VISION OF THE TEMPLE WATERS
by PATRICK FAIRBAIRN, D.D.,
EDINBURGH: T. & T, CLARK. 1869.
Text adapted from Internet Archive
CHAPTER XLVII. 1-12.
IT is necessary to take the first part of this chapter apart from the second, which relates to a different subject, the new division of the land, and which ought to have formed part of chap, xlviii; The vision contained in the first twelve verses of this chapter is a thing by itself, although it stands in close connection with what precedes, and springs naturally out of it. The prophet has been exhibiting, by means of a variety of detailed representations, the blessed results to the Lord's people of his re-occupying his temple. The way now stands open to them for a free and elevating communion with the Lord; and the work proceeds, on their part, by the regular employment of all spiritual privileges and the faithful discharge of holy ministrations; God is duly glorified in his people, and his people are blessed in the enjoyment of his gracious presence and the benefit of his fatherly administration. But what is to be the nature of the kingdom in this new form, in respect to the world without? Is it to be of a restrictive or expansive character? Is the good it discloses and provides for a regenerated people to be confined, as of old, to a select spot, or is it to spread forth and communicate itself abroad for the salvation of the world at large? In an earlier prophecy (chap, xvii.), when speaking of the future head of the Divine kingdom, under the image of a little twig, plucked from the top of a cedar in Lebanon, and planted upon a lofty mountain in Israel, the prophet had represented this, not only as growing and taking root there, but as winning the regard of all the trees of the field, and gathering under its ample foliage beasts of every kind and birds of every wing. The kingdom of God, as thus exhibited, seemed to carry a benign and diffusive aspect toward the entire world. And should it be otherwise now, when presented under the different, but more detailed and variegated form of a spiritual house, with the living God himself for the glorious inhabitant, and a royal priesthood for its ministering servants? No; it is for humanity, mankind as a whole, that God was thus seen dwelling with men; and though everything presents itself, according to the relations then existing, as connected with a local habitation and circumscribed bounds, yet the good in store was to be confined within no such narrow limits; it was to flow forth with healthful and restorative energy, even upon the waste and dead places of the earth, and invest them with the freshness of life and beauty.
This fine idea is presented by the prophet under a pleasing natural image. He is brought back by the angel from the outer court, where he was standing, to the door of the temple on the east; and there he sees a stream of water gushing from beneath the threshold, and running in the direction of south-east, so as to pass the altar on the south. He is then brought outside by the north gate, and carried round to where the waters appeared beyond the temple-grounds, that he might witness the measurements that were to be made of them, and the genial effects they produced. But let us take his own account of it.
Ver. 1 And he brought me back to the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued forth from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the front of the house is to the east; and the waters descended from below, from the right side of the house, on the south of the altar. 2 And he brought he forth by the way of the north gate, and led me round by the way without to the outer gate, by the way that looks eastward; and, behold, waters were pouring forth on the right side. 3 And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits; and he made me pass through the waters-waters to the ankles. 4 Again, he measured a thousand, and brought me through waters-waters to the knees. Again, he measured a thousand, and brought me through waters to the loins. 5 Again, he measured a thousand; and it was a river which I could not pass: for the waters were risen, waters for swimming, a river that could not be passed over. 6 And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen this? And he led me and brought me back to the brink of the river. 7 Now when I came back, behold, on the bank of the river, very many trees on the one side and the other. 8 And he said he to me, These waters issue toward the eastern boundary, and descend upon the plain, and go toward the sea; in the sea are their outgoings, and the waters are healed. 9 And it comes to pass, that every living creature which creeps whithersoever the streams go, lives; and there is a great multitude of fish, because these waters go thither: and they shall be healed; and everything lives whithersoever the river goes. 10 And it comes to pass, that fishers shall stand upon it from Engedi, even unto En-eglaim; a spreading-place for nets shall they be; their fish shall be after their kind (i.e. of many sorts), like the fish of the great sea, (the Mediterranean), very many. 11 Its marshes and its pits, which are not healed, are given for salt. 12 And by the river on each bank, there shall come up all trees for food, whose leaf shall not fade, nor shall their fruit fail; every month they shall bring forth afresh (literally, produce firstlings-in such undecaying vigour, that they are still, as it were, yielding their first-fruit); for their waters proceed from the sanctuary itself; and their fruit is for food and their leaves for healing.
