In one of the most underrated Biblical texts, the prophet Ezekiel sees a vision of water coming from the temple in Jerusalem, the place where God lives. The small stream flows east, and as it travels becomes wider and wider, deeper and deeper. Ezekiel walks in the current until it becomes too deep, when “the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross.” As the river continues to flow east, fruit bearing trees spring up on either side because of the fresh, life-giving properties of the water.
Ezekiel watches in amazement as the torrent floods into the most unlikely of places: the Dead Sea. Because of its high salt content, the Dead Sea is notoriously barren (I mean it’s called the Dead Sea after all). No fish. No life. Not even seaweed.
But something extraordinary happens when the river from the temple crashes into the lifeless seawater. “When it empties into the sea, the salty water becomes fresh. 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” (Ezk. 47:8-9).
What does this all mean? It’s important to know that visions, like poems from high school English class, can have multiple layers of meaning and often use pictures and places as symbols. And while I do not want to be disingenuous to the original context and meaning of Ezekiel’s vision—a message of hope and life for a captive Israel—this particular revelation is a testament not just to what God would do with his captive people, but what he has been doing all along: bringing life to dead places. This is God’s specialty.
In the very beginning God burst into the chaotic emptiness with a declaration of life—“Let there be light!” he said to the void, and there was light. All throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God rushes into dead places—the barrenness of Abraham and Sarah, the brokenness of Jacob and his family, the suffering enslavement of thousands in Egypt, the hopelessness of a people carried off to Babylon, the frustration of rebuilding a city that has been destroyed—and every time He brings life into a seemingly hopeless situation. And of course, in the gospels God plunges once more into the depths of the grave, the ultimate “dead place”, only to arise victorious over death itself.
But guess what—God’s not done. He is still charging into the dead places of the world: places of despair and deprivation; injustice and pain; dead cities and nations, dead communities and relationships, dead homes and dead hearts. And he is still bringing life. This is the mission of God.
/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/ to revive,
\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/ to refresh,
/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/ to renew.
The only thing left to uncover from Ezekiel’s vision is what exactly does the water represent? Some have argued that the river is a picture of God’s people, called to join in mission of the Lord. Others suggest that the life-giving tide represents God’s own Spirit overflowing the temple walls and going out into the world. But which is it?
You are invited to join the people of God, filled with the spirit of God, to carry out the mission of God in bringing life to dead places. There is no higher calling than to join this rumble and flow of the thundering river of life.
More to come on what this looks like…