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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Ezekiel 47

Several Old Testament prophets speak in their prophecy of the coming age of the realm of peace and the far-reaching changes in nature, especially in the promised land itself. The first part of this chapter deals with one of those changes: the change brought about in the water (Eze 47:1-12). The second part of the chapter deals with the changed boundaries of the land (Eze 47:13-23).

Verses 1-12

The Water From the New Temple

The Man brings Ezekiel back to the entrance of the house, which is the inner east gate (Eze 47:1). There Ezekiel sees that water is flowing from the sanctuary. The water is coming from under the threshold of the house. As seen from the sanctuary, the water flows eastward down the right side of the house and on the south side of the altar. The water comes from “under the threshold of the house” because the house and the altar are higher than the outer court.

The house, that is, the sanctuary, and the altar are connected to the origin of the flow of water. For us, the application is that every blessing God gives is found only in the church of God (the house) and in connection with Christ and His work on the cross (the altar).

Then the Man brings Ezekiel out through the outer north gate – the outer east gate is shut as we know – and goes ahead of Ezekiel to the east, the direction of the stream (Eze 47:2). It is also important for us to go with the flow of water of the Spirit and of the Word – this flow of water is a picture of both.

When the Man goes east, He has a line in His hand (Eze 47:3). He has had it with Him all along (Eze 40:3), but He is going to use it now. The line is also a picture of the Word of God, and it is as the measure that God uses to pass on His teaching to us (cf. Isa 28:17a). God measures for us what we can understand from His Word. We are limited in our knowing, but can grow in understanding. Both the preacher and the hearer must realize this in passing on God’s Word and listening to it.

With the line, the Man measures the first thousand cubits of the flow of water. He makes Ezekiel go through the water, with the water reaching Ezekiel’s ankles. The Man measures the next thousand cubits and makes Ezekiel go through the water (Eze 47:4). Then the water is reaching his knees. Then the third thousand cubits is measured by the Man. The water then reaches his loins. By the fourth thousand cubits that the Man measures, the water has become a river and has reached a depth where Ezekiel cannot ford (Eze 47:5). There he has to swim, so high the water has become.

The book of Joel mentions a spring that goes out from the temple. It must be this same brook (Joel 3:18). In Zechariah 14 it is a different one, for that living water comes from the city (Zec 14:8). Also, we should not confuse this river with the brook or river in the new Jerusalem (Rev 22:1-2).

The measuring is done in stages of a thousand cubits each. In a spiritual application we see that the Word must be “measured” and that there is interruption in the teaching. This is related to the fact that there are stages in the spiritual development of a believer (Phil 3:15-16; 1Jn 2:12-14). The Lord takes that into account in His teaching.

As we grow spiritually, in all our study of God’s Word, we will experience more and more that we come to an ocean where we cannot stand. We no longer have any ground under our feet, we can no longer grasp it, but we can enjoy it intensely. We are surrounded by the blessing of the Lord; we swim, as it were, in all that He has given us.

We can also apply it to discovering the Word of God itself. Some truths in it are simple. They are easy to understand, they come down to the ankles. Other truths in it are hidden a little deeper. To know those, we have to dig deeper. They are like the water that reaches the knees or the loins.

There are also truths that we will never get to know in their fullness, that we will never understand to the bottom. There we do want very much to “dive in”, knowing that they are beyond our knowledge, as it says: “To know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19). When we engage in this, we swim in it and enjoy it to the fullest. We do understand that God looks upon this with great joy.

Spiritual growth is worked by the Spirit of God, Who is compared to water. It is possible that the Lord Jesus is referring to this section in the book of Ezekiel when He says: ““If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet [given], because Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn 7:37b-39; Isa 44:3). When we get into the flow of water, when we surrender our lives to God and His Word, the Holy Spirit will work to make us full of Christ and bear fruit for God.

This application brings us to yet another application. We can think of the water coming to the ankles as the cleansing effect of God’s Word applied by the Spirit to the believer’s walk. The knees are a symbol of prayer (Eph 3:14). The water reaching the knees indicates that God’s Word and God’s Spirit bring us to our knees to pray that we may understand what our blessings are. The water reaching the loins speaks of girding the loins with the truth (Eph 6:14; cf. 1Pet 1:13) and also of service (Lk 12:35-37). Swimming in the water is a picture of living fully in the sphere of the Word and the Spirit.

The Man asks Ezekiel if he has seen this (Eze 47:6). He asks about his involvement (cf. 1Kgs 21:29; Jer 3:6; Eze 8:12; 15; 17). In the same way, the Lord sometimes asks us if we have seen correctly what He has said or shown in His Word. We can be busy with His Word and grow in it, as in the picture Ezekiel is busy in it and grows in the knowledge of it. Yet the real meaning may still elude us.

The Man takes Ezekiel with Him for further teaching. He leads him back to the bank of the river for that teaching. With an exclamation of surprise (“behold”), Ezekiel sees “very many trees” standing on both banks of the river (Eze 47:7). It strikes him so much that it seems that these trees have not been there before and that both banks have been bare. The water communicates to its entire environment unprecedented fertility.

When the Lord takes us back to a place we have been before, it is more than just a reminder of a past experience. He wants to show us what has changed in our lives since that past experience, what has grown. We become aware of our spiritual growth. As we grow older, we may notice this. Through our dealings with the Lord and the work of God’s Spirit in our lives, more abundant fruit will become apparent. We can notice this, for example, in our reaction to certain events or statements. We used to be upset by some things, whereas now we see more how all things are in the hand of the Lord.

