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From the Editor: “There is a river …” (Ps 46.3)

Phil Coulson

The Bible has many references to seas, rivers, lakes, and streams, and a detailed study of those verses would certainly occupy our time profitably. In meditating upon some of the Bible’s river scenes, there are things to be observed that are quite unusual. Consider, for example:

A Divided River

Almost on the first page of our Bibles, we are told of a river that had its source in Eden, flowed through the garden that was home to our first parents, and then divided into four separate rivers. The hydrological cycle that we observe today did not exist before the Flood so, presumably, the Eden river had its source in a powerful spring that effectively fed five rivers, all of them mighty in their flow. They and their courses were destroyed when “the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Pet 3.6). The name of one of those rivers, however, lives on - the Euphrates; the river that had its course changed again when it became:

A Diverted River

The background to Belshazzar’s great drunken feast in Daniel 5 is the siege of the city of Babylon by the forces of Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian. Even as he boasted, drank, and profaned the holy vessels of the Temple, confident that he was supreme and his city safe, Belshazzar’s doom was pronounced by the writing on the wall, and the Babylonian empire’s doom was sealed by the invaders who diverted the mighty Euphrates and entered the city via its empty riverbed. The Euphrates brought death to Belshazzar, but salvation was brought to Naaman the Syrian by:

A Dirty River

The divinely-appointed method of dealing with Naaman’s leprosy revealed that he had a greater problem – pride! The Abana and Pharpar rivers were surely better than the muddy Jordan, and they appealed more to his national pride as well. The clear application in the Gospel has so often been used: “Go and wash … and thou shalt be clean” (2 Kgs 5.10). But neither Jordan, nor the rivers of Damascus could compare with:

A Delightful River

In describing the glorious river that will flow out from Zion in the Millennium, Ezekiel says “And by the river … shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary” (Ezek 47.12). Wonderful though this millennial river will be, it will not be as pure as the river that will flow in the eternal state: “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal” (Rev 22.1). Is this, then, the ultimate river? No, because there also is:

A Divine River

The first stanza of Psalm 46 is occupied with the terrifying force of the sea: “the waters thereof roar … the mountains shake with the swelling thereof” (v 3). But, as the second of the psalm’s three stanzas begins, there is an abrupt change: the violence of the stormy sea has been stilled, and the psalmist speaks of “a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God” (v 4). Jerusalem is Israel’s declared capital and, strangely for a capital city, it does not straddle a river. All of Europe’s capital cities have rivers, but Jerusalem has none. So, what is the river of which the psalmist speaks? Whilst reference to the future ‘Delightful River’ is possible, the psalm is about “a very present help in trouble” (v 1). Surely, the answer is that “God is in the midst of her … God shall help her” (v 5). What a river of water is to a city’s life, strength and commerce, so is God to His people. Pure, ceaseless, and unable to be diverted, the goodness of God pours out to His saints. Wherefore, “Be still, and know that I am God … the Lord of hosts is with us … our refuge” (vv 10-11).


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