THE BIBLICAL-THEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RIVER IN SCRIPTURE

Rivers of Living Water by Jesse H. Pickett

The theme of the river makes for a fascinating Biblical theological study. No pun intended, but the idea of the river in scripture “traces the landscape” of redemptive history. Think about it- in the garden of Eden a river ran through the middle to irrigate the produce of the land. When the Lord visited his wrath upon Pharaoh in Egypt, He did so by first turning the Nile river into blood. The symbolism involved in this event is most significant. By turning the river to blood God was symbolically demonstrating that He had put to death the Egyptian god Hapi, the god of the river, fertility and life, while zealously positing that He was the one and only True and Living God. Later, when  God brought His people Israel out of Egypt, He led them across the Jordan river and into the promised land. Ironically, or rather providentially, God arranged that Christ be baptized by John in the same Jordan river, even at the very place where Israel had crossed so many centuries earlier. We know this because we are told that the name of the place where John was baptizing was Beth-abara which literally means the house or place of crossing. Again, the symbolism is rich. Just as Israel, the nation referred to as “the Son of God” (Hos. 11:1 et. al.) in the prophets had crossed so many centuries before, so now the True Israel, Christ Jesus, the only begotten Son of God was brought through the waters of baptism, leading the Israel of God (a title Paul gives the church) into the ultimate and final land of rest and inheritance as the heavenly Joshua, not through conquering pagan nations as Israel did in the Old Testament, but through the suffering and destruction of His own body. He Himself would become like Jericho and Achan, suffering as a covenant breaker outside of God’s favor.

During the great “feast of tabernacles” the Jews would remember the promise of a temple to come, which the prophet Ezekiel had spoken of (Ezekiel 47) in a day in which Jerusalem would be saved from all of her enemies. In that day Ezekiel foretold that a river would flow out of the temple. In anticipation of this, the priests and rabbi were said to have gone to the pool of Siloam each year at the feast and filled pots with water, carried them back the the Temple and poured them out as a symbolic longing for that promise of Ezekiel (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah). One year during that feast, John tells us (John 7) that Jesus Christ stood up in the midst of the people celebrating that feast, who were looking for that temple to come, and cried out “if any man thirsts let him come to me, and, as the scriptures say ‘out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water’.” Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He was claiming to be that Temple which Ezekiel had spoken of, the One in whom the presence of God dwelled, and out of Whom flowed a river of life which the Old Covenant temple had only been a shadow of. Further, all who come to Him in faith are made part of that temple (1 Peter 2), and the fulness of the Spirit of Christ dwelling them wells up like a river giving life and refreshment where there was only dryness and death. No wonder the Psalmist said that there was a “river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46). Christ fulness in His people is like a river of life, which river will never run dry. This river ultimately leads them to the eternal land of rest where there is “a river of the water of life, as bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.” Jesus offers the water of life to all who come thirsting for a righteousness which they know they do not have….. drink from Him and be satisfied eternally!!!

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