The River Of God
A. E. Long, Nutley
Features of Eden's earthly paradise reappear in the holy-city, new Jerusalem, come down out of heaven from God. The source of fertility in Eden’s garden, the nourishment of every tree “pleasant to the sight, and good for food” planted therein, was the river that went out of Eden to water it. The river, distributing into four streams from the garden, becomes symbolic of the universality of divine blessing, the names of the four rivers anticipating the nature and results of the Gospel era. Thus Pison (extension), suggests the progress of the Gospel (cf. Philip. 1. 12), Gihon (impetuous), the descent of the Holy Spirit as “a rushing, mighty wind” (Acts 2. 4), Hiddekel (a sharp voice), the conviction of sin wrought through His ministry (cf. Acts 2. 37; 7. 54), and Euphrates (that makes fruitful), the fruitfulness that follows the reception of the Gospel in human lives (cf. Philip. 1. 11; Col. 1. 6).
In new Jerusalem, that celestial city bespeaking corporate life and holy fellowship, a river equally supports and makes fruitful the tree of life with its twelve rotational crops of fruits and its leaves for the healing of the nations. Only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the cause of man’s downfall in the earthly paradise, together with the evil genius who through its means marred the felicity of the earthly scene, are missing from the heavenly elysium.
The river of God, thus appearing at the opening and close of the sacred story, wends its way through the whole of Scripture. The scene changes according to the dispensation in view, but the river, and the idea it imports, are the same from age to age. Thus Psalm 36. 8, “Thou shalt make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures”; Psalm 46. 4, “There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God,” and Psalm 65. 9, “The river of God is full of water.” Ezekiel likewise, in his vision of the millennial temple, enlarges upon the theme (ch. 47. 1-12).
The river of God may be said to symbolise the fulness of Divine blessing, available for human need. Its cardinal features may be seen in the several Scriptures in which it appears. They may be defined as—
(1) FULNESS. “The river of God is full of water” (Psa. 65. 9). Unlike earthly rivers, subject to repletion or diminution according to the season, God’s river is not dependent upon physical sources for its supply and, therefore, knows no change or decline. However much it is used by those who come to replenish their need, it always maintains its high level content. The brook Cherith, appointed by God to minister to Elijah’s need at the outset of Israel’s drought, visibly shrank from day to day and eventually dried up. Like our earthly circumstances, there was no assurance of indefinite continuance. Present favourable conditions may not always persist, but if they fail, it were foolish to confuse the shrinking brooks of life’s changing face with the river of God, which is full of water. The brook may dry up, the river never! The Apostle Paul, writing to the Philippians, beautifully illustrates this fulness. “And my God shall fulfil every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (chap. 4. 19, R.V.). The differences from the Authorized Version are noteworthy. The Greek word pleroo translated “fulfil” means to fill full, a much grander idea than that conveyed merely by “supply,” since one may be supplied without being filled full. It is the fulness of God’s river answering to human need. Then the Revised Version distinguishes between our varied needs. “All your need” (A.V.) treats them as a whole, but “every need” envisages each need, however small, provided for in the fulness. “His riches in glory” indicates the source of the river— its perennial Spring (cf. Psa. 36. 8, 9); “in Christ Jesus,” the channel through which it ever flows, in full tide, to us. The Apostle shows how this had operated in his own case, through the beneficence of the Philippians, in their gift by the hand of Epaphroditus, “I am filled (Gk. pleroo) having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you” (v. 18). God may provide for our need miraculously, as He did for Elijah through the ravens, or as He does more usually, thorough more ordinary channels, as He did for Paul.
(2) PURITY. “He shewed me a pure river of water of life” (Rev. 22. 1). Authorities may agree upon the omission of the adjective “pure,” appearing in the A.V., from the text, but the idea is present nevertheless. The river is “bright as crystal.” Its purity is in keeping with the city and its street “of pure gold” (ch. 21. 18-21). The word means clear or clean; nothing contaminates or discolours the pellucidness of the river of God, in its plenitude to meet human need. His gifts are unvaryingly good, however appearances may point to the contrary, for such impressions relate to our present imperfect knowledge of God’s ways and of our own real needs. Thus writes James, “Every good gift and every perfect boon is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with Whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning” (ch. 1. 17). There is no change in the quality of His blessings; all are good and perfect. The force of the verse is to be appreciated in reference to verses 13 to 16; solicitation to evil is no work of God’s; this arises from the responsiveness of our fallen nature to evil suggestion. When God’s gifts appear to be “evil” in the sense that they seem to be inimical to our best interests, it is only because of our purblindness. Paul at first considered the “stake in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12. 7) a hindrance to his effectiveness in the Gospel and consequently prayed thrice for its removal. Whatever it was, and certain references in the Galatian epistle tend to suggest that it was some affliction of sight (cf. ch. 4. 13-15; 6. 11), he afterwards discovered that Satan’s messenger had been allowed in order to prevent an overmuch exalted state in him. We, too, need the stimulus of adverse conditions, to keep us in spiritual trim, and the “stake in the flesh” given to Paul has many modern versions. Every balloon needs ballast to prevent it soaring uselessly into the empyrean. Every kite needs the restraint of a firm hand to coax it to further heights and to prevent it falling headlong to earth.
(3) SHALLOW TO DEEP. “To the ankles . . . to the knees ... to the loins . . . waters to swim in” (Ezek. 47. 3-5). Four phases of experience are thus indicated in Ezekiel’s vision, bespeaking the universality of the aspect of truth in view'. The blessings of God cater for every phase of human need. Such phases are indicated in the Apostle John’s reference to little children, young men and fathers (1 John 2. 12-14). Truth suited to each state was given. The forgiveness of sins and the knowledge of the Father were matters within the comprehension of the “little children.” The overcoming life was within the competence of the “young men,” made strong by the indwelling Word of God. The knowledge of Him Who is from the beginning was the prerogative of “fathers,” i.e., those having a more mature understanding.
The four phases are also suggestive of various activities in the Christian life.
The ankle deep experience suggests the joy of conversion, as typified by the beggar whose “ankle bones received strength” and who entered into the temple with Peter and John, “walking, and leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3. 7, 8). The knee deep experience suggests the prayer life, as indicated by the Apostle's words, “1 bow my knees unto the Father” (Eph. 8. 14). This should be one of the firstfruits of conversion. When Daniel knew that the plotting of the conspirators had been given legal sanction by the king’s decree, “he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Dan. 6. 10). A regular practice is here indicated. However effectual ejaculatory prayer may be as sudden need arises (cf. Neh. 2. 4), it is no substitute for the practice of prayer in the “inner chamber” (cf. Matt. 6. 6). The loin deep experience indicates preparedness for service. The Lord “took a towel and girded Himself” in the service of His own (John. 18. 4). He will so do to those found watching upon 11 is return (Luke 12. 37). The watchfulness of those so rewarded is contained in the words, “Let your loins be girded about” (v. 85), i.e., implying instant readiness. Peter writes of “girding up the loins of (the) mind” in expectation of the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1: 13). “Waters to swim in” imply a committal to an element foreign to that in which we normally move; a new method of progression as indicated by the Apostle’s words, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5. 7). They, therefore, imply consecration, the presenting of our “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is (our) reasonable service” (Rom. 12. 1).