In the 1950s on a fine Summer evening my father would take my siblings and me to Brancaster beach. I could not swim at the time, so I would bravely step into the cold water, and slowly walk out further as water gradually came up my body. On a calm evening I would dare to go on until the water came up to my chin. Then I would return to the beach having felt I had achieved something.
This passage in Ezekiel always reminds me of those Summer evenings, venturing into the water. Ezekiel was taken to the door of the temple, where he saw water flowing from under the threshold. He is then taken from there to the gate on the east of the temple, and there was the water flowing out.
The man who was leading him is described in chapter 40 verse 3. His ‘appearance was like the appearance of bronze. He had a line of flax and a measuring rod in his hand.’ The man measured a thousand cubits – about 500 yards or 455 metres – and the water came up to Ezekiel’s ankles. Another thousand cubits, and the water came up to his knees. The next thousand cubits was up to his waist. And then, after the next thousand the water was too deep to paddle, and he needed to swim. It was out of his depth.
In the 1960s I preached on this passage a couple of times. I had recently been filled with the Spirit, and now was enjoying ‘swimming’ in this new experience, and I encouraged the congregation not to dabble in the shallows of the things of God, but to wade out into deeper things, and to swim, being buoyed up by the water and not relying on the support of their legs and feet.
The water in this narrative was ‘living water’ flowing in the ‘river of life.’
But this was not the end of the matter! The man with Ezekiel asked him “Son of man, have you seen this?” This was not just an interesting experience. There was a lesson to be learnt. He took Ezekiel out of the river on to the bank. Then Ezekiel noticed that there were trees growing, very many, on both sides of the river. This is very similar to the vision that John saw in Revelation 22. The difference is that John saw it as a tree (singular) on both sides of the river, called ‘the tree of life,’ bearing fruit continually (every month), and the leaves of the tree which were for the healing of the nations.
The river which Ezekiel saw flowed towards the east, into a valley, and into the sea. When the waters of the river enter the sea, its waters are healed. And along the banks of the river the fruit of the trees will be used for food, and the leaves for medicine, because their water flows from the sanctuary (the throne of God and of the Lamb in Revelation 22 v 1). Verse 12 of chapter 47 says that ‘their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail.’
The words ‘living’, ‘of life’, ‘will not wither’ and ‘not fail’ speak of eternal things, things which do not change, things which can be relied upon. That is the amazing thing about God. We know that He is utterly dependable, unchanging and consistent. Let us ever go deeper in our relationship with God, and not rely on our own understanding, because we can know that if we commit our lives to Him, we will know that ‘underneath are the everlasting arms.’
In John 4 Jesus talks about Living Water. The woman of Samaria wanted this Living Water, and Jesus said to her: “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into eternal life.” This is the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Swim in that water! Drink of that water! John 7 v 37 – 39 says ‘” If anyone thirsts, let Him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” … this He spoke concerning the Spirit.’ Come Holy Spirit!