The Temple-River

September 20, 2012

The Temple-River of Ezekiel 47:1-12 implies that there is a land through which it flows, and which is healed because of it. What land is it? Not the literal territory of Canaan. It may be the better land mentioned in Hebrews 11:16.

The story of Moses striking the rock in the wilderness which brought forth water has a profound significance, and the theme of water and rivers as symbols of the Spirit flows like a river throughout both the Old and New Testaments. The Jerusalem temple was built above the site of a spring, called Gihon, which was also the name of one of the rivers in Eden. Solomon was crowned king there. [1 Kings 1:32-35]

Fountains and rivers are connected with God’s throne, and the temple. David wrote:

Psalm 36:7-9
How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.

Isaiah said Jerusalem would be a place of “broad rivers and streams,” that obviously could not exist with the present topography there, and would be even less plausible, if the city was raised up in a physical way as described in Isaiah 2:2 and in Zechariah 14:10.

Isaiah 33:20-22
Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.
But there the glorious LORD will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.

Jerusalem was raised up, when Jesus ascended to heaven, and to his Father’s throne, after his resurrection, and he fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy.

Joel said, “a fountain shall come forth out of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim.” [Joel 3:18] The valley of Shittim is on the east of the Jordan River. The prophecy seems absurd if it is taken literally. How could a river from the temple cross the Dead Sea and flow uphill to Shittim? Understood spiritually, the prophecy makes sense, as it alludes to the events there before Israel entered the promised land. Shittim represents the place where the Israelites were seduced because of the prophet Balaam. This is referred to in the message in Revelation to the church at Pergamos where it has a spiritual significance.

Revelation 2:14
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

The spiritual waters from the true temple, the church, are a cure to the sin of spiritual fornication which Paul alludes to in 2 Cor. 11:2-4. See also James 4:4.

The following is a discussion of the word proseucha which is used in the New Testament, referring to a place of prayer near a river. The discussion includes some information about the association of rivers and water with places of worship in New Testament times. [From: John McClintock, James Strong. Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Volume 8. Harper, 1883. pp. 664-665.]

Proseucha (προσευχῇ) a word signifying “prayer” and always so translated in the A. V. It is, however, applied, per meton., to a place of prayer—a place where assemblies for prayer were held, whether a building or not. In this sense some hold it to be mentioned in Luke vi, 12, where it is said that our Saviour went up into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in the proseucha of God (ἐν τῇ προσευχῇ τοῦ θεοῦ), which can very well bear the sense our translators have put upon it —”in prayer to God.” Yet Whitby and others infer, from the use of parallel phrases, such as “the mount of God,” ” the bread of God,” ” the altar of God,” “the lamp of God,” etc., which were all things consecrated or appropriated to the service of God, that this phrase might here signify “an oratory of God,” or a place that was devoted to his service, especially for prayer. In this sense the word must certainly be understood in Acts xvi. 13, where we are informed that Paul and his companions, on the Sabbath day, went out of the city, by the river side, οὗ ἐνομίζομεν προσευχὴν εἶναι, which the A. V. renders “where prayer was wont to be made.” But the Syriac here has, “because there was perceived to be a house of prayer;” and the Arabic, “a certain place which was supposed to be a place of prayer.” In both these versions due stress is laid upon οὗ ἐνομίζομεν, where there was taken, or supposed to be —or where, according to received custom, there was, or where there was allowed by law—a prostucha, oratory or chapel; and where, therefore, they expected to meet an assembly of people. Bos contends (Exercit. Philol.. ad loc.), however, that the word ἐνομίζομεν is redundant, and that the passage ought simply to be, “where there was a proseucha;” but in this he is ably opposed by Eisner (Obsere. Sacr.: ad loc,). See Philippi.

That there really were such places of devotion among the Jews is unquestionable. They were mostly outside those towns in which there were no synagogues, because the laws or their administrators would not admit any. This was, perhaps, particularly the case in Roman cities and colonies (and Philippi, where this circumstance occurred, was a colony); for Juvenal (Sat. iii, 296) speaks of proseuchæ, not synagogues, at Rome. They appear to have been usually situated near a river or the seashore, for the convenience of ablution (Josephus, Ant. xiv, 10, 23). Josephus repeatedly mentions proseuchæ in his Life, and speaks of the people being gathered into the proseuchæ (44, 46). Sometimes the proseucha was a large building, as that at Tiberias (l. c. 54), so that the name was sometimes applied even to synagogues (Vitringa, Synag. Vet. p. 119). Proseuchæ are frequently mentioned as buildings by Philo, particularly in his oration against Flaccus, where he complains that the proseuchæ of the Jews were pulled down, and that no place was left them in which to worship God and pray for Caesar (Philo, in Flacc. in Op. p. 752). But, for the most part, the proseuchæ appear to have been places in the open air, in a grove, or in shrubberies, or even under a tree, although always, as we may presume, near water, for the convenience of those ablutions which with the Jews always preceded prayer, as, indeed, they did among the pagans, and as they do among the Moslems at the present day. The usage of the latter exhibit something answering to the Jewish proseucha; in the shape of small oratories, with a niche indicating the direction of Mecca, which is often seen in Moslem countries by the side of spring, a reservoir, or a large water-jar, which is daily replenished for the use of travellers (Whitby, De Dieu, Wetstein, Kuinol, on Acts xvi, 13; Jennings, Jewish Antiquities, p. 379-382; Prideaux, Connection, ii, 556).—Kitto.

