The River of Life

The River in the Bible - Seventh and final in a series

Ezekiel and Daniel received visions from God while they were by rivers. Ezekiel saw the cherubims of the Lord by the River of Chebar in Babylon, and above them, the throne of God and "the likeness of his glory" (Eze1:28). Daniel received prophecies and saw angels, the Lord and himself by the Ulai River in Elam and the Tigris River in Persia.

There are angels nearby, or soon to arrive for our help, no matter where we are.

By the Chebar the Lord charged Ezekiel to speak God's words to the Jews in exile. He would be a watchman to warn a rebellious people and then to encourage them. Many visions were given to him to share, yet his prophecy is perhaps best remembered for the Lord's promise to give his people a heart of flesh and remove the stony heart that prevented their faithfulness and obedience. (Eze 11:19; 36:26) We need warnings and preaching, but we're hopeless without the gifts and mercy of God.

Ezekiel's final vision was of a temple that was perfectly and specially prepared for the coming of the Lord to his people. Its dimensions were larger than real life; the idealized temple Ezekiel perceived was too large to fit in the area where the Solomon's temple lay in ruins. But to impress his audience, the dimensions were "exact, to show that the promise is certain; equal, to denote harmony; and vast, to mark majesty and grandeur." (Albert Barnes commentary)

It was a temple where animals were sacrificed and priests ministered just as when Jesus came, yet it stood beyond that era too. From under its threshold waters flowed forth, at first ankle deep, then to the knees, then impassable. (Ez 47:1-5) They gushed into the Dead Sea healing its waters, except for some miry places, reserved for salt. (Eze 47:11) Everything shall live! The river was the gospel going forth from Jerusalem to quench all thirst, over the wide world, for “whosoever believes.” (Luk 24:46, 47)

When Daniel was a young man he interpreted the dreams and visions of rulers, but as an older man he was given visions, and angels interpreted them for him. In his visions where he was by a river, angels stood on the banks of the river, and the Lord stood above the river instructing the angels. (Dan 8:16; 12:5-7)

Daniel had prayed for the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy that 70 years would elapse before Israel returned to her land after the exile in Babylon, and the the temple would be rebuilt. In response he was given a fuller picture not only of that certainty but also of many events that would trouble the world and the people of the Lord.

He was a man greatly loved by God (Dan 9:23; 10:11) and the Lord knew he could entrust him with the prophecies that have shown believers over the ages that God is in complete control of every detail of history.

By the rivers, Daniel learned that in latter days a fierce king would destroy the mighty and holy people, (Dan 8:24) and the power of the holy people will be scattered. (Dan 12:7) And though the people that know their God will be strong in ministry, nevertheless they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, for many days, and the king who honors the God of forces will be in control. (Dan 11:32, 33, 38)

These bitter prophecies in part refer to Christians today, and they are good reason to keep our focus on the man above the waters. Yet, a day will arrive when sorrows are past.

Zechariah saw a river flowing out of Jerusalem, in a day of victory when the Lord shall be king over the earth.

And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one. (Zech 14:8-9)

John the revelator saw the coming of the Lord and the new heaven and earth. There will be no more sea, no sun nor moon, no night, BUT THERE WILL BE A RIVER — the river of the water of life, clear as crystal flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, watering the tree of life whose leaves will heal the nations. (Rev 21:1, 23, 25; Rev 22:1, 2)

And see! That river is here now! Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. (Rev 22:17)

The River of Life is the gospel truth shared across the centuries. We will quote it as spoken by the Ethiopian at his baptism: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Acts 8:37)

The Jordan

The River - Sixth in a series

The Jordan speaks to us of initiation. Jesus was baptized there before he began his public ministry.

The Jordan itself was baptized by fire when the Lord rained down brimstone and fire from heaven, transforming its beautiful plain into a dead sea (Gen 19:24), still the lowest place on earth.

Elisha parted its waters, initiating his own ministry, by striking it with Elijah's mantle that fell as he traveled to heaven in a whirlwind. (2 Ki 2:14) Elisha considered it a better river than any other nation's because it belonged to God's covenant people. Thus he sent Naaman the leper to dip in it seven times for healing. (2 Ki 5:10) The Jordan cooperated with Elisha, even floating an axe head for him in a time of need. (2 Kings 6:5, 6)

The Jordan parted its waters for the priests carrying the ark of the covenant as the Hebrews crossed over to Canaan after their 40 years in the desert, initiating their reign in the promised land, and Jericho knew it! (Joshua 3:15, 16)

Jacob was by a stream that flows to the Jordan when he wrestled all night with the angel and was then renamed to Israel, initiating the designation of God's people (Gen 32:28).

Gideon crossed over the Jordan with his 300 troops "faint though pursuing" to return control to Israel after the Midianites had bullied them long enough, initiating a new day of rulership for the Lord. (Jdg 8:4)

It is still a river in Israel that does not dry up, a nahar, and a river of man in the sense that it is not generally chosen for navigation by vessels due to its course and seasonal fluctuations, but man's uses of it are many. In fact, it is still used for the baptism of Christians in Israel, mostly for tourists.

Jesus also spoke of a baptism not of water: "But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12:50) He would be immersed in suffering to the end that we might be reconciled with the Father.

He was anxious to accomplish this baptism and wanted us to understand that if we are faithful, we will also receive that second type of baptism. He explained to his disciples that families, friends and neighbors would part ways as they chose life or death, that is, whether to follow him or to decline: "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three." (Luke 12:51, 52)

All those truly initiated to Life are initiated to War, to defend the faith. May the Lord keep us afloat by rivers of his mercy.

Introduced in a River

The River in the Bible - First in a series

Baptism in a river began the days of Christ's ministry. John who baptized him did not understand his role in this revelatory event. (Mat 3:13-15) But he understood his mission.

“Make his paths straight!” cried John. (Mark 1:3) The hearts and minds of the hearers were the paths. Many of them cleared a way for him to enter, by repentance through baptism in the Jordan River.

As a rite of God, baptism was given to John — the son of a priest — to perform in the Jordan, outside, not in the Jewish place of worship. The explanation for that is given: Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. (Luke 3:2)

In other words, Annas and Caiaphas were not about to let God rule in the Temple. This was the same son and father-in-law team that passed Jesus off to Pilate, with Caiaphas noting it was expedient for one man to die for the people. (John 18:14)

John was not interested in expedient ventures. He said to the religious men who came to him to be baptized, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mat 3:7) Yet for a time he stayed alive on locusts and honey.

Despite his strange way of life, the weight of his authority and witness overwhelmed his enemies even after he was beheaded. When Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees, “By what authority doest thou these things?” he countered, “I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.” But they would not, being afraid of the people ...for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. (Mark 11:28-32)

Christians argue about baptism and the Bible speaks of different types of baptism; but we can all say from what we know, the Lord was baptized in a river, and it was not a baptism of repentance. (Acts 19:4) Something is here to ponder.

Deep in the heart of Judaism there was a simile of God as a river, and as other natural wonders to which he promoted comparison, that we might perceive his glory.

An exploration of many of the mentions of river in Scripture will help us to meditate on the immeasurable life-giving force of Jesus Christ. Here begins a series of posts on the river in the Bible.