The River of Life
September 1st, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
THE RIVER OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-1-85 10:50 a.m.
And may the Lord wonderfully bless the multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The River of Life. It is an exposition of the first half of the [forty-seventh] chapter of Ezekiel. And if you will turn to Ezekiel chapter 47, you can follow the exposition plainly this morning.
This vision is the climactic part of his millennial, prophetic, forecasting delineation of the marvelous future God hath ordained for this world. The message will doubtless be the last one delivered from this prophet Ezekiel. And I cannot but say that in all the fifty-eight years that I have been a pastor, there has never been a study that meant more to me personally than this study of the prophet Ezekiel.
I was never introduced to it before in my life. In school it was merely referred to. But this in-depth exposition has blessed my soul world without end. And the message, I say, this morning on the climactic vision of Ezekiel will doubtless be the end of the long series that I have prepared in delivering these expositions; chapter 47, the climax of the visions God gave to Ezekiel concerning His people and concerning us and the world. Chapter 47:
From the outer court where he was standing, this representative angelic messenger from heaven brought me unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under, from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar.
Then the angelic messenger brought me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the outer gate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side.
And when the angel-man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; and the waters were to the ankles.
Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins.
Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river impassable that could not be passed over.
And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen this? Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the bank by the river.
Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other.
Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the Negev, into the desert, and go into the Dead Sea: which waters being brought forth into the sea, the waters of the Dead Sea shall be healed.
And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the river shall come, shall live: and there shall be a great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.
And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it from En Gedi even unto En Eglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great Mediterranean Sea, exceeding many . . .
And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for food, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed—
there is no end—
it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary—
of the temple and the house of God—
and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for healing.
Could you imagine a more glorious vision or prophecy than that? An historical fulfillment always follows the prophetic pattern.
The angel messenger from heaven takes the prophet, and he goes with him one thousand eight hundred feet. A thousand cubits, a third of a mile and the waters are to the ankles [Ezekiel 47:3]. Then he measures another one thousand eight hundred feet, another third of a mile, and the waters are to the knees [Ezekiel 47:4]. Then he measures another one thousand eight hundred feet, a third of a mile, now three-thirds of a mile, a full mile and the waters are to the waist [Ezekiel 47:4]. Then he measures another one thousand eight hundred feet, a thousand cubits, a mile and a third, and the river is impassable, a great stream [Ezekiel 47:5]. And as he speaks to the prophet, he says, “Son of man, hast thou seen this?” [Ezekiel 47:6]. Then he brings him back to the banks of the river [Ezekiel 47:6]. And on either side there are trees, trees with all manner of fruit, all manner of food. And the leaves he says are for the healing of the people [Ezekiel 47:7-8].
Then he shows the prophet that the wonderful waters that pour out of the threshold of the house of God go down into the Arabah, go down into the deep valley of the rift, and there they pour precipitously into the Dead Sea [Ezekiel 47:8]. And instead of the sea continuing to be one of brine, and sulfur, and bitterness, and salt, and death, it comes to life and is the source of multitudinous fish. Even from En Gedi on the Judean side to En Eglaim on the Moabite side, is the sea alive with fishermen, and with fruit, and with trees, like unto the garden of Eden [Ezekiel 47:9-12].
Could you imagine a more beautiful vision even in poetry? It is gracious and pleasant, but to think of it coming to pass! This is not just the conjuration of a man’s imagination; this is the prophecy of God, what shall come to pass in that burnt-up desert and shall be in reality a figure of the recreation of the whole world and the vast universe above us.
Now in just the few minutes that I have to expound the Word of the Lord—and as I say, on that other side we are going to ask God for a planet for me, and I’m going to get me a little soapbox, and I’m going to stand there and preach without any clocks, won’t even have a calendar, just going to preach forever, no time limit. But now in this world of measurement which I’m going to expound upon in these few minutes, I have two things that I bring to our hearts expounding this marvelous, marvelous vision.
