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APRIL 28, 2008

In September of 2007, I made a trip back to my home church in Attleboro,

Massachusetts. It had been a long summer of itinerant worship ministry and I really appreciated

the weekend of vacation that I was able to spend with my family. I was also in my senior year of

my Biblical Studies program at Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, PA, so I was

constantly intrigued with learning things about the Bible. Little did I know that my experience

of worship ministry and Biblical studies would once again collide on this relaxing Sunday in


As the music part of the service progressed, a song was sung with the lyrics, “There is a

river whose streams make glad the city of God.” I was really confused by this and in a

conversation with my friend afterwards made a statement something like, “How is the ‘gladness’

of the city of my God contingent upon some source like a river?” He informed me that it was a

Psalm, which thoroughly intrigued my interest in Biblical Studies and also set me off on a study

that would change the course of my spirituality and the next seven months of my life. This paper

is the organized product of my study. It is not all here because I had to pick and choose much of

what to put in and leave out, but the worship song means a whole lot more to me know as I take

all of this research and pack it into the word, “river” and understand that it is the source of all my

joy. I hope this blesses you as much as it has blessed me.

In the Ancient Near East
The concept of the river was very familiar in the ancient Near East. It is not simply a

geographical point of reference to those who lived during this time; rather it is a symbol of life.1

Life flows from the river to all those who are in contact with it. Its symbol provides the

assurance of blessing and prosperity.

In the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh, a story about a man named Gilgamesh and the god Ea,

this idea can be seen. They believed that Ea lived in a place where two rivers met – the god lived

near rivers. In the epic, the man Gilgamesh is addressed both as an individual and a social being

but the man is a king, a hero, a god. At one point in this epic, Gilgamesh is talking to a human

named, Utnapishtim that is supposed to be dead. The god Enlil had previously ordered for all

humans to die and seized the man to kill him but the god Ea convinced Enlil to be merciful upon

him. This is the interesting part – Enlil, instead of killing Utnapishtim, blesses him with this

blessing: “At one time Utnapishtim was mortal. At this time let him be a god and immortal. Let

him live in the far away (where the gods lived) at the source of all rivers.”2 The place where the

gods lived was the source of the rivers, the source of the life.

In a political approach to understanding the river in its Near Eastern context, there is a

region named Mesopotamia that was located in between the great Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Mesopotamia is a Greek word that means, “Land between the rivers.” Snell writes, “The land

was fertile, the nearby rivers provided water, and settled farming was practiced.”3 Mesopotamia

was a land full of life that developed the first plows, and irrigation canals, the first form of

handwriting, math, astronomy, and complex architecture. If that is not enough, it is also believed

Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 125
Tzvi Abusch, “Ishtar’s Proposal and Gilgamesh’s refusal,” 144
Snell, A Companion to the Ancient Near East, 325
they were most likely the first people to use the wheel.4 It is called the “cradle of civilization”

for a reason.

Cosmic Waters
In the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, there is reference to the waters of Apsu. A

part of Jewish mythology, it was “the waters above the firmament.”5 The Babylonian Apsu

corresponds to these waters above the firmament. These waters also appeared in Sumerian and

Akkadian mythology but to these myths the waters were beneath the earth. These waters were

the creation and kingdom of Eni, and was so closely related with him that his son was known as

the, “For born son of the Apsu.”6 Snell writes, “The association of the Apsu with the holy

mound (a shrine to the gods) showed the cosmic importance of Ea’s domain as a place for the

divine assembly and where destiny was decreed.”7 Ryken writes, “By collusion with the springs

of the deep, the chaos waters struggle against God’s imposed order and attempt to once again

flood what God has ordained as dry land.”

In Scripture
When the account of the Garden of Eden is read, there is beauty, joy, and harmony all

seen within the story. Underlying all of that is the one river that flows from Eden and gives the

garden its life. This is a common theme throughout scripture as we will see unfold. There are

more than 150 biblical references to rivers and streams in scripture that fall into a variety of

categories, some of those being: life, cleansing, geographic points, and divine-human


Ibid, 325
Ryken, Wilhoit, Tremper, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 250
Snell, A Companion to the Ancient Near East, 325
Ibid, 325
Ryken, Wilhoit, Tremper, 315
The significance of rivers in the Bible depends much on Israel’s lack of significant rivers

and water within its territory. This contrasts the life-giving waters that sustained Egypt and

Mesopotamia. Moses explains that Israel is a land of hills and valleys that are watered by rain

but is a land that God looks after.9 The association of streams that give life draw upon the arid

geography of the biblical world. We are given pictures of streams flowing in the wilderness,10

and there are always trees that grow next to specific rivers with the implication that they are

flourishing because of the rivers and streams.11 Also, when a stream dries up, there is a picture

of loss.12 The people longed for rivers that were full (Ps 65), abundant (Ezek 17), flowing (Deut

9:21; Isa 44:4; Jer 18:4), and gushing (Prov 18:4).

The equation of the river with live is inevitable.13 Ryken writes, “In its most positive

form the river figures in the Bible as a part of a garden paradise.”14 It is a source of life to plants,

animals, and people. As we will see later, it is also a symbol for a type of life that God wants his

people to have. This picture of life is what motivates the symbolic uses of the river in scripture.

