Rev. Langerak is pastor of the Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Perhaps on vacation this summer you had opportunity to visit, cross, boat, raft, canoe, tube, swim, or fish some lovely river in God’s creation. Have you thought what human existence would be like without rivers? We would miss far more than awesome vistas and pleasurable recreation! Life would cease. How much vegetation, and how many crops, creatures, individuals, and even civilizations would perish if not for the presence of some river?
Every great human habitation has had some significant river running through it—Egypt had its Nile, Assyria its Tigris, and Babylon its Euphrates. Paradise was no exception. A river went out of Eden to water the garden, then divided into four smaller rivers—Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates—each providing life to a quadrant of the world (Gen. 2:10-14). And Israel had its humble Jordan. Besides these, the Old Testament mentions the rivers Abana, Ahava, Arnon, Chebar, Gad, Gozan, Jabbok, Kanah, Kishon, Pharpar, and Ulai. But the New Testament whittles things down to two, the Jordan, where God’s people flourish, and Euphrates, where the enemy grows mighty. In the end, there will be only one, the River Jesus and its tributaries (John 7:38).
What important events have occurred near rivers! Consider only the mighty Nile. It was the scene of Pharaoh’s dream of 14 cows (Gen. 41:1-21). In its waters he smothered crying covenant babes (Ex. 1:22). But Moses found life in that river (Ex. 2:5). As God’s agent, he then turned the Nile into blood so it died (Ex. 7:17-25), and he called frogs from it to destroy Egypt (Ps. 78:45). Later, when another antichrist from there proudly supposed he created this paradise for his own personal pleasure, God again cut down this civilization that was living from His river (Ezek. 29:3).
Rivers belong to that innumerable host of Jehovah with which He accomplishes His eternal purpose—grace for His people and curses upon the ungodly. With the same rod that Moses used to smite the Nile, he also brought forth a river of life in the desert for Israel (Ex. 17:5; Ps. 105:41). The Lord dries up mighty rivers (Ps. 74:15), but more than once swallowed up His enemies with their torrential floods (Ps. 5:21). Israel passed through the same river that drowned the Egyptians (Ps. 66:6). But when His people trusted in other nations, thus “drinking from their rivers,” God chastised them with a river of mighty kings (Is. 8:6-7). Doing this work of the Almighty, these rivers even clap their hands to praise this Judge of earth (Ps. 98:8).
God delivered significant visions of salvation near rivers. By Babel’s streams, where Israel sat and wept, Daniel sees their redemption (Dan. 10:4; Dan. 12:5-6). By the river Chebar, Ezekiel dreams of a new creation featuring a river with amazing qualities. It flows from an altar, and although no new streams enter, its waters grow deeper and wider, bringing life to an entire new world; fishermen line its banks, trees rooted nearby produce copious food and medicine, and the sea where it empties becomes sweet (Ezek. 1:1; Ezek. 47:1-12).
Rivers, therefore, play a significant role in establishing the new covenant kingdom. When the sixth trumpet sounds, four angels in the Euphrates slay an alarming part of men (Rev. 9:14-15). The sixth vial dries up this same river, freeing amphibious antichristian spirits from the ooze to unite the nations against the Lord (Rev. 16:12-16). But God is faithful. His Christ shall have dominion from the river unto the ends of the earth (Ps. 72:8). He promises “when you pass through the rivers, they shall not overflow you” (Is. 43:2). To His people, He extends peace like a river and dries up the rivers so the glory of the Gentiles can pass into His kingdom like a flowing stream (Zech. 10:11; Is. 48:18; Is. 66:12). And, as in Ezekiel’s vision, the most significant feature of the new creation is not “a sea of crystal,” for there will be no more sea (Rev. 21:1). Only a clear, refreshing river of life, God’s river, the River Jesus (Rev. 22:2). In Him, “the glorious LORD will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams” (Is. 33:21). This river with its streams shall make glad the city of God (Ps. 46:4). And so we sing even now, “The fountain of eternal life is found alone with Thee; from rivers of unfailing joy, our thirst shall be supplied” (Psalter 94:3).