And the first one concerns God’s measurements; the doctrine of measurements. In the vision, this man from heaven, this angelic messenger, he measured a thousand cubits [Ezekiel 47:3]. Then in the fourth verse, “Again he measured.” Then in the latter half of the fourth verse, “Again he measured.” And then the fifth verse begins, “Afterward, he measured” [Ezekiel 47:4-5]. When you read (and it is not very interesting reading, I can tell you) but if you read the millennial portion of this prophet of Ezekiel, beginning at chapter 40 and ending through the end of the book, chapter 48 [Ezekiel 40-48], those nine chapters, when you read that, it is full of measurements. Thirty-five times in this millennial vision does the angel messenger of God measure, measure, measure. Everything is measured.
As you approach the millennial temple, the approach is measured, the gate is measured. The pavement is measured. The inner court is measured. The outer court is measured. The posts are measured. The porch is measured. The walls are measured. The temple is measured. The chambers are measured. The windows are measured. Every detail of the temple is schematically drawn. Everything is meticulously measured. And that is God.
In His sight and purview, there is no happenstance. There is no thing that catches Him by surprise. Everything is measured. Everything comes by purpose, and by plan, and by scheme. Everything is metered out; whether it be God’s creation, or history, or our lives, God measures all of it. He is the God of the infinite measure, the whole universe and multi-verse beyond us; and He is no less the Lord God of the infinitesimal, the microcosm beneath us. It is an amazing revelation of God, the Lord’s meticulous care, scheme, measurement of the infinitesimal.
One time under a high-powered microscope I placed a brush-stroke, paint brush. And I looked at it, and even though the paint coloring looked solid to me, under that high-powered microscope it was full of blotches and splashes and vacancies. It was the sorriest looking thing that you could imagine; though it looked with my naked eye as a solid colored brush stroke. Full of blotches! Then I took the wing of a butterfly and put that under that high-powered microscope and looked at it. And under that high-powered microscope, the coloration of that butterfly wing was beautiful, even, unblotched from side to side. The handiwork of Almighty God; everything carefully metered out!
I could easily imagine the Lord God calling Michael the archangel, and saying, “I have three assignments for you today. Number one: I want you to readjust the golden rings around the planet Saturn. Number two: I want you to go down into Philistia and help David fight the Philistines. And number three: there is a tiny ant in the Negev of Beersheba that is struggling with a little bit of edible leaf, trying to climb back up to the top of the ant hill. I want you to help that little ant up that ant hill.” Be the same to Almighty God whether it is adjusting the rings around Saturn or whether it is flinging out into space another universe; or whether it is attending to the needs of that tiny, infinitesimal ant. That’s God. Everything is measured. Everything is under His purview. All of it is metered out!
And that is true with the great purpose of God in our lives. Everything comes under the surveillance of Almighty God. It is He that controls the destiny of these planets in their orbits, and it is He that guides the ultimate destiny of our lives. God does. God does. And that is such an amazing revelation to me. Thus far does God say the measure goes, then it is no further. Thus far does it continue, then it continues no further. Everything is measured out and metered out. It’s in the surveillance of the Lord God. At a certain time I am born; at a certain and appointed time I shall certainly die. Not if, but when; I shall certainly die. My life is measured out. It is metered out. It begins here, and in God’s foreknowledge it ends here.
And what happens in between? According to the perimeters and parameters of the Lord God is my life. That’s why it is inexplicable and inane for a man to think that he will live forever; that his life will continue through all the generations. It is foolish! In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Lord God says to a man who gave himself to no other thing than the accumulation of riches, God says to him, “Foolish man, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall be these things, that thou hast provided for thyself?” [Luke 12:20]. It is inane, it is inexplicable, it is unimaginable! You can’t believe that a man with intelligence would try to live as though there’s not an appointed time right here in which he shall certainly die.
We are measured; we live in the doctrine of the measurements of God. The pastor of the church at Jerusalem, James, said that: “Go to, you who say, We will go unto the city, and we will buy and sell and get gain: when you do not know what a morrow may bring” [James 4:13-14]. We live in the measurements of God: this, and that; thus far and no further. Our days are limited.
And that leads me to a third avowal from this doctrine of God’s measurements: my life in God’s sight is according to a plan, a plan. God’s plan for my life, measured out, schematically drawn. Architecture is not a conjecture. Carefully every part of the building is measured, scheme-drawn.