God has a river of delights,15 and the Lord in his majesty is a place of broad rivers for his

people.16 The biblical metaphor for the quality of water found in this type of river or stream is

“living water” or “river of life” due to its contrast to a stagnant and dead water.17 Ryken

continues, “The very structure of the Bible draws upon the river: the fructifying river that

Deut. 11
Isa 32:2; 44:3
Ps 1:4; Isa 44:4; Jer 17:8; Ezek 31:4 – Isa 32:30, “Happy will you be who sow beside every
Ryken, Wilhoit, Tremper, 315; Job 14:11; Ps 107:33
Isa 66:12
Ibid, 316
Ps 36:8
Isa 33:12
Ibid, 317
originates with God frames the biblical narrative from beginning to end and even human beings

may be conduits of life.

This sets the stage for the point of this paper. Through this work I plan to express the

river in its ancient Near East context is a symbol for the life that God desires to have with his

creation. Ryken writes, “The assurance in all of this is that God’s river is a mysterious and ever-

renewed source, building up the fullness of life.”18 What will become evident is that the imagery

set forth by this life-giving river is that God is constantly trying to connect with his people and

restore their relationship. Also, what will be seen is that every river flows directly from the

presence of God. The river in scripture relates the presence of God to the fullness of life that the

believer will have in him – out of the presence of God flows a river that gives life.

Genesis 2:10-14
The first place that the scripture mentions a river is in Genesis 2:10-14, where Moses is

explaining the beginning of human history.

“A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four
rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land
of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; dellium and onyx
stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed
around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows
east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”

This section of scripture is oddly placed in side of the context of chapter two. We begin in verse

four with very familiar words to the structure of Genesis, “These are the generations of…” To

name a few, this phrase is given for the families of Adam (5:1-6:8), Noah (6:9-9:29), Shem

(11:10-26), and Terah and Abram (11:27-25:11).19 Genesis 2 is laying the history of the first

humans to occupy this freshly created earth. But in the middle of this history and the explanation

Ibid, 315
This also reassures us that Genesis 2 is not a rehash of the Genesis creation narrative, rather
the beginning of another section that stands completely alone from Genesis 1.
of where man is to live, Moses lets the reader know that there was a river that flowed from Eden

to the garden. It is natural to think that there is something more going on here than an unnatural

digression. The garden is presented as a very real place. There are geographical explanations,

biological provisions, and the understanding that the first humans lived in a very nice place – a

paradise. What needs to be understood about this passage is not what it has to offer to the reader

geographically, but what this river, represents theologically.

To understand the theological implications that Genesis 2:10-14 holds we must first

understand that this was a garden of something else – a Garden of God. Walton explains “The

garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian

farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should

worship him.”20 This is much harder to see as Genesis 2 is naturally read by those reading from

the outside looking into the ancient Near East. In fact, as the story of scripture unfolds, gardens

are seen constantly as a well-watered place both naturally and spiritually. The garden is

consistently portraying such things as provision and beauty, abundance and satisfaction of the

human need. For example, Lot lifts his eyes toward Jordan and it is well watered.21 Isaiah also

envisions a desert being transformed, “like the garden of the Lord,” as he envisions the temple

being restored.22 What does the garden portray in the Bible? Ryken writes, “It is an image of the

ideal that heightens whatever activity occurs within it. It signals nature at its best.”23

From the worldview of the time, the audience would have understood completely that

Moses was not simply giving them geography but letting them know that in this Paradise, life

was flowing to the inhabitants. The most likely etymology of “Eden” is from a Hebrew term that

Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament 125.
Gen 13:10
Isa 51:3
Ryken, Wilhoit, Longman, 315.
denotes pleasure, lush, fecundity. The topography, the trees, and the river, all portray a paradise

– an archetypal sanctuary. As the text is read, Eden seems to be a place larger than the garden

that was created inside of it.24 The key to understanding the garden is to understand it as the

place where God dwelled.25 Out of Eden, the place of the presence of God, flowed these rivers

that are mentioned in our text. This is not uncommon for an association of water and near

eastern sanctuaries to be present. The temples in Mesopotamia and Egypt were considered to

have been founded on springs. This is also true in the Ugaritic myth of Baal where the streams

flowed directly from its temple.26 Eden is the place where God dwelled and its garden is the

place where man dwelled to worship him.

The river was specific for something – as the text states it was there to water the garden,

providing it with the most essential element for life. Again, as a reader in the Near East, there is

more going on than simply Moses stating that there is a river watering the garden. Out of Eden,

this river flows that gives the essential life to the garden. His presence, the place where he

dwelled, is being seen as the source of life for man. Neiman writes, “It is not only the dwelling

place of God. It is also the source of all the creative forces that show forth from the Divine

presence, that energize and give life to the creation in a constant, unceasing outflow of vivifying

power.”27 The river, flowing from the presence of God, gives life to all that it flows to.

Provision for the World

The first thing that the theological implications of these verses allude to is that the

presence of God gives life to the whole world. A single river flows from Eden, which is outside

of the garden. It then separates into four rivers, which most commentators believe is alluding to

Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary, 85.
cf. Gen 3:18
Walton, 126.
Neiman, Gihon and Pishon, 324.
this river of life flowing to all four regions of the inhabited world.28 If this passage is taken

strictly as geographical communication, the reader is going to have trouble reconciling it with the

current setting of the Middle East – two of the rivers are not there (Pishon and Gihon).

