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The River of God

Text: Ezekiel 47:1-12

Dr Alex Tang

 

Last month, we were meditating on Psalm 46. In between earthquakes and seaquakes (Ps 46:2-3) and human wars  (Ps 46:6-8), we noted that there is  ‘a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells’ (Ps 46:4). We have noted that there is no river flowing through Jerusalem. Jerusalem is on a plateau. There is a river flowing through Babylon, Damascus, Singapore and even Sungai Seggit through Johor Bahru. This river is a supernatural river. This evening I would like to continue my series on The River by meditating on Ezekiel 47: 1-12.

 

EZE 47:1 The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side.

    EZE 47:3 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. 4 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. 5 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. 6 He asked me, "Son of man, do you see this?"

    Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. 9 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 Great 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, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing."

My three favorite prophets of the Old Testament are Daniel, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Daniel is a straightforward committed religious man. Though he was in the luxury court of Babylon, he followed his own lifestyle. Jeremiah was a weeping prophet. All through the years of his ministry, nobody listened to a word he said; yet he persisted. Ezekiel was a psychotic. And what visions!!  In his first chapter he saw a fantastic vision with lightning and brilliant light. There are people who believed Ezekiel saw a UFO (flying saucer) and was abducted by aliens.  The visions he saw were so terrifying and difficult to understand that Jews under 30 years of age were forbidden to read the Book of Ezekiel.

Daniel, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They also represented three groups of Israelites. Daniel is one of a group of youth taken from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar to be trained for service in the king’s place (Daniel 1:6). Probably in 605 BC. Jeremiah is among the group of Israelites who was in Jerusalem when the city was attacked and conquered by the Babylonians. The Babylonians also took by force a sizable population of the people and settled them down in Babylon. Ezekiel is among the group that was relocated by the Kebar river (Eze 1:1) He received his visions about 593-571BC.

These three groups were facing different problems. Daniel’s group was trying to retain their identity and avoid being assimilated into the Babylon culture. Jeremiah’s group was very proud that they survived the Babylonian attacks. They reasoned that Yahweh was with them. As the Temple was in Jerusalem, obviously God will not allow the Temple to be destroyed. Hence they would be safe.They thought that they are the remnants that God will preserve. That is why they did not want to listen to Jeremiah. Ezekiel group was depressed and discouraged. They were suffering from intense theological shock. They reasoned that since they were exiled, God was not with them. Since the Temple was still in Jerusalem, they do not believe they are the remnants that God will preserve.

As history revealed, Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed. All the people were slaughtered. Ezekiel’s group is the remnants that will one-day return to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. God’s plan is not man’s plans. And God, through Ezekiel had revealed his plan to the exiles. Chapter 24 reported the siege of Jerusalem; chapters 6-32 are about prophecies about Tyre, Egypt and Babylon and chapter 33:21 about the fall and destruction of Jerusalem. Then from chapter 40, God gave Ezekiel the visions of the restoration of the Temple, the restoration of Israel and the repossessing of the land. All this was given long before it happened.

 

I.                    Source of the River v. 1-3

EZE 47:1 The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side.

 

Rev 22: 1-2 further comments on this River.

REV 22:1 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 2 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.

 

John 7:37-39 records Jesus’ comment on the River.

JN 7:37 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

 

This River of God is the river of living water. This living water is the Holy Spirit. What we can understand from this is that a supernatural river will flow from this throne of God in the Temple in Jerusalem. This river is filled with living water that is the Holy Spirit. Have this prophecy being fulfilled? Yes, as Jesus said that whoever believed in Him, the water is already flowing in him or her.

 

EZE 47:3 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. 4 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. 5 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. 6 He asked me, "Son of man, do you see this?" Then he led me back to the bank of the river.

One thousand cubits are about 1700 feet. It is interesting that within a 1700 feet in the River, the water is ankle deep, another 1700 feet, it is knee deep, another 1700 feet it is waist deep and another 1700 feet, we need to swim – 6,800 feet along the River, we are out of our depths.

 

II.                 How deep are we in the River? v. 4-5

How deep are we in the River of Living Water. How deep do we allow the Holy Spirit in our lives? As believer of Christ, we are already in the River. How deep are we?

 

i.                    ankle deep

Most hotels have a small wading pool for children. The water is up to their ankles and they have lost of fun. It is a nice way to feel the coolness of the water without getting wet. When we first become Christian, it was lots of fun too. James Houston, Professor of Spiritual Theology and founder of Regent College in Vancouver, Canada said’ God gives miracles to children’. What he meant was children in the faith needs miracles so God gave them miracles. Have you noticed that new Christians tend to have their prayers answered more that us old timers?