“Questions have been raised,” says the late Dr. M’Farlan, of Renfrew, “as to the origin of these, and their being or not being the same with the synagogue. Philo and Josephus certainly speak of them and the synagogues as if they were substantially one. The former expressly declares that they were places of instruction. ‘The places dedicated to devotion,’ says he, ‘and which are commonly called proseuchæ, what are they but schools in which prudence, fortitude, temperance, righteousness, piety, holiness, and every virtue are taught—everything necessary for the discharge of duty, whether human or divine.’ As the writer’s observations were chiefly confined to the Jews of Alexandria and other parts of Egypt, this description will chiefly apply to these. But there is no doubt, on the other hand, that where synagogues existed, and especially in Judea, they did to some extent differ. We are therefore very much disposed to concur in the opinion that the oratory was substantially and in effect a synagogue. But the latter was the more perfect form, and required, for its erection and support, special means. There was in every synagogue a local court, deriving its authority, at, least in Judea, from the Sanhedrim; and there were office-bearers to be maintained; whereas in the oratory there does not seem to have been any very fixed or necessary form of procedure. These might, for aught that appears, have been all or substantially all which belonged to the synagogue, or it might be little more than what we would call a prayer-meeting. Hence, perhaps, the reason of the prevalence of the one—the synagogue—in Judæa, and of the other in Egypt and other countries not subject to Jewish laws.”

It is highly probable that proseuchæ existed long before synagogues. “It is remarkable,” continues Dr. M’Farlan, “that the only places where Daniel is said to have been favored with visions, during the day, were by the sides of rivers (Dan. viii. 2, 16; also x, 4; xii, 5, 7; and ix, 21), the very places where oratories were wont to be. Ezekiel also received his commission by one of the rivers of Babylon, and when ‘among the captives’ of Israel (Ezek. i, 1). And he afterwards mentions his having received visions in the same circumstances (iii, 15, 16). And Ezra, also, when leading back Israel to the land of their fathers, proclaimed and observed a fast with them by the way; and, as if to keep up the same tender associations, he assembled them by the river Ahava, where they remained three days (Ezra viii, 15, 32). But the very finest illustration which occurs is that contained in the 137th Psalm — ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down; yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion’ (1-3). The people of Israel were accustomed, in after-times, to make choice of the banks of rivers for their oratories, and this point of agreement is one of the grounds on which we are proceeding. But it will hold equally good, whether the Israelitish captives followed, in this, the example of their fathers, or whether, as is more probable, their circumstances in Babylon led to this choice. It is not unlikely that this led to a similar choice in aftertimes, and particularly in foreign countries. The poor captives of Babylon had perhaps no other covering or even enclosure than the willows of the brook; and thus may they have been driven, when seeking to worship the God of their fathers, into the woody margins of Babylon’s many rivers. Meeting in such places, as they had been accustomed to do in the oratories of their native land, it is not wonderful that many tender associations should be renewed.”

After the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, synagogue worship was much enlarged and improved, while oratories gradually diminished in number and importance. Hence, in later times, oratories were chiefly found in countries beyond the land of Israel. Under the Roman government synagogues were discountenanced, but oratories, or places of meeting for devotional exercises, were generally permitted all over the empire. Dr. Lardner thinks that the synagogue mentioned in Acts vi. 9 was really an oratory; and Josephus speaks of a very large one in the city of Tiberias. But it was chiefly in foreign parts that proseuchæ in later times were found. Josephus, in detailing the decree passed in favor of the Jews at Halicarnassus, says, “We have decreed that as many men and women of the Jews as are willing so to do may celebrate their Sabbaths and perform their holy offices according to the Jewish laws; and may make their proseuchæ at the sea-side, according to the custom of their forefathers.” —Gardner, Faiths of all Nations, s. v. See Riddle, Christian Antiquities (see Index); Stillingfleet, Works, vol. i; and the monographs cited by Volbeding, Index Programmatum, p. 76. See Chapel; Oratory.