Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What About Those Swamps?

As I read Ezekiel’s description of his vision, I notice that he is very detailed. In fact, all through the book of Ezekiel, we see that this prophet takes great pains to help those with whom he shares the vision picture what he sees.
Image found here
So I find the following bit fascinating.

The swamps and marshes won’t become fresh. They’ll stay salty.  
(Ezekiel 47:11 Message)

That’s it. Nothing more. Everything else is being touched by the River of Life. Everything else is becoming fresh. Everything else has abundant fish and trees and …LIFE.
Here is the same verse in two other versions.
But the marshes and swamps will not be purified; they will still be salty. (NLT)

 Its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt. (NKJV)

Look at the words used here. The marshes and swamps would not be “healed” or “purified”. They would “still be salty” or “given over to salt”.
It is clear, at least to me, that in Ezekiel’s way of thinking fresh was good. Salt was bad. After all, in the passage we considered in the last post, we read,:

Wherever the river flows, life will flourish—great schools of fish—because the river is turning the salt sea into fresh water. (Ezekiel 47:9b)
What is Going On Here?
I admit that I am using a bit of sanctified imagination here, but please bear with me. I wonder if Ezekiel looked around him in his vision and saw abundant life springing up wherever the river went. Even the “Salt Sea”, which I understand to refer to the Dead Sea, became fresh when the River of Life touched it. Ezekiel saw this transformation. He saw life springing up where previously there was none.
Keep in mind that in Ezekiel’s day, they probably didn’t have the knowledge of how essential the wetlands are to the overall environment. To people of Ezekiel’s day, I suspect that swamps and marshes were essentially a worthless piece of real estate.
  • It’s hard to travel through a swamp.
  • You can’t drink the water in a swamp.
  • You can’t graze sheep in a swamp.
  • You can’t plant grain in a swamp.
  • I’m sure there are other points I could add, but these are enough to give you the idea.
Ezekiel looks at the swamps and marshes and sees that they are not becoming fresh. I wonder if he scratched his head and asked, “Why doesn’t the river touch the swamps and marshes to heal them? Why aren’t they made fresh and useful like all these other places? Why are they left for salt?”
Perhaps we can find an answer in the next two translations.
But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. (NIV)
But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. (RSV)
These verses show that the swamps and marshes won’t become fresh. The will be left for salt. The are to be left for salt. This shows an intentionality in leaving those seemingly useless pieces of real estate in their swampy, marshy condition. There is a reason those areas are not touched.
Why Leave the Swamps Be?
The swamps and marshes, as we know now, are not dead and worthless. They actually do teem with life. True, it is not as easy to get around in the swamps. There may be more mosquitoes, crocodiles and poisonous snakes in a swamp. You definitely don’t want to drink swamp water.
The wetlands - the swamps and marshes -  serve an important function of a filter between fresh water rivers and the salty ocean. The life that abounds in both the rivers and oceans would be threatened if they came in direct contact. Swamps and marshes are necessary in an ecological sense. 

"Swamps" in Our Lives

In our lives, there are times and situations that are less than pleasant. They are challenging. They are difficult Sometimes, they are downright painful.
Sometimes we bring those situations on ourselves by choosing our own way instead of God’s way. I don’t think the swamps and marshes refer to those situations.
I believe that sometimes, God allows us to go through “swampy, marshy” areas in our lives for a reason. There are certain things that we will learn in our own personal “swamps” that we would never learn out on the broad freshwater river. Sometimes, in order for us to grow in some area, we need to pass through a “swamp”.
When we do pass through the “swamp”, we can be sure that even there, we find life. Even as we slog through metaphorical mud with metaphorical mosquitoes tormenting us, God is using those very things to grow us, purify us, and bring to us even more abundant life
A dear friend who grew up near the wetlands in coastal Georgia tells me that even though visitors to the area are put off by the smell that is unique to a swamp, those who grow up in the area come to love that very same smell. They come to embrace the very thing that puts others off. They know the value of the swamp.
Time for Reflection
  • Are you passing through your own “swamp” right now?
  • If you are, ask God what He wants to work in your life as you pass this way. Maybe He will let you know His purpose right now. Maybe He won’t…yet.
  • Whether you get your answer right now or not, remember that God has His purpose for the “swamp”. He is always in the business of bringing life. Trust Him to bring that life to you…abundantly…even in the “swamp”. 

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