1, 2. According to Ezekiel 47:1-12, what does Ezekiel see and learn? (See opening picture.)
EZEKIEL sees yet another marvel in his temple vision: There is a stream flowing from the sacred structure! Just picture him tracing the course of that crystal-clear water. (Read Ezekiel 47:1-12.) It trickles out from the threshold of the sanctuary; then it emerges from the temple complex near the eastern gate. Ezekiel’s angelic guide leads him away from the temple, measuring the distance as they go. The angel repeatedly has Ezekiel pass through the water, and the prophet finds that it deepens rapidly, soon becoming a torrent that he could cross only if he were to plunge in and swim!
2 Ezekiel learns that the river flows into the Dead Sea and heals its salty, lifeless waters wherever the water of the river comes in contact with them, making the waters teem with fish. And along the riverbanks, he sees many trees of all sorts growing. Each month, they produce a new crop of nourishing fruit, and they sprout leaves that provide healing. Seeing all of this must have filled Ezekiel’s heart with peace and hope. But what did this part of the temple vision mean for him and his fellow exiles? And what does it mean for us today?
What Did the Visionary River Mean for the Exiles?
3. Why did the Jews of ancient times not understand Ezekiel’s vision of a river to be literal?
3 The Jews of ancient times surely did not understand the visionary river to be literal. Rather, this passage of Scripture likely reminded them of another inspired restoration prophecy, one recorded perhaps more than two centuries earlier by the prophet Joel. (Read Joel 3:18.) When the Jewish exiles read Joel’s inspired words, they did not expect the mountains literally to “drip with sweet wine” or the hills to “flow with milk”; nor did they expect a spring to flow “out of the house of Jehovah.” Similarly, fellow Jews likely understood that the message of the prophet Ezekiel’s vision was not about a literal river.* So, what message was Jehovah conveying? The Scriptures offer strong indications about the meaning of some parts of this picture. In general, though, we will consider three clear, loving assurances that may be drawn from this prophetic passage.
4. (a) The river in Ezekiel’s vision would have led the Jews to expect what blessings from Jehovah? (b) How does the Bible’s use of the terms “river” and “water” assure us that Jehovah will bless his people? (See the box “Rivers of Blessings From Jehovah.”)
4 A river of blessings. In the Bible, rivers and water are often used to picture the flow of Jehovah’s life-giving blessings. Ezekiel saw such a river flowing from the temple, so the vision would have led God’s people to expect that Jehovah’s life-giving spiritual blessings would flow to them as long as they adhered to pure worship. What blessings? They would again receive spiritual instruction from the priests. And with sacrifices being offered at the temple, they could once more rest assured that atonement would be made for their sins. (Ezek. 44:15, 23; 45:17) Thus, they would be clean again, as if washed in the pure water emanating from the temple.
5. How did the visionary river soothe any concerns about whether there would always be enough blessings for all?
5 Would there always be enough blessings for all? The vision soothes any such concerns by showing the miraculous expansion of the waters—increasing from a trickle to a torrent in just over a mile! (Ezek. 47:3-5) The population in the Jews’ restored homeland might grow in number; yet, Jehovah’s blessings would expand to meet their needs. The river was a picture of abundance and plenty!
6. (a) The prophetic picture conveyed what reassuring promise? (b) What warning note did the vision also sound? (See footnote.)
6 Life-giving water. In Ezekiel’s vision, the river flowed into the Dead Sea, reviving much of it. Notice that the waters gave life to such swarms of fish that the variety was comparable to that found in the Great Sea, or the Mediterranean Sea. There was even a fishing industry thriving along the shore of the Dead Sea between two towns that evidently lay a considerable distance apart. The angel stated: “Everything will live wherever the stream goes.” Does that mean, though, that the water from Jehovah’s house reached every part of the Dead Sea? No. The angel explained that some marshy regions remained beyond the reach of the life-giving waters. Those places were “abandoned to salt.”* (Ezek. 47:8-11) So the prophetic picture conveyed a reassuring promise that pure worship would revive the people, causing them to thrive. But a warning note was also sounded: Not all would accept Jehovah’s blessings; nor would all be healed.
7. The presence of the visionary trees along the riverbanks gave the exiled Jews what reassurance?
7 Trees for food and healing. What of those trees along the riverbanks? They add to the beauty of the picture, do they not? They also add to its meaning. Ezekiel and his countrymen surely enjoyed thinking of the delicious fruit that such trees would provide, a new crop every month! That appealing picture further reassured them that Jehovah would feed them spiritually. And what else? Note that the leaves of those trees “will serve . . . for healing.” (Ezek. 47:12) Jehovah knew that, above all, the returning exiles would need spiritual healing, and he promised to provide just that. How he did so was discussed in other restoration prophecies, as we have noted in Chapter 9 of this publication.
