Swelling River

Swelling River

Ecclesiastes 1:7 All the rivers run into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full;
To the place from which the rivers come,
There they return again.

Have you ever seen a river that grows by itself? Join Pastor Daniel and his friend Robbie for a trip down the Big South Fork as we explore another kind of river found only in the Word of God!

Recorded Wednesday, September 16, on the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, between Blue Heron and Yamacraw. River level was at 2.5 feet at the South Fork Cumberland River gauge near Stearns (Bear Creek). We paddled upstream to Devil’s Jump, then rode the current downstream to Yamacraw. A few clips are out of chronological order to fit better with the flow of the message. For example, the small rapids shown after reading the passage in Ezekiel 47 are upstream from Roaring Paunch Creek.

In the land of Israel, where most of the stories in the Bible happened, there is only one river of much importance—the Jordan river. Despite its importance, most of the year it’s only somewhat larger than this, due to the arid climate in that part of the world.

The Jordan flows down through the Sea of Galilee, and just south-east of Jerusalem it empties into the dead sea. As the dead sea is below sea level, it has no outlet, and the hot, dry climate evaporates the water from the sea, leaving behind any minerals the water carried with it.

Over the years and centuries, the Jordan has carried many tons of salt washed out from the land, until the dead sea has become one of the saltiest places on earth. Almost nothing can live in these salty waters—hence the name, the Dead Sea.

But, there are other rivers in the Bible, and it’s some of these other rivers that I’d like to focus on today. In particular, a special kind of river:

Genesis 2:8-14
8 The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. 9 … The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden …

10 Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; … 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; … 14 The name of the third river is Hiddekel; … The fourth river is the Euphrates.

Four rivers. Their locations are described, but to this day, no rivers on earth are quite like these rivers. Only one river named here – the Euphrates – exists today, and even then it would be hard to say if this is the same river. Remember, this is before the flood—and the landscape of earth today looks remarkably different than it did before the flood.

But what I find most interesting is the description of the headwaters of these rivers. (v. 10) “a river went out of Eden to water the garden.” It doesn’t describe where it came from, just that it came from Eden. But once it comes from Eden, it seems that it’s grown so big, it can now feed four mighty rivers—each as mighty as the Euphrates!

We don’t have rivers like this today… Rivers today begin as small streams, and merge together. Not as streams that generate and multiply. Occasionally a river will divide, perhaps where it goes around a rock or an island, or dividing into a river delta just before it empties into the sea. But never do we see rivers multiplying. It seems almost like that would defy the laws of physics—unless….

Unless you had a single source of water—not from rain, but a master designer, who watches over and cares for His creation, and designs the rivers for a purpose.

Who could be such a supernatural source of water? We find an interesting story from the time of Moses–when the children of Israel had run out of water in the desert:

Exodus 17:6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

For forty years, this miraculous stream supplied enough water for this vast multitude and their flocks and herds. The psalmist records:

Psalm 78:15-16 He split the rocks in the wilderness,
And gave them drink in abundance like the depths.
16 He also brought streams out of the rock,
And caused waters to run down like rivers.

Perhaps the most dramatic river of this kind is found in Ezekiel’s vision of the millennial temple–a temple that was never built just as he saw in vision, but which has many elements that represent the heavenly temple and the eternal home of the redeemed.

We find this dramatic description in Ezekiel 47:1-12

1 Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gateway that faces east; and there was water, running out on the right side.

3 And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles. 4 Again he measured one thousand and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through; the water came up to my waist. 5 Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed. 6 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he brought me and returned me to the bank of the river.

7 When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. 8 Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. 9 “And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. 10 “It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many. 11 “But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt. 12 “Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

Wow. A river, starting as a small stream but growing to a mighty torrent! A river, able to cleanse even the salty waters of the Dead Sea! Trees, growing along the banks–sinking their roots deep into the life-giving stream, and then blessing man and beast with their fruit and leaves.

What do trees represent in the Bible?

Psalm 1:3 He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.

Do you suppose that, in a sense, the godly men and women who drink of the streams of life from God, become trees of life to the world? We can become conduits of God’s grace–taking to give, and by so doing we multiply God’s blessings to others!