Contrarily, if this passage is looked at theologically inside of the theological context that it is

clearly written in, the information will not be needed to reconcile because the point is not to

communication geography, but rather theology.29

The number four is a number that signifies a completed state. A striking example of this

can be found in Zechariah where he speaks about four horses that patrol the whole earth. In the

night, the prophet had a vision of a man on a red horse with a red, brown, and white horse behind

them (Zech 1:8). When the prophet asked the Lord to explain what he was seeing, the Lord

made mention that these were the four horsemen that he has sent to go throughout the whole

earth. The report of these messengers was one of finding the entire world to be at peace and rest

(Zech 1:9-10). In a passage that will be looked at more in depth later, Rabbinic Midrash teaches

that the river in Ezekiel 47 split into another three branches off the main river, eventually

encompassing the entire world.30 With these rivers explaining that the life that the garden

receives is also spread throughout the entire earth then one cannot expect to receive precise

details or regions that the land is split into – this points to the theological depth of the text, the

life that God brings is truly available to the entire world. Mathews describes these rivers to be

future boundaries that are descriptive of the patriarchal land that was pledged to Abraham (Gen

Hartley: New International Biblical Commentary; Sarna: Torah Commentary; Westerman:
Genesis 1-11, Mathews: New American Commentary.
Of course those unidentified rivers could stand for other great river civilizations in connection
with Mesopotamian plans or even the Nile Valley. Sarna, Torah Commentary: Genesis, 18.
Block, New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Ezekiel, 702
15:18). He writes, “As God had prepared and assigned Eden to Adam’s care, the paradise of

Canaan’s land was consigned to Abraham and his future descendents.”31

Provision for Man

Underlying this entire section is the idea of portraying more than just the cosmic holy of

holies. This all would have been simply assumed by author and audience. What the text serves

as in the context of the human history, the immediate context, is the irrigation of the main supply

of food for man (Gen 2:9). The river is a provision of life for those who dwell in the presence of

God. Walton expresses that “Trees of the garden provided food, not for the Deity (as in the

parks that sometimes adjoined temples) but for the people who served the Deity. By providing

food, the garden actualized the benefits that had been granted in the blessing recorded in Genesis

1:29-30.”32 The further idea is that man’s provision was ever ready and constantly at hand.

Sarna says of the provision that, “The attractive, nutritious, and delectable qualities of the fruit

are stressed with the next episode in mind. The human couple will not be able to plead

deprivation as the excuse for eating the forbidden fruit.”33

Although the location of Eden remains a mystery to the world, even the reality of the

Gihon and Pishon rivers are not totally understandable, but the point of the river and the garden

is abundantly clear: that out of the place that God inhabits flows a river that provides life to his

creation. In its theological context, this verse is no longer a simple means of geography but what

both author and reader assumes. This is a depiction of God connecting with his people - a sense

of harmony between Adam and Eve, with themselves, with God, and the earth. Ryken expresses

that, “Overshadowing this harmony on the natural and human planes is the open communion of

Adam and Ever with God. The garden may be enclosed but it also opens upward to God, who

Mathews, New American Commentary: Genesis 1 – 11:26, 208.
Walton, 126.
Sarna, 20.
visits the garden that he has planted.”34 Unfortunately, with the eating from the tree, man falls

and is banished from this paradise and from this life.

Through out the rest of scripture, God continues to work to restore his relationship with

his people – the image of the river will carry us through that story. The heavenly river, “[I]n

contradistinction to the streams coming up from the earth outside the garden, represents the

dissemination of heavenly life. Its abundant supply flows from Eden through the temple garden

and then branches out to the four corners of the earth all flowing from the throne of the living

God.”35 From the presence of God, a provisional river flows to his people.

Ezekiel 47:1-12
The next place to stop and look at is in a vision given to the prophet Ezekiel.

“1Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from
below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water
was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the
altar. 2Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside
to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the
south side.
3Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand
cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. 4Again he measured a
thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a
thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. 5Again he measured a
thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was
deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. 6And he said to me,
"Son of man, have you seen this?"
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7As I went back, I saw on the bank of the
river very many trees on the one side and on the other. 8And he said to me, "This water
flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when
the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. 9And wherever the river goes,
every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this
water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live
where the river goes. 10Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it
will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish
of the Great Sea. 11But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left
for salt. 12And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees

Ryken, Wilhoit, Longman, 315.
cf. Ps 36:8-9; Jer 17:7-8; Mathews, 208.
for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit
every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for
food, and their leaves for healing."

In this vision a very prominent river is seen flowing from out of the temple in Jerusalem – more

specifically from beneath the south side of the threshold or platform on which the temple is built.

Merging from the south side of the temple, the stream of water flows east passing outside the

wall of the inner court (47:1-2). The man that was conducting the vision brings him to this river

and begins to measure off one thousand cubits36 leading Ezekiel through ankle deep water. The

man continues to measure and the river progressively gets deeper every one thousand cubits.

Eventually the river gets deep enough to swim in and the man then asks, “Son of man, have you

seen this?” (47:3-6a). The interesting observation that needs to be noted is that the river gets

deeper without any assistance from tributaries – the very flow of the river is a miracle.

If that was not enough, the river is luxuriant enough for trees to grow on either bank and

to take a course that is impossible for any river to do. The prophet’s guide explains that leaving

the temple’s east side, the waters push through the rough country that is east of Jerusalem into

the Arabah, which is the Great Rift Valley through which the Jordan flows.37 This river flows

into the Dead Sea, a large salt lake more than one thousand feet below sea level. This sea is so

full of salt that it cannot maintain any sort of life. As the rivers of this new river flow into this

sea though, it becomes the fresh and the waters are healed, restored. Things are able to live in it

and they flourish. People are able to fish and make a living off of its shores. Even still, the Dead

Sea can still serve its ecological factor and retain its character despite its transformation. The

prophet is excited by what he sees, a picture of a new paradise established in the world.

