By Levi Clancy for לוי on
In Ezekiel 40-48, after being exiled from Canaan, Ezekiel is shown by a divine guide the bureaucratic, religious and architectural details of a restored Israel.
Ezekiel 47:1-12 describes a river that will provide Israel life and sustenance, and Ezekiel 47:13-23 lays out the boundaries and divisions within Israel. These two portions of the same chapter are stylistically different: the former is literary and vividly described, while the latter is technical and provides little more than instructions, though it gives insight into cities and geography.
1 Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by the way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. 3 Going on eastward with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep.
The temple courtyard has gates to the north and the east. The temple courtyard wall's north gate faces the vulnerable side of Jerusalem which was subject to attack, while the east gate faces the sunrise (life) and the Dead Sea (lifelessness).
Within the temple courtyard is the temple, which faces east. Beneath the temple's threshold, water comes forth and flows southward as an ankle-deep stream, passing under the temple courtyard wall. Ezekiel is led out the north gate and over to the east gate, where he sees the water emerging form the temple courtyard via the south side of the wall.
The water has a southerly flow out of the temple courtyard, downhill and away from the north gate, then turns eastward and gets deeper and deeper until it is too deep to be crossed on foot, and deposits into the Dead Sea.
7 I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. 8He said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water wil become fresh. 9 Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these wateres reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. ... 11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kings of trees for good. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.
The river banks will flourish with life, a beautiful metaphor for God's blessings; that which flows from his residence will bring fertility and abundance.
The climax of this powerful passage is in Ezekiel 47:9, when the Dead Sea is revealed to be transformed from a saline wasteland to a rich oasis. Yet the marshes and swampland remain salty, perhaps as a reminder of the metamorphosis brought about by God, or maybe to maintain part of the Dead Sea as a mineral source.
The prophesies in Ezekiel 47:1-12 can be correlated to earthly places.
Namely, the setting is Jerusalem and its environ, and the temple is a rebuilt version of Solomon's Temple. From this new temple, God will produce abundant life-giving water whose path will overlap the outflow of the Gihon Spring, as it is located to the east of the Temple Mount. So far, the seemingly esoteric metaphors of the periscope in fact have very concrete roots. While the actual spring releases a simple stream, it is this source that provides all of Jerusalem's water; and in the idealized version of Israel prophesied by Ezekiel, it makes sense that this focal point of local life would be accentuated.
The spring is then said to flow to the Dead Sea, which will become what must have been by Israelite standards a tropical oasis. The water flowing from God's house will bring the dead to life, and provide sustenance for the Israelites.
Ezekiel 47:1-12 reinforces the idea of Jerusalem as a residence of God that is therefore imbued with life, water and food, all of which in turn reinforces its divine nature.
This divine nature is one aspect of Jerusalem being the axis mundi of the Israelite perspective, epitomized by the hierophany which is the river flowing from God's residence. The river is a manifestation of divine intervention, beginning from God's very residence and growing deeper as it flows along, without any tributaries, until it deposits into the Dead Sea and activates the barren body of water into an alive and thriving entity.
The image of a river connects Jerusalem to the Garden of Eden, from where life-giving waters flow to the four corners of the earth.
This correlation between Jerusalem is further solidified when one considers the similarities between the Israelites and Adam and Eve; they had once basked in God's presence, residing in his dwelling, only to be exiled for their sins and left yearning to return to God's proximity.
While the Jews had been blessed to live in God's midst in Jerusalem, as did Adam and Eve in the garden, the Jews' delight would turn melancholy when they were exiled just as Adam and Eve were.
Ezekiel 47:13-23 is a detailed description of the boundaries and tribal subdivisions of Israel.
22 You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. 23 In whatever tribe aliens reside, there you shall assign them their inheritance, says the Lord God.