So our lives are architecturally measured out by the Lord God in heaven. And my part is to ask, “What is God’s will for me and what is my assignment for me?” And then, “This day, Lord, and tomorrow’s day, and until my task is finished, help me to do God’s work and God’s will in the earth.” It’s in God’s hands, my life. I may choose some of the details, but they are relatively insignificant. My life is in God’s hands, and I must live according to God’s choice for me. And each one of us faces that every day. “Lord, what is my task? What am I to do?” And then, “Help me, Lord, to do it for Thee.”
May I point out one other thing in this doctrine of measurements? There comes a time, there comes an inevitable time in every life, when we can do thus, when we can go thus, and we can’t do or go beyond. We are bound before the omnipotence of God, and we bow in prayer and pleading, waiting upon the Lord. God has to, from then on, do what He wills, what God chooses. I can just do so much, then I bow in prayer and it must be left in the hands of the Lord God.
For example: a farmer can plow, and he can sow the seed, and he can cultivate. But he has to wait then upon God. He cannot hasten the sun; nor can he experiment with that germination of the seed. That’s God! God does that, and he must wait for God, for the harvest. He cannot go beyond a certain labor.
That is true with our children. We can teach, and we can train, and we can guide, and we can encourage, and we can help, but there comes a point when we can do no more. The child is left in the hands of God. We can cry; we can bare hearts that are broken, but we can’t go beyond it. We have to depend upon God! Our labors cease at this point, and from there it lies in God’s hands.
An institution is like that. We can work, we can build, we can strive, but there comes a time when the future of the school, or of the institution, lies in the choice of God. And I wish I could change it or do more, but we’re that helpless before someone who’s lost a family or even a child, a father or mother, somebody who is lost. We can pray for them, we can plead with them, but it lies beyond us, that ultimate decision. We can go just so far, then the ultimate choice and decision must be made in them. It brings us in humility to our knees in prayer, waiting upon God, trusting in the Lord. God must do; God must work; God must bear His arm to help. And for us to assume that all of these prerogatives, and all of these decisions, and all of these achievements are in our hands is foolishness. We are dependent upon God!
As you can see, I am an altogether Calvinist. I know we need to work. I know we need to strive. I know we need to labor. But ultimately and finally, the decision lies in the purview and the purpose of God. And we pray before Him, and we bow before Him, and we wait upon Him as we ask God to bless the assignment that we have in our lives–the doctrine of measurements–the doctrine of God’s elective choice and purpose, thus far and beyond that, no further.
A second thing in this wonderful vision is the prophetic course describing the river of life. Its source in verse 1, “The waters came down from under the house of God,” and in verse 12, the last part of it, their waters, “they issued out of the sanctuary” [Ezekiel 47:1, 12]. The great stream of God’s heavenly blessing pours forth out of the throne of the Lord, out of the house of God, starting in Jerusalem. And that has been prophetically a figure for the whole course of the water of life; out of Jerusalem, then the next Jerusalem, then the next Jerusalem, finally, to our Jerusalem. And out of the house of the Lord, out of the temple of God, out of the congregation of His church flow these blessings that bring benefit, and regeneration, and life to house and home and all mankind. The origin of the river is in the house of the Lord. That’s why we must pray for a viable, vibrant church and a pulpit true to the exposition and the proclamation of the Word of God. Out of this sacred place pours forth the waters that bless the house and home of our people.
Do you notice the second thing? Its course: it says it is to go eastward through the wilderness of Judea and finally to fall into the sea that is dead [Ezekiel 47:1-8]. The course of the river, that wilderness is so dry and burnt and parched, vacant, sterile without life. And the Dead Sea has nothing of life in it. And it has nothing of life above it or around it. And this river finds its course through that desert and finally, drops into that Dead Sea [Ezekiel 47:8]. It’s one thousand-three hundred feet below sea level, the lowest spot in the earth, and the waters are filled with brine, and sulfur, and salt, and bitterness. They are dead.
