The River of Life (Living Water #6)

The River of Life (Living Water #6)

The final instalment in this series takes us to the prophecy of Ezekiel. This prophetic book, written during the exile in Babylon, contains a classic chiastic structure, which contrasts the defiled temple (chapters 1-11) with the vision of a new temple and city (chapter 40-48). The in-between chapters include oracles of judgement against Israel (chapters 12-24, 33) and the surrounding nations (chapter 25-32). Then, chapters 33-39, carry a message of comfort, hope and promise of restoration for God’s people. Our focus today, however, is on chapter 47, which talks about the river of life. This chapter falls within the context of Ezekiel’s vision of the restored temple and city. Back in chapter 40:1-4 we learn that God had taken Ezekiel to a high mountain in the land of Israel. There he saw buildings which looked like a city, and a man whose appearance was like bronze. The man told him:

…’Son of man, look carefully and listen closely and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the people of Israel everything you see.’

Ezekiel 40:4

1. The River’s Source (v1-2):

In the course of the vision Ezekiel is later led to the entrance of the temple where he sees water coming out from under the temple threshold, and flowing towards the east. Never before had there been a river flowing from the temple, and any river in this climate was both a blessing, and a miracle. It is therefore hugely symbolic of how this temple would be a blessing to God’s people.

The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me round the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.

The water here is described as a trickle (v2). It began by oozing out, but as we will soon see it soon grew deeper and stronger. This river was the fulfilment of prophecies such as Joel 3:18 which says A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house and Zechariah 14:8a which says On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem… Given that Ezekiel’s temple has never been physically built and there is to be no temple in the New Creation, it seems safe to conclude that what we are talking about here is fulfilled through the life and ministry of Jesus. This river of life is metaphorical and refers to the Living Water Jesus offered in John 4 & 7.

Interestingly, John’s vision in Revelation 21-22 also includes what is called the river of the water of life. God is the source of both rivers, but they originate from different places. The river in Ezekiel’s vision flows from the temple, but in Revelation there is no temple because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (21:22). Instead, the river flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb (22:1). We will come back to that passage later!

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

2. The River’s Depth (v3-6):

The man follows the course of the river eastward, measuring out 1,000 cubits, which is about a third of a mile. The man led Ezekiel into the water and now it was ankle-deep (v3). After another 1,000 cubits it was knee-deep (v4) and then after another 1,000 cubits it was up to the waist. For the river to be this deep in such a short distance is quite frankly incredible and speaks of God’s incredible provision. Note that there is no mention of any other streams feeding into this river! Finally, after another 1,000 cubits the river was deep enough to swim in and too deep to cross. The depth of the river was now literally over his head.

As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in – a river that no one could cross. He asked me, ‘Son of man, do you see this?’ Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 

God seems to want Ezekiel to experience the size and depth of the river. God wanted him to experience first-hand how the trickle had been transformed into a mighty river. Notice the question at the end of these verses in which the man asks Ezekiel do you see this? The expectation here is that Ezekiel might see and consider all that God was allowing him to see and experience. Then at this stage the man leads Ezekiel back to the bank of the river.

We must not be content to stick with the river at our ankles but go further until it reaches to our knees, our waist, and deeper still, until we are swimming.

Photo by Tim Peterson on Unsplash

3. The River’s Power (v7-12):

At the river bank Ezekiel notices several things. Firstly, he sees a great number of trees on each side of the river all thriving under the influence of this incredible river. The man explained that the water flows east into the Arabah where it enters the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has no outlet and is so salty that life cannot exist within its waters. The water in the Dead Sea contains 30-35% of salt, as well as mud and minerals, which have been found to have healing properties.

In these verses, the second shock is that as the water from the river enters the Dead Sea the salty water becomes fresh. Moreover, we are told that swarms of living creatures live wherever the river flows. This water brings life to a place that is naturally dead. To illustrate this we are told that large numbers of fish will live there and fishermen will line the shore. There will, however, still be places, specifically the swamps ad marches, which would be left for salt. Thirdly, there will also be all kinds of fruit trees growing on both sides of the river. They will bear fruit every month, and would not wither or fail. The water from the temple would flow to them, and their fruit would serve for food, and their leaves for healing.

When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds – like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. 11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’

In summary of this section, we see how this water is going to impact life in the desert where nothing grows and then how it will transform the Dead Sea. Wherever the river goes there is restoration and new life. This river surely lives up to the title of the river of life. Because of all that Jesus achieved at the Cross we are living in a time when Living Water is being poured out. The Spirit of God is being poured out in our times. If we are in Christ, then we are a new Creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

4. Come and drink from the Water (Revelation 22:1-3, 17)

John also speaks about his vision of the river of the water of life in the New Eden in Revelation 22. The river is crystal clear and flows from the throne of God down the middle of the great street of the city. The tree of life stands on both sides of the river, and once again it bears crops and yields its fruit every month. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations.

1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

17 The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Revelation 22:1-5, 17

Jumping down to verse 17 we hear Jesus’ words as He says: “Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev 22:17). Whichever way we look at it, the water that Jesus offers really is living water – water that brings life and vitality wherever it goes. The invitation to come and drink remains.

To finish this post I want to jump forward to the New Testament and what Jesus said about Living Water

13 Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

John 4:13-14, 7:37-38

The River of life has been an encouraging thought for us to think about all that God has for us both now and in the time to come. He wants us to come and drink deeply of Him. He wants us to not to be content with just getting out feet wet, but to go deeper and deeper with Him. Truly only He can quench our thirst. After all in Isaiah 12:3 God says that we will draw water with joy from wells of salvation and the Psalmist writes about a river whose streams make glad the city of God (45:4-5).

Concluding thoughts:

As we have worked through this series, we have explored a variety of situations in which water take centre stage to some of the great encounters with God in the Bible. We have also seen how water is used in a whole assortment of metaphorical ways. This culminated in the Living Water theme which spoke much to us about Salvation and Eternal Life. To finish I would like to leave you with the following questions to consider:

  • How have these posts helped you to appreciate the ways that we seek to quench our thirst in wrong ways (broken wells)?
  • In what ways has this picture of sustenance brought you encouragement and a desire to drink deeply of God?
  • Does water speak more to you about trouble/difficulty or about faith/stepping out?
  • To what extent do you long for this living water that Jesus offers? Are you thirsty?

See other posts in this series: 

  1. Invitation to the thirsty
  2. Idolatry: Broken Wells
  3. Sustenance: Drinking Deeply
  4. Suffering: Through the Waters
  5. Faith: Getting your Feet Wet
  6. River of Life

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