About 1500 feet
Craigie, The Daily Study Bible Series: Ezekiel, 310.
The People
This vision is communicated to a very specific people in a very specific situation. Their

history has a lot to do with all of it. We find the people, the Israelites, in the midst of Babylonian

captivity as a result of many years of kings who were disloyal to their word and to their God.

The political history leading up to the Babylonian exile, starting in 841bce, is one of gracious

acts on part of the enemies of Israel, with Israel continually taking advantage of them.

The Assyrians were dominating the Near East during this time. There is a miraculous

story that is recorded in 2 Kings 19 where the Lord saves King Hezekiah from the Assyrians by

sending an angel who put 185,000 Assyrians to death. This was solely a supernatural victory

that Hezekiah displayed as a win for himself. There was no natural part to this victory, wealth or

weapons – but a gracious act of the Lord. 38 This leads Hezekiah to relying on his leadership

capabilities and approaches the Babylonians to ally against their mutual foe. The Lord sends

Isaiah to warn Hezekiah that he was not free to make and break political alliances on his own

reading of the situation. Hezekiah has no idea that what he sees as an opportunity is something

that will lead to captivity.

The process leading up to captivity begins in 605bce under Jehoiakim. He swears

allegiance to the Babylonians after Egyptians were driven out of Palestine. With no intention of

keeping his commitments – he rebels against them in 598. This noble and heroic thing led to the

only outcome possible – the revolt being stopped by the Babylonians. In order to assure that this

sort of rebellion does not happen again, the Babylonians install his son, Jehoiachin on the throne.

He turns out to be the same thing as his father. Instead of submitting to the grace of Babylon, he

looks to Egypt for help and within three months of his installation he is dragged off to exile with

many more of his citizens.

2Kings 20:13-18; 13: gives envoys a royal display of weaponry that were in this battle
The situation has not been unfolding well for either party – the Israelites on behalf of

their leaders and the Babylonians with their extreme grace. In place of Jehoiachin,

Nebuchadnezzar installs his uncle as King and renames him, “Zedekiah.”39 Zedekiah meant,

“The Lord is righteous” for that particular individual, showing what the nature of the nation was

thought to be.40 Zedekiah, unfortunately, did not always have a handle on what his staff was

doing. They had just happened to be planning the next revolt from the Babylonians, which was

carried out in 589bce. Banking on the help of Egypt and Tyre, Zedekiah and Jerusalem, once

again, falls to the hands of the Babylonians. Jerusalem is breached and Nebuchadnezzar captures

Zedekiah, kills his sons in front of him and gouges out his eyes before dragging him off to his

Babylonian exile.41

This is the state of the nation of Israel, to whom Ezekiel is communicating his visions

too; to whom God is trying to restore back to himself. This is a community of people who are

suffering from a theological shock. The Israelite confidence was based on four pillars:

Yahweh’s covenant with Israel at Sinai, Yahweh’s ownership of Canaan, Yahweh’s covenant

with David, and Yahweh’s residence in Jerusalem. Block shows that, “In keeping with the

standard ancient Near Eastern perspectives, this sense of security was based on the conviction of

a inseparable bond among the deity Yahweh, the territory (Canaan) and themselves.”42 These

promises became more and more prevalent in their minds the closer and closer the Babylonians

became, and the reality of exile surfaced. Then, in what seems to be all in one upheaval,

Jerusalem falls, the Temple is ransacked and the nation is exiled. This is the situation that

2Kings 24
Diguid, The NIV Application Commentary: Ezekiel, 20.
Diguid, 18-23; Block 8-14.
Block, 9.
Ezekiel is communicating to. In the midst of this shock, Ezekiel sees that with God at the center

of their community again, a people will be restored.

The River
We have to remember that the concept of the river being the symbol for life in the

cultural setting of the ancient Near East was not new to the people. They would have heard this

and understood what it meant completely. What exactly did they hear? The nation is in a setting

of theological shock and political captivity and Ezekiel says that God showed him a river

flowing from the temple. What would they have heard as they sit in a nation that is not their

own, a land that was not promised to them, amongst people that do not serve Yahweh?

The river starts from the south side of the temple. This is where “The Sea” was in

Solomon’s temple.43 This was a massive bronze pool that provided the water necessary for

cleansing.44 In ancient Near East mythology, the sea is a chief enemy of the gods. The defeat of

these gods was necessary before cosmic order could be established.45 Jones writes, “By calling it

‘The Sea,’ a rather grandiose title for an object smaller than most above ground swimming pools,

it also appears to have had a symbolic significance, represent the forces of chaos subjugated in

the orderly cosmos of the temple.”46 The Sea, where the river flows, is now a life-giving river

that is restoring the entire land.

The flow of this river is even miraculous in itself. The stream flows what is commonly

known as “the eastern circuit,” a vague reference to the region between Jerusalem and the Jordan

River,47 descending into Arabah. Rasmussen informs us that, “Today the name usually identifies

the depression south of the Dead Sea, that terminates in the Gulf of Arabah, but in the Old

Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 327.
1Kings 7:23,29.
cf. Ps 46:2-3; 93:3-4; 95:5; 96:11; 98:7
Jones, 1and 2 Kings, 184.
Block, 687.
Testament, the name was also used more generally of the rift valley that runs from Lake Tiberias

in the north, and to the Gulf of Arabah in the south.”48 The river continues to flow into the sea,

the Dead Sea, the sea of stagnant waters. Block issues that, “The expression is problematic

textually, but the context supports a reference to the stagnant nature of the Dead Sea.”49

Cooper’s explanation of the topography of Israel will help us understand this almost

cartoon like river. Valleys surrounded Jerusalem on all three sides: first, The Hinnom Valley

that forms the western and southern boundaries of the city, and second, the Kidron valley that

forms the eastern boundary. The third valley, called Tyropoeon, bisects the ridge from north to

south on the eastern side of the mountain, which is west of the temple mount. Across the Kidron

Valley, the eastern ridge of the Mount of Olives also connects another mountain, forming a

closing of the Kidron Valley. On the other side of this closure, the elevation drops rapidly into

the Jordan rift, into the Dead Sea.50 In order for this river to successfully reach the Dead Sea, it

has to flow from Jerusalem down into the Kidron Valley, over the Mount of Olives, crossing the

natural closing of the Kidron Valley and various valleys all before reviving the Dead Sea. This is

not a problem for Ezekiel, who knows what he is seeing.

