There is a River!
A study and application of Psalm 46:1-11, Ezekiel 47:1-12 and John 7:37-39
© C. O. Bishop 2/18/17 THCF 2/19/17
There is a River
(Max and David Sapp 1969)
There is a river that flows from deep within.
There is a fountain that frees the soul from sin.
Come to these waters, there is a vast supply.
There is a river that never shall run dry.
The song, “There is a River”, written in 1969 by Max and David Sapp, takes its title from Psalm 46, verse 4… “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.” The song writers used that verse as a springboard to John 7:37-39, wherein Jesus described the indwelling Holy Spirit as a spring flowing from within the believer, and changing his life. (Read it aloud.)
The problem with Psalm 46:4 is that there never has been a river in “Jerusalem proper”, and certainly not flowing from the temple. There is one outside of Jerusalem, that heads south, and then east, but it is not the kind of creek to make anybody glad…it drains the city dump, and ultimately is swallowed by the Dead Sea. (This is the Brook Kidron, which is a study unto itself.)
So, when we read this Psalm, we have to either “spiritualize” the passage, as the writers of the song did, and compare it to the passages about the Holy Spirit (which is OK, by the way), or, we are left with a problem…unless we can find another passage that explains it. And that is the first thing we should do…let God explain His Word, if He will.
What River? Let Scripture Explain Scripture!
Let’s turn to Ezekiel 47. The context, beginning in Chapter 40, verse one, and running all the way to the end of the book, is a very detailed vision of the City and the Temple as it will occur during the Millennial Kingdom (also known as the Messianic Kingdom, or, the Kingdom of Heaven). In chapter 47 he describes a literal spring of water flowing from under the literal altar, in the literal temple in the literal Jerusalem, growing deeper all the way, and ultimately, flowing into what HAD been the Dead Sea, but, because of the abundance of healing water flowing into it, it will no longer be dead: it will evidently be connected with the Mediterranean Sea, because it will swarm with fish, specifically the same kind as are in the “Great Sea” which is what we call the Mediterranean. (Read it aloud…)
Now—since we know that there will be a literal river flowing out of the temple in Jerusalem, and we have been told the effect it will bring on the land and the people, let’s go back, and read Psalm 46: (Read it aloud…).
Verse one; the Psalmist says that God is “present”, which we know is true in the global, or even universal sense, but it seems, here, it is meant in a more literal sense. The Old Testament believers were quite aware of God’s omnipresence, and were specifying that He was literally there in Jerusalem, as we can see a few verses later.
Verses two and three describe some natural or supernatural cataclysms through which he states that they will place their trust in God. Zechariah 14 tells of the momentous return of the Lord to Earth, and how the ground will split under his feet at the Mount of Olives, one side moving toward the north, the other toward the south, so that a chasm is opened from Jerusalem, eastward, under his presence.
At the moment the Lord returns there will be a siege in progress, and an assault by the Gentiles against the city of Jerusalem, so that they will have been in terror up until that time, but the passage in Zechariah states that the remnant in Jerusalem will recognize the chasm as being their refuge, and will run into it…and God will fight for them, delivering them from their enemies. I don’t know if this event is specifically what is referred to in the 46th Psalm, but it is at least one example of the kind of thing that will happen at the beginning of the Kingdom age…literally. It is not a case of the Psalmist making grand statements about how much they love and trust the Lord—it is a straightforward statement about something that will literally happen in the future…just like the river.
We already read verse four, but now let’s read it again, keeping in mind the nature of the river that Ezekiel described in the Kingdom age. Now both the river and the fact that it emanates from the Holy Place seem quite literal—as well as the fact that it says the Most High dwells there. (KJV v.4 “… tabernacles of the Most High”, NIV “…where the Most High dwells”) God literally lives there.
