways and among His people. Our God is life-giving (9), promise-keeping (14), and sojourner-welcoming (22-23)! Worship Him!