Deep waters in Ezekiel’s river

Proverbs 18:4 says, “The words of a man’s mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.”

When God was about to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites, a select group was chosen from the people, and the manner in which they were selected was based upon how they drank water at a well.

Judges 7:4-10
And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.
So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.
And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.
And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.

In Ezekiel’s account of the river flowing from the temple he showed that the water varied in depth; it began as a mere trickle, and after 1,000 cubits it was ankle deep, then after 1,000 it was up to his knees, and after another 1,000 it was up to his thighs, etc. Eventually it was so deep he could not cross, unless by swimming.

The varying depth of the water compares with some of the metaphors Jesus used, and other figures in the table below. The shallow water might be compared with the stories in the Bible that are often taught to children. But there are much deeper teachings that many never learn about. Those whose Bible knowledge is superficial may be compared to people who never venture to deeper, more profound, and more satisfying parts of the spiritual river in Ezekiel’s prophecy.

Kingdom metaphors References
deep water vs shallow water Ezekiel 47:1-5
flowing waters vs miry places Ezekiel 47:11
strait gate vs wide gate
narrow way vs wide way
Matthew 7:13-14
wise man vs foolish man Matthew 7:24-29
good ground vs stony places Matthew 13:1-9
wheat vs tares Matthew 13:24-30
good fish vs bad ones Matthew 13:47-50
wedding garment vs some other garment Matthew 22:11-13
wise virgins vs foolish ones Matthew 25:1-13
profitable servant vs unprofitable servant Matthew 25:14-30
sheep vs goats Matthew 25:31-46
Jew inwardly vs Jew outwardly Romans 2:28-29
Israel of God vs other Israel Romans 9:6; Galatians 6:16
mature adult vs child Ephesians 4:14
strong meat vs milk Hebrews 5:13-14
clothed vs naked 2 Corinthians 5:3; Revelation 3:18; 16:15
Jews vs the synagogue of Satan Revelation 2:9; 3:9
144,000 sealed firstfruits vs the vast multitude Revelation 7; 14:1-5
Jews vs Gentiles Revelation 11:2
those who dwell in heaven vs those who dwell in the earth and the sea Revelation 12:12
wings of an eagle vs earth-bound perspective Revelation 12:14
camp of the saints vs Gog and Magog Revelation 20:7-9

Obviously, when he described the increase in the depth of the river flowing from the temple, Ezekiel did not mean that the length of the river was limited to four thousand cubits! The river did not end there, but it flowed towards the desert, and eventually emptied into the sea, where the waters were healed. And Ezekiel could not have meant to imply that the river’s depth continued to increase, as the distance from the source increased. In miry and marshy areas, its depth would necessarily become very shallow.

In the section where measurements are given, for every thousand cubits the depth of the river increased. Perhaps the increasing depth of the spiritual river represents increasing knowledge and understanding over time, and each thousand represents a period in the church’s experience, or the development of individuals. The increasing depth of the river may depict the depth of the church’s knowledge of God. This would be cumulative, and the book of Acts shows a progression of the church’s understanding over time. About the end of the first century, the New Testament was completed, encapsulating the teachings of the apostles, and providing a guide and a light to all the saints who have lived since.

In Ezekiel’s prophecy, for each interval of a thousand cubits, the depth increased, picturing the saints becoming more mature spiritually. But after the age of the apostles, this development ceased. False teachings were introduced, as Paul said to the elders at Ephesus: “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” [Acts 20:30]

The repetition of the number one thousand in Ezekiel’s prophecy could possibly be connected with John’s use of that number in Revelation 20. The thousands mentioned in Ezekiel’s prophecy may correspond to the use of a thousand years by John in Revelation 20. The length of the river of Ezekiel may be viewed as a timeline depicting the whole age of the church. The river corresponds to the Spirit flowing from God’s throne during the whole age of the church, and the varying depth of the river pictures the depth of the spiritual understanding of Christians over time. The river extends, like a timeline, through all the centuries to the present. Perhaps the multiple thousands mentioned by Ezekiel are associated with saints who reign with Christ.

Satan was bound for individual believers during their lives, just as he was bound during the ministry of Jesus. His ability to deceive was limited. And the same applies to all who believe the gospel. The thousand years in John’s prophecy is symbolic, and represents the duration of the reigns of individual Christians as kings and priests.

John’s prophecy about reigning with Christ applies to the present age; now is the time when the saints may choose not to worship the beast or his image, and be witnesses to the gospel of Christ. They are “beheaded” in a spiritual sense, as John says he saw the “souls” of those who were beheaded for the witness of Jesus in Revelation 20:4. When he speaks of those who were “beheaded,” or cut off with an axe, he is not referring to martyrs. Only a minority of those who were martyrs suffered beheading. Others died in the arenas, or by crucifixion, or burning at the stake. John alludes to a spiritual process, or condition.

Christians are those who submit to Jesus as Lord of all. Jesus has unlimited understanding, and Paul tells us in Ephesians 1, he now sits at God’s right hand, in the heavenly places, “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named.” Paul said, God has put all things under his feet, and has made him “the head over all things to the church.” In the presence of him who reigns over all things, it would be folly to resist his wisdom, and rely upon one’s own opinion. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

 

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