10 August 2011

"Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed." (v. 5)


One of the chief questions in understanding Ezekiel's vision is the question of how literally we should take it. The fact that Ezekiel is given his guided tour by an angel suggests that is it written in the apocalyptic tradition continued in the Revelation of John. The vision gives the impression of being a physical blueprint of how things are to be and yet, on closer inspection, we find that these things cannot be so under the laws of nature. In this passage we find the precise measurement by the angel of 1,000 cubits for a deepening of the river flowing out from the temple; however, for a river with no tributaries, this is a physical impossibility.

Of course we might want to assert that all things are possible for God. But the danger here is that we miss the symbolic meaning of the vision. A river with no tributaries has only one source and in this vision it is the temple, the dwelling place of God. Any river is of course a source of life to its surrounds, and in the Hebrew Scriptures water, fertility and blessings are all closely associated ideas. The precise measurement of 1,000 cubits suggests a uniformity of perfection until finally Ezekiel describes it as a river that cannot be crossed. This river of blessings cannot be bridged over or gone around. It is an unstoppable force of God's blessings. Our only option is to swim in it.

It seems strange at first that the angel asks Ezekiel if he has seen this thing that has just been described. Of course he has: yet we are all guilty of seeing things without really seeing things. But the fact that the angel refers to him as "mortal" (v. 6) when asking this question is perhaps significant. Given Ezekiel's mortality he needs to take special note of this river of life and perhaps too, he needs a particular effort in really seeing what his mortal eyes may be prone to miss. This is the point of such a vision; it reveals things that are normally unseen by mortal eyes.

To Ponder

How do you (honestly) feel about the idea of God's blessing as a river that cannot be crossed?

What are the things today of which God is saying to you "Mortal, have you seen this?" (v. 6)?

Bible notes author: The Revd Jonathan Mead

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