Just as the altar needed to be cleansed of its defilement before the temple worship system could be established, so the land must be renewed before it can play its intended role in the deity-nation-land relationship.
— Daniel I. Block (The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25-48)
I remember looking for my first real apartment with me soon-to-be wife. I had spent the previous four years in residence at a Bible College. I had spent the last couple months in the basement of a parishioner from the church where I was ministering. Donna and I were both excited at the thought of a place for ourselves.
We followed a few leads from the newspaper and looked at some basement apartments in Mississauga (Malton, to be precise—that area of Mississauga directly north of Pearson International Airport). It seemed like every place we checked out was dingy and overpriced. I can still remember one of the basement apartments we looked at. The walls had water-marks about one foot up each baseboard. We asked if he had any problems with water or flooding in the past. “Of course not,” he replied.
Water problems are not a lot of fun. They lead to mold and all sorts of renovation headaches. But for Ezekiel, water symbolized the complete opposite. He took a fresh look at the temple, and saw water trickling out from under the threshold—and it was a very good thing.
. . .
Ezekiel was pleasantly shocked by this turn of events. In fact, his literary style breaks down as his amazement overwhelms him. He watched a little bit of water trickle away from the threshold, along the wall of the temple, and out under the south wall.
This stream was not very big. The world “flowing” (v. 1, NRSV) is actually a Hebrew onomatopoeia (a word that sounds like what it means, like “gurgle”). It is the sort of sound that you would hear, were you to empty a bottle of water. Yet this small sound from the small stream had massive implications.
. . .
Think about what life would be like in a desert society. Living in Canada with a love for canoeing, it’s difficult for me to grasp a culture where water is so precious. I suppose if I lived in a desert, I’d change my tune.
When Moses led Israel out of Egypt (even before Mt. Sinai) they had a water problem. Listen to their despair:
When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it is called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” He cried out to the LORD; and the LORD showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. (Exodus 15:23-25, NRSV)
Three days into the wilderness, and the lack of water had them doubting the God that parted the Red Sea for them a week or so earlier!
Again, in the wilderness of Sin, the Israelites were without water:
The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:2-3, NRSV)
Now imagine a temple on a hill with a spring of fresh water pouring out from it. The implications are profound:
- The stream would nourish the land
- The stream would satiate the Israelite’s thirst
- The stream would symbolize God’s caring presence
Next week we’ll look at what else this river can do.
. . .
Lord, help me to be the kind of person that refreshes those who meet me. Help me to be generous with your living water. In Jesus’ name, Amen.