It would miss the point of the visionary nature of this passage to say that Ezekiel is

expecting a literal fulfillment of this passage, it would also display an almost caricature type

event with the river’s course. Streams do not issue from temples nor do they increase in size

without any other sources. Waters do not flow over hills and they do not turn briny water into

fresh. The Dead Sea will most likely always be dead and Trees do not naturally break their

seasonal production. Further, remembering the broader context will point us in another

Rasmussen, Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible, 51.
Block, 689.
Cooper, The New American Commentary: Ezekiel, 245.
direction. Ezekiel 40-48 is one concise vision and as the prophet has communicated what he has

experienced, there is much idealistic and symbolic imagery. Block states, “His was a profoundly

theological message intended for his immediate audience and designed to answer the utter

despair…under which his people languished. All these features suggest an impressionistic

literary cartoon with an intentional ideological aim.”51

Given the social and political situation that the prophet is communicating to, along with

the extreme idealistic and symbolic imagery that is present with in this vision, it would seem best

to say that Ezekiel is portraying Israel’s restoration and healing both physically and relationally

with their Lord. Before any land vitality is restored, the stream flows from the Temple, (from

God) past the altar and through the various valleys. Block states, “This structure, standing in the

very center of the temple complex, symbolizes God’s desire to receive sinful humans and his

delight in their worship.”52 Vawter writes, “The prophet believes that with God at the center of

Israel’s life, this transformation was sure to happen…With God at the center of Israel’s life, a

transformation that is miraculous beyond telling will take place.”53 The type of life that this river

brings is a restored life, one that heals.

This healing water is something that would ring a memory to the Israelites because it is

mentioned at times throughout their history. At Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. When

the Lord promised that he would heal the water and if they continued to walk in faithfulness to

him then they would continue to experience the Lord as their healer.54 Also in 2 Kings 2:19 the

men of Jericho brought the issue of bad water up to Elisha. This bad water was because the city

Block, 702.
Ibid, 702.
Vawter and Hoppe, International Theological Commentary: Ezekiel, 208.
Exod 15
was underneath a powerful curse.55 In both instances, the Israelites listened to the prophet and to

God’s word and as a result, the Lord healed the water. This is also the case in this passage.

Daguid explains that, “God’s transforming power flows out from the temple into the lives of the

community. The river bridges the gap. It is intended to ensure the presence of God in the midst

of his people, a presence that will have visible and tangible effects of blessing for the people.”56

It is clear that the Lord does all this through a miraculous work of grace. No work of

technology or human wisdom is the source. This river is from the temple, the focal point of the

presence of God. Where it flows, it produces life even in regards to the symbol of God’s curse,

the Dead Sea.57 From the shallow beginnings of the river, to the mass depth of life, God promises

to restore his people in midst of great troubles with him as the center. Regardless of what the

history is, from the presence of God, a restorative river flows to his people.

Eternal Life
As we move into the second testament of scripture, there is a development in the type of

life that this river gives. In the story of Genesis, the river was a river of provision where God

provided life for his creation. After the fall of man, subsequent loss of the garden and the

presence of God in Genesis 3, God is constantly trying to get a hold of his children. This life of

harmony and balance that the garden brought for his people is the type of life that he wants to

give his people all the time. The passage in Ezekiel promises that the life that flows from God

restores people with him at the center of their lives. Now in John, we will see this life provided.

The life that is promised for in Ezekiel after the fall is provided for in Jesus. This new life

2Kings 2:19; cf. 1Kings 16:34
Daguid, 537.
cf. Gen 18
transforms the believer into taking part in the restoration of the world, the reconstruction of

something that fell apart so long ago.

This all fits into the way that John communicates Jesus and his whole purpose of writing

this story – so the reader can have life and life more abundantly.58 To write his story, John

specifically chose certain signs that Jesus shows in front of his disciples. He did this so everyone

who read them could come to belief and for all to be encouraged to continue in their belief that

Jesus is truly the Son of God. Because of this belief, John alludes that each person will

experience a higher, eternal life.

The life John talks about is called, “eternal” life. In an interesting conversation that Jesus

has with a woman at a well in chapter four of John’s story, Jesus talks about this life.