8. What shows that Ezekiel’s vision would have a greater fulfillment?
8 However, as we also discussed in Chapter 9, the returning exiles experienced only a limited fulfillment of such prophecies. It was the people themselves who limited that fulfillment. How could Jehovah bless them fully when backsliding, disobedience, and neglect of pure worship so often prevailed among them? Faithful ones were pained and disappointed by the conduct of their fellow Jews. However, loyal worshippers of Jehovah knew that his promises never fail; they always come true. (Read Joshua 23:14.) Hence, one day Ezekiel’s vision would have a greater fulfillment. But when?
The River Flows Today!
9. When does Ezekiel’s temple vision have a greater fulfillment?
9 As we noted in Chapter 14 of this publication, Ezekiel’s temple vision has a greater fulfillment during “the final part of the days,” the time when pure worship is exalted as never before. (Isa. 2:2) In what sense is this part of Ezekiel’s vision being fulfilled right now?
10, 11. (a) What blessings flow to us like a river today? (b) How has the flow of blessings from Jehovah expanded to meet growing needs during the last days?
10 A river of blessings. The water flowing from Jehovah’s house reminds us of what blessings today? Really, we are reminded of all that contributes to our spiritual health and nourishment. Foremost is the cleansing power of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, which makes the forgiveness of our sins possible. The pure truths of God’s Word are also likened to life-giving, cleansing water. (Eph. 5:25-27) How have such blessings flowed in our time?
11 In 1919 there were only a few thousand servants of Jehovah, and they were thrilled to receive the spiritual food they needed. In the decades that followed, their ranks kept swelling. Today, God’s people number well over eight million. Has the flow of the pure waters of truth kept pace? Yes! We have an almost overwhelming supply of spiritual truths. Literally billions of Bibles, books, magazines, brochures, and tracts have flowed out to God’s people in the past century. Like the visionary river that Ezekiel saw, the flow of pure truths has expanded rapidly to meet the growing needs of spiritually thirsty people worldwide. Bible-based publications have long been available in printed form. And now, by means of the website jw.org, such material is available electronically in over 900 languages! How do such waters of truth affect righthearted people?
12. (a) How have we seen the message of the truth bring spiritual life and health to people? (b) What timely warning does the vision convey to us today? (See also footnote.)
12 Life-giving water. Ezekiel was told: “Everything will live wherever the stream goes.” Think of the way the message of the truth has flowed to all those who have come into our restored spiritual land. Bible truths have brought life and spiritual health to millions of receptive hearts. However, the vision also conveys a timely warning: Not all remain receptive to such truth. Like the marshy and swampy places in the Dead Sea in Ezekiel’s vision, there are hearts that become unreceptive, refusing to accept and apply the truth.* May that never be true of us!—Read Deuteronomy 10:16-18.
13. What lessons may we today draw from those visionary trees?
13 Trees for food and healing. Do the visionary trees along the riverbanks convey encouraging lessons to us today? Certainly! Remember, those trees produced a new crop of delicious fruit every month, and their leaves provided healing. (Ezek. 47:12) They thus remind us that we serve the God who generously feeds us and heals us in the most important way, spiritually. Today’s world is sick and starving in a spiritual sense. By contrast, think of what Jehovah provides. Have you ever come to the end of an article in one of our journals, sung the concluding song at an assembly or a convention, or finished watching a video or broadcast program and felt blessed to have such spiritual food? We are truly well-fed. (Isa. 65:13, 14) Does our spiritual food promote spiritual health? The wholesome counsel we receive, based solidly on God’s Word, helps us to fight off such spiritual enemies as immorality, greed, and lack of faith. Jehovah has also put in place an arrangement to help Christians overcome spiritual sickness brought on by serious sin. (Read James 5:14.) We are indeed blessed, just as suggested by Ezekiel’s vision of the trees.
14, 15. (a) What lesson should we take from the unhealed marshy places in Ezekiel’s vision? (b) How does Ezekiel’s visionary river benefit us today?
14 At the same time, we may take a lesson from those unhealed marshy places. Never would we want to refuse to let Jehovah’s blessings flow into our life. It would be tragic to remain unhealed, like so many in this sick world. (Matt. 13:15) Rather, we are delighted to benefit from the river of blessings. When we eagerly drink in the pure waters of truth from God’s Word, when we share such truths with others by means of the preaching work, when we receive loving guidance, comfort, and help from elders who have been trained by the faithful slave, we may think of Ezekiel’s visionary river. That river promotes life and healing wherever it goes!
15 What, though, about a future fulfillment of this visionary river? As we will see, the river will flow in the greatest possible sense in the Paradise to come.
What the Vision Will Mean in Paradise
16, 17. (a) In what way will the water of life be even more expansive in Paradise? (b) How will we benefit from that river of blessings in Paradise?
