Ezekiel 47:1-23

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The angel who had guided Ezekiel led him back to the entrance of the “house” or temple. There, “from below the threshold” (atrium [LXX]) of the temple, Ezekiel saw water issuing forth to the east, for the temple faced east. The water was “flowing down from below the side” of the temple, the “south” or right side, “south [or the right side] of the altar.” There is a measure of obscurity about how the flow of water from below the south or right side of the temple may be understood, and this has contributed to a variety of renderings in modern translations. “The water was running down along the south side, to the right of the altar.” (REB) “There I saw a stream flowing east from beneath the door of the Temple and passing to the right of the altar on its south side.” (NLT) “The water was running out at the south of the altar, under the south wall of the Temple.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “The water flowed out toward the right side of the temple to the south of the altar.” (NAB, revised edition) “It [the stream] began in the south part of the temple, where it ran past the altar and continued east through the courtyard.” (CEV) (47:1)

The angel conducted Ezekiel out of the inner court through the north gate and led him around the outside to the outer gate (“the gate of the court” [LXX]) that faced east. There Ezekiel saw water coming out on the south side of the temple complex. (47:2) Ezekiel’s guide (the “man” or angel), with a measuring line in his hand, walked eastward, measured off 1,000 cubits (c. 1,750 feet; c. 533 meters), and led Ezekiel through the “ankle-deep” water. (47:3) He measured another 1,000 cubits and led Ezekiel through the knee-deep water. Again the angel measured 1,000 cubits, and conducted Ezekiel through the water that then reached his loins or waist. (47:4) After the angel measured another 1,000 cubits, the water had become a river that could not be forded. To cross it, Ezekiel would have had to swim. (47:5)

The angel asked Ezekiel, “Have you seen, son of man [or mortal]?” Apparently the question related to whether Ezekiel had taken note of the developments regarding the flowing water that had become a river. The angel then led him back to the river bank. (47:6) On both sides of the river, Ezekiel saw very many trees growing all along its banks. (47:7)

The angel told Ezekiel that the water of the river continued on its way toward the “eastern region,” flowed down into the Arabah (the rift valley through which the Jordan River courses), and entered the “sea” (the Dead Sea). In view of its high salt content, the Dead Sea cannot support life. When, however, the water of the river reached this sea, its water would be “healed” or become fresh water. (47:8; see the Notes section.) Wherever the river flowed, the water would teem with life. Fish would become abundant in the sea that was formerly devoid of life. (47:9) Fishers would stand beside the sea all the way from En-gedi (a place commonly linked to a site at the mid-point of the western shore of the Dead Sea) to En-eglaim (possibly a site near the northwest end of the Dead Sea or a place on its southeast shore). If En-eglaim refers to a location on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, the meaning could be that the sea would be healed or become fresh water from the western shore to the eastern shore. Along the shore of the sea, fishers would dry their nets. Many kinds of fish in the Dead Sea would become as abundant as those in the Great Sea (the Mediterranean). (47:10) The “swamps and marshes,” however, would not be “healed” but would remain salty, providing the essential salt that people would be using. (47:11).

All along the banks of the river, all kinds of trees would grow on both sides. These trees would yield abundant fruit for food, and their leaves would not wither. Every month the trees would bear new fruit, for they would be supplied with water from the river that had its source at the temple. The fruit of these trees would be used for food and the leaves for healing purposes. (47:12)

According to the word of the Lord YHWH, the land was to be divided “among the twelve tribes” based on the designated boundaries. In keeping with the right of firstborn originally given to Joseph (1 Chronicles 5:2), he (as representing the two tribes that descended from him) received two portions of the land. In the Septuagint, there is no mention of Joseph. It concludes with the thought that each of the “tribes of the sons of Israel” would have an allotment of land. (47:13)

The land should be divided equally as YHWH had “lifted up [his] hand” as when swearing an oath, promising to give the land to their “fathers” or ancestors. This land would be their inheritance. (47:14) The northern boundary of the land was to extend from the Great Sea (the Mediterranean) “by way of Hethlon to the entrance of Zedad.” There is uncertainty about where Hethlon and Zedad may have been located. One suggested site for Hethlon is about 22 miles (c. 35 kilometers) northeast of Tripoli in Lebanon, and Zedad has been linked to Sadad, about 65 miles (c.105 kilometers) northeast of Damscus. (47:15; also see Numbers 34:8.)

Other places on the northern boundary are listed as Hamath, Berothah, Sibraim, which is on the border between Damascus and between Hamath, Hazer-hatticon, which is on the border of Hauran.” Hamath has been identified with a city situated on the Orontes River and about 50 miles (c. 80 kilometers) east of the Mediterranean coast. Berothah has been linked to Bereitan, located about 30 miles (less than 50 kilometers) northeast of Damascus. Sibraim and Hazer-hatticon have not been identified with any known sites. Hauran was a region east of the Sea Galilee and north of Gilead. (47:16; see the Notes section.)

