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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Ezekiel 47

A.M. 3430. B.C. 574.

In this chapter we have,

(1,) The vision of the holy waters, their rise, extent, depth, and healing virtue; the plenty of fish in them, and an account of trees growing on the banks of them, Ezekiel 47:1-12 .

(2,) An appointment of the borders of the land of Canaan, which was to be divided by lot to the tribes of Israel, and the strangers that sojourned among them, Ezekiel 47:13-23 .

Verse 1

Ezekiel 47:1. He brought me again to the door of the house The door of the temple, described Ezekiel 41:2. And behold, waters issued from under the threshold eastward Ezekiel had repeatedly walked round the house, and had surveyed the doors of it, but had not discovered this stream of water springing from under its threshold till now. Thus God makes known his mind and will to his people, not all at once, but by degrees. Dr. Lightfoot tells us, that there was a large quantity of water conveyed in pipes under ground from the fountain of Etam, for the uses of the temple; and some commentators seem disposed to interpret this part of Ezekiel’s vision, of that water. Others think he only alludes to it, or draws his similitude from it, but is to be mystically understood. Whether he allude to any such conduit, or stream of water, or not, that the waters here spoken of are to be understood mystically, will hardly be doubted by any that consider what is stated concerning their direction and course, their continual increase, and salubrious effects; circumstances all utterly inapplicable to the water said to be brought in pipes for the uses of the temple. The fore-front of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under the right side of the house, and proceeded eastward They did not therefore come to the temple, as if intended for the purposes of washing the sacrifices, carrying off the filth, and keeping every part clean and wholesome; but they issued from it, and proceeded to refresh and fertilize other places. The prophecy of Zechariah 14:8, that living waters should go forth from Jerusalem, half of them toward the former sea, and half toward the hinder sea; and St. John’s vision ( Rev 22:1 ) of a pure river of water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God and the Lamb, elucidate this part of Ezekiel’s vision, and direct us in the application of it. It is undoubtedly to be understood of the gospel of Christ, which went forth from Jerusalem, and spread itself into the countries around; and of the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost which accompanied it, and by virtue of which it diffused its influence far and wide, and produced the most blessed effects. Thus Isaiah foretold that out of Zion should go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, Isaiah 2:3. At Jerusalem it was that the Spirit was poured out upon the apostles, enduing them with the gift of tongues, that they might carry these waters to all nations; and in the temple first they stood and preached the words of this life. But this temple of Ezekiel was not so much designed to be an emblem of the material temple, built after the return of the Jews from Babylon, or of the Jewish Church, which had its principal seat there, as of the Christian Church, the temple built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ is at once the foundation and chief corner-stone; nay, and also its threshold and door of entrance: and from him springs the well, and from him proceed the rivers of living water, which refresh and comfort the souls of true believers, and render them fruitful to the praise and glory of God: see John 4:10; John 4:14; John 7:38-39. Through these waters, the places, which had before been a mere wilderness, are made like Eden; and what had been a dry and barren desert, becomes like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness are found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody, Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 30:25, where see the notes.

Verse 3

Ezekiel 47:3. And when the man that had the line The angel, described with a line in his hand, Ezekiel 40:3; went forth eastward Went on directly from the east gate; he measured By the line in his hand; a thousand cubits Almost the third part of an English mile; and he brought me through the waters To try the depth of them. And the waters were to the ankles “The gradual rise of the waters denotes the large effusion of the Spirit, (which was very remarkable at the first publication of the gospel,) and its wonderful increase from small beginnings; as well as most probably some future and large effusion thereof to be poured out upon the Jews and Gentiles, in order to their conversion. And the latter part of the representation, as Mr. Scott observes, may relate to the times when the gospel shall fill the earth, and produce most extensive and important good effects on the state of mankind in every nation. Thus the river here signifies the same as the stone, (Daniel 2:34; Daniel 2:45,) cut out without hands, becoming a great mountain, and filling the whole earth; and the same as the little leaven (which is Christ’s illustration of the subject) leavening the whole three measures of meal into which it was cast; or as the grain of mustard-seed becoming a large plant, like a tree, in which the fowls of the air might make their nests. The emblem may also be applied to illustrate the growth of grace, knowledge, and holiness, in true Christians, who, instead of resting in past attainments, forgetting those things which are behind, reach forth unto those which are before, and press toward the mark for the prize of their high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Of such the religion may be fitly compared to the morning light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day.