That the description given of this stream and its effects, must be understood in an ideal manner, not of any actual river, but like all the rest of the vision, of spiritual things shadowed forth under it, is so evident as scarcely to require any proof. The source of it alone (the summit of an elevated mountain), and the manner of its increase, should, put this beyond a doubt with, all who would not convert the Bible into a nursery of extravagance and credulity. For a natural river like this would of necessity be in contravention of the established laws of nature, and could only exist as a perpetual miracle. Supposing that by some new adjustment of the land, a stream might be made to rise on the top of Mount Zion, yet a stream feeding itself as described in the vision, and growing with such rapid strides, is utterly at variance with the known laws of the material world. For, it is to be observed, the increase here comes from no extraneous and incidental sources; it is all along the temple-waters that form the river, and at last empty themselves into the sea; and yet from being at first but a small streamlet, these grow, by self-production, in the space of little more than a mile, into an unfordable river! To expect such a prodigy as this on the outward territory of nature, is plainly to identify the natural with the miraculous, and confound the hopes of faith with the dreams of superstition. The Bible does teach us to look for things above nature, but never for merely natural things against the ascertained laws of nature.
Issuing as this stream does from the threshold of the temple, from the very foot of the throne of God (comp. Rev. xxii. 1), it must be, like all the special manifestations of God to his church, itself of a spiritual nature, and only in its effects productive of outward material good. It is just the efflux of that infinite fulness of life and blessing, which is treasured up in his spiritual temple, and continually pours itself forth as the operations of his grace, proceed among men. It is emphatically a river of life. Wherever it is experienced, the barren soil of nature fructifies, the dead live again, the soul is replenished with joy and gladness. And instead of spending, like the streams of nature, as it advances through the moral deserts of the world, it still multiplies and grows; for it diffuses itself from heart to heart, from family to family. Every true recipient of grace becomes a channel and instrument of grace to those around him; so that the more who partake of the blessing, the more always does the region expand over which the kingdom develops its resources. And in proportion as these are developed, everything around wears a smiling and joyous aspect; the evils and disorders of nature are rectified; peace and order reign where before were the favourite haunts of wretchedness and crime; the very field of judgment becomes a region of life and blessing; until, at last, corruption itself is changed into incorruption, mortality is swallowed up in life, and the earth which God had cursed for men's sin, is transformed into the inheritance of the saints in light.
Such, we have no doubt, is the general import of the vision before us; and to this we must confine ourselves. It must be contemplated as a whole, and not broken up into fragments; as, if we should inquire, what is to be understood specially by the fish, what by the fishers, what by the trees, and so on. A life-giving and ever-increasing stream of heavenly influence, proceeding from the centre of the Divine kingdom, and diffusing itself far and wide among men, is what the prophet intends to exhibit to our mind; and to give this idea form and shape to our apprehensions, he must fill up the picture with the appropriate signs and manifestations of life. But to take these up, one by one, and adapt them to particular things in the present or future dispensations of God, can only be an exercise of fancy, as likely to mislead as to conduct to sound and legitimate conclusions. Let us rest in the great reality. Let us rejoice in the thought, that the Spirit, of God should have coupled, with all the other exhibitions of the Divine kingdom given to the prophet, so encouraging a prospect of its vivifying, restorative, and expanding energies. And let it deepen the blessed conviction in our bosom, that the purpose of God in grace is fixed; and that mighty as the obstacles are, which everywhere present themselves to withstand its progress, it shall certainly not fail to make good its triumph over all the disorders and corruption of the world.
We simply add, in regard to the relation of this prophecy to others in Scripture, that there is undoubtedly a reference, in the whole passage, to the description in Gen. ii of the garden of Eden; although it seems father pushing the allusion too far, when Hengstenberg, on Rev. xxii. 2, maintains, the trees here mentioned to be simply the tree of life. The mention, of every kind of tree for food, in v. 12, and the prominence given also to the abundance of fish in the waters, show, that there is no servile copying of the description in Genesis; while still it is impossible not to see, that a kind of new paradise was evidently intended to be described by the prophet. Then, as he has, after his own manner, enlarged and amplified the thought which is contained in such passages as Joel iii. 18; Zech. xiv. 8, so his delineation is again taken up by the evangelist John, and in his peculiar manner accommodated to express the last grand issues of God's kingdom toward man: "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month (for which Ezekiel has all manner of fruit trees, bearing monthly); and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more, curse (corresponding in Ezekiel to the benificent change wrought on the doomed region of the Dead Sea); but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in, it, and his servants shall serve him" (Rev. xxii. 1-3).