A glimpse of the River

The River in the Bible - Second in a series

English lacks many of the inflections of Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament. So crucial was Hebrew to God's Word that writings not found in the Hebrew Bible were not accepted as canonical (OT) by Protestants. The Jews were the stewards of Scripture by God's divine appointment. (Romans 3:2)

Though we cherish Hebrew as Scripture's original casing, most of us read our Bibles trusting that the translator knew well enough how to present its truth. This is a safe assumption with many versions, nevertheless, there is room for word study.

Take the word river. In Hebrew it is a masculine noun. Many who study grammar state that gender associations in languages are accidental, but do you believe that? Such assignments may partially be explained as occuring when cultures joined and languages merged and evolved, but that is not the full explanation. Gender is a way of animating and personifying words.

There are different sorts of men and different types of rivers. In addition to its figurative uses, a river in the Bible may mean: a canal (Dan 8:2), a stream or channel of water (Joel 1:20), a river stream (Ex 1:22), a perennial river (that does not wane nor dry up) (Gen 2:10), the "wady" that can be either a dry valley or flood or stream in season (Josh 12:1; Ecc 1:7), and even an artificial watercourse (Ps 1:3).

The Smith Bible Dictionary (studylight.org) states:

The perennial river is called nahar by the Hebrews. With the definite article, "the river," it signifies invariably the Euphrates. ( Gen 31:21 ; Exo 23:31 ; Num 24:6 ; 2 Sam 10:16 ) etc. It is never applied to the fleeting fugitive torrents of Palestine. The term for these is nachal, for which our translators have used promiscuously, and sometimes almost alternately, "valley" "brook" and "river." No one of these words expresses the thing intended…

Likewise in the New Testament, a river may denote a stream or flood (Luke 6:48), the Jordan (Mat 3:6), and figuratively, the abundant life in Christ (John 7:38), among other things.

The river in the Bible is personified as floods clapping their hands to rejoice in the Lord (Ps 98:8), as modeling peace (Isa 48:18) and God's abundance (Ps 36:8); and it reflects his loving care for life (Ps 65:9).

In all these images we can see the works and purposes of the Lord, and in a moment of wonder we may see the almighty God in his glory: pouring forth, driving or gentle, refreshing, cleansing, shining, beckoning, sustaining, dividing, conducting. Flow, River!

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. -Mat 5:14

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