Where was the river flowing in Ezekiel’s vision? To the Dead Sea. And its purpose was to bring life:
“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. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Great Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:9-12, NIV).
As the Scripture unfolds we learn that God often uses fish as a symbol of people. Jesus said to his future disciples (who were fishermen), “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19; Mark 1:17). The sea is like the nations and God desires people to be pulled out of the darkness of the nations into his Kingdom. This was the call of Jesus’ disciples and still is the call of every disciple.
In Ezekiel’s vision we learn that there will be “large numbers of fish” because the river of life is flowing into the deadest and lowest region of earth. Clearly it is a picture of the great harvest of lost souls being saved from the nations. The purpose of the river is not so we can get “drunk,” but so we can win the lost (cf. Eph. 5:18). Ezekiel goes on to say that there will be fishermen along the shores and that there will be many kinds of fish. These many kinds of fish represent what John saw:
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9-10).
As Ezekiel’s vision unfolds he communicates that there will not only be fish but healthy trees and fruit. Scripture also uses the image of trees as a picture of man. A person can either bear good fruit, bad fruit or no fruit. And if they are unfruitful they are in danger of being cut down (Luke 3:9, 13:6-9; John 15:1-17, etc.). The function of the river is to supply life to all the various kinds of fruit trees, enabling them to produce continual lasting fruit. So we see that God has given us his Holy Spirit not merely to heal us and satisfy our deepest needs, but to make us fruitful, enabling us to feed those who are spiritually hungry and bringing healing to the nations. Therefore Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23b). The fruit of the Spirit is not just for us, it is for others to enjoy and for us to be transformed.