This is the long-awaited “Kingdom of Heaven” which Jesus preached for most of His ministry on earth, and of which the Old Testament prophets spoke in many places, including the Psalms. Jesus Christ will be ruling and reigning from Jerusalem. God the Son will be literally, visibly, physically dwelling there. Anyone will be able to go and see Him. This is described in many other places as well, including much of the book of Isaiah.
Verses 5 through 11 describe a collection of things that will occur literally, before, during, or at the end of the Millennial Kingdom…the abiding themes being that:
- God is in control,
- His people have nothing to fear, and that
- Those who despise Him should tremble, as He is no longer holding back His judgment.
So—is that the end of the story? It is all literal—all physical? So that there’s nothing to apply to our lives? Well, of course that’s not so…but I think it is wise to know what the scripture is actually talking about before we try to apply it. “First interpretation, then application.”
What about the River Jesus Offered? Is it different?
Jesus did talk about a river, flowing in an individual’s life…he did say that it would change our life, and transform it, and quench our eternal thirst for God as we abide in its flow. He said “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)
Let’s go back and look at Ezekiel 47, in light of the John 7:38 passage.
- The river is flowing out from the holy place—God is the source, as opposed to nature. The Kidron has a new headwater.
- Every born-again believer has become a temple of the Holy Spirit. He lives in you. He is the source of life, as opposed to self. You have a new Head!
- The waters bring about healing, even in areas long dead…deserts, even the Dead Sea.
- Death itself is no longer a permanent thing for the believer…it is literally the valley (not the Pit) of the shadow (not the substance) of death, that we walk through, not into. Regardless of how we get there, we no longer have to fear death, as He is with us forever.
- The salt marshes, where the water does not have freedom to flow, remain salt.
- We still have a sin nature, and wherever we do not allow God to change us, we remain the same. That’s something to think about….
But what about all that stuff with “measuring,” and the ankles, knees, etc?
When a person becomes a believer they are immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is a positional matter—the believer is immediately and permanently in Christ, and He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is immediately and permanently in the believer. The believer will never be more indwelt by Him…but the level of effect can and will vary. So this is all about the experience of those who have been re-born.
What about the Ankles?
When he begins his new life, a new Christian is just getting his feet wet, as it were—he is learning to walk, as a child of God. Thus, the waters are to the ankles. The Holy Spirit has not gained full control of his life, but the transformation has begun. Notice that the distances are not great—each increment is only about five hundred yards—a little over a quarter mile. Growth is supposed to begin immediately, and continue to increase.
What about the Knees?
Next, it says that the waters are to the knees…it isn’t too long before the new believer is learning the demands of God upon his life, and is realizing more fully how deeply contaminated his whole life has been. The increasing weight of conviction begins to drive him to prayer more often and more fervently, as he seeks to be cleansed, and desires to serve. Perhaps he makes commitments he can’t keep (“I’ll never sin again!”), or asks for things for which he really has no concept of the results, or whether it is God’s will, or anything. But at least he is praying…and beginning to pray with others as well. He is also learning to submit himself to God’s Will…to bow his knee to God, willingly.
What about the Loins?
Next it says that the waters are to the loins (KJV says loins—NIV says “waist”, but the Hebrew word is “Mothnayim”; it’s plural, and it means “loins”, though it could include the waist).
So, what about the loins? I had a friend who thought it might mean how it begins to affect one’s pocketbook, but I don’t think so—in the first place, the practice of keeping one’s money in their hip pocket is a fairly modern one, and completely unknown to the writer, as well as to most cultures since then. In the second place, the pocketbook is frequently affected before the heart, so that even unbelievers frequently give in support of a church, thinking that they thereby gain God’s favor.
Again; “what about the loins?” I think it has to do with childbearing—spiritual reproduction—that is what we are born to do. We are to reproduce, spiritually. We are to lead others to the same relationship with Christ that we enjoy. (Incidentally, if you are not enjoying that life, living it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to change you… no one else is likely to want it either….) It is a normal part of God’s life in us, that it reproduces itself in others.
What about Swimming?