Verses 6-7

Ezekiel 47:6-7. And he said, Son of man, hast thou seen this? Hast thou considered, or taken notice of, this vision now showed unto thee? To see, often signifies to take notice of what we see: on the contrary, they are said to have eyes and see not, who do not observe what is placed before their eyes. This is an intimation to us, that it is our indispensable duty to consider well what is signified by these waters, and by their increase and effects: namely, to mark well the progress of the gospel in the world, and the process of the work of grace in the heart; to follow and carefully observe these waters, as Ezekiel here did; to attend to the motions and drawings of the blessed Spirit, and walk after them under a divine conduct. It is good to be often searching into the things of God, and trying to discover the depth of them; not only to look on the surface of the waters, but to go as far as we can toward the bottom of them; to be often digging, often diving into the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, as those who covet to be intimately acquainted with them. If we carefully consider the things of God, we shall find some of them very plain, and easy to be understood, like the waters that came only up to the ankles; others more difficult, and which require a deeper search, as the waters which rose to the knees, or the loins; and some quite beyond our reach, which we can neither fathom nor penetrate into, but, despairing to find their bottom, or measure their depth must be content, with St. Paul, to sit down on the brink, and adore it, crying out with him, O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! Romans 11:33.

Then he caused me to return by the brink of the river He made me go along by the river side. Behold, on the bank of the river were very many trees The words allude to the trees planted in paradise, and designed for man’s food in the state of innocence; and especially to the tree of life which grew there. The reader will observe, that many of the ideas in this chapter are taken from the terrestrial paradise; see Ezekiel 47:12, and compare Revelation 22:1-2, where the same ideas are carried to the celestial paradise by St. John.

Verses 8-9

Ezekiel 47:8-9. Then said he, These waters issue toward the east country These waters are described as taking their course along the plain, or champaign country, (for that is the sense of the word here rendered desert,) toward the lake where Sodom formerly stood, called the Dead sea, and by Moses, the Salt sea: see Deuteronomy 3:17. Which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed These living and salubrious streams, by mixing with the salt and brackish waters of the sea, shall render them wholesome and fit for use; finely representing the tendency of the gospel, and the healing virtue of divine grace, in curing the corruptions of human nature, and vices of mankind. And every thing that liveth, &c., whithersoever the river shall come, shall live “Even in the Asphaltite lake, or Dead sea, which is so unfavourable to animal life. Josephus represents this lake as salt, and incapable of feeding fishes. Tacitus says, that it does not suffer fishes or water-fowl to live in it; yet Maundrell observed two or three shells of fishes on the shore. Bishop Pococke found its water very salt; and on tasting it, his mouth was constringed, as if it had been a strong alum water. The bishop observes, ‘It has been said by all authors, and is the common opinion, that there is no fish in this lake: the fresh water fish of the river Jordan probably would not live in it. After I left the Holy Land, it was positively affirmed to me, that a monk had seen fish caught in this water; and possibly there may be fish peculiar to this lake, for which this water may not be too salt: but this is a fact that deserves to be inquired into. The air about this lake has always been thought to be very bad.’ ‘The Dead sea,’ says Michaelis, ‘is more brackish than any known sea or salt-well in the world. It contains as much salt as water can dissolve, namely, the fourth part of the weight of the water: and this is the reason why neither men nor animals sink in the Dead sea. If you throw fishes into heavy water, they cannot swim, but fall immediately on their sides.’“ Newcome. The reader who wishes to have farther information on this subject, may find it in Dr. Pococke and Dr. Shaw’s Travels, or the Encycl. Britan. on the word Asphaltites. Every thing shall live whither the river cometh This signifies the wonderful and blessed efficacy of the gospel, when accompanied by the influence of the Holy Spirit, and received in faith and love: it communicates spiritual life to such as were before dead in trespasses and sins: it creates them anew in Christ Jesus unto all holy tempers, words, and works, such as God hath ordained that men should walk in them.

Verse 10

Ezekiel 47:10. Fishers shall stand upon it from En-gedi unto En-eglaim En- gedi was in the wilderness of Judah, Joshua 15:61-62. De L’Isle places it toward the south-west point of the Dead sea; and En-eglaim is placed by the same writer at the north of the Dead sea, where Jordan runs into it. It is mentioned, Isaiah 15:8, as a place on the borders of Moab, which country lay on the east side of the Dead sea. Bishop Newcome, following the punctuation adopted by the Syriac, Vulgate, and Arabic, reads, From En-gedi even to En-eglaim there shall be a spreading forth of nets; by which is signified, that fishers should be employed along the whole coast of it, denoting the multitude of gospel preachers, all over the world, labouring to gain sinners to Christ. Their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea That is, the Mediterranean; exceeding many Great multitudes of sinners, of all descriptions, in a thousand diversified forms of guilt and wretchedness, shall be brought to God by the word of these preachers, these fishers of men. So that this is a further amplification of what is said in Ezekiel 47:8, that the waters should be healed, and strongly illustrates the salutary effect of the gospel, and the multitude of converts that should be made in the Gentile countries, even in the most idolatrous, ignorant, and wicked.

