Ezekiel’s vision of the river is a harder passage of Scripture to study but I needed to examine it in light of Scripture interpreting Scripture as I had erroneously believed the river (chapter 47) had symbolic impact for believers. However, upon closer examination of this whole passage, and applying interpretation of Scripture to Scripture, I now see that this is a literal vision and not a symbolic vision.
The last eight chapters of the prophetic book of Ezekiel contains visions pertaining to the temple, the land, the priests, the prince and the holy waters. There have been different thoughts from commentators of the timing of this vision (ch 40-48) and especially this river.
Oftentimes we focus on chapter 47:1-12 which is the vision of the river and we approach it in a symbolic manner. However, Rev Frank M Boyd, author of Ezekiel, published in 1951, states
“The clearest and most logical way to interpret any Scripture, unless definite statement is given by the context itself that the Word is symbolical, is to interpret it literally.” (page 199)
So, based on Rev Boyd’s statement, we would do well to heed and examine Ezekiel chapters 40-48 in a literal sense.
Ezekiel receives this particular vision approximately 13 years after the fall of the city, about 575 B.C., and is divided into three main topics. Chapters 40-43 is concerning the temple re-erected; chapters 44-46 is about worship reorganized while chapters 47-48 tells of the land redistributed.
Chapters 40-43 The Temple Re-erected
While we won’t have time to discuss all of these chapters, we will touch on highlights that will lead to the millennial river.
These eight chapters describe the ‘golden age’ of Israel’s final restoration, one yet to come. The temple will be rebuilt and as Ezekiel 40:2 states, the city is set on a “very high mountain” “on the south.” When you look at the land now and from the past, you will note a considerable difference in the topography. Isaiah 2:2, Zechariah 14:4, 5,10 also state topographical changes in the future Jerusalem.
Stay with me now, all of this is important to see the full picture of the importance of Ezekiel’s vision.
Let’s nutshell this, if we can.
Mention of the temple is covered in detail in chapters 40-42 while chapter 43 tells us of the returning glory of Jehovah God. Let’s take a peek at this. Sometimes it is helpful if when reading directions in the text, if you drew them out on paper to see what is meant.
In this case, the angel had led Ezekiel from the area surrounding the temple back to the east gate of the outer court (42:15-20). At this point, Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord come from the east and it was like the “noise of many waters” and “the earth shined with his glory.”
In Ezekiel 43:4-5, Ezekiel saw the glory of the LORD come into the temple by the east gate. At this point, the angel then took Ezekiel to the inner court where he saw “the glory of the LORD filled the house.” If you are not aware, in Ezekiel 1:4, 28; 9:3, the glory of God had previously been shown to Ezekiel in much the same manner. Ezekiel is then instructed to reveal to Israel this vision concerning the new order that he is receiving from LORD God.
Ezekiel then sees in his vision the temple and altar described and measured as well as the consecration ritual explained in chapter 43.
Chapters 44-46 Worship Reorganized
Did you notice that in chapter 43:5 the Shekinah glory entered the temple through the east gate? This is significant because after His entrance, the gate was shut and no one could enter it.
Ezekiel received the measurements of the altar of burnt offering and instructions on its consecration. Then he was taken by the spirit back to the eastern gate of the outer court only to find that it is shut. Why was the gate shut now? Because the “God of Israel” has passed through it (44:2) and it will be opened for the “prince” only, v 3, who will enter and leave by that gate.
Who is this prince, you ask? Great question as I wondered too. Let’s look at Ezekiel 34:23, 24; 37:24 to find the answer. Did you read it? What is the answer? Whose name did you read?
It is David, “my servant, David; he shall feed them and be their shepherd” and “my servant David a prince among them”; “David my servant shall be king over them.” Are you saying WOW, right now? I know I am!
Ezekiel was then brought to the north gate where he saw the “glory of the LORD” and fell on his face to worship and is given instruction to record everything he saw and heard concerning “the ordinances of the house of the LORD.” The rest of chapter 44 covers those details.
Chapter 45 covers the portion of the land allotted to the sanctuary, city and the prince. This provision continues in the millennial reign as the priests will receive their inheritance and possession. God had always made provision for the support of the priesthood. When kings reigned, they had obtained land by force and oppression but the millennial prince is not to use oppression to obtain land. The prince will receive his portion of land on both sides of the land designated for the priests.
The rest of chapter 45 and all of 46 are instructions for offerings. If you’re interested in this, please feel free to study this on your own.