What’s left? It says that 500 yards later, we are swimming…the water is too deep for wading. You are no longer in the “kiddie-pool”. The friend who first shared this with me pointed out two things about swimming. One is that when a person swims, they are completely supported by the water. The other is that the only part of a swimmer that observers can see…is the Head.
Now, can we see a tie-in with John 7:37-39? I think so! The Holy Spirit, the Living presence of the Most High in your life, literally dwelling in your body since the moment you believed, desires to make all the changes listed above—he desires that you walk with Him; He desires that you pray continually, that you kneel to him, and yield your life to him. He desires that you bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain eternally. He desires that you continue to deepen your relationship and commitment to Him until you are completely immersed in Him, and the only thing people see in your life is the Risen Christ—your Head. The Head of the Church.
If that is what you desire, too, then how will you see it happen?
The 119th Psalm poses the same question, in the 9th verse: “How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.” God’s Word—heard, read, studied, memorized, meditated upon, and applied to the life of the believer—is the only thing God says can change us. Interestingly enough, there are several places where His Word is also referred to as “water”…so perhaps the “River” has a double connotation. The Word and the Spirit work together, without exception, so perhaps we can conclude that the degree of our “immersion” in Christ, and the resulting transformation, will depend upon the degree of our immersion in the Written Word, and our submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit by His Word.
We have several services going, here at True Hope—at least three per week—more, if you want them.
- We have our Sunday morning Bible study, at 9:30, with a full hour of interactive Bible teaching, wide open to questions;
- our main service at 11:00 every Sunday morning, with a full hour of teaching, singing and prayer;
- We have an informal Bible-study on Wednesday afternoons, from 2:30 to 4:15. Refreshments are frequently served.
- We also have a Bible Study at Cornell Estates, in Hillsboro, every Sunday afternoon, from 2:30-3:30.
All of you have Bibles, and all of you know other believers around you. So, the food is on the table! If you are hungry, eat! If you are not, then all we can do is to offer the food continually, and pray that your appetite will grow.
Can you end up “back on the bank?”
Now, notice, finally, in verse 6, that Ezekiel was brought back to the brink of the river, and was looking out over it. In his experience it was simply because the angelic messenger still had other things to show him. But there may be a warning there for us—you can quench the Holy Spirit in your life, and end up standing at the very edge again, looking out over the river of God’s Love, Grace, and Power, and wondering why it is no longer drawing you along in its flow. That is a terrible, lonely place to stand—still connected irreversibly to God, but “set on the shelf”—“out of the water”, so to speak…no longer able to fellowship with God or his children. Jeremiah 17:13, 14 says that such a person has forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters…they will be ashamed, but they can be healed. That does not mean that He has forsaken you, but that you have broken fellowship with him, and that it is affecting your whole life…you have dried up, and you’re miserable.
If that is where you find yourself today, then I would invite you to come back to the table— back to the river— via 1st John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
You can only begin your trip back to the center of God’s will with confession. Sin has to be addressed, before worship or fellowship is possible.
If there is anyone here who is in that condition, and is still unsure what to do about it, I, or any of the other leaders would like to talk with you about it. God is still in the business of transforming lives, and we are here to encourage the growth and blessing of God’s children.
Think about that River that God began in your life—where do you stand, in it? Are you wading? Are you swimming? Are your prayers flowing from that source? Are you leading others to Christ? Or have you returned to the bank of the river, and now are yearning to once again be borne along by the flow of God’s Love?
Hear the Invitation From God!
In Revelation 22:17, the invitation is made: “Whosoever will, let him take of the Water of Life, freely!” You can move into deeper water, if that is what you desire, by walking with the Lord; by Bible study, by Faith, and prayer. If you have found yourself lacking, you can restore fellowship with God through confession, then feeding on the Word and seeking Him in prayer.
Lord Jesus, help us all to progress deeper into Your love, and be suspended more fully in Your Grace. When the World looks at us, Your people, may they see only You. Amen!