Verse 11

Ezekiel 47:11. But the miry places thereof, and the marshes thereof, shall not be healed “There shall still remain some marshes, creeks, or swamps, into which these healing waters shall not find an entrance; and these must be left incurably sterile and worthless.” Scott. This represents the case of those countries or individuals, who either utterly reject the gospel, or, though they profess to receive it, do not obey and walk according to it, but hold the truth in unrighteousness. They shall be given to salt The gospel is the only healing medicine for the disorders of our fallen nature, and they who will not receive it in the love of it, remain incurable, and are abandoned to final ruin. The Hebrew language often expresses irremediable barrenness and unprofitableness by being given up to salt, saltness being equivalent to barrenness in that language. When Abimelech destroyed Sichem, he sowed the ground whereon it stood with salt, to denote that it should never be cultivated or inhabited again, Judges 9:45.

Verse 12

Ezekiel 47:12 . And by the river, upon the bank thereof, shall grow all trees for meat See the note on Ezekiel 47:7. By these trees may be understood, “the plenteous provisions of the gospel, the precious promises of the sacred word, and the privileges of believers, as communicated to their souls by the quickening Spirit. These abound on each side of the river, wherever the gospel is successfully preached; they afford nourishment and delight to the souls of men; they never fade or wither; they are various, according to the variety of circumstances and occasions in the experience of Christians; (as if a tree should yield a succession of different kinds of fruit, through the months of the year;) and even the leaves serve as medicines to their souls. The warnings and reproofs of the word, and the salutary corrections of their Father’s rod, though generally less valued, and always less pleasant, than divine consolations, yet tend to cure their maladies, and restore them to holiness and happiness.” Scott.

Most expositors, however, consider these trees as emblematical of true, spiritual Christians, termed by Isaiah, trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, Isaiah 61:3, set by the rivers of water, the waters of the sanctuary, Psalms 1:3, grafted into Christ, the tree of life, and, by virtue of their union with him, made trees of life too, rooted in him, Colossians 2:7. There is a great variety of these trees, through the diversity of gifts with which they are endued by that one Spirit which works all in all. They grow on the bank of the river, for they keep close to holy ordinances, and through them derive sap and virtue from Christ. They are fruit-trees, designed, as the fig-tree and the olive, to honour with their fruits both God and man, Judges 9:9. The fruit thereof shall be for meat, for the lips of the righteous feed many, and the fruits of their righteousness are many ways beneficial. The very leaves of these trees are for medicine, or, as the margin has it, for bruises and sores. True Christians, with their good discourses, the leaves of the trees of righteousness, as well as with their beneficent actions, which are their fruits, do good to those about them: they strengthen the weak, and bind up the broken-hearted. Their cheerfulness does good like a medicine, not only to themselves, but to others also. And their leaf shall not fade They shall be enabled, by the grace of God, to persevere in their piety and usefulness, having not only life in their root, but sap in all their branches. Therefore their profession shall not wither, nor their discourse lose its healing, strengthening virtue. Neither shall their fruit be consumed That is, they shall not cease to bear fruit, retaining still the principles of their fruitfulness; but shall bring it forth even in old age. Or, the reward of their fruitfulness shall abide for ever; they shall produce fruit that shall abound to their account at the appearing of Jesus Christ, fruit to life eternal. They shall bring forth new fruit according to their months Some in one month and others in another; or, each one of them shall bring forth fruit monthly; which signifies a constant disposition, desire, resolution, and endeavour to bear fruit, and that they shall never be weary of well-doing. And the reason of this extraordinary fruitfulness is, because their waters issue out of the sanctuary It is not to be ascribed to their own wisdom, power, or goodness, or to any thing in themselves, but to the continual supplies of divine grace, with which they are watered every moment, Isaiah 27:3. For, whoever may be the instrument of planting them, it is divine grace which gives the increase.

