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In Our Ward: Lesson 44: “Every Thing Shall Live Whither the River Cometh”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 05, 2010

Lesson 44: “Every Thing Shall Live Whither the River Cometh”

Ezekiel 37; 43-44; 47

Purpose:

To learn about the restoration foretold by Ezekiel, and encourage class members to partake of the life-giving, healing powers that are available in the temple.

LESSON DEVELOPMENT

Introduction

This is our second – and last – lesson from the book of Ezekiel this year. Let’s review how Ezekiel fits into the ongoing story of how God interacts with his people:

Ezekiel was a priest of the temple at Jerusalem. He was acting as a priest there during the collapse of the Kingdom of Judah. You will remember that Babylon attacked Judah and carried many of the people away as captives in two main waves of action, one just before 600 B.C., and the other just after 600 B.C. Ezekiel was among those who was captured in the first wave. The prophecies early in his book are very similar to those in Jeremiah: Israel has turned away from God toward idolatry; Israel will fall and her people carried into alien lands; after a period of chastisement, Israel will turn again to God, and God will redeem his people.

Early in his captivity, Ezekiel received word in Babylon that Jerusalem had fallen to Babylon, and that Judah was a complete conquered nation. His teachings turned immediately to the future and to the restoration of Israel. That restoration, he said, would be partly a physical restoration – Judah would return out of captivity and would rebuild Jerusalem in a tangible, physical sense. But more importantly, the covenant God had made with Israel would be renewed – not only in a material sense, but, more importantly, in the lives and commitments of the people.

Ezekiel’s prophecies in Babylon are very similar to the ones Jeremiah was giving in Jerusalem at the same time. Let’s look at a few places where Ezekiel outlined what would be necessary for the restoration of God’s covenant in the hearts of Israel, and note how God’s message through his prophets was remarkably consistent:

Jeremiah 31:29-30:

29 In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

30 But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.

“The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” This was evidently a proverb in ancient Israel. What did it mean? But Jeremiah said that in the days of restoration, that proverb would be used no more – why?

Let’s read Ezekiel’s related teaching, that in the day of restoration every man would have to accept responsibility for his own sins.

Ezekiel 18:1-4:

1 The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying

2 What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?

3 As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.

4Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

What gospel doctrine taught by Joseph Smith echoes that principle? (“We believe that man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.”)

Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel taught that in the days of the restoration, God’s covenant with Israel would no longer be one that could be satisfied by the following of a set of laws and sacrifices and outward actions, but instead would require each person to make an inward commitment – a covenant in his heart and soul – with the God of Israel:

Jeremiah 31:31-34:

31 ¶Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:

32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:

33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Ezekiel taught that this covenant would unite God with his people to the point where God would even dwell among them.

Ezekiel 37:26:

26 Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.

Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel taught that the covenant would result in an unbreakable bond between God and his people:

Jeremiah 30:22:

22 And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:28

28 And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Jeremiah taught that the restored covenant would not be written on tablets of stone, as the old Law of Moses had been written, but would be written in the hearts of the people.

Jeremiah 31:33:

33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Ezekiel reiterated the idea that God’s law would be written in the hearts of the people – he even refers to a new heart, one that replaces the people’s earlier “stony hearts”:

Ezekiel 36:26-27

26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of bones.

Some prophets seem primarily to receive revelation through hearing the voice of God. Moses, for instance, saw visions – we know that the Lord showed him a vision of creation and the history of the world – but the Ten Commandments and the laws he recorded for sacrifice and the behavior of the people seem to us today to be the spoken word, either of God to Moses or of Moses to the children of Israel.

By contrast, Ezekiel was a very visual prophet; that is, he saw visions that he wrote in such a way that they draw pictures in our mind’s eye. He was like Lehi and Nephi with their vision of the iron rod and the tree of life, where he was looking on a visionary scene, and where every element of that scene had a symbolic meaning.

One of the most visual of Ezekiel’s visions was one we touched on briefly last week, concerning “the valley of dry bones,” which we understand to refer to the restoration of Israel. It’s a relatively short account; let’s read it and discuss some of the elements and how they relate to the restoration of Israel:

Ezekiel 37:1-14:

1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,

2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.

What is the point of telling us they were “very dry”? (They had been lifeless a very long time.)

3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones alive? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.

Ezekiel acknowledges that he doesn’t know of himself whether those bones can “alive” – come alive again – but he knows that God, who knows all things, can answer that question.

4 Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.

5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:

6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.

8 And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.

I think it’s interesting to see that God doesn’t just point his finger and have the bones restored instantly. Rather, that restoration seems to take some time, with each bone finding its place, and the sinews and flesh and skin gradually coming upon the bones. What might that tell us about the timing of the restoration?

Note, too, that even when the physical restoration is complete – the bodies have been restored and look complete, they are still lifeless because God has not yet put breath in them. What does that suggest about man’s power to bring about a restoration on his own?

9 Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.

10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.

Can’t you just see that in your imagination? A prophecy like this speaks directly to the mind of the listener – you don’t have to understand complex laws or understand difficult scriptural vocabulary: You can see in your mind’s eye what is happening, and feel in your heart what it means. But we aren’t left there; the Lord goes on to explain to Ezekiel what his vision means.

11 ¶Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.

12 Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.

