Saturday, January 8, 2011

Down by the River

The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there he placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. (Genesis 2:8-10 NASB)

Then he brought me back to the door of the house; and behold, water was flowing from under the threshold of the house toward the east; for the house faced east. And the water was flowing down from under, from the right side of the house, from south of the altar…Now when I had returned, behold, on the bank of the river there were many trees on the one side and on the other…By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing. (Ezekiel 47:1; 7; 12 NASB)

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2 NASB)

As I study God’s word, one of the things that impress me most is the consistency and unity it possesses. No doubt, only the inspiration of God himself could have created the most marvelous book ever written. If you have never read the entirety of God’s word then you are missing some true revelations from the Creator of all things. I call them “Aha!” moments.

Honestly in my Bible reading this morning I was struggling through the final chapters of Ezekiel. In the conclusion of that book you will find a seemingly endless series of measurements concerning the temple and God’s city. I became lost in the sequence of cubit after cubit after cubit. The temptation is to glance through such readings and move onto what would appear to be more exciting stuff. However, in the midst of that I fell into Ezekiel 47 and the image of the river.

I will confess I have a fear of water. I’m not sure how this happened since my dad was a Navy man for 20 years and has sailed to 64 different countries. I can only conclude it is not genetic. I remember my first big water experience a few years back as I floated the Caddo River with my church youth group. My canoe partner was my wife and although she does not possess the same fear of water, neither of us had ever been in a canoe before. I felt blessed to survive with my life and my marriage in tact and vowed to never do it again.

However, I find peace in the imagery of the river in God’s word. This river mentioned in Genesis itself has no name, although as it splits into four branches we find those names. Ezekiel does not give us a name, but only an origin for it. Only in Revelation do we receive a hint of what it might be called. Perhaps we can best label it the River of God or the River of Life. Its waters are so powerful that the trees that stand beside it never whither but bear fruit year round. Indeed, one must assume that the very Tree of Life is nourished from the waters of this River of Life.

In reflecting on the River of Life in Genesis, Ezekiel and Revelation, I find the perfection of God’s plan for His creation. He formed paradise in the Garden of Eden, and a beautiful river flowed through it. During the Babylonian captivity, God revealed a vision to the prophet Ezekiel that showed a restoration of His people, and in the midst of the city, coming from the temple was that beautiful river again. Finally, in the visions God gave to the Apostle John in Revelation, he showed him the restored river and trees – trees that bear fruit for healing.

God’s book is an epic of paradise created, paradise lost, paradise promised and paradise restored. The sin of man wrecked paradise. God promises us a return to paradise and one day that paradise will exist again when God renews His creation.

I believe we can all often relate to the words of the Psalmist from Psalm 137 –

By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion,
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
(Psalm 137:1-2 NASB)

Surely the exiled Psalmist focused on the rivers of his homeland, perhaps the Jordan itself. As he set by the river as a captive, the last thing he felt like doing was singing a song of praise and exultation. Indeed, he hung up his harp and wept. The same sentiments fill us at times as we long for the deliverance of God from the iniquities of the world in which we live. But there, by the river, even the river of captivity, we must sing praises to God. I am reminded of how Ezekiel’s call and commission came as he sat by that very river of captivity one day:

Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. (Ezekiel 1:1 NASB)

We may be stuck by the figurative “River of Chebar” right now, but one day we will stand on the shores of the River of Life. Until then, we should take our harps down, tune them and play songs of rejoicing for the promise God has given us of that great day. Will you meet me down by the river?

Randy Alan

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