Interestingly enough, he talks about this life as “living water.” The life that Jesus was telling this

woman about, the life that is available through him, Jesus describes it as living water, this life

that we see throughout the scriptures, one symbolized by the river flowing from the presence of

God, one that is harmonious with God, others, and the individual, will be given to her!59 Tasker

notes, “This life will result from a persistent belief in Jesus as the Christ…is made possible not

only by knowledge of the revelation…but also by the work which he came on earth to

accomplish for man’s salvation.”60 Grisby carries this idea further suggesting that, “the

evangelist sees the rescurrected Christ as fulfilling the role of Ezekiel’s temple, dispensing living

water to a barren world.61 There is no life in people unless they accept of this gift. The promise

of a restored life in Ezekiel will never be fulfilled until they accept the gift of Jesus.62

Jn 20:30-31
Jn 4:10
Tasker, 30
B Grigsby “Gematria and John 21-Another look at Ezekiel 47,” ExpTim (1984) 177-178
cf. Jn 6:33-53; 17:9
John 7:37-39
This particular scene opens up during the Feast of Tabernacles. The celebration took

place during the fall – late September/early October. We are entering into Jesus’ final few

months of his public ministry. Tabernacles was associated with adequate rainfall with reference

to Zechariah 14:16-17, which would be read on the first day of the feast.63 Kostenberger

explains that, “This water rite, though not prescribed in the Old Testament was firmly in place

well before the first century ACE. The festival seems to speak of the joyful restoration of

Israel…Here Jesus presents himself as God’s agent to make this a reality.”64

The entire feast would be filled with prayers for rain and if the rain came than it was

taken as a guarantee that there would be sufficient rain for the crops.65 These prayers would be

symbolized in a very dramatic fashion. On each day there was a procession from the pool of

Siloam to draw water.66 The priests took water from the pool back to the temple where they

would gather around the altar with the choir chanting.67 They would then pour the water out as

an offering at the morning sacrifice. All night celebrations led up to this libation because it was

a great time of joy. The joy has been said to be so great that it was written, “He that never has

seen the joy of the Bet heSheubah (water drawing) has never in his life seen joy.”68 It is in this

scene where we find our next passage. It is the last day, the greatest day of the feast.

Kostenberger informs us that, “Every day during the Tabernacles, priests marched in

procession…the seventh day was marked by a special water-pouring rite ceremony.”69 In the

cf. Isa 12:3
Kostenberger, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: John, 239
Newman and Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of John, 243
Sukka 4:9
The choir would chant Ps 113-118.
Sukka 5:1; cf. Deut 16:14-15; Jubilees 16:20,25
Kostenberger, 239
midst of celebrations, processions, sacrifices, and exuberant joy, Jesus stands up to say as

recorded in John 7:

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as

the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39By

this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”

Whitacre points out that, “If Jesus spoke this during the revelry he would have to shout

just to be heard. But we have also an allusion to the image of Wisdom calling out

inviting all to take (Prov 8-9).”70

Translation Concern
Before continuing, a concern on John 7:38 needs to be addressed. There is a question as

to whether or not this is being said of the believer or if it is Christological in nature. This is all

instituted by trying to figure out whose heart rivers of living water will flow out of. Newman

states, “The basis is that in John’s gospel Jesus is the source of living water and of life in

general.”71 The NIV and NLT correspond as well as the NASB and RSV. The NIV72 and NLT

translate it in such a way that has the streams being said of the believer with the emphasis of

Scripture referring to the belief that one has in him. The NASB and RSV73 are different in that

the streams of living water are Christological and this account would be synonymous of the

conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.74 Newman continues,

“However it seems more probable that in this context the believer is the source of life-
giving water… This is also a more natural reading of the grammar of the Greek text.75 .
Whitacre, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: John, 200
Newman and Nida (243-247).
“Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from
within him”
He who believes in me as the scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living
cf. Jn 4
o pisteuwn eij eme kaqwj eipen h grafe pistomai ek ths koiliaj autou peusousin udatoj
If the receptor language requires the translation to be explicit it is suggested that the
reference be to the believer. If, however, the receptor language does not require the
translation to be explicitly, a third person reference may be used, thus allowing either
The Hebrew imagery in this verse is extremely prevalent as well. From his heart in Hebrew

though is literally the stomach. The translation became “heart” because the seat of emotions for

the English was just that although the text denotes stomach as it closer to Hebrew thought.

Translating this “heart” is not completely adequate.77 If one were to use a general phrase here as

it seems the translators did when they used this term, a more adequate one would be “from

within him” even with the strong connections this verse is thought to have with John 19:34

where they use that phrase in generality.

The Missional River

This idea that is communicated here fits well into the theology of the New Testament.

Paul issues a decree to the church in Corinth that lets them know that they are the temples of the

Holy Spirit. As Paul writes as a very prestigious Hebrew, he would have been very familiar with

the imagery that is being talked about here. He knows about the Ezekiel passage, he knows

about the Genesis passage and understands the prominence that the temple holds – to say this is

very intentional. John also does something interesting, he adds into the text “By this he meant

the Spirit.”78 Diguid states, “The indwelling Spirit in the heart of believers, which was

accomplished at Pentecost, turns each believer into a miniature temple. By its transforming

power, the gospel heals the spiritually dead, making them alive in Christ and fruitful in their

service to God.”79 The development that we see here is that the believer becomes the source of

Ibid, 244
Ibid, 245
Jn 7:39; Occasionally in the OT, water is used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. Giving of the
Spirit evoked by Jewish Tabernacles tradition was contingent upon Jesus being glorifed, a
Johannine euphemism for the cluster of events centering in the crucifixion, Kostenberger, 240.
Diguid, 537
the living-water, which is Jesus. The truth of Ezekiel and the restorative river is still the same –

Jesus with no human intuition or technology does the restoring by his power – except now the

Temple is the believer and the life-giving water flows from us. The missional river is the river

that flows from the believer as they take part of the mission of Jesus – to reconcile the world to


This is a completely new concept for this Jewish understanding of the river. There is no

Old Testament reference of living or life-giving water that flows from within the believer but we

do know that God’s presence does supply this. Rodney writes, “God himself can be called ‘the

spring of living water’ (Jer 2:13; 17:13). Jesus, in offering the Spirit is claiming to be able to

satisfy people’s thirst for God.”81 When Jesus is shouting over the exuberant joy that is being

portrayed at this feast, he is declaring that they can meet God in his sanctuary, in the person of

his son.82 With the understanding that Jesus gives life-giving water to the believer who, in Paul’s

understanding, is now the sanctuary of the presence of God, it can be accepted that the life that

this water is one that is spread to all people. The believer takes up the mission of God and

spreads this harmonious life of the garden and the restoration of Ezekiel’s vision to all.

