Formations 07.30.2017: Life-giving Water

Ezekiel 47:1, 3-12

Belize River, Belize

In the previous lesson, Judah’s restoration was described using the metaphor of the life-giving breath of God. Here, it is described as a river of water that flows from God’s presence. Where before, God’s presence had departed because of the people’s sins, now God has returned to a rebuilt temple with life-giving power. Sustenance and healing will replace judgment as God restores the fortunes of the people.

Water tends to be a powerful symbol of prosperity and life, especially in places where it is hard to come by. For the Quichua people of Sanancahuan Grande, Ecuador, for example, water—and the struggle to get it—dominates life. These mountain-dwellers are blessed with rich, fertile soil, but their access to fresh water is limited. They rely on a spring 780 feet lower than where they live and must travel up and down the mountainside every day, either carrying water by hand or loading it on donkeys. As civil engineer Craig Miller says, the simple act of fetching water “dominates their existence.”

Miller, a resident of Winchester, Massachusetts, is a board member of Life Giving Water International, a non-profit organization that helps rural and indigenous people stabilize their water sources. By addressing issues of water quality and availability, the organization “seek[s] to address people’s physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.”

Miller recently spent ten days in Sanancahuan Grande, helping build a system to pipe fresh water directly into people’s homes. When completed, the system will involve five miles of supply lines, water storage reservoirs, and a pump house. Its benefits for the community are incalculable. “When a water spigot is placed at the doorstep of every house,” Miller says, “productivity in the community more than doubles because the enormous effort needed to retrieve water manually has been eliminated.”

For Ezekiel, Judah’s restoration and the return of God’s presence in a rebuilt temple are described in terms of water. A life-giving river flows from the temple itself, watering the land and providing trees that are useful both for their fruit and for the healing properties of their leaves (v. 12).

As we study this powerful image of renewing waters, perhaps we should keep in mind Jesus’ invitation:

All who are thirsty should come to me!
All who believe in me should drink!
As the scriptures said concerning me,
Rivers of living water will flow out from within him. (John 7:37-38)

Melissa Russell, “Water at 15,000 Feet: Winchester Man Helps Bring Water to Andes Villagers,” Wicked Local Winchester, 14 Jul 2017


• Do people in your community appreciate clean water or take it for granted? Explain.
• When have you had to do without clean water for an extended period? What was this like?
• Why do you think biblical writers like Ezekiel compared God’s blessings to an abundance of water?

Reference Shelf

The Lord Is There

It was Yahweh’s presence, symbolized originally by the Ark in the Solomonic Temple, that gave the Temple its status. Ezekiel’s vision of the departure of the glory from the Temple (Ezek 8–11) set the context for the destruction of the Temple because Yahweh had already departed or abandoned his Temple. He was no longer present in the Temple. Likewise, Ezekiel’s vision of the restored city and Temple (40–48) describes the return of Yahweh’s glory (43:2-5). Once it returned, the outer gates were closed, not to be reopened (Ezek 44:2) so that Yahweh’s presence was assured there for forever (Ezek 43:7). Thus neither Zerubbabel’s nor Herod’s Temple required a rebuilt Ark to ensure Yahweh’s presence (cf. Jer 3:16-17). The Temple and ultimately the city came to represent that presence, as Ezekiel’s name for Jerusalem implies: “And the name of the city henceforth shall be Yahweh shâmmâh, Yahweh is there” (Ezek 48:35).

Joel F. Drinkard Jr., “Temple/Temples,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 881.

The Transformation of the Land

Continuing on his tour, Ezekiel is led by the bronze man to the entrance of the temple, apparently a reference to the house itself, and not the outer east gate. While in the inner court, Ezekiel sees a stream trickling below the threshold and making its way toward the east. Following the stream’s course, the bronze man leads Ezekiel out of the temple through the north gate and toward the outer east gate. From there, Ezekiel sees the stream, still a trickle. The bronze man leads Ezekiel into the water, and takes out a measuring cord, a different measuring instrument than the one used inside the temple. As the man measures the stream in four 1000-cubit segments, Ezekiel stands in the stream at each point, and reports that the stream reaches his ankles, then his knees and waist, until it is so deep that he cannot stand. At this point, the meaning of the measurements is clear: this stream is, quite literally, immeasurable. The man’s question, “have you seen this?” echoes Yahweh’s question in 8:17, and suggests that Yahweh has effected a complete transformation of the land that had become so polluted by the abominations of the house of Israel. In vv. 8-12, Ezekiel sees trees “for healing” on both sides of the river, and learns that the river flows into the Dead Sea, where it so freshens the waters that it becomes good fishing grounds. In this vision of transforming the Dead Sea with the healing streams of the river of life, Ezekiel has again merged historical geography with myth. Just as the dwelling place of God has become miraculously visible in the mountains of Israel, so has the land become miraculously transformed by this powerful river of life, believed in ancient Near Eastern myth to flow from the dwelling place of the gods.

Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 520–21.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email