And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.
— Horatio G. Spafford, “It is Well With My Soul”
The shore of the Dead Sea is the lowest point of dry land on the planet. Since elevation is measured by Sea level, the Dead Sea is currently -420 metres (-1378 feet) below sea level.
The Sea itself has some remarkable properties. It is about ten times saltier then the ocean. Google some pictures of it and you’ll see tourists bobbing around like corks. Its 30% salinity has another effect: it chokes out life. Sure there are some small amounts of salt-loving bacteria, but there are no fish or larger life forms to be found. I guess that’s how it got its name.
Ezekiel used this symbol of death to show the transformative power of the Yahweh.
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After just a couple kilometres from the Temple, the river that was too deep to cross. This massive river flowed eastward into the southern end of the Jordan River valley. From there it followed the Jordan into the Dead Sea.
This is obviously an absurd image—a caricature. In the first place, rivers don’t start in Temples. In the second place, they don’t grow without tributaries. Now we see a river that crosses over mountains and through valleys with impunity. This is clearly a spiritual vision designed to reveal a vital truth.
When that spiritual river enters the Dead Sea, something miraculous happens. You would expect the deathly salinity of the Sea’s water to foul the purity of the river. Instead, the opposite happens. The purity of the river proves more potent than the corruption of the Sea. Like we’ve seen in other places in Ezekiel, God’s holiness is contagious.
Zechariah expands on this imagery a little later. He envisions a river that flows in two directions from Jerusalem:
The LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. . . . On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea [the Dead Sea] and half of them to the western sea [the Mediterranean Sea]. (Zechariah 14:3, 8, NRSV)
What a promise.
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This river is truly a river of life. It’s origins are with the rivers of Eden:
A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. (Genesis 2:10, NRSV)
The purpose of Eden’s river was to nourish the garden. The purpose of Ezekiel’s river is to nourish the world. The paradise of Eden is set to expand, and God is prepared to encourage its growth.
God’s plan from the beginning was to start humans in the garden (like plants in a greenhouse), then make them fruitful so they could transform the entire earth to be like the prototypical garden. God hasn’t given up on his plans. Ezekiel saw a future where the most lifeless land possible would be made fertile.
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Lord, haste the day when my faith will become sight. Help me to realize your Kingdom in anticipation of that day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.