The healing river rises

November 16 & 23 — Ezekiel 47:1-23; November 30 — Isaiah 52:1-2, 7-12

Nov 10, 2014 by

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Our quarter ends with three passages that articulate the prophetic hope for healing. All three are full of metaphorical images that defy explanation if taken too literally.



The Book of Ezekiel concludes with a symbolic vision of a restored temple that turns out to be a vision for life lived with a renewed commitment to Torah in the land without kings and princes.

Then in chapter 47, the vision moves out from the temple with a startling picture of a stream that begins in the temple and expands to become a river that transforms everything in its path. The prophet sees water coming out the temple that is ankle-deep, knee-deep, waist-deep and finally “a river that could not be crossed.”

This river flows out from the temple, and wherever it passes life springs forth. The river transforms “the sea” (known today as the Dead Sea): “it will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes” (47:9). The conclusion of this vision, pointing forward to Revelation’s New Jerusalem, shows trees growing on the banks of the river. “Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing” (47:12; see Rev. 22:2).

This vision of the healing river evokes earlier Old Testament images — Gen. 12:3 and the promise that Abraham’s descendants will “bless all the families of the earth” and Isaiah 2:2-4’s vision of the nations coming to Mount Zion to learn the ways of peace.

The healing that God brings to broken Israel in restoring the temple means to empower God’s people to return to their original vocation to mediate God’s healing love to all the earth.

After the healing river vision, Ezekiel reports God describing the boundaries for Israel living in the land. This is not a return to the time of Joshua and the reinstatement of a geographical kingdom with the need to protect its borders and conquer the earlier inhabitants of the land with violence. Rather, it’s a vision meant to empower the people to return to the ways of Torah in their common life in whatever geographical space they happen to take up. A couple of key references here underscore the focus on Torah.

“The land will fall to you as your inheritance” (47:13). It is precisely Israel’s neglecting of inheritance laws that led to widespread landlessness and injustice (see Amos). This is a reminder to live in the land justly and equitably, including all in the welfare of the community.

This sense of Torah-directed inclusiveness is underscored with the shocking statement at 47:22 that “resident aliens” should be allotted their share of the land and treated as citizens. Such outsiders were never treated this generously elsewhere in the ancient Near East.

By finishing with Isaiah 52:7-12, we are reminded of God’s amazing grace in bringing the people back into the land and renewing their call to live as saved people, despite their transgressions.

Read in conjunction with the visions from Ezekiel, we can see Isaiah 52 as teaching that God’s faithfulness and mercy toward God’s own people is a public display of God’s power as the power to forgive and heal (“The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations,” 52:10). The healing of the river from the temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12) is another manifestation of this very same baring of God’s holy arm.

God brings healing to God’s people for the sake of healing the entire creation — the “nations” (Rev. 22:2) and broken nature itself (Ezekiel 47:7-12).

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