This has significant implications for those inside the church today. With the

understanding that we are part of the mission of God and the responsibility of the flow of his life-

giving water, we not only experience the love of Jesus but also participate in it. When

everything we do is filtered through the idea of participating in the river of provision and

restoration, everything will start to change. Everything we do, learn, understand will be for the

good of other people and help them build their understanding of who Jesus is. For instance, I

cf. Mt 28:19-20
Whitacre, 245
cf. Jn 1:14, Greek “eskhnwsen” – tabernacled, dwelt, tented, encamp
wish for my morals to develop so I can inflict less damage on the world, not just for the sake of

good morals. I study scripture so I will be equipped for good works in myself and to my

neighbors. Nothing is for me, but for my participation in this wonderful life-giving river. There

is no distinction of missionary and mission field because now everyone is a missionary and their

world is their mission field. From the presence of God, comes a missional river that provides life

through us to the people.


Revelation 22:1-5
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from
the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city; also, on
either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each
month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be
anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants
will worship him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And
night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be
their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

An Apocalyptic Prophecy
In our final stop in following the river throughout scripture, there is a place that all the

other places look forward too. In fact, it is a return to what was already existent inside of the

garden. However, the part of scripture where this is found is a place that has been struggled

with, debated about, and misunderstood for many years. The Book of Revelation is commonly

known as a New Testament form of apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature was a popular

genre during the last two centuries BCE and the first century ACE.83 The overall message is

given in an abundant form of symbolism that is often very confusing and extremely bizarre.

Morris writes, “It appears in difficult times and conveys the author’s profound conviction that

the troubles in which his readers find themselves are not the last word – God…will intervene.”84

Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series: Revelation, 25
Ibid, 25
They are looking to God as their triumph, their victory and God is expressed a just that in this

type of literature. Evil will be overcome by God’s intervention.

In all reality, the answers to the literary style of Revelation are vague at best. Revelation

does indeed file itself into apocalyptic literature in the very beginning.85 It would also fit well

with the other apocalyptic writings such as 1 and 2 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch in early

Judaism. However, Michaels explains, “These writings were called this precisely because their

imagery resembled that contained in Revelation.” This makes things a bit harder – Revelation is

called apocalyptic because it is like the other apocalyptic writings but those apocalyptic writings

are designated in this genre because they resemble Revelation! Michaels continues,

“Apocalypses are actually written by pretend figures from the past,” while the author says his

name is “John.”86 The helpful hint here is that, whereas the book does indeed call itself an

apocalypse, the book calls itself a prophecy more.87 Revelation does indeed fit into the genre of

a prophecy as it predicts the future and claims the truth of God’s restoration with his people.88 It

consists of visions from God to a specific community much like the prophecies of the Old

Testament. The only thing left to do here is classify this book as an apocalyptic prophecy. John

is writing to comfort the readers in their present trouble. He explains how he thinks that Jesus

will return with the overall comfort of the restoration of our relationship with God in the New


The River
Throughout all of chapter 21, John was using imagery of a magnificent city to describe

the people of God in the end of the age. These verses serve as a culmination to that imagery.

1:1 “apokalypsij”
Rev 1:4,9; 22:8
Rev 1:3; 22:7,10,18,19
Rev 1:1; 22:6
John ends this by explaining that Eden again will be restored. The elements are clear for

understanding that this picture of a restored Eden is exactly what John was doing. In the garden

there was a tree that was in the center of the garden but Adam was not allowed to eat from it and

because they did, they were banished from the garden under a very specific curse.89 This is

another traditional feature in a piece of apocalyptic literature. Jewish thought looked forward to

eating of the tree of life and attained eternal life. 90 Here in Revelation there is indeed a tree

called, “the tree of life,” the same tree that is found in Genesis is here in the New Jerusalem and

the inhabitants can eat from it with the curse being removed and the people are again able to see

him face to face.

John’s vision is of a sparkling river. The vision of the river is carried out all the way until

the final chapter of this amazing story that is found in the Christian Bible. In Revelation, the

spring waters are read as a significant part of the blessings of the eternal state. Many

commentators find many motivations for this river. Some find the imagery as a reference to the

Holy Spirit.91 Others find it as a promise for immortality.92 While others find it a reference for

the abundant life that God now gives his people.93 Mounce writes, “All this is true but the

central affirmation of the verse is that in the eternal state the faithful will live at the source of the

life-giving stream that proceeds from the presence of God. In the hot and arid climate of

Palestine, this figure would hold special appeal.”94 The emphasis is not so much on the river

cf. Gen 2-3
Enoch 25:2; 4Ezra 7:53; 8:52; 2Enoch 8:3; Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John,
Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John, 298
Ladd, 286
Barclay, The Revelation of John, 221
Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation,
here as on the word life.95 This can be seen in the formation of the Greek text, u[datoj zoeij,

where the second noun clarifies the first – water, which is eternal life.96

Jewish texts often portrayed the end of time congruent with the beginning of time. Their

teachers circulated many legends about Eden, which most of the students would take literally.