 

ii.                  knee deep

Then as we grow deeper in the faith, we reach knee level and we learn to pray. Prayer is a personal relationship with God. It is not a set of formula. It is not what words we use or how loud we must say these words or how long. It is not that if we do not end the prayer with the word ‘in Jesus Name’ or ‘amen’ the prayer is not effective. It is a personal relationship with God. And as you are in the River, you are already in a relationship with God.

 

iii.                waist deep

Then as we reach waist level, we find movement more difficult. The Holy Spirit will touch the areas of our lives that need changing, the sinful areas of our lives we need to give up. The sin of pride we are harboring. The unforgiveness we are nursing. The pursue of money because of greed. Movement is difficult. Many will give up here. Some will turn back to the ankle deep level where there is more fun and freedom.

 

iv.                swimming deep

As we go deeper still, we find that we have to swim and let go of the firm ground. Have you ever swam in a river with strong current? You are just swept along. In the River of living water, you have to let go of your self and let the Spirit takes you where He wants. We live in a society where we want to be control. But if you think careful, being in control is an illusion. How much control do we actually have in our lives? It is far more better to let the Holy Spirit have control.

 

Where are you in the River? Ankle-deep? Knee-deep? Waist-deep? Or out of your depth?

What happens if you stay with the River?

 

III.               What is the River doing in our lives v. 6-12

7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. 9 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 Great Sea.

 

i.                    healing

The Sea referred here is the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is 1300 ft below sea level, making it not only the lowest point in the rift valley but the lowest on the surface of the earth. It has a salinity of 26-35%. A number of rivers flow into it, flowing from sulphurous springs but no river flow out of it. The water evaporates and the salts remain. A friend of mine visited the Dead Sea last year. He said you are able float easily on it because the water is so dense. He drank a mouthful of the water. It was so salty that it was bitter. He vomited for 2 days! Not only is there no life in the Sea, there is not life for two hundred feet from the shore. He said it is like Mars.

 

Yet when the River flows into it there is healing. The word râpâ was used which normally means healing of a diseased body. The River brings healing. The Dead Sea was healed and became a Life Sea where fishes abound. The River brings healing to our soul, our bodies and our emotions. It makes us whole.

 

The River makes us an authentic person. C. S. Lewis, in his last book before he died, Till We Have Faces, talked about being an authentic person. He mentioned an interesting point- you cannot truly know God unless you truly know yourself.

 

11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.

ii.                  salt

It is not that the River’s healing is not complete. It is that certain areas will be left intact to produce salt. Salt is for seasoning and preservation.

 Salt of the covenant is mentioned in Lev 2:13 and Nu 18:19. Eze 43:24 mentioned salt being sprinkled on the burnt offering.

 

In the context of discipleship  (Lk 14:34), the imagery is clear. The one who is a

committed disciple can, like salt, enrich the lives of many. But one who loses the

saltiness of commitment is of no value to anyone.

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, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing."

 

iii.                fruit

Not only will there be healing, but there will be fruit. Fruit of the everlasting kind.

GAL 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

 

Lessons for us

In summary, Ezekiel tells of a supernatural River, the River of Living Waters that is the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are in the River but at what level? The River brings healing, salt and help us to bear fruit. 

Two more point to note:

1)      This River is from God.  It is by Grace alone. You cannot enter the River by buying a ticket. You can only enter it through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

2)      Your progress in the River towards healing and fruitfulness is up to you. It is how far you allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life? It is how far you will let go and let God do His Will. 

 

Why do we choose what can last but an hour

Before we must leave it behind?

Why do possessions exert brutal power

To render us harsh and unkind?

Why do mere things have the lure of a flower

Whose scent makes us selfish and blind?

                                                The cisterns run dry, and sour is our breath;

                                                We dwell in the valley of death.

Why is betrayal attractive to us

Who are often hurt and betrayed?

Why barter faithful devotion for lust,

Convincing the world that we’ve won?

Why for mere winning will we sell our soul,

In order to be number one?

Why sear our conscience so we’re in control –

Despairing of what we’ve become?

                                                The cisterns run dry, and sour is our breath;

                                                We dwell in the valley of death.

O Jesus –

Why do you promise to quench all our thirst,

When we have despised all your ways?

Why do you rescue the damned and the cursed,

By dying in our place?

Why do you transform our hearts till they burst

With vibrant expressions of praise?

                                                The well flows with life – and we’re satisfied –

                                                 fountain that flows from your side.

                                                                                                C.A.Carson

How deep are we willing to go?

 

Further Reading

Calvin Miller, Into the Depths of God (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2000)

                                                                                

                                                                                                                                                          Soli Deo Gloria

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