The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 17, 2012

I find Ezekiel a very difficult book, for this reason one should not expect much in the way of notes. Chapters 8-11 provide background for chapters 40-48. These latter chapters in  many ways present a reversal of the situations detailed in the earlier ones.  I’ve included a couple of suggested readings at the end.

Background~In Ezekiel 8:1-11:25 the prophet experienced a vision of the temple grossly profaned by the worship of idols, animals, the god Tammuz and the sun.  So grossly has the temple been profaned that God declares he is being driven away (Ezekiel 8:6). Destruction is decreed (Ezekiel 8:18). A summons is sent to six “men” who remind us of the destroying angel(s) of Exodus 12:23; 2 Sam 24:16-17 and 2 Kings 19:35. They are given the command to destroy and are clearly to be seen as a prophetic foreshadowing of the Babylonian army and the havoc it was to reap on the people. Meanwhile a seventh “man” is commissioned to bestow an identifying mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof (9:4). There is in this a subtle hint that some will survive the coming catastrophe (see Ezekiel 9:1-11). The seventh “man” (apparently a priestly figure) is then given a second commission to fill thy hand with the coals of fire…and pour them out upon the city (Ezekiel 10:2). Sent off to his task the glory of the Lord then leaves the threshold of the Temple (Ezekiel 8:6; 10:18; 11:22-23).

After witnessing all of this the prophet is told to prophecy against certain men that study iniquity, and frame a wicked counsel (Ezekiel 11:2).  They have been claiming that Jerusalem and it inhabitants are safe when, in fact, their destruction is coming. The sword will come upon them (see Ezekiel 11:1-13), the exile will happen. (It should be kept in mind that there were two exiles from Judah. The first occurred in 597 BC and included Ezekiel before his prophetic call. This first exile was meant as a warning so that the people and rulers of Judah would not rebel again against their Babylonian overlords. They did rebel again however, and in 587 Babylon invaded, destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, and exiled a large number of inhabitants).

We learn from the remainder of chapter 11 (Ezekiel 11:14-21) that the first exiles (those of 597 BC) will eventually return to the land and rebuild, but not before the remaining inhabitant are punished for their continued and increasing sins.

There then follows, in Ezekiel 12, prophetic acts meant to symbolize the siege and exile of the people and, also, there occurs revelation to the prophet concerning what is coming and why. Sword, famine and pestilence are coming upon the land (Ezekiel 12:16). Cities will be laid waste and the land will be a desolation (Ezekiel 12:20). Ezekiel 40:1-48:35 (from which today’s first reading is taken, i.e., 47:1-9, 12) is intended to convey the reversal of this situation.

Eze 47:1  And he brought me again to the gate of the house, and behold waters issued out from under the threshold of the house toward the east: for the forefront of the house looked toward the east: but the waters came down to the right side of the temple to the south part of the altar.

Ezekiel has been (if I may put it this way) on a visionary tour of a new Temple. He has seen the Lord’s glory enter this new temple (Ezekiel 43:1-9), reversing its exodus from the old one (Ezekiel 11:22-23). Standing now before the front, easterly-facing gate of this vision-temple, the prophet sees water issuing from under its threshold and flowing through the inner court, past the right side of the altar of sacrifice. Note: the gate here is to the temple, not the wall gates mentioned in verse 2.

Eze 47:2  And he led me out by the way of the north gate, and he caused me to turn to the way without the outward gate to the way that looked toward the east: and behold there ran out waters on the right side.

Ezekiel and his guide leave the inner court by the north wall-gate and circle the wall until they come to the east gate of the wall. Here the prophet sees the water running (literally, pouring) out under this gate. We are to understand that the water issued from the temple (verse 1) in a small quantity but is now increasing in volume.

Eze 47:3  And when the man that had the line in his hand went out towards the east, he measured a thousand cubits: and he brought me through the water up to the ankles.
Eze 47:4  And again he measured a thousand, and he brought me through the water up to the knees.
Eze 47:5  And he measured a thousand, and he brought me through the water up to the loins. And he measured a thousand, and it was a torrent, which I could not pass over: for the waters were risen so as to make a deep torrent, which could not be passed over.

Four times at one thousand cubit intervals,  Ezekiel’s guide measures the depth of the stream which is shown to be increasing in both depth and volume of water. Note: A cubit was a rough form of measurement, apparently indicating the distance from elbow to finger tip. The average cubit is estimated to have been about 18 inches or 0.5 meters (approximately).