Some traditions held many trees in Eden, all of which were holy, with the garden still existing

somewhere. Others claimed to have seen the river of life near a river of fire. Some dispersed

Jews allegorized Eden claiming it was a garden of heavenly virtues. Thompson writes, “If we

press this to vision to literally the image of a tree-bordered river down the middle of the street

may portray a highway of today with vegetation down the middle of it.”97 It would probably

safest to take this vision, not for its details, but for the fulfillment of our greatest longing, God’s

presence. This has been seen over and over again, the presence of God has a river coming from

it. The great street is the wide main street of the city, which emphasizes the centrality of this

river to the city. The presence of God is going to be central to living in this city, so central that

there shall be no night because God’s presence will make any other light unnecessary, abolishing

all darkness.98

It Looks Like Something

In 21:22, John states that God is this city’s temple. There is no physical temple, just the

presence of God circulating throughout. Continuing the idea that the river comes from the

presence of God. This is conceptual as much as literal – John literally states that the river comes

directly from God. However, the underlying idea that the city’s temple is the actual presence of

Jn 4 – Jesus offers the woman water, but was really offering life
Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Revelation 580
Thompson, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Revelation 184
Ironically the same broad street where the bodies of two martyred prophets lay in public view
(11:8-9) is now a place of life, where the river of life irrigates the reet for the benefit of the city’s
inhabitants, Michaels 246
God furthers the idea that this river comes directly from the presence of God. The life that the

river produces looks like something and John explains it.

First, there is no existence of anything accursed.99 As seen earlier, this is a reversal of the

state of man in the garden. This also repeats the motif of the new age: the centrality of the

presence of God, by which this transformation is existent. This is a fulfillment of Zechariah

14:11 – the city shall have no curse. We are also reminded of how Ezekiel ends his story by

telling us that the name of the city is “The Lord is there.”100 “The verb latreuousin has

overtones of worship and indeed his servants shall worship him,” Morris writes, “where God and

the Lamb rule there is no accursed thing.”101 This is linked to what John writes about God’s

name being on the foreheads of the inhabitants in verse four. The high priest had the words of

the Lord on his forehead and now the whole community offers priestly worship. Heaven is not a

place of indolent leisure, but a place where service is done centering on God.102

Second, the inhabitants of the city will be able to see God face to face. This was denied

to Moses103 but is the privilege for all who are inhabitants in the presence of God. This is the

hope of our salvation! Throughout redemptive history, God’s presence is reflected in different

ways. In the Old Testament it is mediated through prophetic words, dreams, and angels and

coming face to face with God meant certain death!104 Jesus was the incarnation of the presence

of God and to see and know him was to see and know the father.105 In light of this, not knowing

what John is referencing in 22:5 in saying that the inhabitants will reign forever without saying

kataqema, only used here in the NT – accursed, not the act of cursing
Ezek 48:35
Morris, 246
Ibid, 246
Ex 48:35
cf. Ex 33:20
Jn 14:7-9
what the reign will be over, is not very prominent because they are face to face with God.

Everything that is alluded to is now in fulfillment in the presence of God.

What ties all this in together from Genesis to Revelation, including the passages in

Ezekiel and John, besides the human element, is the earth. The harmony that is mentioned in

Genesis is promised to be restored in Ezekiel, is constructed upon by us in participating in its

mission down the road paved by the work of Jesus and is culminated here in Revelation. This is

the harmony of the relationship of the individual with themselves, with others, God, and also the

earth. Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets picture this life in terms of a redeemed

earth106 being called a New Heaven and a New Earth.107 However, due to the existence of sin

and death in these depictions, they are still imperfect. Ladd writes in his Theology on the New

Testament that, “There is a fundamental theology underlying these expectations even though

they must be clarified in progressive revelation: humanity’s destiny is an earthly one.”108

Everything is really exciting – the symbol of the river and image it brings of God

restoring his relationship with his people,109 but we must not forget that human beings are

creatures that were placed on earth. Ladd continues, “The New Testament does not strip us from

being God’s creature… The new earth in Revelation 21 is the final term in the revelation of how

redemption is to take place… The new earth is the final goal of redemption.”110 This redeemed

earth and humanity is the central element to all that shook the Israelite’s theology of which

Ezekiel’s story addresses. It is central to God’s covenant with Abraham, Moses, and David and

Isa 11:6-9; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13-15
Isa 65:20
Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 682
Block notes that there are many literary elements that are difficult to understand in Ezekiel’s
vision – he claims that this is because he was so excited about the promise of restoration that he
was not paying attention to how he wrote!
Ibid, 682; 2 Peter 3:12-13 describes this phenomenon as the elements passing away with a
new order replacing it
is what God promised to make in the Kingdom.111 The covenant is finally fulfilled – God’s

people will see him face to face. Out of the presence of God a river of life flows, allowing us to

be face to face with God.


All of that, plugged into the word, “river.” The harmonious life that is displayed in the

garden is given from one source – the river that symbolizes the life given by the presence of

God. After the fall this life is not the same but God constantly tries to reestablish this type of life

in his creation. He promises the restoration of his people in Ezekiel 47 and provides their

restoration through the work of Jesus. The believer participates in the restoration of the world by

being the conduit of the life as the river flows from them. Everyone together experiences the

final river flowing from the presence of God in the new earth. The relationship is restored, we

get to see our God face to face and the life that is explained in the garden is the life we get to

experience. Out of the presence of God flows a river that gives life to the garden.

Jer 31:1,33; Ezek 36:28; 37:23

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