Isaiah 58:11
The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

Look at the contrast between the rivers of earth, and the rivers of Paradise:

  • Rivers of Earth: Drain all the excess of earth—collect water, pollution, salt
  • Rivers of Paradise: Are a pure fountain of God’s love
  • Rivers of Earth: Come from many sources flowing into one
  • Rivers of Paradise: Come from one source–God–flowing out and expanding over the earth
  • Rivers of Earth: Cause flooding, then dry up when needed most
  • Rivers of Paradise: Run all year long
  • Rivers of Earth: Both sustain life, and cause death
  • Rivers of Paradise: Create life and health wherever they flow

Ezekiel saw this stream, flowing out from under the door of the temple. He couldn’t see the actual source of this stream–but we can! Paul speaks of the source of the physical water of life in the wilderness:

1 Corinthians 10:4 all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well, he said to her:

John 4:13-14 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

Jesus Himself proclaims:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38)

What about your life? Who are you? Certainly most of us could look back to a time of innocence—the carefree life of childhood. Like the pristine streams that tumble from the mountaintops, our lives begin, it seems, in a bundle of purity and innocence. But somehow, as we progress through life, just like these rivers of earth, it seems things change.

Where are you now? Are you, like this river, the product of your circumstances? Perhaps, like these rugged boulders, you bear the scars of abuse from your childhood. Perhaps, like the parched ground along the banks, the well-springs of joy in your life have been swallowed in the sorrows of an untimely loss. Perhaps, like these muddy and troubled waters that tumble over the rock-strewn riverbed, your life has tumbled along through care and hardship, and the peace of former years seems like a distant memory. Perhaps deep inside, the knowledge of guilt and sin plagues our conscience, like a foul stench rising from a hidden eddy.

Like the rivers of earth, so often we try to cleanse our lives by adding in yet another stream. I had a professor once who told me, “The solution to pollution is dilution.” We find something else—another river of earthly source, something to distract our mind, to fill our life with something good, or at least better by comparison. And it may work for a while. We may find that the change brings a bit of freshness, a bit more happiness—but not amount of dilution can neutralize the deadly poison of sin. Sooner or later, like the waters of the muddy Jordan river, we know that our lives will empty into the dead sea.

But now consider another river. Not a river of earthly source, but a river that flows from God. Unlike the rivers of this earth, this river does not collect the drainage from a thousand spent lives. It doesn’t depend on the rain, flooding when we don’t need it, and drying up when we need it most. Now, this river flows year-round with fresh, pure, life-giving streams. It pours out from God’s throne, perhaps small at first, simple and unassuming, as a free gift to all. From there it divides and yes, multiplies, until four mighty rivers flow to the four corners of the earth, refreshing and renewing life wherever they flow.

Unlike the waters of earth which, at best, might dilute the effects of sin for a short time, this river of living water has the power to cleanse and renew wherever it goes.

Ezekiel 47:8-9 This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. 9 “And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live.

Ezekiel saw this river. He saw it flowing out from the door of the temple. He saw it growing and swelling to a torrent that he could not cross, and he saw it cleansing the dead sea and bringing life wherever it goes. Yet to Ezekiel the actual source of this river remained a mystery. He saw the stream flow from the temple door, but beyond that curtain, he could not see.

Yet to us, that veil is open. We can see, not just the stream, but the Source Himself. Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” (John 7:37) As he spoke, His words were a mystery to his disciples. At that last supper, he gave his disciples a cup of pure grape juice with the words, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 “For this is My blood of the 4 new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28)

A few hours later, he hung on that cross—stripped and bleeding. As he gave His life for the sin of you and me, His blood trickled down into a tiny stream. Once He breathed His last, a soldier standing by pierced His side, and out flowed both blood and water. But like the river of Ezekiel’s vision, that stream of mercy and grace has grown to a torrent of cleansing, purifying love for you and for me—and sufficient yes for all the world!

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains:

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:

Friend, what are the rivers of this earth, to be compared with that river of heavenly grace? I don’t care where you’ve come from—how muddy or dirty, or polluted the waters of your life may have grown. When your life is touched by this river of grace, it will change. Like the waters of the dead sea, when the river of life reaches them, they become fresh once again!

And that’s not all. Surely, this is enough—yes more than enough—to triumph in grace given to us today—to be free, not just free from guilt, but transformed by grace. Not just transformed for ourselves, but transformed to become channels of God’s grace; to be part of that heavenly river to carry His love to others in need!

But the message of revelation caries the good news from the cross, down to us today, and yet continues for all eternity.

Revelation 7:17 “for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 22:17 And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.

Isaiah 55:1 “Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.

Revelation 22:1-3
1 And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.

Friend—what river will you partake of, today?

The rivers of Eden, the stream from Ezekiel’s temple, and the river of life in Revelation, are filled with living water. These represent God’s gift of saving & sustaining grace, given in the person of Jesus Christ & transmitted through the agency of the Holy Spirit, to His people. This empowers God’s people, individually and collectively, to become agents in distributing this living water of grace to others. The spring of living water, flowing from God through our souls, assures us of the promise of everlasting life, joy, and peace for eternity to come.

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