The Kishon

The River in the Bible - Fourth in a series

The Kishon was a seasonable river for ancient Israel: it gave at opportune moments, just when needed. What did it give? Assistance in battle and victory.

Pronounced "key SHONE", it is today one of Israel's largest and most important rivers, flowing through the Jezreel Valley and Carmel hills on its way to Haifa Bay. Its name, "bent like a bow" or "tortuous," describes a winding route. In commentaries we read that a portion of it is perennial but some of its path can dry up and then swell very suddenly and dangerously to overflow its banks in early spring, after rain or the melting of snow.

Around the turn of the 12th century BC in the days of the Judges, the Kishon gave help to Israel to reestablish their claim to the Promised Land. Again, in the mid-eighth century BC, it assisted Elijah in his quest to restore the faith of God's people in the Northern Kingdom. Perhaps it helped the people at other times since it was near the Esdraelon, a great battlefield of Israel (ref)

We first read of Kishon as a town of Issachar given to the Levites by Joshua as their portion in serving the people as priests. (Joshua 21:28) The town and river are associated. If we reflect on this, the Kishon reminds us of the importance of — and command to — worship God.

Next we read of the Kishon River in Deborah's prophecy shared with Barak, "And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand." (Jdg 4:7)

The Lord planned to use the river to confound the enemy even though they had 900 iron chariots and Israel had none. Barak agreed to go and fight, but only if Deborah would accompany him. He had lost confidence in his own capacity to hear from the Lord and in God's promise: When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. (Deut 20:1)

At Deborah's word, Barak followed the Lord, pursuing the enemy down the mountain toward the Kishon (Jdg 4:14-16), and Jabin's army could not ford the raging torrent. Deborah saw the triumph and later sang, "The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength." (Jdg 5:21) Her "thou" was the river, and the Lord.

Deborah's song ended with this prayer: "So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might." It is then noted, And the land had rest forty years. (Jdg 5:31)

Again, in Elijah's day when he challenged the Israelites to make a decision to serve God (1 Kings 18:21), after defeating the 450 prophets of Baal in a contest that proved God's power, he and the people brought them to the Kishon and Elijah killed them there.

Though it was dried up after three years of drought, as Elijah prophesied, a small cloud on the horizon portended a great rain (1 Ki 18:44, 45). Thus did the Kishon once again wash away corpses to the sea, ridding the land of the enemies who bowed to idols and persecuted the children of God.

Any in Elijah's time who knew God's Word would have recalled Barak's triumph at the Kishon, but if they did not, they could not glorify God as exuberantly as those who did. The faithful are to remember all of God's works over history, and to thank him (Ps 105:1, 2).

The Kishon was a river of God's help to warriors. How greatly we need that help in times of overpowering discouragement and defeat! Let us look to the River for a surge of power from on high — seasonable lifting to replenish grace and mercy in our hearts — all that we need to accomplish his purposes.

Note: For an explanation of how there was water to drench the sacrifice on Mt. Carmel but no water in the Kishon until the rain came, see here.

A glimpse of the River

The River in the Bible - Second in a series

English lacks many of the inflections of Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament. So crucial was Hebrew to God's Word that writings not found in the Hebrew Bible were not accepted as canonical (OT) by Protestants. The Jews were the stewards of Scripture by God's divine appointment. (Romans 3:2)

Though we cherish Hebrew as Scripture's original casing, most of us read our Bibles trusting that the translator knew well enough how to present its truth. This is a safe assumption with many versions, nevertheless, there is room for word study.

Take the word river. In Hebrew it is a masculine noun. Many who study grammar state that gender associations in languages are accidental, but do you believe that? Such assignments may partially be explained as occuring when cultures joined and languages merged and evolved, but that is not the full explanation. Gender is a way of animating and personifying words.

There are different sorts of men and different types of rivers. In addition to its figurative uses, a river in the Bible may mean: a canal (Dan 8:2), a stream or channel of water (Joel 1:20), a river stream (Ex 1:22), a perennial river (that does not wane nor dry up) (Gen 2:10), the "wady" that can be either a dry valley or flood or stream in season (Josh 12:1; Ecc 1:7), and even an artificial watercourse (Ps 1:3).

The Smith Bible Dictionary (studylight.org) states:

The perennial river is called nahar by the Hebrews. With the definite article, "the river," it signifies invariably the Euphrates. ( Gen 31:21 ; Exo 23:31 ; Num 24:6 ; 2 Sam 10:16 ) etc. It is never applied to the fleeting fugitive torrents of Palestine. The term for these is nachal, for which our translators have used promiscuously, and sometimes almost alternately, "valley" "brook" and "river." No one of these words expresses the thing intended…

Likewise in the New Testament, a river may denote a stream or flood (Luke 6:48), the Jordan (Mat 3:6), and figuratively, the abundant life in Christ (John 7:38), among other things.

The river in the Bible is personified as floods clapping their hands to rejoice in the Lord (Ps 98:8), as modeling peace (Isa 48:18) and God's abundance (Ps 36:8); and it reflects his loving care for life (Ps 65:9).

In all these images we can see the works and purposes of the Lord, and in a moment of wonder we may see the almighty God in his glory: pouring forth, driving or gentle, refreshing, cleansing, shining, beckoning, sustaining, dividing, conducting. Flow, River!