The Euphrates

The River in the Bible - Fifth in a series

The Euphrates is a river of mystery, history and boundary.

The fourth river to flow out of Eden (Gen 2:14), ancient as time, it joined its Edenic brother, the Hiddekel – also known as the Tigris, to flow as one to the Persian Gulf in southern Iraq.

Today, we locate the sources of the Euphrates in the Caucasus Mountains of the Armenian Highlands of eastern Turkey. The largest river of southwest Asia, its name means fruitfulness, with the masculine root in Hebrew meaning to break forth.

A mysterious word is spoken to the sixth angel of the Trumpet Judgments in The Revelation, "Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates." We then read,

"And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men. And the number of horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them." (Rev 9:14-16)

A demonic host of 200 million (Rev 9:17) were rallied by these four angels to foment a fiery destruction (Rev 9:18) of what would be about 2.5 billion people if this were to happen soon, since the world's population is estimated now at a little over 7.6 billion.

That these angels were chained at the Euphrates leads us to think they may have been those who "departed their habitation" and were chained thereafter (Gen 6:4; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6). Were they four in number to set forth with their legions from where life began, to the north, south, east and west, to destroy a third of the human race?

But why were they bound at the Euphrates? And why will the Euphrates dry up just prior to the Battle of Armageddon?* (Rev 16:12), Perhaps these mysteries can be solved by studying Israel's relation to this river.

The Euphrates owns a unique place in history for God's people. After we are introduced to it in Genesis 3, twelve chapters later it is proclaimed as the east to northeast boundary for Abraham's seed in God's promise that he would be a father of countless peoples and that his descendants would inherit Canaan land (Gen 15:18-21), which was formally deeded to him by God (Gen 15:9-17).

The promise and agreement is reiterated in Genesis 17, confirming the land as "an everlasting possession" for his family (Gen 17:8). After this, we read of peoples who lived beyond the river, in reference to the lands on the east of the Euphrates, over which Abraham had crossed from Haran as he journeyed to Canaan.

We read of Jacob crossing over the river Euphrates, leaving Laban (Gen 31:21), so, obviously, when he departed his home in flight from Esau, he crossed beyond Israel's boundary, yet he was among kin, as his mother had desired him to find a wife from her family. This pictures that a boundary can be flexible on rare, ordained occasions. Perhaps it also pictures Jacob as an outcast for his sin, foreshadowing the exile of Israel that would take place twelve centuries hence.

The boundaries of Israel were reconfirmed to Moses (Ex 23:31), who related them to the tribes (Deut 11:24); with the condition that their enemies would be manageable as long as the Hebrews obeyed the Lord's commandments.

Over the centuries they often lost control of their land to enemy peoples through backsliding, but the Lord would restore their ownership when they repented.

This pictures to us that God has firm boundaries: when we transgress them we lose his blessings and peace, but if we truly repent God returns the deed to the kingdom of heaven that is within us and restores his protection of us.

Will Israel's stated boundaries ever be restored this side of heaven? Today other nations possess this area.

David battled to hold the land deeded to Abraham (2 Sam 8:3; 1 Ch 18:3) and Solomon reigned in peace in Israel's full territory (1 Kings 4:21), but after that civil war led to a downward spiral and in only about two centuries, after much disobedience, first the northern kingdom and then the southern were conquered, and God's people were taken as slaves "beyond the river" where they remained 70 years before being permitted to return to their land by King Cyrus.

After that, they never again worshiped idols. However, the number who returned was small in comparison to those who were driven out. This reminds us that our love and longing for God and his law must be very deep-seated or we may never desire to return to his established order after being severely disciplined for disobedience.

There are three major boundaries to consider in respect to Israel, which is a type of each believer. First is the southern boundary over which the Hebrews came as they left their lives of slavery in Egypt. They were NEVER to return there, though at times they wanted to and some made that mistake. The Lord strictly forbid that; we must never return to our former existence before we were set free to serve Christ (Heb 6:4-6).

Second, the western boundary of the blue Mediterranean could picture the Lord himself. We must respect and honor the glory and magnificence of the Lord, and if we overstep our bounds through familiarity and lack of fear, we will be convicted of the sin of presumption. Truly, the Lord is our brother, but he is also almighty God. Then again, the Sea could picture peoples and nations that believers are invited to navigate in sharing the gospel: a friendly boundary that we should not view as impassable.

