WATER FROM THE SANCTUARY GIVES LIFE

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1 Page 1 of 14 November 16 Lesson 11 WATER FROM THE SANCTUARY GIVES LIFE DEVOTIONAL READING: Psalm 1 BACKGROUND SCRIPTURE: Ezekiel 47:1-12 EZEKIEL 47: The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side. 3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, Son of man, do you see this? Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there 1 1

2 Page 2 of 14 and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. 11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. KEY VERSE Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Ezekiel 47:9 LESSON AIMS After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to: 1. List characteristics of the river flowing from the temple. 2. Explain how the word pictures of river and water become used as a way of describing new covenant blessings in Christ. 3. Write one meditation daily in the week ahead that reflects on the nature of the living water available in Christ. Introduction A. Water B. Lesson Background I. Rising Water (EZEKIEL 47:1-7) A. Initial Flow (vv. 1, 2) B. Increasing Depth (vv. 3-6) Too Much of a Good Thing? C. Innumerable Trees (v. 7) LESSON OUTLINE 2 2

3 Page 3 of 14 II. Reviving Water (EZEKIEL 47:8-12) A. Extraordinary Change (v. 8) B. Abundant Fish (vv. 9, 10) C. Exception Noted (v. 11) D. Abundant Fruit (v. 12) Conclusion What Trees Do A. Living Water Now B. Living Water for Eternity C. Prayer D. Thought to Remember Introduction A. Water Some years ago, the church building where I worship experienced water damage. A leak occurred in the baptistery, which was located behind the stage in the sanctuary and directly above the kitchen in the fellowship hall below. By the time anyone noticed what was happening, water had poured through the ceiling panels in the kitchen and had spread out into the fellowship hall. What a mess! As part of his temple vision, the prophet Ezekiel saw water flowing from under the threshold of the temple. This water, however, did not do any dam-age quite the opposite! This water became the source of life and productivity in the places where it flowed. The imagery of lifegiving water is frequent in the Bible. Water is necessary to all life on this planet, of course. That is one reason the Bible uses it so often to portray spiritual life and abundance. Jesus spoke this way of the Holy Spirit, who was to come following Jesus ascension into Heaven (John 7:37-39). Unlike some figurative language in Scripture, this one is not at all difficult to grasp. B. Lesson Background Today s lesson text takes us into another part of the prophet Ezekiel s temple vision. Beginning with chapter 40 and extending through chapter 48, the end of the book, Ezekiel presents the future in the context of worship from the glorious, perfect temple of God. This description of the new temple constitutes about 20 percent of the entire book of Ezekiel. Therefore, understanding the meaning and significance of the vision is crucial if we are to appreciate this great book fully. Between Ezekiel 43:21 (where last week s lesson ended) and 47:1 (where this week s begins), Ezekiel received details concerning (1) the officials to serve in the temple, (2) allotment of land, and instructions regarding offering procedures for the Passover and other special days. As 3 3

4 Page 4 of 14 chapter 47 opens, we see Ezekiel having been brought back to the entrance of the idealized temple. I. Rising Water (EZEKIEL 47:1-7) A. Initial Flow (vv. 1, 2) 1. The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. The man likely refers to Ezekiel s companion (perhaps an angel) who has been guiding the prophet s visionary temple-tour from the beginning (Ezekiel 40:3). Previously, the man had taken Ezekiel to the temple s portico (40:48, 49) and entrance (41:1, 2). Now they are back again at the entrance to the temple. On arrival, Ezekiel witnesses a bizarre sight: water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east. We think of a threshold as the small gap between the bottom of a closed door and the floor. For some reason, the flow of water from this narrow gap is from under the south side of the temple. (South is to Ezekiel s right if he is facing east, watching the water flow away from the door). Apparently the waters are flowing in a southeasterly direction. We will see why shortly. 2. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side. Ezekiel s guide leads him through the north gate for the prophet to have a different perspective on the flowing water. They cannot leave by the eastern gate because that gate has already been closed (Ezekiel 44:1, 2). Circling around by means of the northern gate may help the two avoid the flow of the water. They then proceed to go around the outer gate facing east, where they are able to resume watching the movement of the water. HOW TO SAY IT Arabah Are-uh-buh. En Eglaim En Egg-lay-im. En Gedi En Gee-dye (g as in got). Ezekiel Ee-zeek-ee-ul or Ee-zeek-yul. Jerusalem Juh-roo-suh-lem. Mediterranean Med-uh-tuh-ray-nee-un. 4 4