16 Do you picture yourself in Paradise, surrounded by friends and family, enjoying life to the full? Studying Ezekiel’s visionary river can help you to make that picture more vivid. How so? Consider once more the three clear, loving aspects of the vision.
17 A river of blessings. The symbolic river will, in a sense, be far more expansive in Paradise, for its benefits will be not only spiritual but also physical. During Jesus’ Thousand Year Reign, God’s Kingdom will help faithful ones to benefit from the ransom in a much greater way. Gradually, they will be lifted to perfection! No more diseases, doctors, nurses, hospitals, health insurance! That water of life will flow to the millions of Armageddon survivors, “a great crowd” who will emerge from “the great tribulation.” (Rev. 7:9, 14) However, that initial flow of the river of blessings, impressive though it will be, will be only a trickle compared to what will come later. As in Ezekiel’s vision, the river will expand to meet greater needs.
18. In what sense will the “river of water of life” become a mighty torrent during the Millennium?
18 Life-giving water. During the Millennium, the “river of water of life” will become a torrent. (Rev. 22:1) Countless millions, even billions, will be resurrected from the dead and offered the opportunity to live forever in Paradise! Jehovah’s blessings through the Kingdom will include bringing life to vast numbers of the dead, humans who have long lain powerless in the dust of the earth. (Isa. 26:19) However, will all those resurrected ones remain alive forever?
19. (a) What indicates that new waters of divine truth will be made available in Paradise? (b) In what sense will some be “abandoned to salt” in the future?
19 Each one must choose. You see, new scrolls will be opened during that time. So the refreshing waters from Jehovah will include newly revealed truths, new spiritual instructions. Is it not thrilling to think of that prospect? Nonetheless, some will refuse that blessing, choosing instead to disobey Jehovah. Some individuals may rebel during the Millennium, but they will not be allowed to disrupt Paradise. (Isa. 65:20) We may be reminded of Ezekiel’s vision and think of those marshy places that remained barren, “abandoned to salt.” How foolish are those who stubbornly refuse to drink from the precious water of life! After the Millennium, a group of rebels will side with Satan. All who reject Jehovah’s righteous rule will face the same end: eternal death.—Rev. 20:7-12.
20. What arrangement for our benefit during the Millennium reminds us of the trees that Ezekiel saw?
20 Trees for food and healing. Jehovah does not want any of us to lose out on eternal life. To help us take hold of the marvelous opportunity he is offering, he will again make sure that there will be an arrangement like those trees that Ezekiel saw. In Paradise, though, the benefits from Jehovah will be physical as well as spiritual. In heaven, Jesus Christ and his 144,000 corulers with him will rule as kings for the Millennium. As a priestly class, the 144,000 will administer the benefits of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, helping to lift faithful humans to perfection. (Rev. 20:6) This arrangement for physical and spiritual healing reminds us of those trees that Ezekiel saw along the riverbanks, trees that bear nourishing fruit and have leaves that heal. Ezekiel’s vision parallels another beautiful prophetic passage, as recorded by the apostle John. (Read Revelation 22:1, 2.) The leaves of the trees John saw are “for the healing of the nations.” Countless millions of faithful humans will benefit from the priestly services of the 144,000.
21. How does contemplating Ezekiel’s visionary river affect you, and what will we consider next? (See the box “A Trickle Becomes a Torrent!”)
21 As you contemplate Ezekiel’s visionary river, is your heart not filled with peace and hope? What marvelous times lie ahead of us! And just think—Jehovah painted striking word pictures of that time thousands of years ago, patiently inviting us to be there to see the great fulfillment, the reality promised in the pictures. Will you be there? You might wonder if there will really be a place for you in Paradise. Let us consider next how the closing passages of Ezekiel’s prophecy give us reassurance.
Additionally, those exiled Jews who remembered the topography of their homeland likely knew that this river could not be a literal one, for it began flowing from the temple on a very high mountain that did not even exist in the location described. Further, the vision may imply that the river flowed in a direct and unobstructed course to the Dead Sea, another geographic impossibility.
Some commentators view this as a positive expression, noting that harvesting salt for use as a preservative has long been a profitable industry in the Dead Sea region. Note, though, that the account pointedly says that those marshy waters “will not be healed.” They remain lifeless, unhealed, because the life-giving water from Jehovah’s house does not reach them. So it seems that, in this instance, the saltiness of those marshes is meant in a negative sense.—Ps. 107:33, 34; Jer. 17:6.
In a similar vein, consider Jesus’ illustration of the dragnet. Many fish are caught in the net, but not all prove to be “fine.” The unsuitable ones need to be thrown away. Jesus thus warned that a sizable number of those who come into Jehovah’s organization may, in time, prove to be unfaithful.—Matt. 13:47-50; 2 Tim. 2:20, 21.