The River and the Promised Land
Ezekiel is now taken again to the door of the temple itself, and shown something that either he failed to notice or describe the first time he toured the inner court, or that was not there prior to Christ's arrival. The river of the water of life begins at the very throne of God in the Most Holy Place (Ezekiel 43:7). This parallels the description of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1), which will still be in heaven during the Millennium, to descend to earth afterward. In both cases, there is evidently a literal river—but the river symbolizes the living waters of God's Holy Spirit.
In the millennial temple, the river emerges from beneath the eastern threshold, proceeding past the south side of the altar (also defined as the "right" side, as one faces east).
Ezekiel is then taken out the northern gates and around to the outer eastern gate, outside of the temple complex, to again see the river as it emerges on the south (right) side of the eastern gate. They move along the river to measure the depth of the water by wading across at 1,000-cubit intervals. By the time they reach 4,000 cubits (1.6 miles) from the eastern gate, the river is too deep to wade across.
Ezekiel mentions fruit-bearing and medicinal trees along the river (Ezekiel 47:7; Ezekiel 47:12), again similar to the description of the New Jerusalem, in which we see the tree of life bearing 12 different fruits and leaves with healing properties (Revelation 22:2). According to Zechariah 14:8, the river will split, part of it flowing west to the Mediterranean and the other part flowing east to the Dead Sea. Ezekiel goes on to describe the effect of this river on the Dead Sea, which will spring forth with life and become a wonderful place to go fishing.
Besides the literal application, there is a wonderfully symbolic picture in all this. Again, the river represents the outflowing of the Holy Spirit, bringing life to the lifeless. In the fruitful, medicinal trees we may see God's Spirit working in and through the lives of His righteous servants. For not only are the righteous to partake of the tree of life, they are in a sense to be trees of life themselves. Nourished by the stream of Holy Spirit, they are to produce godly fruit and be a life-giving blessing to others. A godly person who continually meditates on and lives according to God's law is "like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper" (Psalm 1:3).
Finally, Ezekiel is given the borders of the land. They actually correspond very closely to the borders defined by Moses in Numbers 34:1-12.
Yet "this list of borders does not coincide with Israelite settlement in any period, but rather reflects the Egyptian province of Canaan, as defined in the Egyptian-Hittite treaty signed following the battle of Kedesh. These, then, were the borders of the Land of Canaan which the Israelite tribes found upon their arrival" (Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, The Macmillan Bible Atlas, 1968, p. 41). "Ezekiel 'modernized' them by working into his description contemporary geographical names, including several of the Babylonian provinces of his day" (p. 106).
Apparently, God will give the Israelites all of the land He originally intended they should have. It differs from both the ancient and modern borders primarily by including the area of Lebanon and southwestern Syria. Also interesting to note in this passage is that the Promised Land will be for the Israelites "and for the strangers who dwell among you" (Ezekiel 47:22).