5 Page 5 of 14 messianic mess-ee-an-ick. B. Increasing Depth (vv. 3-6) 3. As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. The man proceeds to lead Ezekiel eastward, in the direction toward which the waters are flowing, and even into the waters themselves. The man has a certain measuring line in his hand. This may be the same linen cord that is mentioned at the beginning of the vision (Ezekiel 40:3). After the man measures a thousand cubits, he and Ezekiel find themselves in water that is up to the ankles. In this case the cubit is most likely the standard cubit of 18 inches in length; therefore, it is not the long cubit of 21 inches used in the temple measurements in Ezekiel 43 (last week s lesson). Measured according to the standard cubit, 1,000 cubits is the equivalent of about 1,500 feet, a little short of three-tenths of a mile. The shallow water is about 6 inches deep. 4. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. As the two walk farther, the depth of the waters increases. The measuring line is used to determine distance, but the depth of the water is determined as Ezekiel s guide leads him into the water itself. Knee-deep water is 18 to 20 inches. Depth up to the waist is about 3 feet. 5. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in a river that no one could cross. As the fourth thousand-cubit segment is measured off, the waters become a river too deep to wade. The shallow flow that escapes from under a door of the temple has become a mighty stream. Just as there is no natural explanation for the source of the water behind the door, there is no natural explanation for the stream s increasing depth. The power of God must be escalating its volume. TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING? Water is an inescapable necessity of life. We all know that we cannot live without it. We also know that there can be too much of a good thing. Flooding causes massive destruction and death yearly. I live in a city that is on a major river, and I know all too well how excessive rain can create flood conditions. Every few years people who live on the riv-er s edge have their homes washed away by flood waters. Folk here still talk about the flood of 1937, when the river crested 28 feet above flood 5 5

6 Page 6 of 14 stage. Of course, that flood pales in comparison with the one in Genesis 7. When it comes to God s living water, there can never be too much! Ankle-deep is fine, kneedeep is better, and waist-deep better still. When it becomes too deep to wade, we can swim! The rainbow reminds us of God s promise never again to destroy the world by flood (Genesis 9:12-17). The cross and empty tomb remind us of the river of the water of life that awaits us in Heaven (Revelation 22:1, 2). J. B. N. 6. He asked me, Son of man, do you see this? Then he led me back to the bank of the river. Having witnessed the waters emerging from the temple go from a depth of a few inches to a depth uncrossable, without resorting to swimming, the man asks Ezekiel, Son of man, do you see this? The question may be posed as an exclamation of wonder: Son of man, look at this! Isn t this something? It is an amazing sight indeed, especially when one considers that the setting is a very high mountain (Ezekiel 40:2). Only an act of the Lord can enable water to flow in the manner described in such a setting (compare Isaiah 41:18). We may compare the scene unfolding before the prophet with what he witnessed earlier in the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). There a vast array of dry, lifeless bones, seemingly beyond all hope of living again, suddenly yet methodically came together. As they did so, they received all the necessary components for living human bodies. The prophet watched in stunned amazement as a vast army came into being (37:10). The vision of a mountaintop featuring much water is no less spectacular. As the guide brings Ezekiel back to the bank of the river, the prophet is about to behold even more stunning sights. Regarding the phrase Son of man, see commentary on Ezekiel 43:7 in lesson 9. What Do You Think? How can water, in its various contexts, illustrate the character of God? Talking Points for Your Discussion The depth of an ocean (Psalm 24:1,2; etc.) The flowing of a river (Isaiah 48:18; etc.) The placid stillness of a lake (Psalm 23:2; etc.) The refreshment of a cool spring (Isaiah 43:20) Other C. Innumerable Trees (v. 7) 7. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 6 6

