The Marshes of Travail


Ezekiel 47:10–11 (NIV)

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 Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.


“The Spirit of Jesus in me greets the Spirit of Jesus in you and brings us together in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.”

Everywhere the river flows everything will live. 

We come today to the far end of the Dead Sea to the territory of swamps and marshes. Marshes are buggy, swampy, boggy, mirey places. Environmentally and ecologically speaking, swamps and marshes have their place in the ecosystem and they perform a vital function. In the realm of the River of the Spirit, however, they can prove impossible to navigate and anything that requires fresh water to live cannot flourish there. It is saltwater. This River that brings life everywhere it goes—it just doesn’t readily go there—until it does. 

But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.

That’s where we find Jesus today. He is painstakingly trudging through the swampy marsh. He is searching for something or someone, calling out as loudly as he can and whispering at other times. What is he saying? It sounds like he’s saying things like, “Is anyone thirsty?” and “Come to me,” and “Whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within them.” These kinds of words must seem too good to be true for the people hopelessly bogged down in the marshy swamps of life. That’s why he trudges in there and doesn’t shout from the border. It’s why he readily and constantly goes to the least, the last, and the lost, to the homeless, naked, imprisoned, hungry, thirsty, despairing, and broken. These are the places the River of the Spirit groans in heartbroken travail to reach. So many remain stuck in these intractably hard and seemingly inescapable places. 

But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.

Weekly I get emails from people who are stuck in the marsh. Many of them are despairing of life and teeter on the brink of suicide. These are the places where people become lost in addiction, trapped in bondage, relentlessly harassed by Satan, and often slip into the darkness of mental illness. And because we have no solutions, we tend to steer clear. Meanwhile, the world around us heroically does their best with suicide hotlines and emergency rooms. Jesus longs for his church to take hands, and link arms, and trudge through the marshes, as though searching for missing persons, calling out names, whispering love, declaring deliverance in Jesus’ name. This is the only net that will work. And it’s not about bringing solutions, but embodying the long walk of the love of God. Remember, everywhere the river flows, everything will live. 

But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.

Our friend, Rob, who travails in the marshes of Guatamala sent me this hopeful word this week:

With all of the abused people I have been called to walk with, Ezekiel 47 is the visionary scripture for us. It is a long walk and healing grows in deepness. And there will be a time when we look back and the landscape will be redeemed. One of the nuances I love is that “the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.” The history of one’s suffering is not erased; we don’t pretend. Rather, it is contextualized among the beauty that God creates in his healing and redemption, and it will have a positive purpose for both the person healed and those he or she encounters.

Everywhere the river flows everything will live. 

We will hear such a story tomorrow. 

Still day one. 


Father, we kneel today before you and cry out for the marshes in this world. We get low to the ground where we can hear and feel the groaning of the Spirit, travailing for the ones who have become stuck and lost hope. We call out to them, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, come home. Get up out of that grave!” We embrace them first in our prayers. We offer ourselves to be sent by you to them—not as a solution but as your presence. We are overwhelmed with how desperate these situations can be. Holy Spirit, we are willing to be made willing. Praying in Jesus’ name, amen. 


Why do we tend to walk away and in the other direction from the really hard cases the marsh presents? Why did Jesus walk straight in? What gives here? 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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Comments and Discussion

5 Responses

  1. It occurs to me that my first reaction is to think of the marsh as the place where the homeless, drug addicted, poverty stricken, etc people live. But I think there are so many people living in the marshes and sitting right next to me. In the office at work. Among the patients that I serve in the hospital. Living next door on my street. Maybe even sitting next to me in church.

  2. In response to your double question, as to why Jesus directly entered the swamps of life and why we tend to avoid them; Jesus clearly laid out his earthly ministry when he read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah at the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19). He also told his disciples that they, and we who would follow them, will do the works that he had done and even greater works. The reason we turn away from the swamps of life can be summed up in this word, unbelief. May the Lord help our unbelief.

  3. O, the glorious value
    And amazing treasure
    Of every human being,
    Even when it’s unseen
    And unappreciated.
    Even “the least of these”
    Contain the image of God
    Buried beneath their brokenness,
    Yet still present in their pain.
    Love finds, beholds, and respects
    The Creator’s work and reflection,
    No matter how dim,
    No matter how faint.
    March through the marshes
    That malign people.
    Search for and release
    The God-given treasures
    Trapped within them
    And lives will be incredibly enriched,
    Theirs and yours!

  4. It is a difficult one. When I first read the passage I had the idea that the swamps and marshes were the places where those who wilfully reject the river dwell. They hear the word and like those in the parable of the sower (Matt 13) reject it and become unfriutful. Their unbelief directs the river around them. There habitat would remain salty and lifeless like the dead sea. Others may be in the net for a season, but turn and head back to the swamp for varying reasons, again seen in Matt 13.
    It’s just a thought, and could be wholly wrong. And if course people may only be in the swamp for a season and then need to be netted out.
    Either way…..
    Weigh anchors, me hearties. It’s time to set sail.

    One name only.

  5. We walk away because of the epicenter of our sinful nature-FEAR!
    2 Timothy 1:-7
    “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love, power, and self-control.”
    Or, as some translations read, a “sound mind.”
    Then where did the spirit of fear come from?
    Satan’s sinful nature.
    We don’t because we fear we can’t. We fear critical jabs and ridicule knockouts. Fear says we can’t, but the spirit of Jesus is in me, and you can!
    1 John 4:4
    “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
    The marshes Jesus and I go to together are the rehabs, jails, and prisons. If it’s me doing this, the net starts fraying. And they start running. Prayerfully, when they filter through the net of Jesus, Jesus’ touch touched their spirit, and its effect was enough that the next time they swim toward the Net of Jesus.

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