Finally, the east to northeast boundary is the Euphrates. First we should ask ourselves, are we living out to the boundary of God's gracious provision for our lives? Have we pushed forward to conquer all the territory he has allotted? Many will find joy and greater fulfillment by reaching out to their full boundaries in Christ's call to the abundant life.

Yet, the Euphrates speaks of a firm wall — the edge to what we may pursue and indulge in before we transgress God's laws. Staying within our bounds is a daily struggle and we need all the help we can get from the Holy Spirit, the Bible, prayer, fellowship and our church to keep ourselves in God's land.

A day is coming when all hell will break loose and the Euphrates will dry up.* In a conflagration of filth, madness and hatred the heavens and earth will pass away. (2 Peter 3:10) On that day we will want to be safe in Christ, so we strive today to respect all of God's boundaries.

*Could the time of the great battle be near? "In 2008, Turkey, Syria and Iraq instigated the Joint Trilateral Committee (JTC) on the management of the water in the Tigris–Euphrates basin and on 3 September 2009 a further agreement was signed to this effect. On April 15, 2014, Turkey began to reduce the flow of the Euphrates into Syria and Iraq. The flow was cut off completely on May 16, 2014. The Euphrates now terminates at the Turkish–Syrian border. This is in violation of an agreement reached in 1987 in which Turkey committed to releasing a minimum of 500 cubic metres (18,000 cu ft) of water per second at the Turkish–Syrian border." (Ref 1; Ref 2)

No nemesis here - Amalek not eradicated!

The Amalekites — Seventh in a series

Before Moses died, he recalled to the Hebrews the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments (Deut 6:1) that the Lord wanted them to perform in the promised land. It was a lengthy discourse —nearly all of Deuteronomy — and included orders regarding the Amalekites:

Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, [even] all [that were] feeble behind thee, when thou [wast] faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee [for] an inheritance to possess it, [that] thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget [it]. Deu 25:17-19

Not long after Israel's first king had been anointed, the moment arrived to eradicate Amalek. It had been about four centuries since the incident at Rephidim and the Amalekites had continued attacking Israel over the years (Judg 6:3, 10:12; 1 Sam 14:48).

An expression, not biblical, now comes to mind: The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding fine. God never forgets to exercise justice, and in his providence he may begin with his own people. In this way, the refining retributions sift his own household (1Pet 4:17), even as they punish his enemies. So it was with King Saul. He had disappointed the Lord by his disobedience at Gilgal, and was sifted in the matter of annihilating the Amalekites. Again he disobeyed, and thus was rejected as king though his reign did not in fact end at the time.

At Gilgal, Saul offered the burnt offering rather than waiting for Samuel to do so. (1 Sam 13:9-14) Samuel warned him then …thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart (vs 14).

Again, when instructed to destroy the Amalekites, Saul disobeyed and disappointed. The Lord said to him through his prophet, I remember [that] which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid [wait] for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Sam 15:2, 3) But Saul spared the Amalekite king Agag and the best of the sheep, oxen and lambs. He only destroyed what he considered to be vile.

Then the Lord told Samuel he was sorry he had made Saul the king, and Samuel reprimanded Saul,

Hath the LORD [as great] delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey [is] better than sacrifice, [and] to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion [is as] the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness [is as] iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from [being] king. (1 Sam 15:22, 23)

Another expression comes to mind: The Lord is doing many things at one time. In this incident, He punished Amalek severely while proving Saul was unfit for command, and importantly, he arranged a lesson for us, To obey is better than sacrifice. This brings up a question: Am I willing to remove or destroy the object or subject in my surroundings that offends the Lord?

In the passage cited, many things are equated with disobedience: rebellion, witchcraft, stubbornness, iniquity, idolatry and rejection of God's Word. Though presumably sparing many sheep for the purpose of sacrificing them in thankfulness to God, Saul failed in his mission. He attributed the oversight to his followers (1 Sam 15:24), but is held responsible for failing to command them.