7 Page 7 of 14 From his new vantage point on the riverbank, Ezekiel is treated to a scene of many trees on each side of the river. Ezekiel, being as familiar with this region as he is, knows that something of God is happening. This river is bringing life to the area. (Compare Psalm 107:35: He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs. ) II. Reviving Water (EZEKIEL 47:8-12) A. Extraordinary Change (v. 8) 8. He said to me, This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Ezekiel s guide now offers further explanation of the waters, both in terms of flow and effect. As the water flows eastward (also v. 1) and goes down into the Arabah, or desert, it ends up in the Dead Sea. The city of Jerusalem lies at almost exactly the same latitude as the northernmost tip of the Dead Sea. Therefore, the waters flowing from Jerusalem s temple toward this body of water have to flow a bit to the south as well as east in order to empty into the sea rather than end up connecting with the Jordan River (see comment on v. 1, above). The Dead Sea has been known for centuries as just that dead, because its salt concentration is 5 to 10 times greater than that of normal ocean water. Yet this once-stagnant water becomes fresh because of the waters flowing from the temple. Ezekiel has previously seen dead bones come to life; now he sees dead waters transformed to support life (next verse). What Do You Think? In addition to dry bones and salty water, what other images biblical and otherwise strike you powerfully as illustrations of one s spiritual deadness before coming to Christ? Why? Talking Points for Your Discussion Images of deadness tied to human behavior (air pollution, etc.) Images of deadness tied to forces of nature (tornadic devastation, etc.) Images tied to cultural expressions ( dead as a doornail, etc.) B. Abundant Fish (vv. 9, 10) 19. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water 7 7

8 Page 8 of 14 flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. A consequence of the transformation that occurs where the river flows is that marine life is able to exist and flourish where it previously could not, especially in the once dead sea. We could say that the River of Life has created the Sea of Life. Fish, which could not have survived in the overly salty waters of the old Dead Sea, are now described as existing in large numbers. Fresh water will yield abundant life in the formerly brackish water and on the land that is near the water. 10a. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. Who can imagine that a fishing industry will thrive in the vicinity of the Dead Sea? Yet here are fishermen standing on its shore from En Gedi to En Eglaim! The oasis of En Gedi, about 22 miles south-southeast of Jerusalem, is located about halfway down the western shore of the Dead Sea (compare Joshua 15:62). The location of En Eglaim is uncertain; some suggest it may be situated on the central eastern shore of the Dead Sea. If so, this indicates that the fishing trade flourishes on both sides of the Dead Sea. The impression is that boats are unnecessary because fish are so abundant that they can be caught from shore. What Do You Think? What should others see in our reactions to receiving unexpected blessings from God? Why? Talking Points for Your Discussion Reactions toward God Reactions toward the blessings themselves Reactions in how we use the blessings to benefit others Other 10b. The fish will be of many kinds like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. This half verse speaks to variety. Fish are known to be very plentiful in the Mediterranean Sea. Imagine fishermen being able to catch as many varieties of fish in the Dead Sea as they can in the Mediterranean! The bumper crop of fish ensures a never-ending food supply for the new Jerusalem, the source of the River of Life. The use of the word kinds calls to mind the language of the creation account in Genesis 1:21, 24, 25. C. Exception Noted (v. 11) 11. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 8 8