It is an encouragement to the exiles that a time is coming when the LORD will dwell again in the midst of His people. Associated with that time is a great activity of the Holy Spirit. When the Messiah reigns, God’s Word through the Spirit will awaken new life and produce growth and an abundance of fruit everywhere. This is also true now spiritually, wherever believers place their lives under the full rule of the Lord Jesus and God’s Spirit.

The Man speaks of the healthy effect of the water (Eze 47:8). He points out the course of the waters. The temple river flows into the eastern area, the area between Jerusalem and Jericho. Then it enters the Arabah, the plain below, which is the Jordan plain, and then flows into the Dead Sea. When the water enters the Dead Sea, the water of the Dead Sea becomes healthy. The consequence of the healthy water is that this sea, in which no life is possible now because of the high salinity, will swarm of living beings (Eze 47:9). It recalls the waters swarming of living beings on the fifth day of creation (Gen 1:20-21).

It speaks literally of “where the two rivers go”, yet – at least here in Ezekiel – it speaks of only one river from the temple which in a short time becomes a deep river. The suggestion is made that there is talk of “two rivers”, to indicate that the river flows with the force of two rivers.

“Every place” where the river comes, life arises, and “everything” that comes into contact with the river becomes alive and healthy. For us, this means that wherever the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, He works life and spiritual health. This concerns our prayer life, our family life, our church life, our daily life, our witnessing. All of this, in turn, will also result in blessing for those around us.

The abundance of fish will attract an abundance of fishermen (Eze 47:10). There will be drying places for drag nets (cf. Eze 26:5; 14). This shows the abundance of fish. The fishermen will not use a fishing rod because only a single fish can be caught with it. There is also a great variety of fish. The fish in the river are not inferior in number and species to the fish in the Great Sea, which is the Mediterranean Sea.

Just as the waters create new life in the Dead Sea, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in those days will create new life in Israel and the nations. Wherever the Holy Spirit comes, new and abundant life will arise. It is also a symbolic representation of the life that will be awakened in dead Israel and of the swallowing up of death in victory (Isa 25:8; Hos 13:14; 1Cor 15:54-55).

There are places, however, that are excluded from the life that the river brings (Eze 47:11). These are the swamps and marshes that are separate from the Dead Sea. The application for us is that where the Spirit is denied access, His life-giving work cannot take place. We can think of people about whom the apostle Peter writes in his second letter (2Pet 2:1; Jude 1:12-13). Such places are given up to the salt, that is, to the judgment that never ends (cf. Mk 9:49). It also shows that in the realm of peace everything is not perfect, as it will be when there will be a new heaven and a new earth (2Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1-7).

The trees of Eze 47:7 turn out to be fruit trees (Eze 47:12). Because of the life-bringing water, the leaves always remain fresh and there will be fruit constantly, all year long (cf. Rev 22:2). Its secret and power lie in the fact that the water flows “out of the sanctuary”. The fruit, therefore, is for food and the leaves have a healing effect, all through this water from the sanctuary.

The evergreen and ever-fruiting trees with their nutritious fruit and healing leaves are a picture of believers living in fellowship with Christ. The believer is compared to a tree several times in the Old Testament (Psa 1:3; Jer 17:7-8). The believer brings forth fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, and is a healing blessing to others through his testimony, of which the leaves speak.

Verses 13-20

The Boundaries of the land

When the Lord Jesus reigns, the land promised to Abraham (Gen 15:18) will be divided “among the twelve tribes of Israel” in a whole new way (Eze 47:13). It is foreordained that all twelve tribes, the two and the ten tribes, reunited, will live in the land. Because Levi has no inheritance, Joseph receives two portions, for both his sons one portion: one portion for Ephraim and one portion for Manasseh.

The LORD promises them the land as a security: they shall get it as an inheritance (Eze 47:14). He adds that He will do it “each one equally with the other”, meaning that He will divide it “equally among brethren”, as it literally says in Hebrew. He swore an oath when He promised the land to their fathers. The matter is unshakably solid. This land will fall to them as an inheritance. This means that they will receive it by grace.

The boundaries will be quite different from the division of the land by Joshua (Eze 47:15-20; cf. Num 34:1-15; Joshua 13-21). This is because the division between the nine and a half tribes in the land and the two and a half tribes at the other side of the Jordan will be undone. Each of the twelve tribes receives a (large) portion of the land and a (small) portion at the other side of the Jordan. This establishes the division of the land among the tribes of Israel (Eze 47:21).

By the way, it seems that the boundaries established here are not final. They will be constantly widened by the increasing population in the realm of peace, until the promise to Abraham is fulfilled: “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates”” (Gen 15:18).

Verses 21-23

Inheritance of the Alien

There is one more thing that needs to be taken care of and that is the inheritance for aliens who have been living in the midst of the Israelites for a long time and have a family with children in the land as well (Eze 47:22). They are so much integrated that they are part of the people. They also receive a share of the land in the tribe in which they live (Eze 47:23). God does not forget them, but allows them to share in the blessing He has for His people (Isa 56:3-8). In the time when the Lord Jesus reigns, it will finally be possible for Jews and Gentiles to live together in peace.

Jews and Gentiles are already living together in peace in the church in the grace period in which we live. This means, however, that the Jew ceases to be a Jew just as the Gentile is no longer a Gentile. They are both made one into a new man in Christ (Eph 2:13-16).

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ezekiel 47". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.