The border extended from the “sea” (the Mediterranean) to “Hazar-enan on the border of Damascus” or north to the territory of Damascus. Possibly Hazar-enan may be identified with a site about 75 miles (c. 120 kilometers) northeast of Damascus. It appears that the Hebrew words after “Damascus” (“and north northward and on the border of Hamath”) indicate that the territory of Hamath was north of the territory of Damascus. The concluding phrase “and the north side” may be understood to refer to the northern limit of the territory. (47:17)

“On the east side,” the northern limit was “between Hauran” (east of the Sea of Galilee and north of Gilead) “and between Damascus,” probably meaning between the territories of Hauran and Damascus, with the territory of Damascus being the northernmost point. The border ran southward along the Jordan River, “between Gilead” on the east side and “between the land of Israel” on the west side, down to the “eastern sea,” the Dead Sea. The Hebrew text concludes with the words, “You shall measure to the eastern side.” In the Septuagint, there is no mention of measuring, but it refers to Phoinikon (Palm City). The words of the concluding phrase may be rendered, “These [are the borders] toward the east.” (47:18)

“On the south side,” the border extended to the south “from Tamar as far as the waters of Meribath-kadesh, [along] the torrent [wadi or river valley], to the Great Sea” (the Mediterranean). Tamar has been linked to a site about 20 miles (c. 30 kilometers) southwest of the Dead Sea. The “torrent” probably designates the wadi of Egypt that is commonly identified with Wadi el-‛Arish on the Sinai Peninsula. Meribath-kadesh may have been a place southeast of the wadi of Egypt and southwest of the Dead Sea. The concluding phrase of the Hebrew text (“and the south side southward”) may be understood to mean that the particulars referred to the southern border. (47:19)

“On the west side” (the seaward side), the boundary was the “Great Sea” or the Mediterranean. The territory extended from its southern limit northward, opposite the “entrance of Hamath.” This “entrance” may apply to the southern border of the territory that Hamath, a city on the Orontes River, formerly controlled. Instead of “entrance of Hamath,” the Hebrew expression could apply to a place named “Lebo-hamath” (a site that has not been identified with any known location). The Hebrew text concludes with the words, “this the side of the sea,” and may be understood to indicate that the locations mentioned in the text constitute the “west side,” the west border, or the west limit of the territory. (47:20)

The land within the designated boundaries was to be divided among the tribes of Israel. (47:21) The land would then be apportioned as an inheritance to the tribes of Israel and to any foreigners or resident aliens among them. These resident aliens and their “sons” or offspring would be treated as native Israelites and be given an allotment of land in the territory of the tribe where they resided. (47:22) The Lord YHWH declared that the foreigner or resident alien would be assigned his inheritance where he lived in the land. (47:23)


Expository comments: The stream that has its source in the temple of YHWH and progressively becomes deeper may be regarded as representing a life-giving provision that comes from him. This life-giving aspect is portrayed as a stream that supports trees on both banks, trees that bear fruit every month and have leaves with curative properties, and as a stream that transforms the Dead Sea to a body of water where an abundance of fish can flourish. Insofar as humans are concerned, all that is essential for eternal life, a life of an enduring relationship with God, is available through his unique Son, Jesus Christ. This includes forgiveness of sins, complete reconciliation with God as his approved children, and citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem. (Compare Joel 3:18 [4:18]; Zechariah 14:8; Acts 2:38; 26:17, 18; Romans 5:10; Galatians 4:26.)

The feature involving the stream indicates that the temple Ezekiel saw in vision is not a structure that will actually be built at a future time. That temple represents the arrangement of worship that is not dependent on any geographical location or a specific building. It evidently is the worship to which Jesus Christ referred when speaking to a Samaritan woman. As Jesus explained, his Father is seeking those whose worship is not governed by externals. God is “spirit” and therefore is not to be linked in any way to the realm of the physical. Worship that is acceptable to him must be “in spirit and truth,” reflecting who he is (based on the complete revelation he has provided). Being “in truth,” such worship would also be genuine and not a mere expression of the lips or a ritualistic routine. (John 4:21-24)

Neither the people who returned from Babylonian exile nor their descendants ever occupied all the territory within the boundaries that are described in chapter 47. The particulars mentioned in this chapter likely provided a basis for the exiles to entertain the hope that they would be restored to their land.

It may also be that the words about the boundaries in chapters 47 and 48 serve to indicate that at a future time there would be an equitable distribution of land. This would appear to be when the whole creation will be liberated from bondage to decay and come to enjoy the marvelous freedom of the “sons [or children] of God.” (Romans 8:19-21) Based on the prophetic words in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 and the apparent reference to these words in 2 Peter 3:13, the liberation of the whole creation will become a reality when the old heavens and earth are replaced by “new heavens” and the “new earth.”

The land, bodies of water, and what appears to the eye like a celestial vault constitute the sphere, the world, or the heavens and the earth in which humans find themselves presently. On account of sin, people experience suffering and grief in this realm. God’s promise about creating new heavens and a new earth point to a transformation that will end the former distressing circumstances and positively affect the whole creation.

As evident from the context, the prophetic words of Isaiah do not refer to the destruction of the earth and the rest of the universe and their being replaced by a new planet and a new universe. The animals later mentioned are the same ones that exist on the earth presently. Those to whom the prophetic words were first made known would never have thought in terms of a destruction of Jerusalem but would have understood the expressions about Jerusalem to relate to a marvelous transformation. In the concluding part of Isaiah, the corpses of the rebels against God are depicted as lying in a place of refuse, where fires are kept burning and maggots feed on the bodies that the flames do not reach. If “new earth” meant a new planet, this would mean that the corpses of the godless would have to be preserved from the fire that consumes the old earth and then become part of the permanent scene in the new earth. (Isaiah 66:22-24) The marvelous transformation God will bring about is of such a nature that all the distress and sorrow that were part of life in the old environment of heavens and earth will not be remembered in a manner that would create emotional pain.

The translator of the Septuagint does not appear to have been familiar with the geography of Israel. In verse 8, it refers to the water as flowing “into Galilee, toward the east,” and down to “Arabia.”

In verse 16, Rahlfs’ Greek text refers to Berothah and Sebraim (Sibraim), additionally includes Eliam, and indicates that Berothah, Sebraim, Eliam, and the “court of Saunan” were “above the borders [or territory] of Auranitis [Hauran].” The oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967) does not contain the Greek word for “court.”

Verse 17 of Rahlfs’ Greek text refers to the “borders from the sea” as being from the “court of Ainan, the borders of Damascus and the [borders] to the north.