9 Page 9 of 14 This verse notes an exception to the abundance of life. The swamps and marshes will not be affected by the life-giving waters; salty, brackish water will remain there. The reason for this is not given. One theory is that a source of salt is necessary because salt is required for certain offerings (Ezekiel 43:24; compare Leviticus 2:13). Another theory is that these places remain in their unhealthy state as a reminder that one must be near the River of Life to have its benefits. What Do You Think? Why do many people prefer to seek spiritual water from sources other than God? Talking Points for Your Discussion Psalm 63:1 Job 15:16 Jeremiah 2:13 Other D. Abundant Fruit (v. 12) 12. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. Ezekiel s tour guide now returns to a description of the trees that were seen earlier in the vision (v. 7). Here they are described as fruit trees of all kinds. That their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail speaks to the fact that the fruit will not be susceptible to disease or anything else that would make it inedible. The prediction that every month the trees will bear fruit shows that these trees are quite unlike ordinary trees, with their dormant cycles. The continual fruitfulness of such trees results from the unique properties of the water that flows from the sanctuary. The leaves of the trees have life-giving properties as the water does (see v. 9). All this reminds us of the presence of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9), only here there are numerous trees of life! WHAT TREES DO A careful study of trees reveals some amazing facts. For one, trees are a perfect counterpart to human life in that they take in carbon dioxide, which we breathe out as a waste product, and turn it into oxygen, which we need to live. In one sea-son, a mature leafy tree can produce as much oxygen as 10 people will inhale for the entire year! That s one reason why tropical rain forests are so important to the world s ecosystem. 9 9

10 Page 10 of 14 Trees also interact with water in surprisingly beneficial ways, such as slowing storm water run-off so it can be absorbed into the ground. One source estimates that a single, fully grown Colorado blue spruce can intercept more than 1,000 gallons of water annually in this way. This helps replenish underground aquifers. Ezekiel, of course, was not aware of modern scientific facts such as these. But he knew life when he saw it. And the trees lining the river in his vision not only represented life, they also witnessed to the blessings of food and medicinal applications. This can be a prayer stimulus: the next time you glance out a window and see a tree, pause to thank God for his provisions for life, both immediate and eternal. J. B. N. Conclusion A. Living Water Now The introduction to lesson 9 proposed that Eze-kiel s temple vision should be understood as using certain images or word pictures to prophesy coming blessings under the new covenant through Jesus. Under that covenant, every Christian is pictured as a temple of God s Spirit. The most significant of the word pictures found in today s passage is water. The Old Testament uses water imagery to convey the message that God s water of life is never stagnant, but always available, active, and life-giving (Psalms 1:3; 36:8; 84:5, 6; Isaiah 12:3; 41:18; 43:19; 66:12; Jeremiah 31:9). Jesus used the imagery of water on various occasions to depict the abundant life he came to bring. When he attended the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, he declared, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:37, 38; compare 4:10, 14). Jesus was not quoting a single, particular Old Testament passage, but the general message derived from several passages, including our text for today. Interestingly, the climax of the Feast of Tabernacles featured the pouring out of water as part of the symbolism. It was in such a setting perhaps during the pouring-out ceremony itself that Jesus made his promise of living water. Christopher Wright notes that the water-pouring ceremony at this feast in Jesus day was already interpreted in various Jewish traditions as a symbolic anticipation of the messianic outpouring of the Spirit in fulfillment of various Scriptures, including Ezekiel 47:1-9. The apostle John goes on to explain, By this [Jesus] meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive (John 7:39). This means that we can enjoy right now the benefits of the spiritual refreshment that come from the Holy Spirit. B. Living Water for Eternity We see Ezekiel s vision reaching its clearest and ultimate fulfillment in the book of Revelation. There the apostle John was shown the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side 10 10