Eze 47:6  And he said to me: Surely thou hast seen, O son of man. And he brought me out, and he caused me to turn to the bank of the torrent.
Eze 47:7  And when I had turned myself, behold on the bank of the torrent were very many trees on both sides.
Eze 47:8  And he said to me: These waters that issue forth toward the hillocks of sand to the east, and go down to the plains of the desert, shall go into the sea, and shall go out, and the waters shall be healed.

The water continues its course through the Judean wilderness (“the plains of the desert”) and into the Jordan River (apparently), finally coming to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is so named because its high salt content makes it inhospitable to life, but the temple water flowing into it will cause it to be “healed.”

Eze 47:9  And every living creature that creepeth whithersoever the torrent shall come, shall live: and there shall be fishes in abundance after these waters shall come thither, and they shall be healed, and all things shall live to which the torrent shall come.

The land had been brought to destruction after the glory of the Lord had left the Temple. In his vision, the prophet sees that once the temple is rebuilt and the glory of the Lord again dwells there, the people, produce and livestock will again flourish.

Eze 47:12  And by the torrent on the banks thereof on both sides shall grow all trees that bear fruit: their leaf shall not fall off, and their fruit shall not fail: every month shall they bring forth firstfruits, because the waters thereof shall issue out of the sanctuary: and the fruits thereof shall be for food, and the leaves thereof for medicine.

The passage always reminds me of the second strophe of the morning hymn of the Liturgy of the Hours  sung on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross:

O Cross of Christ, immortal tree
On which our Saviour died,
The world is sheltered by your arms
That bore the Crucified.

Beginning with the early Church Fathers the passage was often interpreted in relation to Christ, the new temple (John 2:13-22), from whom blood and water issued (John 19:31-37). And in relation to the new creation (Rev 22:1-5). It also was used in association with baptism, particularly during the Easter Vigil when the catechumens were baptized:

 The second symbol of the Easter Vigil – the night of Baptism – is water. It appears in Sacred Scripture, and hence also in the inner structure of the Sacrament of Baptism, with two opposed meanings. On the one hand there is the sea, which appears as a force antagonistic to life on earth, continually threatening it; yet God has placed a limit upon it. Hence the book of Revelation says that in God’s new world, the sea will be no more (cf. Rev 21:1). It is the element of death. And so it becomes the symbolic representation of Jesus’ death on the Cross: Christ descended into the sea, into the waters of death, as Israel did into the Red Sea. Having risen from death, he gives us life. This means that Baptism is not only a cleansing, but a new birth: with Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death, so as to rise up again as new creatures.

 The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth. According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring. Without water there is no life. It is striking how much importance is attached to wells in Sacred Scripture. They are places from which life rises forth. Beside Jacob’s well, Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman of the new well, the water of true life. He reveals himself to her as the new, definitive Jacob, who opens up for humanity the well that is awaited: the inexhaustible source of life-giving water (cf.  John 4:5-15). Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from his open side – from his pierced heart – there came out blood and water (cf.  John 19:34). The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus. In his death, Jesus himself became the spring. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf.  Ezekiel 47:1-12). In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope. Nascent Christianity understood: in Christ, this vision was fulfilled. He is the true, living Temple of God. He is the spring of living water. From him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful; the great river of living water, his Gospel which makes the earth fertile. Jesus, however, prophesied something still greater. He said: “Whoever believes in me … out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love! (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on Holy Saturday, 2009).

Suggested Books:

Interpretation: Ezekiel (A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching). Joseph Blenkinsopp. Blenkinsopp is professor emeritus at Notre Dame University. The interpretation series was produced by authors from a variety of ecclesiastical traditions.

Ezekiel: A New Heart (International Theological Commentary). Father Bruce Vawter and Father L. J. Hoppe. The ITC is a series which includes contributors from a wide range of ecclesiastical traditions.

Ezekiel, Daniel: (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture). Stevenson and Glerup, editors. Commentary take from the fathers and early medieval writers. I’ve not yet read the book but I suspect I will find 47:1-12 interpreted christologically, with the temple being applied to Christ, the water to his passion, baptism, etc.

Ezekiel, With an Excursus on the Old Testament Priesthood. Father Aelred Cody, O.S.B.

4 Responses to “My Notes on Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12”

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