The reader will observe, that this part of Ezekiel’s vision is evidently referred to and almost copied by St. John, Revelation 22:2, who applies it to the salvation of Christ, begun on earth, and perfected in heaven. This whole passage, from Eze 47:1-12 inclusive, as Bishop Newcome observes, “is one of the most striking allegories in the Hebrew Scriptures,” and must so necessarily have a mystical and spiritual meaning, that from thence we are compelled to conclude that all the other parts of the vision, from the beginning of the xlth to the cud of the xlviiith chapter, must have such a meaning also; and that whatever allusion the prophet’s description of the temple, its courts. &c., and the division of the land to the prince, priests, and tribes, might have to Solomon’s temple, or to that built after the return of the Jews from Babylon, and the former divisions of the country; yet that the vision was principally intended of the spiritual temple of the Christian Church, and of its great extent, prosperity, and glory in the latter days, when the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in, and all Israel shall be saved.

Verse 13

Ezekiel 47:13. This shall be the border, &c. The borders described in the following part of this chapter shall be the limits or boundaries of your country; whereby ye shall inherit the land according to the twelve tribes of Israel By the several captivities both of Israel and Judah, the several limits or borders, belonging to the inheritance of each tribe, were obliterated and forgotten; whereupon a new boundary and division are here made of the holy land. “The allotment of the land,” says Grotius, “made here, and in the next chapter, would have taken place, had the ten tribes in general, as well as Judah and Benjamin, turned themselves to the worship of the true God: for if so, they, as well as Judah and Benjamin, would have obtained a restoration. But only some part of them returned with Judah and Benjamin, with whom they settled in common in the land of Judea.” This may, perhaps, be the literal sense of the following part of the prophecy; but, without question, a mystical sense is implied under this literal description, as well as in all the preceding parts of the vision. Joseph shall have two portions Upon Reuben’s forfeiting his birthright, the double portion, belonging to the firstborn, accrued to Joseph and his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, according to Jacob’s own appointment.

Verse 14

Ezekiel 47:14. And ye shall inherit it, one as well as another Namely, the ten tribes which are scattered abroad as well as Judah and Benjamin. These two tribes, together with some of the families of the tribe of Levi, made up the principal part of those who returned from the Babylonish captivity; by which it appears, that this prophecy has not yet been fulfilled, but relates to the general restoration of the Jews and Israelites, an event often foretold in the prophecies of the Old Testament. And this land shall fall unto you for inheritance Here is an allusion to the manner of their first acquiring the possession of the land, which was by lot, by which means all controversies were prevented, the lot referring all things to the divine designation and appointment.

Verses 15-17

Ezekiel 47:15-17. This shall be the border toward the north The northern border of the land was to begin from the west point, on which side lay the Mediterranean sea, and to go on northward toward Hethlon, a place between Tyre and Damascus, and so forward to Zedad, mentioned Numbers 34:8, Hamath, and other places here mentioned in these verses.

Verse 18

Ezekiel 47:18. And the east side ye shall measure from Hauran The city Aurana, and the district Auranitis, the north-east limit of the Holy Land. Damascus lay more northerly than Hauran, but the country called Auranitis might reach near it. Gilead is well known to have been a long tract of land, which was extended to the country of Sihon king of the Amorites. From the land of Israel by Jordan From the northern limits of the land of Israel near Cesarea Philippi, or Dan, where the river Jordan takes its rise. Unto the east sea That is, the Dead sea, or the lake of Sodom: see Ezekiel 47:8.

Verse 19

Ezekiel 47:19. And the south side southward The southern frontier shall be from En-gedi, called Hazazon-tamar, 2 Chronicles 20:2, to the waters of Meribah, or strife, in Kadesh, in the south limit of Judah, and from thence to the river of Egypt, namely, Besor, which runs into the sea not far from Gaza.

Verse 20

Ezekiel 47:20. The west side shall be the great sea from the border That is, from the southern border, mentioned in the foregoing verse. Till a man come over against Hamath Or rather, till a man come to Hamath, the northern point toward the west frontier.

Verse 22

Ezekiel 47:22. Ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you See the note on Ezekiel 47:14. And to the strangers that sojourn among you Foreigners never before had the privilege of purchasing or possessing any inheritance among the Jews; so this mystically denotes the incorporating the Gentiles into the same church with the Jews, making them fellow-heirs, and of the same body with them by the gospel, Ephesians 3:6. They shall have inheritance with you among the tribes, &c. In whatsoever tribe they sojourn, as it is expressed in the next verse.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezekiel 47". Benson's Commentary. 1857.