11 Page 11 of 14 of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1, 2). John saw a certain river as the source of life, just as Ezekiel saw. Trees on either side of John s river were fruitful, just like Ezekiel s. And the leaves of the trees that John saw were a source of healing, again just like Ezekiel s. Such parallels indicate how Ezekiel s great temple vision should be understood. It does not appear that the temple layout shown to that prophet was ever intended to be followed by the exiles who returned from Babylon or by any other group of God s people. Since the vision portrays something unique and miraculous in nature, we must allow God himself to declare how its fulfillment is to be understood. That is what the New Testament does for us. It points to a fulfillment that is initiated by Jesus first coming and climaxed by his second coming. At Jesus return, his holy city will become inhabited for eternity by his people. It is a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). What Do You Think? Through which conduit is God s living water affecting you most powerfully right now? Why? Talking Points for Your Discussion The conduit of God s Word The conduit of fellow believers (the church) The conduit of God s Spirit Other C. Prayer Father, thank you for the living water that continues to bring healing and hope to our lives. May we never separate ourselves from it, and may we as your people point others to it as well. We praise you for sending Jesus, who makes this living water available. In his name we pray; amen. D. Thought to Remember Let the living waters flow through you! 11 11

12 Page 12 of 14 Visual for Lesson 11. Point to this visual as you ask, Which of the seven images best illustrates the living water Christ offers? Why? INVOLVEMENT LEARNING Enhance your lesson with NIV Bible Student (from your curriculum supplier) and the reproducible activity page (at or in the back of the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary Deluxe Edition). Into the Lesson Announce a game to see how many benefits and problems your learners can name that are related to the use of water in its liquid and solid (ice) forms. Allow one minute of silent reflection for learners to think of answers before you start. Begin the game by pointing to a learner at random as you say one of these four phrases: liquid 12 12

13 Page 13 of 14 benefit, liquid problem, solid benefit, or solid problem. That person has five seconds to come up with an answer in that regard. He or she then gets to call on another person while voicing one of the four phrases. Jot responses on the board to make sure they are not repeated. When learners run out of answers, say, Although water isn t always beneficial in either form, today s lesson uses an image of water that is of great benefit. Into the Word Today s lesson format will be guided instruction through the text. Ask for volunteers to read the text aloud, as it is sectioned off below. Some discussion starters are suggested, but it will be important to follow each discussion starter with this question: What impact could this section of text have had on the original readers, who were exiled in Babylon? Expected and possible responses are in italics. Verses 1, 2: Identify the source of the water and to which direction it flows. (The temple is the immediate source, but learners may note that God must be the ultimate source. The water flows eastward. Original impact: Exiles made aware that the temple is to be renewed in some sense, etc.) Verses 3-5: Explain what is happening in the progression of these three verses. (The flowing water gets deeper and deeper as the distance increases. Original impact: This must be supernatural, since there is no river in that area.) Verses 6, 7: Identify a result of the river flowing. (Trees begin to be visible. Original impact: Presence of trees implies a reversal of homeland devastation.) Verses 8-10: Explain the effect the flowing river has on things in its path.(the waters of the Dead Sea become fresh, able to sustain a fishing industry. Original impact: Implies more than the homeland merely reverting to its status before the exile; this is a supernatural improvement to the area.) Verse 11: Specify what does not happen as a result of the presence of the new river. (Certain areas remain salty. Original impact: See the commentary for two possibilities.) Verse 12: Explain the relationship between the river and the trees. (River makes it possible for the trees to grow; trees in turn provide a continual source of food and medicine. Original impact: Divine healing of both land and people.) Conclude this segment by asking learners how today s text reminds them of other sections of Scripture. (Possible responses are Genesis 2:8-10 and Revelation 21:1, 2; 22:1-3.) Use the texts from Revelation as a transition to Into Life. Option. For deeper study, distribute copies of the A River Runs Through Scripture activity from the reproducible page, which you can download. Discuss insights after completing in small groups. Into Life Ask learners what similarities they see between today s text and Revelation 21:1, 2; 22:1-3; jot 13 13

14 Page 14 of 14 observations on the board. Make sure to note these two similarities if learners do not do so: both rivers are sources of life and both visions point to a fulfillment that was initiated by Jesus first coming and will culminate at his second coming. Discuss the hope these verses have for Christians today and compare that with the way the readers in Eze-kiel s day may have reacted. Option. Distribute the A Meditation for Others activity from the reproducible page as a takehome exercise

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