13 And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves,

14 And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.

It’s easy enough to understand, with our familiarity with the life of Christ, what it means when the graves are opened and the people are brought out of the grave. But these verses also speak of a “hope” that had been lost, until God broughnt about a restoration. What is the hope that Israel had lost?

Ezekiel is shown a vision of a temple in Jerusalem.

Another of Ezekiel’s prophecies is an extremely visual one. He sees a vision of the building of a temple in Jerusalem, which is described in Ezekiel 40-46.

Accompanied by a heavenly guide, Ezekiel is shown throughout that visionary temple, and Ezekiel records a description of the rooms, their sizes, the walls and doors, and the purposes for the rooms. His description is so minute and exact that many people have drawn architectural plans and built scale models of this temple.

It is clear from the extraordinarily complete description that Ezekiel’s temple is the kind of temple that was familiar to ancient Israel: There were courtyards, and an inner sanctuary, and a “most holy place” within that, surrounded by living quarters for the priests. The ordinances described are those of animal sacrifice on an altar like that of Solomon’s temple, and the rituals described are those of the Law of Moses.

Ezekiel’s temple is not a temple like those for latter-day use, not only because the temple is arranged for animal sacrifice, but because there are no provisions for instruction and symbolic enactment and the ordinances of the endowment and sealing that we have been given today. In this case, the “restoration” Ezekiel teaches of appears to be limited to a prophecy of the restoration of the temple immediately following the return from Babylonian captivity, not the restoration of the last days. Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie claimed that Ezekiel’s vision was of a temple that would be built in Israel in the last days; they seem to be the only latter-day apostles, though, who reached that conclusion – everyone else taught that we do not know whether Ezekiel’s vision was of a real, physical temple to be built, or a method of symbolic instruction in the only terms the ancient Israelites were familiar with..

Nevertheless, whether literal or figurative, Ezekiel’s vision of the temple has some ideas in common with our own view of modern temples.

The Lord said his temple would be a holy place, undefiled by man, a place where God can dwell in the midst of his people:

Ezekiel 43:7:

7 ¶And he said unto me, Son of man, the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever, and my holy name, shall the house of Israel no more defile, neither they, nor their kings, by their whoredom, nor by the carcases of their kings in their high places.

(Rather strongly worded, but we get the point!)

How do we ensure that our temples today meet this standard set by the Lord?

Ezekiel’s temple was a place for the people to go after they were ashamed – that is, after repentance – where they would be instructed in the laws of the Lord and the ordinances that he wanted them to keep.

Ezekiel 43:11:

11 And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, shew them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof: and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them.

The temple would be a place where God’s people would learn to distinguish holiness from that which is unholy:

Ezekiel 43: 23:

23And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.

So we can see that some of the purposes of the temple remain the same from Ezekiel’s day to our own, even if the day-to-day practices have been altered through revelation.

Ezekiel measures the river’s depth.

Ezekiel’s visionary temple included a river issuing from the very heart of the temple and flowing out into the surrounding country. What do rivers, or water, often mean in scriptural language? Why would a river be an especially apt description for life, and wisdom, and the love of God, in a desert country like Israel?

Ezekiel’s heavenly guide had Ezekiel walk with him through the river three times. The first time he crossed, the water came only to his ankles. The next time it reached his knees. The third time, the water was at such a flood that Ezekiel could not cross it.

Ezekiel 47:2-5:

2 Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the utter agate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side.

3 And when the man that had the aline in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles.

4 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.

5 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 that could not be passed over.

One possible explanation of this symbol is that the water represents what we take with us, what we understand, from the temple. The first time we go, we realize that there is life-giving truth there, but we may only comprehend it ankle deep. What happens if we continue to go to the temple with the right spirit and purpose?

If our appreciation of the temple is only ankle deep, or knee deep, what can we do to increase the flow of knowledge from our temple experience?

Ezekiel sees a river flowing from the temple that gives life to the desert and heals the Dead Sea.

Looking out from the temple, Ezekiel saw that the river flowed beyond the confines of the temple, down into the desert where nothing grew, until it reached the body of water that we know as the Dead Sea. The river from the temple “healed” the sea (Ezekiel 47:8) – that is, purified and brought life back to it.

In what ways does our service in the temple release a river of life? How can temple service heal us? our families? our ancestors?

Conclusion

I think one reason I appreciate Ezekiel more than some of the other Old Testament prophet is that he was a visual man – he saw things that he could describe in a way that I can see them, because I am a visual woman, too. I will close today by describing a visual symbol that I witnessed this week, that speaks to the power of the restoration and especially of the temple:

I dressed a woman for her burial this week. Her temple apron was one of the lovely, old-fashioned kind, with cut-out leaves and heavy hand embroidery. As I placed that apron on her, I noticed that the top three inches of the apron, the part that would be covered by her sash, was completely bare – the heavy embroidery thread that had once covered it had been worn away, down to the bare satin fabric. I wondered how many times that woman had returned to the temple – how many times she would have had to have put on and taken off her sash for that silky fabric to have worn away all the embroidery thread that way. I thought it was a fine tribute to a quiet life well lived.

I wonder how deep the waters of Ezekiel’s temple river were for that sister? and how many women who had died without the opportunity of making temple covenants had received the healing waters of the temple through that one woman’s service?



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