by William Kelly
We now come to a highly characteristic feature of the coming age, in connection with the sanctuary of Jehovah, waters that issue with healing power, and this with increasing volume.
Joel, as is well known, had already predicted that "a fountain shall come forth of the house of Jehovah, and shall water the valley of Shittim." (Joel 3: 18) The prediction does suppose exuberance of earthly blessing, as the token of God's favour and delight in goodness to the creature. The valley of the acacias does not forbid but confirm this. For it is no question whether the waters could flow thither on the other side Jordan, some seven miles or more beyond the Dead Sea, as nature now is. "That day" will be subject to no such conditions. Nature bowed to the Creator when He came to be a man and die and rise again; nature will bow correspondingly when He executes judgment on the quick at His coming again in His kingdom. It is just because it affords such an example of dryness that God takes that valley, and declares it shall be watered then, it is because the east sea is one proverbially of death, that it shall be made to abound in life. Blessing will spread to the ends of the earth, and from this centre - the house of Jehovah. What ought to be shall then be without fail, even on this earth, in spite of its hitherto sad continuity of failure; and this because Jehovah-Jesus reigns in virtue of His cross.
After our prophet, Zechariah declares that half of the living waters should go to the hinder sea or the Mediterranean, and half to the former or eastern sea, thus adding very materially to what Joel had predicted; and this should be alike in summer as in winter. For its source was higher than the creature supplies.
Ezekiel, between these two prophets, will tell us of the manner and effects of these waters, which point to an energy altogether different from man's or nature's so evidently that Henderson is obliged here to depart from his previous interpretation. So far as the temple and its ordinances are concerned, he owns their literality. Here he gives this up, because there was nothing left for the Jews to do in bringing about the realization of the vision. But this is in every way erroneous; for (1) the Jews could do as little to bringing back the visible display of Jehovah's glory as in causing healing waters to flow from the temple, and yet the return of the cherubim is the grandest feature in all this vision from first to last; and (2) we have already seen that, in what might be thought more within the compass of the Jews, a vast deal of the description, and even ritual, wholly differs from what existed among the remnant who returned to the land from Babylon. It would be hard to point out a single particular of agreement between their history and the prophecy.
The only just conclusion then is that the vision, as a whole and in all its parts, belongs to the future, and supposes the kingdom to be set up over Israel, restored once more, and planted for ever in their land. In this point of view the words of the translator referred to may be cited, though they need correction: - "Having left the temple, the seat of the divine residence, and the source whence blessings were to flow to the restored Hebrew nation, the prophet is carried in vision southward into the regions of the Dead Sea, which had been noted for everything that was forbidden and noxious in its aspect - the very embodiment of barrenness and desolation. These were now to be converted into fertility and beauty. As in their previous condition they were strikingly symbolical of the spiritually unproductive and abhorrent character of idolatrous Israel, so they were now to serve as images of the renewed state of things when God should bring back His people, and, according to His promises, bless them, by conferring upon them abundantly the rich tokens of His regard. Instead of a barren wilderness, they should now become as the garden of Eden. By the copious effusions of the influences of His Holy Spirit He would restore His church to spiritual life, and render her instrumental in diffusing blessings to the world around."
The intelligent reader will see, not only the confusion of the Jew with the church, but also the mistake of supposing that this vision regards Israel's blessing. It is distinctly the divine blessing which will change the familiar, yet awful, scene of death outside into life and fruitfulness, though flowing out from the house of Jehovah. But, whatever may be the effusion of the Holy Ghost which accompanies it, there is no solid ground to question that this part of the vision is just as literal as what precedes and follows. All is really homogeneous.
"And he brought me back unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued from under the threshold of the house eastward; for the front of the house [was toward] the east, and the waters came down from under the right side of the house, at the south of the altar. And he brought me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the utter gate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side. And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins. Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over." (Vers. 1-5) The remarkable fact here seen is the striking increase of the waters, without the least hint, but rather to the exclusion, of the thought of accession from tributary streams as in ordinary nature. It is an astonishing manifestation of God's gracious power: all gushes forth from His house, yet the waters deepen rapidly, instead of growing shallower, as they recede from their source - to the ankles, to the knees, to the loins, and, lastly, till they are a river to swim in that could not be passed over.