Chapters 47-48 The Land Redistributed
We ended chapter 46 with instructions for the offerings and now the angel brings Ezekiel to the “door of the house,” Ezekiel 47:1, where Ezekiel sees water flowing eastward from under the threshold of the porch. Let’s look at the detail of verse 1: the water flowed from under the threshold of the house flowing east as the front of the house faced east. The water came from the south side of the house at the south side of the altar.
The angel and Ezekiel were in the temple but unable to leave through the east gate, as the gate has been shut, the angel led Ezekiel through the north gate to the outside of the temple and down to the east gate. Maybe this diagram will help picture this.
From the east gate, the angel and Ezekiel begin to walk the length of the stream, 1000 cubits which is about ¼ mile. They both walked through the stream, in water that reached the ankles.
Again, the angel leads Ezekiel for another distance of ¼ mile, which is ½ mile from the temple. As they walked through the water, it now reached their knees. Another measure and walk through the water and it is waist deep. One final measure of ¼ mile for a full distance of 1 mile from the temple, Ezekiel and the angel could not walk through the water which was too deep but passable by swimming.
The water continued flowing on its journey east. The angel asks Ezekiel if he’d ever seen anything like he is seeing now as they stand on the river bank. Ezekiel looks around to see many trees on either side of the river bank. The angel shows Ezekiel that the river flowed toward the east country, through the desert and out into the sea. As the river water reaches the sea water, the sea water is healed and a multitude of fish return to the sea which once had been filled with a high salt content. Only the upper portion, the marshes and miry places will still contain salt and not be healed. Its purpose? For the supply of salt for Jerusalem.
Here is another connection with Ezekiel’s river, Psalm 46:4 “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God,…” and Zechariah 14:4 “In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.” NASB This implies that this valley which runs from east to west will form the channel for this river that flows from the temple of God.
The Division of Land
Ezekiel 47:13 – 48:35 speaks to the division of the land among the 12 tribes. The details of the land distribution can be read in chapter 48. Hey, did you realize that the land is larger than the parcel of land that we see in maps in the back of our Bibles? This is amazing. This chapter provides the details of the measurement of land and it is larger than current day Israel.
From other passages of text in Genesis 15:18, Deuteronomy 11:24, Isaiah 19:23-25, Isaiah 25:1; 60:22, we see that the original promise of land for the twelve tribes extended far beyond the Israel we know in the Bible. The original territory that God intended for His people will be seen in the millennial reign. The whole strip of land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean has never been occupied by Israel, not even under the reigns of David and Solomon. (excerpt taken from page 222, Ezekiel by F. M. Boyd)
One of the highlights of this vision is the fact that the presence of the LORD will be in the new temple (43:1-12). John recorded in Revelation 21:3 that God “will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” In Ezekiel’s vision, 43:4, 7 “and the glory of the LORD came into the house” and “where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever…” In Ezekiel 37:21-28, God says He “will be their God” (v23, 27). One of the many names that Jehovah is known by is Jehovah-Shammah, which means The LORD is there. (Kay Arthur, page 189)
That’s a Wrap
If we were to do a complete study of the book of Ezekiel, we would come away with an excitement of what is to come. These last few chapters of this book points us to the millennial reign and to the restoration of Israel living in the presence of the Jehovah-Shammah, the LORD is there. The Apostle John recorded in Revelation that “God will dwell with them,” that is, with us.
What started this study was the vision about the water streaming from the east gate of the temple. I clearly see now that it is not a symbolic vision but a literal vision. The stream of water which starts off as a trickle will soon flow into a mighty river that will continue to the Jordan Valley and into the Dead Sea, healing the water from its saltiness into a sea of wholeness. Fish of every kind and in abundance will live here and along the river banks will be trees laden with fruit all year round and its leaves will be used as medicine and never die (47:1-12).
While this study has taken days to research, study and compose, I trust that you have found it exciting to know that this prophecy, this vision, is yet to be fulfilled. I hope it has encouraged you in some way to study the writings by the prophets as it will bolster your faith to see how God’s hand is on everything, has been and always will be.
What a glorious day this will be, when we shall live and reign with Him forever!
How did you find this study? A little harder to work through? I fully understand. But, with prayer and help from Holy Spirit, I have a much better understanding of these chapters. I’m glad to have studied it. Are you?
I look forward to any comments on Ezekiel’s vision.
- F.M. Boyd, Ezekiel, published 1951
- temple diagram can be found on page 203
- Kay Arthur, LORD, I Want To Know You, published 2000