If you have any doubts that the vision of chapters forty through forty-eight are symbolic, chapter forty-seven should remove it. The chapter speaks of a stream running from under the south side of the temple, and yet, the river runs east! How can this be?
It can’t of course.
That’s why it must be symbolic.
It flows east, but also south, into the Jordan river valley, all the way to the Dead Sea. As it flows, the water changes from a brook to a stream to a river and as it flows, it brings life to everything it touches. Even the Dead Sea is turned into life supporting water.
Water was the most important thing in the ancient world of Israel. It’s still the most important thing to us all. Life cannot survive without it. And here, a gift from the Lord, it comes in increasing measure.
To exiles in Babylon, wondering if they will ever get to go home, the immediate message is “yes.” And home will become a haven. It will extend to Damascus in the north to the southern part of the Dead Sea. From there, it will extend all the way to the Meditarranean near Egypt – very much the territory mentioned in Numbers 34:1-12. The land is being restored to Israel.
But something else is happening too. Non-Jews are being brought into the people of God (vss. 22 & 23). There was no way to do this in the Old Testament. There is no vast store of water under the temple. The flow of the water is unnatural. The amount of water is unnatural. It is all symbolic of a time to come when the blessings of God would flow from Jerusalem to all people.
That would eventually happen when Jesus came and brought in a new age, an age empowered by God’s life-giving Spirit flowing to all mankind – the Christian age.