"And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen [this]? Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the brink of the river. Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea; which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that everything that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and everything shall live whither the river cometh. And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it from En-gedi even unto En-eglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many. But the miry places thereof and the marshes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt. And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine." (Vers. 6-12) The effects appear at once: very many trees on both sides the stream, and there, where death had so long reigned, fish in the greatest abundance, so that fishers should spread their nets from end to end of what had once been the lake of Asphaltitis. Still it is in time, not yet the perfection of eternity any more than its condition, for there is still sea (cf Rev. 21), and its swamps and its lagoons are not to be healed, whatever may be the ample exhibition of animal and vegetable life within and around; but there is marked exception here, as verse 11 shows, even if we accept the view that these unhealed waters are reserved or destined for the production of salt. Lovely is the picture of God's bountiful provision in verse 12, though here too we may note the supply of leaves for medicine. It is an earthly scene.
It may be remarked here how singularly some of the ancient versions (the Greek, Syriac, and Arabic) have mistaken the plain and certain meaning of verse 8. All three have blundered alike in making *** mean Galilee, the Septuagint and the Arabic adding also the error of translating *** as Arabia, the Syriac as the north, or north-east instead of the plain or valley of the Jordan. The Targum of Jonathan has avoided these mistakes.
The rest of the chapter is occupied with the arrangement of Israel according to their future place in the land; and here Henderson cannot but return to "the literal Canaan and the literal tribes," as alone meeting the demand of the unbiassed expositor. The counsels of God stand. Joseph, whatever the dark history of his sons meanwhile, must have his portion; the title of flesh failed, Reuben forfeited his birthright; but not the original gift of grace. So the prophet begins the distribution. "Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, This shall be the border, whereby ye shall inherit the land according to the twelve tribes of Israel: Joseph shall have two portions. And ye shall inherit it, one as well as another: concerning the which I lifted up mine hand to give it unto your fathers: and this land shall fall unto you for inheritance. And this shall be the border of the land toward the north side, from the great sea, the way of Hethlon, as men go to Zedad; Hamath, Berothah, Sibraim, which is between the border of Damascus and the border of Hamath; Hazar-hatticon, which is by the coast of Hauran. And the border from the sea shall be Hazar-enan, the border of Damascus, and the north northward, and the border of Hamath. And this is the north side. And the east side ye shall measure from Hauran, and from Damascus, and from Gilead, and from the land of Israel by Jordan, from the border unto the east sea. And this is the east side. And the south side southward, from Tamar even to the waters of strife in Kadesh, the river to the great sea. And this is the south side southward. The west side also shall be the great sea from the border, till a man come over against Hamath. This is the west side. So shall ye divide this land unto you according to the tribes of Israel." (Vers. 18-21) Did any fear that the territory might fail for Israel gathered in, every one from all lands? They need not, for in that day the earth shall yield its increase, and the abundance of the sea shall be turned to Zion, and the riches of the nations without measure. The nation and the kingdom that will not serve Jerusalem shall perish. Kings shall be her nursing-fathers, and princesses her nursing mothers.
But so little ground is there for anxiety, that the land will suffice not only for the tribes of Israel but for the strangers that may sojourn and have begotten children there. "And it shall come to pass that ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you, and to the strangers that sojourn among you, which shall beget children among you: and they shall be unto you as born in the country among the children of Israel; they shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it shall come to pass, that in what tribe the stranger sojourneth, there shall ye give him his inheritance, saith the Lord Jehovah." (Vers. 22, 23) Who can doubt that such largeness of heart and liberality of hand are absolutely new to Israel?
On every side the evidence is complete that it is not of the past and accomplished we here read, but of the bright future of God for Israel in their land, when there will be a welcome for the stranger truly divine to an inheritance in any tribe whatsoever. So will it be with the Jew in that day, happy contrast with all that has ever been! He will learn it of God when he bows to Jesus, and himself blessed be a blessing. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, such shall they give to the praise of His mercy which endures for ever.