But this river of life, coursing through that vacant, barren wilderness and finally falling into the sea, the river of life brings life, brings trees, greenery, fish, everything teaming like the garden of Eden [Ezekiel 47:9], an unbelievable prophecy of what is to come under the hand of God to this world. And wherever that river goes today, through any kind of a desert, through any kind of a wilderness, falling into any kind of sulfuric bitterness, there will you find healing and life. There’s no end to it. No matter where the gospel message of Christ is preached, there will you find salvation and regeneration, new people, new hearts, new lives. It is glorious and wonderful, the procession of the river of life as it courses through the deserts of this world.
Then the angel says to the prophet, he says unto him, “Son of man, hast thou seen this?” Wonderful, glorious, “But I am going to show you even more glorious things. And he brought me back to the brink, to the side of the river” [Ezekiel 47:6], and looked at it again: and not only the river of life, flowing copiously out of the temple of God, the house of the Lord, but that river as it poured forth, came out of a place that when Ezekiel saw the vision as a slave in Babylon [Ezekiel 40:1-2], that river of life poured forth out of a place that was desolate, desolated, in ruins. Jerusalem had been completely destroyed, the temple was separated every stone from its other stone, it was all a place of ruin and desolation [2 Kings 25:8-9]—yet out of that place the prophet sees under the hand of God, a new Jerusalem; and out of that new millennial temple, this stream of life pouring forth, blessing the deserts of the nations of the world [Ezekiel 47:1-8].
Think of that! Being able to see a thing like that! That such a thing would be possible. Out of these ruins he sees reconstruction. Out of this little, he sees the great and the mighty. Out of the seed he sees the harvest. In the birth of the child, he sees the man. In the beginning, he sees the consummation; out of the ruin and desolation, he sees the glorious temple and city and vision of God [Ezekiel 40-48]. That is a wonderful thing! And it is a characteristic of God’s people. Out of any decimating providence of life, always there is the shining of the presence and the promise of God. Always to be up, always to believe in the Lord, always beyond that horizon, there is some more glorious thing that God hath prepared for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. It’s just unbelievable, this vision God gave to Ezekiel, a slave in captivity in Babylon [Ezekiel 40-48], yet out of the city destroyed and the temple destroyed, all of these wonderful, glorious, millennial, prophetic promises and patterns of the future [Ezekiel 47:7-12]. You can hardly think of it.
It’s like Elijah seeing the cloud, the size of a man’s hand [1 Kings 18:44]. And when he sees it, he says to the king, “Arise, there is the sound of an abundance of rain” [1 Kings 18:41-45]. And it hadn’t rained for three and a half years [1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17-18]. And all he sees is a cloud the size of a man’s hand [1 Kings 18:44]. That’s the mightiness of God. Well, you look at that river again, not only does it pour forth out of a city and out of a temple in ruins—completely destroyed—but in the new city and in the new temple, as it gushes forth, it increases in volume, no tributaries, of itself it does. To the ankle, then to the knee, then to the waist, then a river so great and broad, it is impassible; you could not cross it [Ezekiel 47:3-5].
The Christian life is like that. If you have ever been truly converted, and you are a child of the Lord, you will find your life like that. It will grow and expand, and deepen, and the things of the Lord become increasingly, increasingly precious to you. You will grow in the Word, you will grow in prayer, you will grow in your wisdom and grace as you come in increasing fellowship with the Lord.
The stream grows, the river of life grows, it inevitably grows. And if you’ve ever, I say, been truly saved and born again, you’ll never be happy just to wade around where it’s ankle deep, or even to wade around where it’s knee deep; there will be something on the inside of you that hungers and thirsts after the deep things of God. It’s a beautiful word, it’s a beautiful life, it’s a beautiful stream, it’s a great and marvelous river. And it pictures a glorious, increasingly meaningful Christian life.
Another thing, as the river courses down into the Negev, into the Arabah, into the desert, into the waste places, it brings with it life. Trees are everywhere, and the trees are filled with all manner of fruit for the feeding of the people. And it is unconsumed, you cannot find any end to its bearing every month those twelve manner foods, of fruits [Ezekiel 47:9, 12]. Oh, what a paradise! What an Edenic picture of the omnipotent, creative, re-creative hand of God. All of the world, in beauty, fed by this beautiful crystal stream, and the beginning of it, in Jerusalem [Ezekiel 47:1-3].
