Read: Ezekiel 47:1-12
It was a tough time for the people of Israel. In 586 BC, after generations of ignoring God’s warnings about the consequences of their unfaithfulness, Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians. The temple was destroyed and its sacred objects taken. Ezekiel was part of a priestly family taken captive to Babylon, along with all but the poorest people in Jerusalem.
The exiles yearned for their homeland and mourned the destruction of the temple. As years passed into decades, those who feared God began to slip into despair. Would God’s people ever see Jerusalem again? Would the temple of the Lord lie in ruins forever?
Then God gave Ezekiel a prophetic vision that gave renewed hope to the exiles. It previewed the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem; it also closely mirrors John’s vision in Revelation 22 of the river of life in New Jerusalem God will establish when He comes to restore all things at the end of the age.
As always, God’s is working on many levels. I believe the picture in these verses has a lot to tell us about how God wants us to live in relationship with Him here and now. It’s especially meaningful to me, because God directed me to it at the lowest point of my life, following the death of my first husband 20 years ago. I’ve never forgotten the impact these words had, and their role in turning me around.
The water begins where God is present and is worshipped as Lord. This is where faith is born, when we worship God as not only our Savior but we make Him our Lord – putting Him in charge of our lives. This often starts as a trickle; in my case it was only several years after my conversion that I began to understand the concept of me taking a back seat to God in ALL things, and not just relegating His authority to certain parts of my life. In my experience, this is the greatest hurdle we face as believers: letting go of the desire to be in control (which is an illusion, but one that persists in our culture).
Our acknowledgement of God is a starting point: we’re willing to step into the trickle and get our feet wet. For some, that’s as far as they get. They’re in the shallows, and step in and out with ease. They think that’s all there is. Step in on Sunday morning, step out on Sunday afternoon. Step in when they’re in trouble, step out when they’ve got everything under control. Step in when they need something, step out when they get it. If they don’t get what they think they should, sometimes they step out permanently.
But Scripture makes it clear we’re to go deeper than that – much deeper. If the river is just a trickle it may sustain life, but that’s about it. The farther we go in the river, the more deeply immersed we become in what brings life. Like Ezekiel, God is leading us to go through stages that take us deeper and deeper in our knowledge of and relationship with Him, for to know God is to love Him forever. Once we’ve immersed ourselves up to our ankles in prayer and Scripture, we’re ready to go up to our knees, and then our waists.
Eventually our feet can no longer touch bottom. We may fear losing control here, but if we continue to go deeper we become buoyant, lifted up and carried by the flow of God’s love and direction, moving in the current of His will. If we try to swim against it, we won’t get anywhere. This is a river no one can cross; God’s will is supreme. This is the river that gives us life as God intended it: deep in His love and wide with His mercy.
Like life, this river flows on through a range of territories. The one highlighted here is the Arabah, a desert region leading to the Dead Sea. Over time, life takes us into many dry places, and sometimes into places where everything seems hopeless. The Dead Sea is so salty nothing can live there; I equate this part of the vision as representing the times in our lives that are filled with the life-squelching salt of our tears. But swimming in God’s river makes even the dry places traverse-able, and incredibly, can make even the Dead Sea fresh and full of abundant life. “Where the river flows, everything will live.” God can take even the worst things and bring life from them, as long as we stay immersed in Him.
As always, when God maps out His way, Satan is busy creating detours. Sometimes we get diverted from the river and end up in the swamp. “But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.” When we’re swamped with sorrow, pain, discouragement – misery of any kind – it’s crucial to recognize where we are and get ourselves back into the river of life. The swamps are left for the salt of our tears, and nothing else will be produced there.
Conversely, the river produces fruit on both sides, and it’s fruit that is vital to our well-being. This isn’t seasonal fruit; it’s fruit that never fails. It comes from trees that never lose their leaves, because “the water from the sanctuary flows to them.” This God-produced fruit nourishes and heals us, and we can count on that. There’s no down time, no crop failure here.
So my prayer is to go deeper. To stop trying to touch bottom and just go where the river flows. To go into the inevitable dry places immersed in the current of God’s love. To emerge from places of death into a place of healing and restoration.
I want to go deeper.