Obedience is required in all things, particularly in offering sacrifices properly. In Old Testament days, a king was never to usurp the role of the priest; likewise, for us in New Covenant days, there must be a godly presentation and handling of the doctrine of Christ's perfect sacrifice. If a pastor were to tell us he could forgive our sins or that our sins could be forgotten if we would follow a prescribed regimen of prayer, Bible reading or good works, he would be mishandling truth and promoting error.

A last expression is pertinent, this one from the Bible: To whom much is given, much will be required. (Luke 12:48) In context, this passage speaks of a servant who knew the right thing to do, but did not do it. The one who is aware of God's laws and specific commands will be held fully responsible for complete obedience. Those less knowledgeable will enjoy lenience. Leaders are doubly responsible to set an example in obedience. They have power to guide people into truth or into error.

The defeat of our enemies before we begin to fight them

The Amalekites — Sixth in a series

At the end of the last post, Israel was marching north, near the Moabites whose king had hired Balaam to curse them, but Balaam could not resist the Lord's power and blessed them instead. God had promised Abraham that Canaan would belong to his progeny and was close to fulfilling that promise.

The Moabites were not to be disturbed (Deut 2:9); they were cousins not Canaanites. But they were persistent in their desire to confound Israel. At Balaam's counsel (Num 31:16), Moab's daughters drew the Israelites into whoredom and idol worship (Num 25:1, 2), helped by their neighbors, the Midianites. (Num 25:6)

God told Moses to slay each Hebrew who had fallen to their schemes. When one man brought a Midianite woman into their midst and then into a tent, Moses' great nephew, Phinehas, followed them in and speared both in one thrust. For his zealous deed, God's anger was turned away, and Phinehas was promised God's covenant of peace, And he shall have it, and his seed after him, [even] the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel. (Num 25:12, 13) Indeed,

the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of [them] whose heart [is] perfect toward him. (2 Ch 16:9)

The Lord commanded Moses, Vex the Midianites, and smite them. (vs 17) This was to be Moses' final work before he died. We recall that Moses' wife was a Midianite: the Lord is not sentimental.

For the Israelites to take the land, there was urgent necessity that they honor and obey all of God's commands and punish any among them who would not. As they did so, victories began to mount up: first, Jericho, then Ai, though there was a step backward for the disobedience of Achan who hoarded some of the spoils from Jericho.

Again and again, the Lord urged them to victory, saying, The LORD your God has delivered them into your hand (Jos 10:19) or giving similar encouragement. All the battles had been won before the fight if obedience were at hand.

Finally, the enemy nations (except for the Gibeonites of the Hivites who deceived Israel to gain their protection) were defeated — there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand. (Jos 21:44)

However, small pockets of enemies were left to test the Israelites' faith and zeal for obedience, and after a time, as God's people joined with those remnants in idol worship, they had no strength to hold their land. (Judg 2:14) Even so, if they cried out for deliverance, God was faithful to restore their possessions.

When Deborah and Barak called the Israelites to battle against the Canaanites, many of the tribes, but not all, responded. The ones who did were commended in Deborah's song (Judg 5). Ephraim was praised for battling the Amalekites, who once again had joined the Canaanites to defeat Israel, (Judg 5:14) as they had done many generations prior in their second attack on Israel.

We recall that Moses had built an altar after the Amalekites' first attack, to mark God's promise to war against the Amalekites from generation to generation (Ex 17:14-16). Evil is persistent, but is never as determined, irresistible and successful as the LORD in all his plans.

As we consider these lessons from the Old Testament, we can see their application to us:

  1. God's people must be wholehearted and careful in their obedience to all of his commands.
  2. Amalek, the personification of presumption and arrogance, must be leveled in every generation. For us, this is a charge to defeat these tendencies from ruling our hearts.
  3. Those in Christ have been given a land, the kingdom of heaven, a place of our security in the Lord here on earth and for all eternity, and by our obedience, its borders and walls are retained or reestablished.
  4. To the Lord a thousand years is as a day (2 Pet 3:8), and we are never to overlook any of his commands, no matter how long the world goes on. They do not change.

As we are obedient, we will be empowered to resist the devil and to win each battle. (Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8-10) We cannot be obedient without God's love and help.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. -Mat 5:14

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