A river invokes images among the most serene in nature. Humans are irresistibly drawn to rivers, a source of refreshment and even life itself.
The Hebrew nāhār (H5104), which is found in several Semitic languages, appears about 120 times in the OT. The first is when “a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads” (Gen_2:10). Think of it! Flowing through the perfection of Eden was a river, undoubtedly a quite large one, for it fed four others. That river probably made the “Mighty Mississippi” look like a creek.
Several other great rivers are mentioned in Scripture, including the Euphrates (Gen_15:18; Gen_31:21), the Nile (Gen_15:18, “river of Egypt”), and the Tigris (Dan_10:4, “Hiddekel”). Nāhār also refers to ocean currents, as Jonah was tossed about by the “floods . . . billows . . . and . . . waves” (Jon_2:3).
At least one major reason rivers were so significant in Jewish thinking was because there were so few of them in their territory. Unlike the rich, fertile lands of Egypt and Mesopotamia, which existed solely because of their rivers, Israel was “a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven: A land which the LORD thy God careth for” (Deu_11:11-12).
Psalms 46 is a case in point. Why is God “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psa_46:1)? Because in the midst of raging, cataclysmic chaos (Psa_46:2-3), “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High” (Psa_46:4). While Jerusalem, of course, has no river (cf. October 22), God Himself is the river and brings it many blessings. This verse looks forward to the millennial Jerusalem and was obviously in John’s mind as he penned the book of Revelation (Psa_22:1-2; cf. Zec_14:8-11).
We defer to Spurgeon in closing today: “Divine grace like a smoothly flowing, fertilizing, full, and never-failing river, yields refreshment and consolation to believers. . . . It is no boisterous ocean, but a placid stream, it is not stayed in its course by earthquakes or crumbling mountains, it follows its serene course without disturbance. Happy are they who know from their own experience that there is such a river of God.”
Scriptures for Study: Psalms 46 (January 14) is one of thanksgiving and trust. Read it through prayerfully, noting that God is our refuge (Psa_46:1-3), our resources (Psa_46:4-7), and our ruler (Psa_46:8-11).
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