You know, as I looked at that, I was just overwhelmed by the pictures in the Bible of the fountain of God’s living stream, in Jerusalem. It’s up there in the hill country. “As the mountains are around Jerusalem, so the hand of the Lord is around those who love Him” [Psalm 125:2]. It’s up there, it’s up high, and yet constantly in the Word of God there are rivers that flow out of the city of Jerusalem. Just let me take a moment for the reading of it in the Word of God. In Psalm 46:4, “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God,” Jerusalem. Take again, in Isaiah 33:2I, “There in Jerusalem, the glorious Lord will be unto us a place for us of broad rivers and streams.” Once again, in Joel 3:18, “It shall come to pass in that day . . . that all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth out of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of the Acacia.” Think of that: a great river proceeding out of Jerusalem!
Look again in Zechariah: I repeat this is over and over again in God’s Book. In Zechariah 14:8, “And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the Mediterranean Sea, and half of them toward the Dead Sea: in summer and in winter shall it be” [Zechariah 14:8], never go dry; over there, you know, in the dry season, all those wadis are dry; never grow dry. Those streams just pour forth the water of life [Zechariah 14:8], a beautiful promise of God: the Edenic remapping of the world.
And that leads me to say this final thing. God has mapped this world in heaven. It is measured in heaven. There is a schematic drawing of this world in heaven. And it goes like this: where you now have deserts, and Sahara’s, and burnt, dry, sterile places in the earth, there God has mapped garden plots, trees, streams, rivers–beautiful, glorious, just as the Lord God Himself. And where you have stony places, and barren places, there has God made bowers of fruits and flowers to grow. And where you have all kinds of sulfur, and salt, and marshland, and stagnant pools, and putridity, and sand, and desert, and sulfur, and bitterness, and salt just all over this earth, there will you find the Lord remaking and recreating this earth after the pattern of the garden of Eden.
That’s what God says, purposing a marvelous wonderful thing for this earth. As it was in the beginning [Genesis 2:8-14], God is going to remake this earth [Revelation 21:1]. And out of that central throne of His house in Jerusalem, will flow waters that bring life and healing to this whole planet [Ezekiel 47:1-12]. It’s just sometimes beyond my thinking, that my eyes could see that, and either in this immortalized or resurrected body that I shall share in that. And that’s why I had us read just now, out of the last chapter of the Book of the Revelation:
I saw a pure river of the water of life proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
On either side of the river were there the trees of life which bare all manner of fruit, every fruit in its season: and the leaves were for the healing of the people.
And God’s last invitation:
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.
And let him that heareth repeat the glad refrain, Come.
And let him that is athirst come.
And whosoever will, let him drink out of the water of life freely”
God’s river of love, and grace, and mercy, and forgiveness, that courses through this weary humanity today, and is a prophetic picture of the Edenic condition by which God will give us back this planet; lost and cursed in sin, but now whole, healed, regenerated, remade according to the grace and mercy of our dear Lord. I say, it is hardly possible for me in my small faith to receive such a promise from God. It’s just too good to be true.
Lord, Lord, how we bow before Thee in thanksgiving, in adoration, in praise, not only for what God hath brought to us in our present lives, but for what God hath promised us in these days that unfold before us. Bless His name. Praise His name. God be exalted, and glorified, and lifted up, forever and ever. Amen.
We are going to stand now in a moment and sing our hymn of appeal. And that beautiful invitation of our Lord, we repeat this precious soul-saving hour. To drink at the fountain of the water of life freely, come. “Let him that is athirst, come. Whosoever will, let him come” [Revelation 22:17]. Welcome. “To accept the riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 2:7], I open my heart heavenward and Christ-ward, I’m coming.” To put your life in the circle and circumference and fellowship of this wonderful church, “I’m coming.” To answer some call of God in your heart, “I’m coming.” As the Lord shall make the appeal, answer, “Here I am Lord, here I stand.”
If you are in the balcony in the last row, there’s time and to spare, come. In the press of people on this lower floor, down any one of these aisles, come. There’s a welcome from us, there’s a joy in the Holy Spirit, there’s a gladness in your heart, you’ll see, if you open your life to the leadership and will of the Lord God who made you, who now calls you, and to whom you find love, and grace, and happiness, and refuge. Come, come, while we stand and while we sing.